Road To Ruin was the first Ramones record to see a real change in their music. Not only did they switch out Tommy for Marky on drums, but the songs suddenly had a bit more substance to them, on top of the attitude they’d established since day one. End Of The Century enters a new decade, and they further push this change to the point that the punk elements start to wither away. Surely, plenty of fans weren’t going to be happy about this, but musically it kept them up to speed and prevented Johnny and co. from making the same record over and over again. End of The Century is celebrating forty years, making this the perfect time to dive deeper into this anomaly of an album.
In reality, End Of The Century was the center-piece of a transition. The aforementioned Road To Ruin precedes it, while Pleasant Dreams would follow it, completing a trilogy that would break into grittier singing, more rock ‘n roll involvement, and newer production values. Thus, the songs here mix it up, giving us re-hashes of old ideas, as well as new approaches entirely. Some of the obvious ones are songs that quite literally revisit past glory. “The Return Of Jacky And Judy” hearkens back to “Judy Is A Punk” off of the debut, retaining the same lyrical theme and rhythm pattern, but altering the delivery. This one feels like it could be a sequel. The other one is the obvious “This Aint Havana,” a serviceable enough tune that isn’t quite as creative as the former.
But others do the opposite, using old delivery to introduce the newer writing. The easiest one to point out is “ Rock ‘N Roll Highschool.” Written for a soundtrack of a film with the same name, it rings in familiar grooves that we felt on “Rockaway Beach,” and holds its grip on rebellious angst. “Let’s Go” and “I’m Affected” have the same speedy bursts with an overall accessible aura, further connecting this disc to the older albums. Opener “Do You Remember Rock ‘N Roll Radio?” is a beast of its own, starting things off on the highest elevation of change. Here lies that classic aesthetic, reminiscing on old memories of rock’s earliest push for rebellion. The speed is also there, but the finish is entirely different. Horns, pianos, and synthesizers are used to craft the riffs, which almost seems blasphemous. But it worked so well, not only reaching further for the commercial attention but making themselves unique. The lyrics almost reflected the songs itself; “we need change, and we need it fast before rock’s just part of the past.” I like to believe that The Ramones were self-aware of the scene, and wrote a song based on it.
Others took the ‘50s and ‘60s pop/rock root that the band always revealed (intentionally or not) to new instrumental levels. The cover of The Ronettes (and Andy Kim’s) “Baby, I Love You” is a ballad crafted on strings, sad passages, and calming beats. In past days, the band had covered other oldies tunes like “California Sun” and the infamous “Bird Is The Word,” but those were always made into a full-on punk tune. This one was truer to Andy’s version than any, not adding any angst to it whatsoever, but just embellishing it with similar tropes. “Danny Says” is also one of my favorites, which initially had a faster energy in its demo version, but would step away from that for the album cut. I love the album version since it starts so soft and progressively integrates the heavier guitars and melodic layers. Plus, the lyrics are phenomenal (anyone else enjoy watching Get Smart on TV?).
Without a doubt, there are plenty of moments that tie these wildly different ends together. Another favorite is “I Can’t Make It On Time.” Not only are the melodies some of the band’s best, but they combine every aspect that I’ve mentioned thus far into one spectacular tune. I’m not about to pretend that this album isn’t inconsistent and that there aren’t a few songs that don’t live up to the others. But everything that End Of The Century captured was completely necessary, and this is an album that I’d call essential listening for newcomers to the band. There’s so much to dig up, and if you haven’t heard it, I suggest changing that. Don’t expect a straight-up punk rock record, expect loads of fun and crafty tunage.
End Of The Century came out on February 4th, 1980, through Sire Records. It’s available in LP, CD, and cassette formats, with tons of old copies floating around. There are also a bunch of re-issues with bonus tracks and LP re-issues, all available right here.