Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Ramones - Too Tough To Die

Too Tough To Die

Released 1984 on Sire/Warner Bros
Reviewed by griddell, 14/03/2006ce

OK, obviously they weren’t.
Too Tough To Die that is. Dumb irony of the title aside, it seems entirely appropriate that when the dust settled on the Ramones saga, it was only three drummers & a replacement bass player left standing. No Spinal Tap cliché about exploding sticks-men here.
Not that they weren’t important. In fact, two of those drummers played a crucial part in making Too Tough To Die such an unsung classic.

Even as a self-confessed Ramones anorak, it’s hard to argue with the basic conventionally held wisdom, i.e. if you own the first three albums, that’s all you need. Argue I will though, as you should add another two to that list. Whether you‘re just discovering the band or think you‘ve already heard their best, the live audio-blitzkrieg from London 1978 that is ‘It's Alive’ and this classic ‘come-back’ from 1984 are both well worth spending your hard earned dosh on.
There is no doubt that between 78 and 84, the Ramones suffered from an array of problems including bad producer choices, the elusive search for a radio friendly ‘hit’ and plain bad song writing/internal band factions. A decade on from their beginnings they would re-group, get back to writing songs together and produce an album packed with all the original Ramones qualities: simple, fast rock’n’roll delivered with energy and not a little humour & weirdness.
Getting original producer/drummer Tommy back on the consol was a genius move for re-capturing a sound & feeling while new boy Richie gave them a percussive kick up the arse - ‘I played everything twice the speed.’ he reveals in the movie 'End Of The Century'.

From the opening track, all the omens are good: trademark power chord from Johnny and a ‘1-2-3-4‘ from Dee Dee introduce the thudding groove of ‘Mama‘s Boy‘, complete with uber-geek lyrics from Joey.
And hey ho - what do you know, Johnny & Dee Dee co-wrote it. It’s obvious that Dee Dee in particular relished getting back to the band’s punk sound, even rebelling against the Ramones unspoken image rules to ditched the mop-top for a suitably spiky barnett! The fact he wrote or co-wrote ten out of the thirteen tracks on TTTD cannot be underestimated when it comes to summing up it‘s strengths.
As well as being the band collectively standing their ground and refusing to give up, it is also contains some of the bass players finest singing and writing moments. Second and third tracks seem like a declaration of intent - from the titles alone: ‘I’m Not Afraid Of Life’ & ‘Too Tough Too Die’. As good as these tracks are, it’s the next two that really kick you in the gonads and grab your attention. ’Durango 95’ is simply the best rock instrumental ever recorded. A minute of adrenalin rush chords that grind to a halt only to be resurrected in a slightly different order as ’Wart Hog’. While Dee Dee had sung on recordings before, there was no indication of just how fucked-up and downright scary he could sound. A mutated New Yoik take on Lydon maybe? Holy shit - listen to that voice! If both these short rockers don’t get your heart and feet moving, you’re already dead.
Next up is ‘Danger Zone’, curiously like Ramones of 76 yet updated. Placed as it is between the snarled ‘Wart Hog’ and the spirit of 50’s rock’n’roll that is ‘Chasing The Night’, it confirms a new maturity and variety in song writing. Yes, you didn’t read wrong - the words ’maturity’ and ‘variety’ just appeared in a Ramones review, but don‘t let that put you off. The closer of the original side one, ’Chasing…’ is a real dumb, fun, getting-ready to go out rocker.

Prepare yourself if you’re listening to this LP, as the next track is a killer. For me it stands up with any Ramones classic though it probably won’t be what you expect. For starters, it’s intro is a shuffling, synthy rhythm with echo-laden keyboards, it is produced by Dave Stewart (yep, as in Eurythmics) and is full of poetic Dee Dee lyrics about his love for getting high, hurting no-one, breaking the rules and winning. ‘Howling At The Moon’ should be shit.
The fact it’s one of Joey’s best vocal contributions to the band, the short but sweet Doors type middle eight and the sheer quality if the song defy all expectations. By rights it should have been that elusive mega-selling hit that had eluded the band.....except it's about drugs - ah, well. One of the main reasons TTTD should be in your collection.
‘Daytime Dilemma’ is another pop-punk joy, ‘Planet Earth 1988’ a bleak driving drone in the vein of ‘I Don’t Care’, except with politically aware lyrics (again - don’t let that put you off!) while ‘Humankind’ is a fine, fast & furious Richie composition. If it seems I’m glossing over these tracks a bit, you’re right - who really wants to read a detailed bar-by-bar breakdown? Besides, I’m getting to another stand out moment, another Dee Dee scary vocal track that somehow transcends dumb riff-a-rama into the realms of punk heaven. ‘Like taking Carrie to the high school prom, something’s always going wrong…’ Fittingly it’s another Johnny/Dee Dee song. ’Endless Vacation’ is a paean to brain damage that only one of rocks ultimate outsiders could carry off singing, down to the fantastically moronic 'Hey! Hey! Hey....' bit. Like it’s side one companion ‘Wart Hog’, this is a wonderfully stupid tune that should be played at maximum volume to fuse your synapses and get your ears ringing beautifully.
Can anything follow that? Well, yeah. ’No Go’ is another blatant rock’n’roll tribute, with Joey lamenting the fact he’s too hung-over to go out two nights in a row in mock-Elvis tones, while Johnny stakes a claim as the punk Chuck Berry. A solid if inauspicious closer that is just plain, fun rock.

The albums after this are basically a slowly diminishing return as far as quality goes, though two worth checking out are 'Halfway To Sanity' & the final swansong ‘Adios Amigos‘. It’s all well documented in the excellent movie, ‘End Of The Century’ which you really should see, fan or not. Sad in points, it's still a great insight into one of the most dis-functional and unique bands to ever exist. Probably best summed up by Leggs McNeil’s comment, ‘they created something beautiful out of something ugly.’
‘Too Tough To Die’ is definitive proof that the original attitude and spirit never totally deserted da brudders.

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