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"We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones" CD Review

I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

CD cover

CD cover

"We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones"

DV8/Radioactive/Columbia Records, 2003

Tracks: 17 (1 hidden) / Run Time: 49:14

The tribute-album craze of the 1990s had mostly petered out by the turn of the century, but a few interesting examples of the genre continued to appear into the early 2000s, such as this all-star salute to the New York punk rock pioneers. We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones was released in 2003, six years after the band took its final bow and two years after the untimely death of lead singer Joey. The album was co-produced by guitarist Johnny Ramone (it was the last project he worked on before his death from prostate cancer in 2004) and fellow New Yorker and massive Ramones fanboy Rob Zombie. The pair drafted an impressive and eclectic lineup of talent from all corners of the rock world to pay tribute to Da Bruddahs, demonstrating the amazing breadth of the Ramones' influence on rock music over the course of their twenty-plus years in the trenches. The Ramones never sold a lot of records, but obviously the ones they did sell clearly landed in the hands of the right people!

Rob Zombie - "Blitzkrieg Bop"

Hey! Ho! Let's Go!

I must confess that when I first got this album in 2003, I wasn't sure what to expect due to my near-total disinterest in a good three quarters of the contributing lineup. I still tried my best to keep an open mind when I first pressed "play," remembering that everyone who played on this album loved the Ramones just as much as I do.

My fascination with the Red Hot Chili Peppers pretty much began and ended with their Mothers Milk album in 1988, and their mid-paced, reggae-injected take on "Havana Affair" didn't do much to put them back in my good graces. This sounds like someone playing a 45 at the wrong speed. C'mon Peppers, we've all heard what you did with Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," so we know you can thrash it out better than this when the mood strikes you!

Rob Zombie's rip through "Blitzkrieg Bop" doesn't sound much like the original, but its shout-along vibe works well through RZ's electro-metal filter. I remember hearing this track being played at sporting events for a while after the album was released, as a "psyche the crowd up" jam.

I was never much of a Pearl Jam fan, but their vocalist Eddie Vedder turns in a fairly rockin' performance of "I Believe in Miracles," backed by the Seattle punk band Zeke.

Metallica's take on "53rd and 3rd" was the biggest disappointment of the CD thus far. They cut this track during their problem plagued St. Anger recording sessions and it's just as disjointed and sloppy sounding as that album was. I don't think "53rd and 3rd" was the right song for them, anyway - imagine what the younger, more thrashing Metallica of old could have done with a speed burner like "Psycho Therapy" or "Teenage Lobotomy" and weep for what might have been!

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U2's run through "Beat on the Brat" almost has the right spirit, except for Bono's breathy, whispery vocal delivery, which certainly doesn't sound like he's going to beat anybody with a baseball bat.

The Ramones' influence on KISS was probably minimal at best (though they did come out of the New York City scene at roughly the same time, so maybe there was some mutual admiration between the two bands), but their stomping version of "Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?" is the best track on the CD, capturing the fun, '60s inspired spirit of the Phil Spector-produced original, while still stamping it with KISS' typical arena-rock Godzilla bombast.

Unsurprisingly, the representatives from the multi-platinum '90s pop punk movement - Green Day ("Outsider"), Offspring ("I Wanna Be Sedated"), and Rancid ("Sheena is a Punk Rocker") -- all turn in respectful versions of their tracks. This makes sense, because all three of those bands proudly wore their Ramones influence on their collective sleeves, even when performing their own original material.

A few ladies get into the act, too. Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders turn in a mournful acoustic version of the underrated ballad "Someting to Believe In" (from 1986's Animal Boy), and Shirley Manson's snarl does Joey proud on Garbage's "I Just Wanna Have Something to Do."

The rest of the CD is a mixed bag. Pete Yorn's jangly "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" is a treat, but Marilyn Manson's absolutely terrible electro-Goth butchery of "The KKK Took My Baby Away" will have you reaching for the "skip" button before it's over. Crooner Tom Waits' "The Return of Jackie & Judy" is almost as bad, sounding like a drunk homeless guy yowling on a street corner.

Eddie Vedder and Zeke come back for a fine late-inning rendition of "Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)" to close the album, but if you stay tuned you'll find a hidden track -- a strange, funereal version of "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" by Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, which I liked a little better than the RHCP's "Havana Affair," but not much.

KISS - "Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio"

Conclusion

Like most tribute albums, We're a Happy Family is a pretty even mix of the gutsy and the klutzy. Some tracks made me raise my fist in the air, while others made me want to rip the CD out of my player and fling it across the room. Thankfully in this digital day and age, I can cut the crappy tracks out of the running order and only keep the good stuff in my playlist, which makes a more streamlined listening experience.

Even if you're a die hard, gotta-have-everything collector of Ramones memorabilia, you can probably skip We're a Happy Family unless you find a used copy on the cheap (like I did).

Green Day - "Outsider"

© 2021 Keith Abt

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