Pity the poor Ramones. Where once they led the charge of the punk brigade, da brudders four now eat the dust of ambulance-chasing snobs smitten by avant-funk, the new psychedelia and Spandau Baloney. After four masterpieces of heavy metal, go-go and the noble failure of last year’s Phil Spector-produced End of the Century, is it any wonder that the band would go fishing for hits with producer Graham Gouldman of 10cc fame?
It may seem like these guys are grasping at pop-credibility straws with Gouldman’s studio sleight of hand: fortified vocal harmonies, an occasional dash of keyboards, a certain production gimmickry. But the ironically titled Pleasant Dreams is actually the Ramones’ state-of-the-union message, an impassioned display of irrepressible optimism and high-amp defiance laced with bitterness over what they see as corporate sabotage of their rock & roll fantasies. Where as End of the Century’s “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio” was a nostalgic plaint, “We Want the Airwaves” is an angry threat “Mr. Programmer/I got my hammer/And I’m gonna/Smash my/Smash my/Radio,” snaps Joey backed by Dee Dee and Marky’s strong-arm tactics on bass and drums and Johnny’s phalanx of guitars. Even the self-pitying “This Business Is Killing Me” is delivered with sniggering insolence: “Can’t please all the people all the time…/But then they don’t please me.”
Still, in spite of everything (including their own iffy commercial chances), the Ramones are determined to keep on having a rock & roll teenage ball. They can’t help following up the moaning and groaning of “You Didn’t Mean Anything to Me,” a real cretin hopper that boasts a near-nuclear riff, with a Rockaway Beach Boys rouser like “Come on Now.” Joey’s tragicomic love stories, “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and “7-11” (the songs are almost evenly divided between Joey and Dee Dee), are pure punk for party people. And the obvious lesson of “It’s Not My Place (in the 9 to 5 World),” driven home by Marky’s feisty, Bo Diddley-style beat and a middle eight borrowed from the Who’s “Whiskey Man,” is that being an adult is certainly no big deal.
Not that the Ramones shrink away from real life. Instead, they’re the comic relief. “It’s us against them,” sneers Joey in “Sitting in My Room.” “They just wanna worry … /They just wanna be so lame/Maybe they should try and sniff some glue.” Or put Pleasant Dreams on the box and crank it up to ten.