Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15: Joey Ramone, "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)"

Artist: Joey Ramone
Song: "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)"
Album: Don't Worry About Me
Year: 2002

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Though it is quite understandable, the reality is, it is a very rare occasion when a band or artist goes into a recording session and knows that the album on which they are working will be there last.  Therefore, a majority of artists rarely get to record their "swan song," and the few instances on which this trend is bucked, some of the most intriguing albums in music history are the result.  Along with this idea, one can easily make the case that, at its core, the "point" of punk rock is to eliminate all of the fake "rock star" ego and get directly to the point.  Or, in other words, the point of punk rock is to be completely "no bullshit" and throughout the history of the genre, there are few bands that carried out this approach better than the one band that may be most synonymous with the entire punk rock movement: The Ramones.  While as a band, they made it well known that their 1995 record, Adios Amigos! would be their last, it would be nearly a decade later that a far more heartbreaking album and event would occur.  Remaining today one of the greatest and most recognizable frontmen in history, on April 15, 2001, Jeffry Hyman AKA Joey Ramone passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Yet less than a year later, an album of his final recordings was released, and the aptly titled 2002 release, Don't Worry About Me gave fans a peek into the final thoughts of Joey Ramone.  While nearly every song on the record is absolutely fantastic, one can make an easy argument that Joey Ramone has rarely been more unguarded and heartbreaking than one finds within the words and mood of the powerful song, "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)."

Throughout all of Don't Worry About Me, Joey Ramone presents a number of brilliant covers and originals, backed by a handful of different musicians.  Though Marky Ramone does make a few appearances on drums, for a majority of the album, Frank Furano handles the workload.  Having played in a number of different bands, Furano brings the perfect punch and aggression to the track without making it too overpowering.  Having made his name as one of the finer producers of his generation, Daniel Rey plays guitar on almost every song on the record, and on "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," he does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of punk rock, with a simple, stripped down set of progressions.  Having worked with Rey previously as a member of The Dictators, bassist Andy Shernoff compliments the guitar sound, and the pairing of the two show off the ideal balance between powerful, crunching chords whilst still ensuring a strong melody throughout the song.  Though not as fast as The Ramones biggest hits, the fact of the matter is, thr spirit and overall approach of The Ramones are very much in play on "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," and in many ways, the song would have fit in perfectly with the rest of The Ramones catalog.  The band moves as a single entity, and they keep the song simple enough that anyone can play it, and this almost universal undertone was not only the basis for nearly all of the music of The Ramones, but of the entire punk rock movement in general.

While the musical base is solid, there is simply no getting around the fact that "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" is all about the lyrics and singing of Joey Ramone.  As one of the few artists who sounds almost exaclty like he did at the beginning of his career, there is no mistaking the voice of Joey Ramone, either in tone or his unique approach to singing.  His unique, clearly untrained voice embodies everything that it means to be punk rock, as much like the words which he sings, it is straightforward and many of his off notes and strange vocal inflections are left on many of the songs he recorded over the decades.  Yet one other constant of the vocal work of Joey Ramone was the fact that there was always a clear connection to the words, and one can make the case that he never sang a song to which he could not somehow relate.  With "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," one can easily say that he never sang a more personal or meaningful song.  Leaving nothing to question, the song was clearly written during one of his many stays in the hospital while he battled his illness.  Standing defiant in a way which is the epitome of the true punk spirit, Joey sings, "Sitting in a hospital bed...I want my really sucks, it really sucks..."  This blunt, almost harsh wording serves as a testament to the fact that, even when faced with death, Joey Ramone still refused to "give in" and change his writing style, sticking to his more simple, no-frills approach.  Though "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" is unquestionably one of the most heartbreaking recordings ever, in the true punk spirit, one can also feel a sense that Joey was "ready" for the inevitable, and with an album title like Don't Worry About Me, one can almost take solace in the singing and words of the overall record.

Many have tried over the decades, but the fact of the matter is, no performer in history has ever come close to the sound and style of one of the punk rock godfathers, Joey Ramone.  Defining the genre in everything from musical approach to visual style, he remains a true icon of music, and in every sense of the word, he is completely unforgettable and unmistakable.  Joey Ramone also stands out from his peers in the fact that he was able to give the world all of his final thoughts, and they can be heard on the tragically somber and powerful posthumous release, Don't Worry About Me.  The entire album shows a man who is well aware of his fate, yet as he was his entire life, Joey Ramone is clearly not going to just "sit back" and let the illness win easily.  Sounding as sharp and powerful as he did at any point in his career, the vocals throughout the album show no signs of Joey "slowing down," and the fact that even in such a dark time, he refused to get "sentimental" shows just how perfectly he embodied the punk spirit, or perhaps more clearly, the fact that Joey "was" punk rock.  Creating what can almost be seen as an anthem for anyone who is facing any sort of illness or similar inevitable tragedy, "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" is wonderfully defiant, and even the title alone is almost a middle finger to his illness, as one can feel Joey Ramone almost saying, "come try and take me."  Though he sounds just as good as he did at any point in his long career, one can hear just how personal the song is, as there has rarely been as sincere and powerful a vocal as one finds on Joey Ramone's tragically inspiring 2001 recording, "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)."

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