40 Years Ago: The Ramones ‘Leave Home’
On Jan. 10, 1976, less than a year after releasing their wall-rattling debut, Ramones were back with Leave Home. The minimal approach of Ramones was replaced by a sonic wall of sound that merged the band's influences in '60s pop perfectly with their signature steamroller sound. For many, it still stands as the definitive Ramones album.
The band was still armed with a large stash of songs from when they entered the studio for Ramones, so their decision was to start from the beginning and proceed from there. "We recorded them in the order they were written," guitarist Johnny Ramone said in the liner notes to the 2001 Leave Home re-issue. "We wanted to show a slight progression in song structure." Drummer and co-producer Tommy Ramone called their second offering "heavier, more melodies with more bite," adding, "that was our mood -- insane pop songs with lyrics inspired by cheesy slasher and horror flicks, with a happy-go-lucky feel to it."
Leave Home is, indeed, a solid wall of sound that is as melodic and pop as it is heavy and pile-driving. "Glad to See You Go" kicks off the album, and it's obvious the band have already amped things up from their debut. Gone is the often-questionable stereo mix with the bass on one channel and the guitar on the other (inspired by those same kind of wide stereo mixes on early Beatles albums), and replaced with an almost Phil Spector-like dense assault. The glory of '60s pop as delivered by these Forest Hills cretins added up to pure genius.
"Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment" pummels while "I Remember You" is a bubblegum joy. In a slight reprise of the glue-sniffing activities from the first LP, here we have "Carbona Not Glue," a song which was on original copies of the album but was taken off due to Carbona being a brand name product with registered trademark issues. The song was later replaced with "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," the band's first single following the LP. In the U.K., the b-side "Babysitter" took its place.
"Pinhead" was inspired by the 1932 Tod Browning film Freaks, which featured actual carnival sideshow performers in the cast. The legendary "Gabba gabba hey!" lyric being derived from the "gooble gobble we accept her one of us" chant from the film. Songs like "What's Your Name?" and "Swallow My Pride" show off Joey Ramone's pop influences like the Beach Boys and Herman's Hermits, while others like "Commando" and "Suzy Is a Headbanger" are full-on assaults. "You're Gonna Kill That Girl" begins like a '50s tearjerker before speeding out of control. Co-producer Tony Bongiovi described the finished product as "marching music for rock and roll hearts."
As with their debut, critics were split with many unable to understand what exactly this foursome were doing in a world filled with the sounds of Boston, Eagles and Styx. Others, however, got it. "People who consider this a one-joke act aren't going to change their minds," wrote Village Voice critic Robert Christgau upon its release. "People who love the joke for its power, wit and economy will be happy to hear it twice." On the other side of the Atlantic, Mick Farren of the NME wrote, "The world needs the minimalism of the Ramones. It needs a band who've distilled all moral, political and social philosophy down to the phrase, 'Gabba gabba hey,' and needs it now!"
It still does.
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