This is the second collection of Joey Ramone solo recordings to be released since his death in 2001. The first, Don’t Worry About Me, came in 2002, but it took a decade of legal wrangling before this next batch of songs was able to see the light of day. So, do these 15 tracks, most of which are souped-up demos, sully or enhance the reputation of the lead singer of what was one of the greatest bands in rock & roll history?
Eleven of the 15 tracks here were originally recorded by producer Daniel Rey as demos and it was he who was in possession of the tapes for the past 10 years. Once Joey’s estate was able to legally take possession of the recordings his brother Mickey and producer Ed Stasium set to work to get the demos in presentable shape. For the most part, they were successful.
They had plenty of help. The list of contributing musicians is impressive…Joan Jett, Lenny Kaye, Steve Van Zandt, Andy Shernoff and Handsome Dick Manitoba of The Dictators, even Richie Ramone plays drums on a few tracks.
The album begins with Rock & Roll Is The Answer, a worthy sentiment and a tune co-written with former Plasmatics guitarist Richie Stotts. Unfortunately the production on this track makes it sound like Joey is fronting Motley Crue or some other cliché-ridden metal band.
Things improve dramatically with Going Nowhere Fast. Gone are the 80s rock pretentions and back is the punk attitude. This is one of the tracks to feature Richie Ramone, while Ed Stasium plays guitars and bass. New York City is even better. Stasium’s buzz-saw guitar cuts through the mix nicely and a chorus of New York rockers including Lenny Kaye, Genya Ravan, Holly Vincent, Handsome Dick and Steve Van Zandt all chime. But keep in mind this is Joey’s record and his plaintive, passionate vocals are both moving and convincing. Quite impressive considering they were only meant to be demos.
Joey tries out a variety of musical styles. Waiting For That Railroad is an acoustic, folky ballad, not unlike The Ramones’ Questioningly. I Couldn’t Stop is a 50s-style rockabilly number and an album highlight. It’s a reminder that simple is best when it comes to rock & roll. What Did I Do To Deserve You? has a jangly guitar that reminds me of the Traveling Wilburys but with more guitars. Party Line, with a co-lead vocal from Holly Vincent, harkens back to Spector-era girl groups and 21st Century Girl is a straight-up rocker featuring Joan Jett.
There are a few low points as well. Joan’s backing vocals could have been louder on 21st Century Girl. The slowed-down remake of Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight) is pretty awful, with a weak vocal from Joey and some unsympathetic drumming by Steve Jordan. Make Me Tremble, produced by Andy Shernoff, still sounds unfinished and Cabin Fever just kind of plods along.
The disc finishes with a short, acoustic reading of Life’s A Gas. It captures the innocence and vulnerability that Joey brought to his iconic band.
Long live Joey and long live The Ramones!
Click here to listen to I Couldn’t Sleep from “…ya know?“