“I need to say that I didn’t agree to do these quote/unquote liner notes because I thought WE’RE A HAPPY FAMILY, the CD you now hold in your sweaty little hands, would be particularly good. . . . Ogod, I thought. Usually just an occasion for RECORDING ARTISTES to cover songs they could not have thought up in their wildest wetdreams (you know its true). Also an opportunity for the record companies to do what they do best, which is to Rake in the Long Green,” spews Stephen King, an avid Ramones fan, in the liner notes of We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones.
I have to admit it. When I put this album in my stereo, I expected nothing. Actually I expected less than nothing. With everyone from Pete Yorn to Metallica to Garbage covering classic Ramones songs, I expected total crap and nothing more from the Columbia Records cover album dedicated to the Ramones.
It wasn’t total crap. Mostly crap, yes, but not total crap. The tracks with the greatest appeal were from bands that encompass a sound furthest from the Ramones musical spectrum, particularly White Zombie, U2 and Marilyn Manson. These three bands stay true to their own sound while paying adequate homage to the original Ramones beat.
White Zombie infuses “Blitzkrieg Bop” with Rob Zombie’s unnaturally raspy and distorted voice and metal guitar riffs. Marilyn Manson’s version of “The KKK Took My Baby Away” ships you into his playground of electronic gothic. His frighteningly deep, breathy voice and computer-generated beats are able to send any child to years of therapy. U2’s “Beat on the Brat” has Bono’s soft, wistful (if strained at times) whisper and U2’s love for echoing backgrounds and vocals, giving it an odd ethereal feeling.
Most of the other songs try too hard to actually be the Ramones, or at least to get to the same level. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam try too hard to alter their vocals into Joey Ramone’s deep echo. The covers by Green Day and the Offspring are bland and unimaginative, probably because they fit into the genre of pop-punk that claims to have similarities to and influences from the Ramones. I don’t even know where to begin on Metallica’s “53rd and 3rd.” It was giving me a headache after the first 10 seconds, and I still don’t have the courage to listen to the whole song.
In the end, all it comes down to, as Stephen King so eloquently described, is corporate leeches clinging to the icons who almost single-handedly spurred the punk rock movement in America. A Tribute to the Ramones is a mission of Columbia Records to commercialize anything that its wide, hungry eyes and open hands can grasp, a mission led along with the help of today’s overwhelmingly mainstream rock artists sure to “Rake in the Long Green.”