classic album dissections 2007
The Replacements Let It Be
This week's feature is a Classic Album Dissection of The Replacements' 1984 release Let It Be. Unlike previously dissected albums like Revolver and Songs in the Key of Life, Let It Be wasn‘t a major critical or commercial success. But, Jim and Greg believe it’s one of the greatest albums ever made. It was the fourth album from the Minneapolis band, which was comprised of four“scruffy”members: Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars. As Jim and Greg explain, this album put the band on the map and helped to define what we know today as“indie music.”To learn more about the making of Let It Be and why it's so special, Jim and Greg talk with longtime Minneapolis music journalist Jim Walsh who has written an oral history of the band called "The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting."
Jim, Greg and Jim Walsh discuss what a radical change Let It Be was for The Replacements. While their previous albums were dominated by noisy, silly tracks, this recording sprinkled those trademark Replacements songs ("Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out," "Gary's Got a Boner") with more mature, heartfelt songs penned by Paul Westerberg. An example of this is the track "Unsatisfied," which Jim and Greg both believe is the highlight of Let It Be. Greg describes the song as“emotional bloodletting,”and an indication of how much Westerberg had grown as a songwriter. He also points out how inventive the instrumentation, which includes 12-string and lap steel guitar, was for the band and punk music in general. Jim calls "Unsatisfied" the "Satisfaction" of the post-punk generation. The song asks a question everyone can relate to:“Is this all there is in life?”But, as Jim notes, there was more in store for The Replacements after the release of Let It Be. It cemented them as an important band in rock history, and even though Westerberg and the band didn't go on to achieve similar greatness, Let It Be will go down as one of the great albums in the rock canon.Go to episode 97
the Sex Pistols & The Ramones Rocket to Russia
Jim and Greg have mastered the art of the album dissection. This week they try their hand at Rocket to Russia by The Ramones. This was the punk originators' third album, released in April of 1977. Jim and Greg picked this album because of how revolutionary it was at the time. This was the era of Yes, James Taylor and KC and the Sunshine Band. Now that radio playlists are full of songs by bands like Fall Out Boy and Green Day, it's easy to forget a time before punk music. But, until four high schoolers from Forest Hills, NY merged their love of Brill-Building pop and British invasion rock with a big dose of speed and attitude, the sound as we know it didn't exist.
Joey Ramone, born Jeffrey Hyman, sang vocals, Johnny Ramone, born John Cummings, played guitar, Dee Dee Ramone, born Douglas Colvin, played bass and Tommy Ramone, born Tom Erdelyi, played drums. The four began to record Rocket to Russia after recently releasing two other albums and touring the US and Europe. Today, Tommy Ramone is the only living member of that original group. Tommy co-produced Rocket to Russia and wrote many of the songs, and Jim and Greg invited him on to talk about making the album.
It was a treat to get a first-hand account of recording Rocket to Russia from Tommy Ramone. He revealed a number of interesting facts, some of which surprised even our hosts. Here are some of the noteworthy points:
- Johnny is known for being a speed demon. Tommy credits this with his desire to be a baseball player and his love of the fastball.
- Joey is the band's original drummer, and Tommy acted as their manager. Tommy took over on drums in order to keep up with Johnny's pace. He had never played drums before, and sometimes outpaced the studio's click track.
- Seymour Stein was the label executive behind the band. Despite the fact that their sound wasn't popular, he believed in The Ramones enough to boost their recording budget up to a whopping $25,000.
- The Ramones heard God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols during the recording of this album. Despite not having nearly the same amount of money to work with, Tommy explains that there was definitely a sense of competition. The feeling wa — they ripped us off, and now we want to sound better.
- The Ramones were famous for being anti-guitar solo. But, there is one on the track "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." Tommy reveals that this was actually him playing guitar, and assures Jim and Greg that Johnny wasn't miffed by the choice. Tommy was inspired by the guitar solo in "Tell Me" by the Rolling Stones.
- A number of the songs on Rocket to Russia begin with Dee Dee counting off. The band encouraged their bassist to do this, despite the fact that those counts had nothing to do with the actual speed of the song.
- Tommy struggles to name his favorite tune on the album, but includes "Rockaway Beach" as one of the best. Jim and Greg agree that the sunny, pop track is a great one, made even better by the fact that the actual Rockaway Beach was not a very sunny place. Juxtapose the sound of the song with the idea of trash in the sand and a syringe in your foot.
Jim and Greg also struggle to pick just one song to highlight from Rocket to Russia. Each one is great, and only clocks out at around two minutes. But, Greg was inspired by something Tommy said during their interview. He explained that the Ramones were ahead of their time, and were perhaps too dark and too subversive for mainstream culture. The song that best exemplifies this is "We're a Happy Family." While Happy Days showed one kind of family life, The Ramones wanted to show another, more realistic one. The Ramones were fans of Todd Browning's film Freaks, and celebrated the idea of being different and freaky in this song.
Jim's song choice also celebrates that freak spirit. "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," only has a few words, but it's a definitely an anthem. The term punk previously had a negative connotation. In this song, the Ramones reclaim the word and give a big finger to anyone who judges them (or Sheena). Musically, the song is also quintessentially rock and roll, quintessentially American, quintessentially Ramones. Jim explains that if he had to choose one track to shoot into outer space and represent what rock music is, he'd choose "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker."Go to episode 64