Joey Ramone’s “…ya know?” the second posthumous release of songs from the former lead singer of punk rock icons The Ramones, provides long-awaited insight into the singer’s musical influences and passions outside the group. Overseen by Joey’s brother and occasional collaborator, musician Mickey Leigh, the album features contributions from a number of musical contemporaries including Joan Jett, Stevie Van Zandt, members of Cheap Trick, The Plasmatics, and The Ramones’ New York punk-era cohorts The Dictators. Producer Ed Stasium, at the helm for several Ramones albums beginning with 1977’s Leave Home, takes charge on ten of the fifteen tracks.

The Ramones’ reputation as a band that launched a thousand bands and a key inspiration for the 1980’s indie movement, is secure. Joey’s contributions to The Ramones as a songwriter and singer are undeniable. “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “I Wanna Be Sedated,” among others, are among the group’s most-loved and best-known songs. Joey’s gliding pop-styled vocals were a perfect counterpoint to The Ramones’ raw, frenetic energy. But his sentimental side and eclectic musical tastes were a poor fit for the rapid-fire, slightly campy Ramones. A ballad written by Joey surfaced now and then, but his quieter, more reflective songs were usually rocked up (two examples are included here, much closer to their original form) or left off Ramones projects entirely. Joey often said he was saving these songs for his solo project.

Frequently in poor health, Joey died of lymphoma in 2001 at the age of 49. He left behind an album of completed, though unmixed, tracks. Released the following year as Don’t Worry About Me, the album was something of a surprise. Instead of exposing Joey’s outside interests, the project sounded a lot like … The Ramones. Several songs available for the project were left on the shelf. Evidently a desire to build on Joey’s association with The Ramones, Joey as a Ramone, exceeded any interest in exploring less well-known elements of his musical persona. Thankfully “… ya know?” accomplishes that. But listeners will have to be patient.
The opening track, “Rock and Roll Is the Answer,” is a mediocre attempt at a rock anthem, closely mirroring Joan Jett’s classic “I Love Rock and Roll.” The production is standard: 1980’s big-box rock with stacked guitars and stadium-sized drums. The lyrics borrow from Elton John and Bernie Taupin, of all people: “Twelve o’clock you know I wanna rock, I wanna get a bellyful of beer.” Not much is revealed except that Joey always wanted a mainstream hit like Jett’s. The good news is that Joey’s voice, sounding better than ever, is front and center for most of the album. A half-dozen other tracks adopt a similar production approach, have little to say, and are basically dispensable.   

The first real testimony to Joey’s interests outside being in The Ramones arrives on the album’s fourth track. “Waiting for That Railroad” is a beautifully pensive number featuring one of Joey’s across-the-board best vocals, full of swooping oh-oh-oh-ohs, acoustic guitars, and aching harmonies. “I Couldn’t Sleep” follows, a rollicking rockabilly number full of hiccups that is both convincing and fun. “Party Line” (Joey charmingly pronounces it in his Queens accent as “pawty line”) is an indication of Joey’s love for Phil Spector’s work with 60’s girl groups The Crystals and Ronettes and comes complete with castanettes. “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” first recorded by The Ramones for their 1989 album Brain Drain, is presented as a 1950’s stroll, closer to the song’s original conception and infinitely more effective in conveying the writer’s emotion.

 “There’s Got to Be More to Life Than This” might be the hit Joey always wanted. As a composition it’s the equal of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “I Still Haven’t Found(What I’m Looking For,” (yes, really) expressing bitter dissatisfaction and enduring hope: “There’s got to be more than payin’ dues, there’s got to be more than a cocaine schmooze, there’s got to be more than the holiday blues, hangin’ around with the same old crew, there’s got to be …” Two more tracks further flesh out Joey’s tastes and interests. “Make Me Tremble,” written and recorded with Dictators’ founder Andy Shernoff, and performed in a calypso style (with claves!) is endearingly whimsical: “Sitting on a mushroom out in the woods, I say now baby, baby you make me feel good ….” The album’s final track “Life is A Gas,” included on The Ramones’ final album Adios Amigos (1995) is performed acoustically, making it all the more compelling and a comforting consolation for Joey’s fans: “So don’t be sad … cause I’ll be there .”
Joey’s untimely death raised the lingering question of what he might have accomplished as a solo artist. His second solo project “…ya know?” goes a long way toward answering that question.

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