These came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got them. Here’s what I said about them back then (with some minor editing):
Frankly, the timing of these things is starting to get kinda creepy.
Last year, plans were already in the works to reissue the first four albums by Noo Yawk punk icons The Ramones when frontman Joey Ramone died from lymphoma. The discs — The Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin — came out about three months later, fittingly dedicated to the late singer. This year, it was Dee Dee’s turn to leave home. The bassist ODed in June, about — yep — three months before this second quartet of reissues hit the market. Now, I’m not suggesting anything, but if I were Johnny or Marky (or hell, even Richie and C.J.), I’d make sure my insurance was up to date before we started agreeing to any more reissues, you know?
Still, even if these brothers from other mothers have started dropping like flies, the music on these four discs — 1980’s End Of The Century, 1981’s Pleasant Dreams, 1983’s Subterranean Jungle and 1985’s Too Tough To Die — goes a long way toward cementing their musical immortality. Coming off the initial acclaim and success of their first quartet of studio discs, these albums — issued, like the previous set, with digitally remastered tracks, a slew of bonus cuts, lengthy essays and cardboard O-sleeves — found the group branching out and pushing the envelope into poppier and more commercial terrain, only to return eventually and triumphantly to their punk roots.
The first and best of the quartet has to be End Of The Century. It was famously (or perhaps infamously) produced by ’60s pop icon Phil Spector, who used his Wall of Sound technique to fortify the boys’ no-frills, hyperspeed approach. Phil and The Ramones didn’t exactly become blood brothers — Spector reportedly pulled a gun on Dee Dee at one point — but the musical chemistry sure paid off on certified classics like Do You Remember Rock ’n’ Roll Radio, Rock ’n’ Roll High School and covers of Phil’s own Baby I Love You and Dee Dee and Johnny Thunders’ signature song Chinese Rocks. This version adds six decent unreleased demos and a version of I Want You Around from the Rock ’n’ Roll High School movie soundtrack.
Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle, their sixth and seventh studio albums, were recorded with less drama than End Of The Century, but they also generated less enthusiasm. For Pleasant Dreams, the group (or at least their label bosses and manager) curiously recruited Graham Gouldman of dreamy popsters 10CC (I’m Not in Love) to produce, thinking he could help them get a pop hit. They were wrong — and the fact that they were barely speaking to each other by then didn’t help. We Want The Airwaves and The KKK Took My Baby Away are the standout tracks on this disc, which comes with seven unearthed demos and somewhat forgettable alternate versions of various cuts. But they’re not as forgettable as most of Subterranean Jungle, which was produced by the two guys who had just crafted Joan Jett a hit with I Love Rock ’n’ Roll. Once again, they weren’t able to work that magic on this disc, which houses just one great song — Psycho Therapy — along with mucho filler and covers like Time Has Come Today (recorded with a guest drummer after Markie got kicked out over his alcoholism). There are seven leftovers and demos added here that at least make it more collectable, but honestly, if there’s one album everyone but the most fervent fans can live without, it’s probably this one.
If Subterranean Jungle was their darkest hour, Too Tough To Die was the new dawn. Johnny and Dee Dee started speaking again — and, more importantly, writing songs again. And The Ramones finally realized they were better off being a great punk band than a lousy pop band. So they went back to the beginning again, getting original drummer Tommy Erdelyi in to produce and churning out a raft of winners like Mama’s Boy, Too Tough To Die, Howling At The Moon and even an instrumental, Durango 95. This one has some of the best extras too — a punky rendition of The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man, along with a full 10 demos, some with Dee Dee singing instead of Joey.
For The Ramones, it was a new beginning. And a long way from the end of the story. Counting a pair of live albums, there are five more Sire Records titles that Rhino could reissue if they plan on keeping the series alive. Then again, they might want to stop here — if only to keep from tempting fate again.