The Ramones' place in pop history was safe before the end of the '70s with their first four near-perfect albums. They were knocked off course by the Phil Spector-produced half-masterpiece/half-trainwreck that followed, but had they gone away quietly they could have returned a decade or two later for a well-received comeback. Instead, they made the "mistake" of never giving up, releasing nine more hit-and-miss albums (admittedly more miss than hit after Dee Dee's departure in '89), sprinkled with radio-friendly standouts that never made it on air. Ignored by most, the band were left preaching to the converted at their 2,263 live shows in 22 years.
But you don't know what you've got till it's gone, and Joey Ramone's posthumous 2002 solo debut Don't Worry About Me was a sweet, solid goodbye that got nicer notices than his bands' last few attempts. And against all expectations, Ya Know? is far from the cobbled-together demos and outtakes it could have easily been.
It could do with losing five tracks, not least the odd loungecore home re-recording of 'Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)', but the album is bookended with four of the best songs with a Ramone name on them since the early '80s. There's some guest turns from the likes of Joan Jett and Lenny Kaye, but none obscure the skinny frame of the straggly, six foot six punk.
Opener 'Rock 'n Roll Is the Answer' is chunky, catchy, classic rock with a twiddly, tappin' guitar solo that would have had Johnny kicking his amp in at all the boogying, but it sounds great. 'Waiting For That Railroad' echoes the Ramones' rare acoustic interludes like 'Danny Says'. Co-written with his brother Mickey Leigh, 'I Couldn't Sleep' is a punkified Eddie Cochran which underlines the '50s rock 'n' roll presence that's been in Joey's locker since day one Year Zero.
The penultimate 'Cabin Fever' is a perfectly-titled, claustrophobic brooding powerhouse. Perhaps the only song that completely breaks free of Joey's history, were it not for his distinctive punk croon it could have been recorded by one of the billion acts he inspired during his career.
When it was released on the Ramones final album ¡Adios Amigos! in 1995, 'Life's A Gas' was as much a finger-pointing kiss-off as tender farewell. Closing Joey's last ever album as a stripped back acoustic epitaph, the 'She Loves You' melody and more-poignant-than-you-can-possibly-imagine lyrics are enough to get you sobbing if you're listening in the right/wrong mood. "So don't be sad cause I'll be there / Don't be sad at all". We can only try.
Tracks to download: 'Rock 'n' Roll Is The Answer', 'Cabin Fever', 'Life's A Gas' If you like this, you'll like: The Strokes, Eddie Cochran, Phil Spector
Watch the 'Rock 'n' Roll Is The Answer' music video below: