Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Videos - Ramones, Subterranean Jungle

The Ramones, 'Time Has Come Today' (1983 music video)

'Time Has Come Today', Chambers Brothers original version

The song above (insert your own joke about cowbell) is from one of my very favourite Ramones albums, along with Ramones and End of the Century. 1983's Subterranean Jungle is a glorious psychedelic punk-pop album, that tends to get explained away as their last confused experiment with the Spectorised pop dreams of End of the Century and Pleasant Dreams and the necessary precedent to 1984's Too Tough To Die 'comeback'. For me, however, the Ramones I fell in love with was the kooky experimentation, not so much the leather-jacketed posturing, though that was good too - more so in 1976 than in 1984.

Pleasant Dreams does have, of course, 'Psychotherapy' and 'Timebomb', two great blistering Ramones punk rock tracks, but the rest of the album is largely made up of late 60s psychedelic/soul covers - the opener 'Little Bit O' Soul', originally by the Music Explosion, and the Chamber Brothers' 'Time Has Come Today' - their own attempt at psychedelic rock, 'Highest Trails Above', as well as the obligatory bouncy pop song, 'My-My Kind of Girl', and the slightly stranger take on the concept, 'Everytime I Eat Vegetables I Think Of You'.

The best part about Subterranean Jungle is how the 60s pop and soul sound mixes so well with the pioneering pop-punk sound of early-80s Ramones. 'Outsider', for example, a classic Dee Dee Ramone song covered notable enough by Green Day, comes off a "throwaway" cover of 'I Need Your Love' by The Boyfriends, and the rather unlikely Music Explosion opener. The psychedelic covers fit in with the more straightforward punk songs, even though Johnny Ramone was the most in favour of the band taking a harder, non-pop stance, it's his vibrant guitar that cements it all together. 'Time Has Come Today' thus sounds like a relatively normal Ramones song to me, at least in the context of this album.

From the liner notes to the reissue of Subterranean Jungle, by Gil Kaufman:

"...In that spirit of commitment, the nearly epic (for the Ramones, anyway) four-and-a-half-minute cover of the Chambers Brothers' 1968 psychedelic hit "Time Has Come Today" made sense as a last-minute addition to the sessions. Although they had also been preparing a cover of 1910 Fruitgum and Co.'s "Indian Giver" (originally cowritten and produced by Cordell and included in this expanded reissue), the group decided to include "Time Has Come Today" after Marty went to get help for his drinking problem.

With session drummer Billy Rogers behind the kit, they cut the song with former Heartbreaker Walter Lure - Marty's drinking buddy for much of the sessions - doubling most of Johnny's guitar parts. According to Johnny, the cut marks the first and only time in the group's history where two different guitarists are playing simultaneously on a studio recording. It was pegged for a single, and longtime manager Gary Kurfirst says it was the latest in a line of songs the label thought would be the band's breakthrough hit.

And while Johnny says they tried to reproduce the Chambers Brother sound as closely as possible, there were limitations. "It was difficult for Joey to sing," Johnny says. "He was competing with the Chambers Brothers, and when your getting into soul singers, it's hard for a white rock singer to compete with that." Joey gives it his best, though, alternately growling the lyrics and sing-speaking them in a rubbery baritone as the band plays a reverential cover of the song. They made a video for that song as well, but the single didn't take off, and the album stalled out at #83 on the Billboard charts."

Last night I was watching Remember The Titans - as there's no episode of Friday Night Lights on this weekend - for the first time and, as much as American football is still a largely mystifying activity to me, it's a pretty great film. Okay, it gets a little wholesome for its own good sometimes - compared to the remarkable dramatic realism of Friday Night Lights, the TV show - but the true story of racial conflict and triumph is still quite impressive in its exposition. 'Time Has Come Today' appears briefly in the film, at the scene where the newly integrated high school opens its doors to the accompaniment of protesters waving "Parents against Busing" placards; it's a revolutionary song for revolutionary times (according to Wikipedia, the sound effects on the long version of the song were intended to replicate the sounds of the war in Vietnam).

Incidentally, the cast of teenage football players is very interesting to look at now - the movie was made in 2000 - starring as it does Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris as Julius) from The Wire, as well as Turk (Donald Faison as Petey) from Scrubs and Randy (Ethan Suplee as Louie) from My Name Is Earl.

Long version - 9 minutes - of 'Time Has Come Today' on YouTube.

Ramones - Subterranean Jungle (Expanded Edition) via ABC Afterglow

I talked about Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle by the Ramones previously here.

'Little Bit O' Soul' by the Music Explosion, 1967 (first song on Subterranean Jungle):

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