Halfway to Sanity
|Halfway to Sanity|
|Studio album by |
|Released||September 15, 1987|
|Label||Sire; Beggars Banquet|
|Singles from Halfway to Sanity|
Halfway to Sanity is the 10th studio album by American punk band the Ramones, and their last album to feature drummer Richie Ramone. It was produced by Daniel Rey and released on September 15, 1987, by Sire Records. Recording sessions began that April at Intergalactic Studios in New York City, with the band recording instruments before vocals in order to learn songs more quickly. It fared well on charts outside the United States, but peaked at No. 172 on the Billboard 200.
The band members disagreed on many things; Rey described them as impatient. The band toured the world following the album's release, but certain show dates were cancelled after Richie left the band because he did not feel he was getting paid enough. The band hired Blondie drummer Clem Burke (who took the pseudonym "Elvis Ramone") for two shows, until Marky Ramone returned.
Genres varied significantly throughout the album, with some songs showing the influence of hard rock, heavy metal music, and crossover thrash, while also containing songs with a bubblegum pop feel. Additionally, Joey is heard singing a duet with Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry on "Go Lil' Camaro Go". This resulted in mixed critical reviews; nevertheless, Stephen Thomas Erlewine later wrote, the album was the last time the band "still sounded like they mattered."
Halfway to Sanity marked the final time Dee Dee Ramone's bass playing would be featured on a Ramones album. He appeared on their next album Brain Drain as a songwriter and vocalist, but several session bassists were employed in his place.
Recording and production
Prior to producing the album, Daniel Rey had opened for the Ramones in the late 1970s as a member of Shrapnel. He had worked with lead singer Joey Ramone and lead guitarist Johnny Ramone separately when writing songs for Too Tough to Die. "I was producing a lot of young bands in my basement," Rey explained, "Johnny heard one and said, 'It's better than our last record.' He knew that he could get me cheap and I was the only person who got along with Johnny and Joey at the same time." Drummer Richie Ramone, however, did not get along with Rey, saying that two would "butt heads" often due to the fact that he only liked writing songs with one other person. Richie has explained that this may have indeed been the reason why he never cowrote any songs on the album with Joey, saying that Rey "always came with the package." Tour manager Monte Melnick, on the other hand, said Rey eventually befriended all the band members.
Recording sessions for Halfway to Sanity began in early 1987 at Intergalactic Studios in New York City, described by Rey as "a dingy place in midtown." Drums, guitars, and bass were all recorded earlier in the afternoon, while the vocal track was always recorded later in the evening. Rey explained that they did this because "it was quicker to learn songs without any vocal, so they did." Joey, however, wanted to work out "how to phrase his singing" and was not a fan of this method of recording. Johnny insisted that no one involved with the album would listen to Rey, not letting him make decisions he needed to as the album's producer. Johnny said Joey and Richie made it hard for the producer because they wanted to remix or change tracks. Richie, however, said that Johnny, along with their manager Gary Kurfirst, made the album process difficult by keeping the band to a tight budget. He explained that he himself wanted the music to be more radio-friendly and promote it more so they might have a hit album, but Johnny and Kurfirst did not think it would make a difference. Richie would later recall: "Why would you not want an album to be as successful as it could be? Gary Kurfirst seemed to want to keep the Ramones an underground band, I guess his thinking was, he'd profit more."
The band's publicist Ida Langsam agreed that they and their record company all felt the need to keep a strict budget on recording, production, and promotion of the Ramones' music. She pointed out that just because much of their album process was done "cut-rate," it did not mean that their performance on the album was not done well, but rather they were trying to find people who could do things more cheaply, along with cheaper places to record such as Intergalactic Studios, where they had also recorded their previous album, Animal Boy. Langsam went on to say that the Ramones were "never afforded the respect a band of their caliber should have," insisting that other bands who were "much less worthy" were more respected. "Everybody thought of them as the local band," she continued, "everybody's friends—'when are you going to break, when are you going to get big, when are you going to reach stardom?'"
Rey claimed that the band was very impatient during the album process, and noted that members, especially Johnny and Joey, weren't getting along. "John was fast in the studio," recalls George Tabb, who was recording with his band the False Prophets at Intergalactic Studios at the same time as the Ramones recorded Halfway to Sanity. He called it as humorous "because John would be going, 'Enough, enough, it sounds right.' And Joey, the artist, would go, 'I gotta do my vocals, I gotta do my vocals,' and the drummer's going, 'But my drums!' Johnny was like, 'Fuck it. It's the Ramones. It is what it is and comes out like that.' And he was right. It was the Ramones. He was a good businessman about it."
Cover art and photography
George DuBose, who had also done photography for the band's previous three releases (Subterranean Jungle, Too Tough to Die, and Animal Boy), also shot this one. The front cover's picture was taken in Chinatown, in an old stairwell where they had DuBose's cousin and his cousin's friend—who are credited as "Husky Bros." on the Halfway to Sanity liner notes—block off the crowd while the photo session was in place. DuBose and other crew members set up red lighting and a fog machine. After DuBose's camera went through three reels of film, Johnny insisted that was enough, to which DuBose replied that the record company was paying him a lot of money for the shoot, so they should make it worthwhile. The session, however, only lasted 10 to 15 minutes, and was done in a poorly lit area, which Johnny said was "pretty good not to make us look old, and it was getting harder and harder." The back cover photograph features green tombstones in a Jewish cemetery. Dubose's photos for the inner sleeve depict "Peking ducks hanging in the window of a restaurant, with glaze dripping off their tails."
Tour and personnel changes
To promote the album, the band played a handful of gigs in South America in February 1987. During the spring and summer of 1987, they toured the United States. At an East Hampton, New York, concert on August 12, Richie left the band due to financial conflicts; band members believed it also had to do with his love life. Joey would later state, "I felt screwed. Me and Richie were friends. He was more than just the drummer. But he was out for himself. He said he would do the New York shows for $500 a night. I'm sure he felt he had us by the balls, as our album was coming out." DuBose also explained that Richie "quit right before a gig and wasn't very professional." Richie felt that he was not being paid enough for all he was doing with the band, and reportedly left to take a higher-paying job as a caddy.
Johnny took matters into his own hands, asking around to see if they could find a replacement drummer at least for the remainder of the tour. Clem Burke of Blondie filled in for Richie for two shows, performing under the alias of Elvis Ramone. The dates were August 28 in Providence, Rhode Island, and August 29 in Trenton, New Jersey. Johnny deemed the whole situation a "disaster" because of Burke's drumming style, commenting: "double-time on the hi-hat was totally alien to him." Burke was criticized for playing "Durango 95"'s fills incorrectly, and for misplaying the introduction on "Rock 'n' "Roll Radio," forcing Johnny and Dee Dee to improvise on stage. He also was reportedly unable to maintain the faster tempo of the songs "Freak of Nature" and "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment."
Because of this, Marky Ramone, who was the band's drummer before Richie and after original drummer Tommy Ramone, was asked to return. He had been fired after Subterranean Jungle partially for his style but mostly because of his alcoholism. Once he was sober, however, he began playing in Richie Stotts's heavy metal band King Flux, as well as his own band, M-80. Within the week Marky was touring with the band again. The first show Marky played was on September 4 in Oyster Bay, Long Island.
During a sold-out Paris concert, fans who were not able to get in to see the performance began to throw stones at the venue, and were consequently tear-gassed by police. It was also common to see moshing and stage diving at their shows, but the band members discouraged this type of behavior. "They hated it and they tried to stop it as much as possible," artist Arturo Vega recalled, "but it would happen. Kids are really resourceful. Once the lawsuits started coming in, a lot of clubs tried to ban it, too. Sometimes the security made it difficult for them, you know. Once, we were in Tijuana—and of course in Tijuana, who cares! They were jumping from a balcony that was at least 20 feet (6 m) high. Jumping into the crowd. It was too much. It was great."
The band was banned from playing at Boston College on the grounds that they promoted "rowdiness, destructiveness, and drug use." In response, the University's Program Council organized an anti-censorship protest rally in Marsh Plaza. At the rally, Joey announced, "We're here to uphold the honor of the students and the Ramones," and pointed out that their performances never incited violence. The Ramones' 1988 tour would have roughly a hundred gigs in the United States, Finland, Japan, England, and elsewhere. While touring in Puerto Rico, the band performed for around 2,000 surfers at the World Surfing Championships. These shows were dubbed the "Ramones Non-Stop World Tour" by fans.
Musical style and lyrics
The album's opening track, "I Wanna Live," features heavy feedback and a musical style closer to hard rock than punk. Described by author Dave Thompson as similar to contemporary "romantic melodies," the song was written by Dee Dee, who quoted the lyrics "As I load my pistol / Fine German steel," years later in a photo session with Ken Hinchey and Mike Vought as he loaded a gun. The song runs 2 minutes 39 seconds, and despite that brevity, was called "too long" by music journalist Everett True. Both the next track, "Bop 'Til You Drop," and the fifth track, "Go Lil' Camaro Go," were described by True as "dire 'fun,'" saying it sounded "as if they've been tossed off in a couple seconds—and probably were" and that Joey sang with a "drink-ravaged voice." Thompson wrote that "Go Lil' Camaro Go," a duet with Blondie's Debbie Harry, had a style similar to bubblegum pop. Track three, "Garden in Serenity," incorporates elements used in crossover thrash. The next track is "Weasel Face," written by Dee Dee and Johnny, regarding a fan "who had a real weasel face," Johnny recalled. "He came to all our gigs in the South; he followed us around. I think he was from Mississippi." Side A concludes with Richie's "I Know Better," which, along with "Go Lil' Camaro Go," was described by AllMusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine as having a "solid" hook.
Joey wrote the opening track for Side B, "Death of Me," as well as "A Real Cool Time," which True said was a tribute to "summer beach" parties and "New York Cat Clubs," and compared the melody line to The Who's "The Kids Are Alright." The album's longest song is track 11, "Bye Bye Baby" at 4 minutes 33 seconds. It was described as a "tear-jerking" piece by True, and was influenced by '50s/early '60s girl group pop. He wrote that it features a "beautiful chiming guitar sound" that "stands out like a sore thumb" compared to the other songs on the album, because Joey "sings instead of shouting." The song was deemed "Phil Spector-ish" in the WEG Publication's Digital Audio and Compact Disc Review. It also describes the album's final track, "Worm Man," as having a "hardcore punk thrashing" style, and True said the song was similar to the work of Black Flag.
Halfway to Sanity received mixed reviews from critics. When it was released in September 1987, the New York Post praised it as another well produced album by the Ramones, and Billboard said Sire should have released "Go Lil' Camaro Go" as a single. However, in the United Kingdom, the album received virtually no attention from professional critics. Ramones Fanzine writer Mark Bannister explained that critics there thought the album "didn't sound right without some more of Joey's songs to balance out Dee Dee's. There was no equilibrium." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic gave the album one and a half out of five stars, saying that although it remains similar to Animal Boy in that it features the use of heavy guitars, but it was, in Erlewine's view, "much sharper record" only because it did not overlook the band's "trashy pop roots." He pointed out that the Ramones' musical style was inconsistent, going on to say that the band could have gone about their second decade of music making "more gracefully", but concluded by saying that although it was not as "strong" as 1983's Subterranean Jungle or 1984's Too Tough to Die, it was the last release where the band actually "sounded like they mattered." In a brief review, music critic Robert Christgau gave the album a "C+", writing that he felt pained to say it, "but with Richie or whoever on the lam, Dee Dee moonlighting as a punk-rapper, Joey frequenting all-acoustic showcases, and Johnny Johnny, a great band has finally worn down into a day job for night people."
The album entered the US Billboard 200 on October 10, 1987 at position 174, moving to its peak at 172 one week later and spent its last week on the chart at No. 200 on October 24. It peaked at No. 78 on the UK Albums Chart the same day it entered the Billboard chart, although it only ranked in the United Kingdom for one week. On the Netherlands MegaCharts, the album entered at its peak position of 68 on October 10, 1987, staying on the chart for a single week as well. Likewise, it only stayed on the on Swedish Sverigetopplistan chart for one week, peaking at No. 43 on September 14, 2014.
Two of the tracks on Halfway to Sanity, "Bop 'Til You Drop" and "I Wanna Live" were featured on the band's first compilation album release, Ramones Mania. Both "Garden of Serenity" and "I Wanna Live" were included on the Hey! Ho! Let's Go: The Anthology greatest hits album, but no songs from the album were featured in Greatest Hits. The 2006 video game Tony Hawk's Project 8 featured "I Wanna Live" on the soundtrack, and the Polish metal band Behemoth covered "I'm Not Jesus" on their 2008 extended play Ezkaton.
|1.||"I Wanna Live"||Dee Dee Ramone, Daniel Rey||2:36|
|2.||"Bop 'Til You Drop"||Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone||2:09|
|3.||"Garden of Serenity"||Dee Dee Ramone, Daniel Rey||2:35|
|4.||"Weasel Face"||Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone||1:49|
|5.||"Go Lil' Camaro Go"||Dee Dee Ramone||2:00|
|6.||"I Know Better Now"||Richie Ramone||2:37|
|7.||"Death of Me"||Joey Ramone||2:39|
|8.||"I Lost My Mind"||Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone||1:33|
|9.||"A Real Cool Time"||Joey Ramone||2:38|
|10.||"I'm Not Jesus"||Richie Ramone||2:52|
|11.||"Bye Bye Baby"||Joey Ramone||4:33|
|12.||"Worm Man"||Dee Dee Ramone||1:52|
- Joey Ramone – lead vocals (tracks 1–7, 9–12)
- Johnny Ramone – guitar
- Dee Dee Ramone – bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals (track 8)
- Richie Ramone – drums, backing vocals
- Jorge Esteban – engineering
- Howard Shillingford – engineering assistance
- DJ Walker – engineering assistance
- Joe Blaney – mixing
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