When the Ramones Bid Fans Farewell With ‘Adios Amigos!’
Rock 'n' roll lost one of its greatest bands on July 18, 1995, the day the Ramones released their purposefully named 14th and final studio album, Adios Amigos!
The album started with a customary shout of “1-2-3-4” and an innocently defiant message delivered via in Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” then concluded barely half an hour later with an unlisted rendition of the Spider-Man theme song. But not even these smile-inducing bookends could conceal the fact that wrinkled and tired Ramones of this era had very little in common with the four juvenile delinquents who first took the F train from Forest Hills, Queens to the East Village and CBGB in 1975.
For starters, founding drummer Tommy Ramone had been replaced by Marky Ramone, then Richie, then Elvis and then Marky again. Then bassist and chief songwriter Dee Dee had ceded his position to C.J. in order to embark on an ill-fated rap career. He continued to submit songs for future Ramones records, but they were usually sung by C.J.
Singer Joey Ramone and guitarist Johnny Ramone had been there through it all, standing just a few feet apart from each other on stage, but they couldn’t have grown further apart. At first their differences could be put down to polar personalities (Joey was a free spirit; Johnny a focused workaholic) and divergent politics (liberal/conservative). But the apex of their rivalry was in the early '80s, when Joey's girlfriend Linda left him for Johnny. The couple married in 1984 and remained together until Johnny's death in 2004.
In other words, and for all of these wide-ranging reasons, the Ramones were little more than a shell of a band, both creatively and personally, by the time they recorded Adios Amigos! Yet Joey, Johnny, Marky and C.J. still managed to fill their swan song with irresistible punk anthems like “Makin’ Monsters for My Friends,” “The Crusher,” “It’s Not for Me to Know” and “Born to Die in Berlin” (all of them Dee Dee compositions, the latter pair sung by Joey).
Listen to the Ramones Perform 'Life's a Gas'
Elsewhere, deceptively named (yet still undeniably catchy) acknowledgments of misery such as “Life’s a Gas” and “Have a Nice Day” rubbed shoulders with rather respectable C.J. contributions in the Clash-like “Scattergun” and “Got a Lot to Say.” Those were shored up by a handful of token run-throughs. There was also a histrionic cover of Johnny Thunders’ “I Love You,” a familiar recycling of the Ramones formula in “Cretin Family,” and a highly unusual, psychedelia-infused semi-ballad in Joey Ramone’s moving “She Talks to Rainbows.” (Japanese fans were also gifted a bonus track when the Ramones covered Motorhead’s tribute, “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.”)
Together, these songs inevitably evoked mixed emotions and no small amount of nostalgia from stalwart Ramones fans around the world, who were still unwilling to accept the possibility of the band’s demise. Luckily, U.S. residents were granted a reprieve when the Ramones were invited to participate in the sixth edition of the Lollapalooza Festival, throughout the summer of ’96. That ultimately served as some kind of belated recognition of everything they’d done for rock and roll, in exchange for so little personal and financial reward.
More depressingly still, physical tolls would quickly mount as each band member figured out how to face life after the Ramones. There were shockingly premature deaths for Joey, who succumbed to complications from lymphoma in 2001; Dee Dee, who died of a heroin overdose one year later; and for Johnny, who lost a long battle with prostate cancer in 2004. (Original drummer Tommy also died in 2014.)
After that, only Marky remained to carry on some portion of the Ramones’ legacy — a legacy which cannot be tarnished by the diminishing returns of their latter-day career, nor detract from the worthy last gasp undertaken through Adios Amigos!