Boxed In Part Two
We are on our second installment of looking at recent box sets that have been getting a release and these two shining moments from the ever important year of 1979 are as good as it gets.
Ramones – It’s Alive (Sire/Warner)
Alrighty right!!! If screaming hyperboles makes you break out in hives, best to give this review a skip. Because for my sawbucks, this is punk rock’s greatest moment, and with punk rock being my favorite genre of music... Well, you do the math.
Originally released in 1979 as sadly a U.K. only import, this is punk rock at its true zenith. The original copy of ‘It’s Alive’ was recorded on New Years Eve 1977 and would prove to be one of the last gigs with original drummer Tommy Ramone in the drum seat, hence ending their truly magical period. With Marky Ramone taking over the tubs in ’78, the band attempted a more commercial sound with mixed results. But mere months before on this live record, the band is captured at its most pulverizing, firmly firing on all cylinders, with no completion in sight. At this point, the band knew exactly how crucial they were, and shine with brimming confidence as they sledgehammer through 28 songs in 53 minutes and 48 glorious seconds. This two record set was the punk rock summit, with nothing but all killer and no filler, culled from their first three records (self-titled debut, ‘Leave Home’ and ‘Rocket From Russia’). On July 4th and 5th of 1976, the Ramones would famously play the Roundhouse and Dingwalls in London; shows that would launch a hundred punk groups.
Almost a year later, they would return to the U.K. to play in front of idol worshippers while being the toast of the fickle U.K. music press. By the time they recorded ‘It’s Alive’ on their third visit in 1978, they had definitely ascended to the throne as the veritable kings of punk rock. It’s in this live setting that these songs really shine whereas the studio versions merely hinted at. Songs like ‘Cretin Hop’, ‘We’re A Happy Family’, ‘Rockaway Beach’, ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ and more really take flight as they relentlessly pound. It’s the non-stop nail gun-like assault that will have you collecting your jaw off the ground. Before Johnny’s final chords have even begun to ring out with feedback at these songs’ conclusions, Dee Dee yells a token “1-2-3-4!” before launching into another (ahem) blitzkrieg. The blistering grind just never lets up and is delivered with military precision from start to finish.
This deluxe box set comes in a limited numbered editions of 8,000, so better be nimble if you want to pick up a copy. In keeping with the deluxe copies of the first four Ramones records which were recently released, the packaging is superb; four CDs featuring a remastered version of the original record, two vinyl versions of the remastered version, and the bonus three CDs. The accompanying booklet is a treat too as producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page) pens a love letter to one of his favorite records of all time. Albini’s essay mirrors the feelings of many who share his vintage, having picked this record up on the import shelf during the tail end of ’79, in amongst the glut of Styx, Boston and Nugent slabs of wax. I know—I was there.
For the audiophiles, a remastered live Ramones record seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. But even on my fairly modest vintage playback system, the new vinyl definitely has more slam in the kick drum, toms and lo mids of the bass when compared to the original vinyl copy. Best of all, this new version has not seen any of the debaucherous parties where my original copy of this record inevitably made an appearance and suffered unspeakable torture from beer-fueled punk rock pandemonium.
Now that I have given this classic record the royal reach-around it deserves, I admit this deluxe edition is pretty much reserved solely for the super fan. Including the bonus discs, you have a total of four separate shows recorded on four consecutive nights and all sharing the same set list. Trainspotters will notice they throw in ‘Judy is a Punk’ while it remains absent on the four previous shows. On the official release and the three preceding shows, the same set list is played in order and with the same stage banter.
There are moments where Joey threatens “If anybody else spits we’re outta ‘ere,” before launching into ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’ at the Birmingham show, or Dee Dee warbling his ‘I Don’t Care’ back-up vocals horribly out of tune during the Stoke-on-Trent show. I guess you really should be asking yourselves if you really need the four different live versions of ‘Pinhead’ that are offered here, along with the almost carbon copies of their classic period? Well, in this day and age of laptop DJs and lip-syncing idiots of course you fucking do. Best. Punk. Rock. Record. Ever. Period.
Motorhead – 1979 (Sanctuary)
Woah, Ramones and Motorhead box sets all in one go? Who luvs ya baby! This special 40th anniversary box set dedicated to one of rock and roll’s greatest bands of all time is an absolute stunner of a set. What we get is an extensive one -ear glimpse of a ravenously hungry band at their most speed fueled moments in our Lord’s year of punk and metal—1979.
The first thing that you will notice even before you crack the cellophane on this is the packaging on the Motorhead 1979 box is pumped full of passion. This is an absolutely stunning box that will look majestic when filed alongside your treasured and torn copies of Motorhead’s discography. Facing up to facts, it’s the attractive design of the box that is going to have most of us gladly shelling over the dockets for records we already have. Knowing full well that you already own scratched and well played copies of ‘Overkill’ and ‘Bomber’, this box set definitely raises the bar with a ton of box candy and freshly pressed vinyl just begging to be cranked to the hilt.
The real jewels of the box are the half speed remasters from original tapes of the classic ‘Bomber’ and ‘Overkill’ record on 180g of virgin vinyl with added bonuses of double gatefold vinyl of a 1979 Aylesbury show.
Also included is a double vinyl of a 1979 Le Mans show, a vinyl collection of b-sides, outtakes and rare tracks all culled from 1979, and a faithful recreation of their ‘No Class’ 7” single with all three of versions of their original picture sleeve. Vinyl fiends are probably already drooling, but lying underneath this stack of vinyl (that’s 7 slabs ‘o wax plus a 45 RPM single for those keeping score) is a forty page love letter to the 1979 version of the band, a glossy recreation of their Bomber tour program, and sheet music to the song Overkill (!!!). Underneath that stack and receiving its own compartment in the box is a five pin set. To say that Sanctuary/BMG spared no expense here is an understatement. I mean, they forked over for musical sheet music, ferfugsakes!
This is all housed in a sturdy thick box that has some weight to it and is styled to look like a leather jacket. Their no expense spared attitude even includes the printing on the inside of the lid, which is meant to reflect the inside liner of the leather jacket. I am a long time box set collector and I can say without a doubt this is the most gorgeous and most thoroughly planned out box currently taking up real estate on my Expedia shelf.
Motorhead would really explode in a complete rock and roll supernova a full year later in 1980 when they dropped the absolutely ballast heavy ‘Ace of Spades’. This run up is nothing short of spectacular, and offers a great eyewitness account of how they would go on to carve one of heavy metal’s most influential records of all time. With punk already cleaning itself up and giving way to skinny tie new wave and myopic New Romanticism, Motorhead thankfully kept things loud and dirty, becoming one of the very few bands that proudly straddled the razor’s edge.
Their eponymous debut is indeed classic, but the misfirings of being recorded twice is obvious since the band’s footing is still shaky. Once the band solidified as an iron clad trio on the ‘Bomber’ record is when things really gained speed. Mere months later, they convened to record one of their penultimate moments, the juggernaut ‘Overkill’. Things hit breakneck speed. This is Motorhead’s lean, mean and close to the ground sound getting forged and galvanized, capable of liquefying the fillings in your teeth. If you want to know where the beginnings of speed metal came from, look no further than tub thumper Philthy Phil Campbell’s thunderous gallop on the double kick drum on the title track. Even after 40 years, this track still gets the blood coursing and the goosebumps saluting to attention.
O.K. this is going to add some undeniable eye candy to any collection, and ‘Overkill’ and ‘Bomber’ are real monsters in Motorhead’s well stocked discography. But what do these new remastered versions sound like? Well, in case it wasn’t obvious, Lemmy and co’s style of smash and bash is hardly audiophile material. When I compared this recent copy of ‘Overkill’ in all of its “half speed remaster from the original tapes” glory to my well-played early nineties Profile records version, played on my modest vintage playback system, I can hardly tell the difference. The new version did garner and slightly plumper low mid range but hardly offered any new bass slam or other audio information. Along with the aforementioned gorgeous packaging, the real reason Motorhead fans are scrambling for this box set are the two live records and the bonus record of outtakes b-sides and rarities.
Let’s start with the record of rarities. This action-packed collection is the real shining diamond here,with live staples and deep cuts like b-sides ‘Too Late, Too Late’, ‘Like A Nightmare’ and ‘Stone Dead Forever’, featuring Fast Eddie Clark saddling up to the mic. It’s these recently unearthed tracks that make this box utterly essential for any Motorhead collection. Do the two live records stack up to the classic lineup defining live record ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’? Nofugginway! Not even close. These two live ‘bootlegs’ laugh in the face of any audiophile who picked this up for the “half speed mastering from original tapes” as boasted on the sticker. What you do get is Motorhead at blistering volume, pinning the decibel meters permanently in the red, as they barrel through their riffs at breakneck speed. Both seem to be dodgy soundboard recordings, and hidden behind the warble, tape hiss, phase issues and disappearing instrumentation, is the classic line up obviously well into their cups and enjoying some laughs between the cacophonous blast. The joy of the live records presented here is the undeniable bond the classic trio shared with each other before they would go their separate ways a few years later. The inclusion of seldom-played live versions of ‘I’ll Be Your Sister’ and ‘Lawman’ make these live records truly important documents for any Motorhead fan.
Although ‘1979’ is a definite winner, this year will mark the 40th anniversary of their calling card ‘Ace of Spades’, and after this box I am on the edge of my seat. If BMG/Sanctuary displays the same amount of pure passion presented here, I will be lining up with credit card in hand.
The moment of disturbing clarity on both of these 40th anniversary box sets is that none of the musicians who appeared on either Ramones ‘It’s Alive’ or Motorhead’s ‘1979’ are currently stomping this mortal coil. Joey, Johnny Tommy, Dee Dee, Lemmy, Fast Eddy and Philthy Animal all had a massive influence on forming underground music in immeasurable ways, and these packages show them still swinging with a stack of nickles in their mitts. When dealing with these undeniable rock and roll icons, these box sets hardly come across as a cash grab and manage instead to offer complete respect for the music stamped in the grooves while providing new perspectives for even the most ardent fans.