Photographer George DuBose was paid $7500 by Warner Brothers in 1987 to shoot the cover photo for Ramones Halfway To Sanity. He chose a suitably rundown stairwell in Chinatown and as his assistants set up the fog machine and red lighting he rattled through 3 reels of film in 10 minutes as it was all getting set up. Then Johnny called time, over DuBose’s protestations that the record company were not getting their money’s worth – that was enough, that will do, we’re outta here, quoth Johnny.
Ornery, dysfunctional, half-arsed at best; that pretty much summed up 80’s Ramones for me. You would need a concrete head to appreciate them properly.
I bought Halfway To Sanity and Too Tough To Die on 9 November 1990 for about £3 each. Please excuse me flaunting my advanced maths skillz, but that equates to about £1/listen each, possibly £1.50/listen in the case of the former LP.
But, lo, what light breaks from yonder thingy? I have played Halfway To Sanity twice tonight* and certain tracks a lot more and I have to report it has been a pleasurable experience, rather than a dutiful one. There are some great moments here and despite being trounced in the LP cover stakes, it just wrecks Too Tough To Die; absolutely wrecks it.
Kicking off with the heartfelt, mid-paced ‘I Wanna Live’ pays real dividends. To paraphrase Tony Hancock’s suicide note this song is the sound of things going wrong one too many times for the band. Joey’s voice is superb here and I love the Dee Dee-ism** of ‘As I load my pistol of fine German steel /I never thought I’d be so down and out having my last meal’. It’s a touching one. To be followed by the hard-edged, mindless fun of ‘Bop ’til You Drop’.
Halfway To Sanity serves us something really surprising next, yes on a latter day Ramones LP! ‘Garden Of Serenity’ is just brilliant, the band lick out like the Cult jamming with (the Daniel Rey produced) Circus Of Power. The guitar intro touches on the gothic^ and Joey never sang in this voice before, or since. Another slightly menacing lyric (Dee Dee wrote it, of course) about hanging around graveyards, would do Jim Morrison proud. Great stuff.
Performing ‘Garden of Serenity’ with the Independents later in life Joey introduced it as, ‘This is a Dee Dee song, one of my very favourites’. Amen.
Much as my hormones spike at the mere mention of her name, sadly even Debbie Harry on backing vox can’t resuscitate the Ramones-by-rote ‘Go Lil’ Camaro Go’; think ‘Surfin’ Girl’ played by a band wearing oven gloves. Richie Ramones’ ‘I Know better Now’ deals out some daddy issues with an interesting melody.
Halfway To Sanity kicks off side 2 with the intriguing ‘Death Of Me’ which mixes a good medium-paced stop/start rhythm with a plea for peace from Joey Ramone (it’s a solo write). Knowing the heavy psychic trench warfare that was fucking up the band’s ever-fragile mental ecology at the time it is hard not to read it in the light of his issues with Johnny.
Second favourite Ramone, Dee Dee sings ‘I Lost My Mind’ apparently channelling his inner masturbating troll. It’s rather good in a nutjob-staring-at-you-at-2am-in-a-deserted-subway-car kinda way. In the context of Halfway To Sanity the poppy preppy ‘Real Cool Time’ is great, dispensing some bouncy light relief – ignore that time I thought differently, the past is a foreign country they do things differently there.
The three remaining tracks veer from too angry metal (‘I’m Not Jesus’), too maudlin (‘Bye Bye Baby’), to too wormy (‘Worm Man’). Then it ends.
Revisiting Halfway To Sanity was great. It was a lot better than I remembered and the only one of their original later LPs to be worth the effort, with the exception of the much later Mondo Bizarro. There’s enough here to remind me why I worship them and some if not new, then repurposed, tricks too.
Shame they didn’t take longer on the cover. It is pants^^.
In the garden of serenity In the garden of serenity In the garden of serenity In the garden of serenity Meet me in the graveyard We'll walk among the dead On a midnight odyssey Riding in my head
960 Down (in the garden of serenity).
*happily bringing down the Unit Listen Cost (ULC) to 75p. As a comparison the ULC for Back In Black is precisely 0.0003p (based on a purchase price in Woolworths, Carmarthen of £6).
**written by him and producer Daniel Rey.
^Walter Lure from the Heartbreakers adds unspecified guitar to Halfway To Sanity and I wonder if this belongs to him because it is very un-Johnny-like.
^^the red on green colour scheme for the credits/titles on the back cover should have been a disciplinary offence for whoever gave it the green light at the record company. Credits? they’re the read-y bits that fans like to read. SO LET US SODDING READ THEM, MF’s!!!