Disc Review: The Ramones [pg. 24]

RAMONES Greatest Hits (Hed Artzi) How do you commemorate a groundbreaking rock and roll band with a greatest hits collection when it never really had any hits? It's simple with the Ramones, because virtually every manic track on this 20-song Greatest Hits album sounds like a classic radio song that should have been number one in some parallel pop universe. Whether they're remembered as bone-headed, glue-sniffing cartoon characters or as musical visionaries, the members of the New York punk quartet redefined their musical genre. For those who heard them in their late Seventies heyday, the notion of what rock and roll should be was turned on its ear. The band's eponymous 1976 debut was reportedly recorded for $7,500 over the course of a week, and a listen to the three songs from that effort which appear here suggests that the Ramones spent most of their recording money on food and drink, and not on stereophonic clarity. "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Beat on the Brat" are funny three-chord nursery rhymes that sound like they were played on toy guitars and drums channeled through a buzz saw, and sung by someone of questionable sanity and a limited comprehension of English. In other words, the songs are irresistible, like Buddy Holly in the Bowery, and unlike anything else from the mid-Seventies "whose Lear Jet is bigger?" rock era. The Ramones' sonic oomph picked up considerably on the band's the second and third discs, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, which contain arguably its greatest material and justifiably account for seven of the songs included here (although the majestic "Ramona" is left out). Despite some more peaks on Road to Ruin - represented here by "I Wanna Be Sedated" - the band's creative heights were behind it. The beginning of a long decline began when producer Phil Spector was left to his own devices on 1980 mishap End of the Century, in which he refashioned the boys as a Fifties cover band and dressed them in atrocious strings on "Baby I Love You." The compilers of this Greatest Hits album wisely the band's later Eighties projects short shrift, picking stronger material like "The KKK Took My Baby Away" and "Pet Semetary" but omitting the monumental "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," which was used to supreme effect in the film School of Rock. Though this is touted as the first official Ramones greatest hits compilation, there are better collections which may be out of print, such as the superior 30-track Ramones Mania (1988). A quick Google search also reveals a two-disc overview called Hey Ho Let's Go. But Ramones Greatest Hits is a decent introduction to anyone who thinks Green Day - or, God forbid, Blink 182 - invented punk rock. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy were the first, and the best. Gabba gabba hey. VARIOUS ARTISTS Atlantic Unearthed - Soul Sisters & Soul Brothers (Hed Artzi) Ever since Madison Avenue and Hollywood recognized the yuppie appeal of using Motown and Stax songs in commercials and on soundtracks (The Big Chill may be the biggest offender), it's been difficult to listen to those great Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Temptations tracks without seeing dollar signs in the background. Which makes the two single discs of Atlantic Unearthed such a breath of fresh air. Divided into Soul Brothers and Soul Sisters, the 32 tracks focus on the unsung Sixties and Seventies R&B of Bobby Womack, James Carr and R.B.Greaves (for the guys), and Doris Troy, Irma Thomas and Baby Washington (for the ladies). Superstars like Sam & Dave and Pickett are represented on previously unissued or rare tracks like "You Left the Water Running" and "Can't Stop a Man in Love," respectively. Atlantic always produced grittier material than the slicker Motown, with sinewy horn charts and throaty vocal performances. The men's disc is a little stronger thanks to some magnificent showings by Otis Clay ("Pouring Water on a Drowning Man") and Donny Hathaway ("What a Woman Really Means"). But the women come close with Mary Wells' "Hands Off My Baby" and Barbara Lewis' "Thankful For What I've Got." If you've always loved Sixties soul and thought you had heard it all, then Atlantic Unearthed will be like a lucky day digging at Qumran.