Too Tough To Die is my favorite Ramones album, but I know it is not the band’s best. Many could argue Road To Ruin or Ramones but on most lists Rocket To Russia is considered the best album by The Ramones – an assessment I agree with. But that is an objective view, and subjectively, Too Tough To Die is the Ramones album I have played the most because it is my favorite.
There is part of me that knows why Too Tough To Die is my favorite. It was the album that introduced me to the band and other genres of music. There is no question as to its importance and influence upon my life. Then again, I am not sure why I count it as my favorite. It’s a solid record, coming after three albums where the band sort of “lost its way” (End Of The Century, Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle) and is much more “true to form” for the band. It may be solid, but the damage was done and it doesn’t contain the band’s strongest material. Heck, if you asked me to name my top 10 Ramones songs, only a couple might come from this album.
We get a wide range of Ramones songs here. From Dee Dee’s hardcore style “Wart Hog” to the completely synth-pop “Howlin’ At The Moon” almost every style of Ramones song is here. And the almost always classic cover song? There isn’t one. Instead we have the band’s only instrumental “Durango 95″ which would serve as their show opener.
Part of the reason for the musical return to form, a more “consistent” sound on the album is due to Joey and Johnny coming to a sort of detente (the dispute was over a girl) and their relationship was less animostic allowing for a mutually beneficial, not necessarily collaborative, working arrangement. Then there was Marky’s replacement. Kicked out of the band for alcoholism after a couple of uneven years. Richie Ramone not only helped tighten up the band’s sound but also wound up writing songs. Here he wrote “Humankind” and would go on to not only write songs but sing lead on a couple.
Then there was the production/engineering team of Ed Stasium and Tommy Ramone. Yes, that Tommy. The Tommy who was the original drummer for the band. The guy who co-produced the first four Ramones albums (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia and Road To Ruin). Ed Stadium who engineered Leave Home, Rocket To Russia and Road To Ruin – the latter of which he also acted as co-producer. This duo knows the “classic” Ramones sound and how to get it out a the band.
As for the songs, well, there are some classics on here. “Mama’s Boy” kicks off the album and declares that the band is back, tougher than ever, not out of it by a long shot and wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. A similar sentiment is echoed in the title track. “Wart Hog” is a…. well, it took on new life when CJ took over. Of course “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)” was a minor hit. Emphasis on minor.
I could probably spend an entire blog post just on “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)” because it is so different from just about anything else the band did (and produced separately from the rest of the album by The Eurythmics Dave Stewart). Not nearly as over-produced as the efforts on End Of The Century this song was polished and honed in a way that almost made it sound as if it were coming from a different band. It works as both a Ramones song as well as a general mid-80s alt-pop offering.
Look, I know Too Tough To Die may not be the “best” Ramones album, but it might be the best one the band did in the 80s, and certainly stands the test of time a lot better than several others. It is my favorite for many reasons, but mostly perhaps because it was the album that got me hooked on the band and a style of music – and would ultimately lead me to discovering a whole lot of other music I would otherwise never would have heard of or otherwise outright dismissed.