Leave Home Deluxe Edition – Ramones (Rhino)
Contest the claim if you like, but there isn’t a better Ramones album than “Leave Home”, their second long-player.
Yes, the debut was retrospectively ground-breaking and a beacon for rock and roll’s shift back-to-basics, but “Leave Home” surely should have been the point where “punk” (at least as America knew it) crossed the line, converting from Cult Curiosity to Mainstream Soundtrack.
High-tensile guitars, off-colour humour, melodies and energy live large within its groove. Bubblegum, doo-wop, pop and rock bundled into the perfect musical package, married to an image of teen rebellion, leather jackets and shades. What the fuck is there not to love?
Alas, we all now know that “Leave Home” stiffed in big picture, commercial terms, peaking at 148 on the Billboard Top 200. Even a bona fide surf-pop classic in “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” - replacing the substance abuse themed “Carbona Not Glue” because it breached brand copyright - couldn’t break an album with lyrics about shock treatment, killing a girl, Nazis and freaks, no matter how tongue-in-cheek.
No amount of analysis can un-pick the threads of that one. Punk, as a brand, was a threat to The Establishment and everybody knows what comes after that. Re-badging something as New Wave when it only needed to be called Rock and Roll in the first place must have seemed a good idea at the time.
No matter. Everything old is new again and the marketers have already been busy plundering the vaults for the first album’s “deluxe edition” (basically a mono version of the stereo article on LP, accompanied by alternate mixes, demos and singles over three CDs.)
“Leave Home” has been given similar treatment, with two different mixes of (a remastered version of the original and a new 40th anniversary mix by engineer Ed Stasium) along with demo’s and unheard versions, and an unreleased live show recorded in 1977 at CBGB.
It’s a limited and numbered edition of 15,000 copies packaged in a 12 x 12 hardcover book, with words by former manager Danny Fields and Stasium.
At $A108 (less on eBay) it’s a hefty thing with a price tag to match, so do you really need it? That’s your call and it depends on how big a Ramones tragic you are and what else you own. Me, I’m citing a recent birthday as my excuse.
First, to the vinyl: It’s a re-mix/re-master job on the original LP. The guitars are more present in the middle of the soundscape and the reverb seems to have been pulled back. The liners will tell you that. To these ears, it does seem marginally tougher and a little punchier.
Now, I know all those arguments about why try and improve on perfection? Arguments about the Iggy re-mix of “Raw Power” versus the iconic Bowie mix notwithstanding, that’s a slippery slope with no easy landing. You need to understand the motivation of big companies (and Rhino is an arm of one) to get to grips with that one.
Presuming you were happy with the original “Leave Home” mix, the re-working is driven by marketers trying to catch a wave on the back of vinyl fans slavishly re-buying everything on LP and the diehards who need to have EVERYTHING. The re-mix isn’t anything radically different to the 2001 CD re-master (and who would really want it, if it was?) So caveat emptor. And eat kosher salami.
CD number one is the “anniversary mix” coupled with a re-mastered “original mix”.
The second CD includes the original “rough” mixes without reverb and phasing – as recorded at Sundragon Studio. They’re a bit like the un-embellished mix of the first Dead Boys album that came out as “Younger, Louder and Snottier”. Nice to have but not essential. “Sheena”, “Babysitter” (the replacement track on the UK edition) and the offending “Carbona” are appended, but is there anyone who hasn’t heard them?
This one is filled out by various re-mixes of key tracks, instrumental and otherwise, with corny “work-in-progress” names. (“Pinhead Oo-Oo-Gabba-UhUh Mix”, anyone?) These have to be a marketing ploy and smell suspiciously new. Among the 18 (!) bonuses are cuts of Johnny Ramone’s infamous strummed chord (tragics will know right away) and if it’s always bothered you, you’ll now be able to piece together the bits of chipmunk-speak in the outro of “Pinhead”.
Dunno about you but live Ramones shows tend to merge into each other over the years. I can’t count how many boots I have. There are some distinct eras that equate to line-up shifts or developments in the band’s development (like the annoying “Loco Live” phase where Joey struggled to keep up and burred his words), but the regimented nature of the band’s show under Reich Marshall Johnny generally means collecting every gig in existence is a manifestation of OCD more than anything else.
(My own favourite is a boot called “Blitzkrieg ‘76”, a well-balanced soundboard from a Cambridge, Massachusetts, club imaginatively called The Club, recorded between the first and second records.)
The good news is that the final CD is a March 1977 CBGB show and it’s worthy of your hearing. It shows the Bruddas a couple of months after the release of “Leave Home and firing on all Tommy-driven cylinders. It’s the third night of a four-evening stand at the club. By then, the band was becoming a bit popular for its stamping ground.
The gem is a live take on “Babysitter”, a song performed in front of an audience only a handful of times.
The package looks fantastic – chunky, like the vinyl, with neat little pockets into which to slip the CDs The “book” is slightly underwhelming, being a stapled affair that slips into the pocket housing the LP. Content-wise, we are talking one of the most analysed and written-about bands of the last three decades so don’t bitch if you don’t learn anything new.
Mixed feelings for me on the value of this package, but they dissipate when I hit the volume button. Raise a brew - or a glue. It's your choice.