Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tommy Ramone

So now all four of the original Ramones are dead. And well, that sucks.

Tommy Erdelyi, aka Tommy Ramone, was the original drummer for the seminal New York punk band, the one responsible for keeping that frenetic pace up as the band tore through all those early two-minute anthems like a caffeine-revved college student tearing through the pages of a textbook during an all-night cram session. He died of cancer this past weekend, and has the somewhat dubious honor of being the original band member who lived the longest, reaching his 65th birthday.

The Ramones were, of course, more than just a punk band. For a long time, particularly their heyday in the mid-to-late 1970s, sure they were all about rebellion and isolation, but it was a slightly different variety.  Because for all of their punk street cred (and really, go ahead and try and name a band that had more), it's hard to think of any American band that created more infectious tunes, despite the brevity.

In that simplicity lay the beauty of the Ramones music. It had anger, sure. And sadness and defiance and could stand as a very prominent middle-finger to the ones who made the rules. But their sound, as signature as any band that has ever existed anywhere, was also steeped in pop sensibilities, with all those simple progressions that made it just so damn listenable. Maybe their songs were all about anger, about loneliness, about numbing the mind rather coping with brutal realities. But dammit, you could dance to them! That's what made The Ramones so blessedly unique in the entire punk oeuvre.

Tommy Erdelyi was a huge part of that. He kept that legendary beat when the band was at the very peak of its powers on their first three albums (The Ramones from 1976, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia from 1977) and served as producer of those and the next one (1978's Road to Ruin). This was the the creative apex of The Ramones. Tommy was the man behind it.

At the band's most epic moments—from the “Hey ho! Let’s go!” frenzy that kicked everything off with “Blitzkrieg Bop” to the lush and gorgeous pining of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” from the celebratory mania of “Rockaway Beach” to perhaps the band’s finest hour of “I Wanna Be Sedated”—Tommy was at the helm, either on drums, producing or doing both. He was as responsible for that blast of power, that pop sheen and that now-legendary sound as any of them.

And after he was done with The Ramones, Tommy shed that famous adopted surname, became Tommy Erdelyi again and added another pronounced notch to his rock-n-roll belt: he produced The Replacements' 1985 classic Tim, their first major-label release on Sire Records and easily one of the finest and most important post-punk records in history.  Some will claim Tim to be the Mats' best album (for me it's nearly impossible to choose between that, 1984s Let It Be and 1986's Pleased to Meet Me), but either way it gave the world "Bastards of Young" and "Here Comes a Regular" and "Swinging Party" and "Kiss Me on the Bus" and, best of all, the greatest college radio anthem ever written, "Left of the Dial."

Production values were something of a foreign concept to the Mats prior to Let it Be, and even that brilliant album still had the ragged, reckless mark of a band on the edge of total loss of control. But Tim is the one album by The Replacements that seemed to hit the production sweet spot; this was where the jagged acid of the early Twin Tone years met with the glossy, layered power of the Sire years. It's not a "producer's album," like the kind so brilliantly generated by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, but it's one where a steady hand can be felt behind the band, subtlly guiding them. It's no surprise that Tommy Erdelyi was the man at the reins for Tim. What he did for The Ramones in those glorious early days, he did for The Replacements here.

He will be missed. Very much so. Thanks for it all, Tommy.

photo: http://liveiseedeadpeoples.tumblr.com/post/9333774427/dee-dee-ramone-joey-ramone-johnny-ramone
(Here are, I think, two great examples of what Tommy brought to the table, as a drummer on the first and a producer on the second)

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