How the Ramones Took a Fascinating Side Trip With ‘End of the Century’
There were still two decades to go when the Ramones preemptively declared the End of the Century on their fifth album. It was more like the end of their old sound.
In contrast to punk’s typically nihilistic viewpoint (so punk rock!), this 1980 effort proceeded to boldly go where no Ramones LP had gone before it: into galaxies of pop-oriented song craft never visited by the group’s famously aggressive and austere signature sound. The Ramones had hinted at this looming evolution on their previous LP, Road to Ruin, in 1978 but it was pushed to new heights on End of the Century -- something underscored by the presence of infamous producer Phil Spector.
This musical marriage seemed like a natural mismatch at first, yet the reality was that all four Ramones (and singer Joey, in particular) harbored fond memories of growing up with Spector-helmed hits on the radio. They agreed that a trip into the mainstream might just require his talents and mystique -- indeed, the full Spector experience.
And they got just that. The sessions were not only shaped by the producer’s brilliant ears, but also his infuriating perfectionism, domineering manipulations, raging tantrums, and all manner of additional eccentric behavior.
It all culminated in a particularly nasty incident where Phil placed a loaded weapon on the sound desk to get his point across. However, since these assorted high inks and misadventures — both in the studio and around Los Angeles — have been extensively chronicled elsewhere (most recently on Marky Ramone’s tell-all memoirs), we’ll just focus on the resulting music, which largely balanced out its eclectic risk-taking with the quality songs on hand.
Widescreen opener "Do You Remember Rock ’n' Roll Radio" immediately established the album’s ambitions with its faux-DJ intro, generous name-calling of ‘50s rock icons and lush Wall of Sound, led by a surprising saxophone hook. It paved the way for other departures like the gentle, acoustic "Danny Says" and a string-laden cover of the Ronettes’ "Baby I Love You" that was essentially Joey backed by studio musicians.
Yes, there were more conventional examples of the Ramones’ denim-and-leather rockers sprinkled here and there, including "I’m Affected," "This Ain’t Havana" and the classic "Chinese Rocks." But Spector’s presence clearly fueled the incremental keys, melodies, guitar harmonies and even the odd solo adorning hybrid numbers like "The Return of Jackie and Judie," "All the Way," "High Risk Insurance" and the flat-out irresistible "I Can’t Make It on Time."
All in all, End of the Century arguably took the Ramones as far as they would ever dare stray from their initially quite-spartan musical formula. As such, not everyone was happy about this development at the time -- including certain band members. Still, as we gaze back from the next century they so eagerly heralded, End of the Century remains both the Ramones' highest-ever charting album and certainly one of their most distinct.
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