Joey Ramone was a giant, but a frail, fragile and intensely vulnerable one in every conceivable way: physically, psychologically and artistically.
The six-foot-five beanpole with the rose-coloured glasses – whose old Bowery stomping ground is now officially named Joey Ramone Place – fronted The Ramones for over 20 years before his death in 2001, just before what would’ve been his 50th birthday, battling against his sickly health, occasionally crippling OCD, the indifference of the mainstream US music scene to punk in general and Da Bruddaz in particular and, most crucially, the domination of the band by his guitar-and-big-stick-wielding brudda and frenemy Johnny Ramone.
For “…ya know? ”, Joey’s musician brother Mickey Leigh (author of the affecting and enlightning memoir I Slept With Joey Ramone) and veteran Ramones producer/collaborator Ed Stasium have collected and completed all the demos and sketches left behind by Joey which didn’t go into his previous posthumous solo album, Don’t Worry About Me, framed by producer Daniel Rey as an ersatz Ramones album.
“…ya know? ”, by contrast, focuses on Joey’s own taste and vision and – despite the frequent eruption of buzz-saw ramalama guitars (hell, he was, after all, a Ramone!) – the music Leigh and Stasium have concocted, with collaborators like Joan Jett, Steve Van Zandt (who also contributes the liner notes), Holly Beth Vincent (who takes the duet part on Party Line), Lenny Kaye, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Bun E Carlos and Richie Ramone emphasises the Joey entranced with the pop and rock of the period from the late 50s to the early 70s.
In other words: freed from Johnny’s Ramonic tyranny, we meet the sweeter, shyer Joey whose influences stretch from Elvis, Brill Building and Beach Boys to Alice Cooper, Bowie, Slade and Stooges via Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who. The only recycled Ramones tune, Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight), appears here the way Joey wrote it: as a gorgeously sentimental doo-wop ballad.
Some of the then-topical lyrical references seem dated, but the tunes – and Joey’s singing – are timeless. It’s still rock, but the Stasium and Leigh backdrops are far more varied and less monolithic than anything Johnny would ever have permitted on a Ramones album.
Top tunes: There’s Got To Be More To Life, 21st Century Girl and New York City. Joey is missed – but “…ya know?” shouldn’t be.