The sophomore album from Forest Hills, Queens, New York’s Ramones, Leave Home, arrived in January 1977 on Sire Records, just months after the April 1976 release of the band’s self-titled debut. Despite the title, however, Leave Home didn’t mark a large stylistic leap or departure for the young punks out of their comfort zone. On closer inspection, however, it continued the growth of the band. Forty years later, it’s easier to hear that progression than ever, thanks to a new, 3-CD/1-LP set from the Rhino label (R2 559753). In addition to a remastered version of the original album, the record-sized, book-style collection adds a new, 40th anniversary mix on CD and LP, a generous bonus disc of 33 selections (almost all of which are never-before-heard), and a previously unreleased live concert from April ’77. In short, it adds up to a wealth of music from Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Johnny.
On first blush, Leave Home continued the approach of Ramones: fast, furious, and crunchy riffs played in rudimentary style but with abundant energy and punk swagger, tight melodies that owed their debut to an earlier generation of pop music, and anarchic, snotty and subversively “dumb” lyrics on a variety of often-taboo topics. The raw, gritty, and back-to-basics, snarling sound of the Ramones’ music was an antidote to the day’s prevailing trends, whether the pomp of prog and heavy rock, or the hedonism and lush gloss of disco. As on Ramones, the tunes were fast and tight; the longest track (“Pinhead”) clocks in at a mere two minutes, forty-four seconds. Sire brought in producer Tony Bongiovi to helm the album along with T. Erdelyi (a.k.a. Tommy Ramone, using his real name) but by all accounts, Bongiovi’s master stroke was simply to stay out of the Ramones’ way of doing what they did best. Most of the album was recorded live in one or two takes, with only a minimal amount of editing. Revisiting Leave Home on this new edition, it becomes apparent that the band had gained confidence, focus, and fury, with Tommy’s drums particularly growing in power.
The simple lyrics and catchy, upbeat melodies solidified the easy, unforced connection between band and audience. Leave Home also overflows with accessible retro influences, not only including an amped-up cover of the oft-covered “California Sun,” but drawing on bubblegum and doo-wop. The band was creating memorable nuggets with the likes of “Oh, Oh, I Love Her So,” a pop love story that begins at a Burger King, and the classic ode to a girl in the punk rock scene, “Suzy Was a Headbanger.”
Irreverence shone through on “Glad to See You Go,” a particularly vicious kiss-off to an ex (“Get the glory like Charles Manson/Gonna smile, I’m gonna laugh/You’re gonna get a blood bath”) that would have been completely uncomfortable as sung by any other band, and “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,” a perky paean to the mental illness treatment. A key theme is violence, always presented in over-the-top fashion. “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl” is explicitly rooted in doo-wop, with a lyric that, if taken at face value, exudes misogyny. “You Should Never Have Opened That Door” is a bleak horror-movie story, winking at the conventions of the genre. “Commando” became an instant Ramones anthem, as did “Pinhead.” The latter established the band’s rallying cry of “Gabba gabba hey,” poached from the Tod Browning cult classic Freaks, and was speaking directly to the listeners: “We accept you/One of us.” A theme of empathy for the outsider occasionally flickers on Leave Home. The tempo even slows (a bit) for “What’s Your Game,” in which Joey – backed by sweetly cooing harmonies – wishes a girl would be her “insane” self rather than try to be “like the other girls you see.”
This reissue includes “Carbona Not Glue,” included on original pressings of the album but quickly deleted when the manufacturers of cleaning product Carbona threatened legal action. The song plays like an updated version of West Side Story‘s “Gee, Officer Krupke” from a similar group of punk rebels: “It’s TV’s fault why I am this way/Mom and pop wanna put me away…” The song was replaced in the U.S. by the single A-side “Sheena Was a Punk Rocker” and in the U.K. by “Babysitter,” and happily, both of those tracks are included on the bonus disc.
The original album is included twice on the first disc of this set, first in its original remastered version and secondly in a new mix by original engineer Ed Stasium. He writes in the liner notes, “After Leave Home was released, we all felt, in various hindsight discussions with the band, that the mixes for the album had been rushed, and didn’t represent the raw power of the Ramones.” As the arrangements and instrumentation of the album aren’t by nature intricate, there weren’t many previously unheard nuances for Stasium to bring forward. Neither is the 2017 mix as eye-opening as the mono presentation of Ramones on last year’s box set edition. But it’s a welcome alternative here, as it offers a more centered sound than the original and its hard left-right stereo panning. Stasium’s remix also tones down the reverb liberally applied forty years earlier. It maintains the album’s powerful, up-close-and-personal feeling, and sounds particularly “right” on its clean and quiet vinyl presentation. (Turn it up and play it LOUD!)
Disc Two is a treasure chest for longtime Ramones fans. First, the whole album is presented a third time in another iteration – this time, Stasium and co-engineer Bob Clearmountain’s original rough mix assembled after just five days of recording, and before some key overdubs were added. As such, it’s the most raw-sounding Leave Home. This rough version includes a previously unreleased mix of “Babysitter,” which is also included in the version which eventually appeared on the U.K. album. The only other previously issued tracks on this disc are the infectious, finger-snapping, hand-clapping “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” (featuring the only appearance of session background vocalists on a Ramones record) and its original single B-side, the appropriately-disaffected “I Don’t Care.” (Both songs were re-recorded for the next Ramones album, Rocket to Russia.)
There aren’t any outtakes among the remaining fifteen bonus cuts, but rather a trove of new mixes assembled from newly-discovered original elements. The “Bubblegum Version” of “Glad to See You Go” is brighter, with Joey’s double-tracked vocal, Dee Dee on the verses, and handclaps eventually omitted from the final issued version. The “Soda Machine Mix” of “Oh Oh I Love Her So” takes on a new flavor as it loses its background vocals and overdubs; “Suzy Was a Headbanger” is similarly stripped down in its “Geek Mix.” The “Oo-Oo-Gabba-Uhuh Mix” of “Pinhead” is Chipmunk-style sped-up studio silliness, sewn together by Stasium from Joey and Dee Dee’s anarchic, in-studio “freaks” comedy routines. The “Doo Wop Mix” of “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl” restores street corner-style fingersnaps. “Commando” is presented in TV track style, removing Joey’s lead vocal, while “Swallow My Pride” and “California Sun” get purely instrumental treatments to showcase the band’s sometimes-overlooked musicianship. Though these remixes could hardly be described as revelatory, they are refreshingly fun and very much in the spirit of Leave Home and of the Ramones.
For the third CD, the band’s CBGB’s concert of April 2, 1977 is presented, with nineteen brisk selections. (A different concert – from Hollywood’s Roxy, on August 12, 1976, was appended to Leave Home on its 2001 expanded edition.) During the set, the Ramones previewed “Teenage Lobotomy” from Rocket to Russia (to be released in November ’77), the with all of the other selections drawn from Ramones and Leave Home. The frenetic and hard-hitting set is sourced from a solid audience recording, with expected sound (less than optimal clarity in the vocals, better for the overall instrumental attack), but the band’s energy and enthusiastic rapport with the audience comes through loud and clear.
Reissue producers Ed Stasium and Bill Inglot have contextualized Leave Home with a potency and vibrancy the album deserves. Greg Calbi has remastered the studio performances while Dan Hersch has restored and mastered the live concert; both engineers have successfully captured the raw essence of the music. The box set is packaged in a sturdy, LP-sized gatefold format similar to last year’s release of Ramones, with the vinyl and 12-page booklet in one pocket, and the three discs in individual slots. The booklet contains personal reminiscences from manager Danny Fields, insights into the making of the box set by Stasium, and complete lyrics for the original album. It all makes for a fitting tribute to the band of “brothers” who fused pop and punk rock into their own sly musical brew.