Review: Joey Ramone - 'Ya Know?'

By Mark Lore
May 22, 2012

It’s people’s insatiable appetite for nostalgia (and the money it potentially generates) that inevitably leads to put-on-a-happy-face reunions, half-hearted posthumous releases and, well, Hologram Tupac and Optical Illusion Freddie Mercury (sigh).

Then there are the rare occasions when an artist leaves behind material that should be heard. When Joey Ramone died from lymphoma in April of 2001 he left behind a cache of songs in various states of completion and fidelity. Some of them appeared on Don’t Worry About Me, released in early 2002, less than a year after his death. The collection was a sad reminder of not only what an incredible voice Ramone possessed, but that simple sentiments and even simpler rock songs could still carry emotional heft.

Not every song on Don’t Worry About Me was a barn burner, but even the less-than-stellar material offered an intriguing glimpse into Ramone’s final years as he removed himself further from the public eye due to his illness. Such is the case with …Ya Know?, another—perhaps final—collection of unreleased material from the estate that was assembled and produced by Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh over the past three years.

What’s interesting here—aside from the fact that …Ya Know? comes a decade after the first release—is that the music itself was re-recorded by a handful of Ramone’s friends and collaborators over the years, including Joan Jett, the E Street Band’s Stevie Van Zandt and Plasmatics guitarist Richie Stotts. For purists wanting to hear original versions in all their wobbly glory, these modern takes on the songs might sound over-produced. And in a few instances they are a little too slick. Just rest assured knowing they nixed the original plan of having popular bands influenced by the Ramones provide the music. We could have ended up with The Offspring or My Chemical Romance playing behind Joey.

In the end it’s really Ramone’s voice that matters, and his vocals throughout …Ya Know? (the phrase that ended most of his sentences) are deep and soulful, especially on softer acoustic numbers like “Make Me Tremble” and “Waiting For That Railroad.” Same goes for party punkers like the love letter “New York City” and first single “Rock ‘n Roll Is the Answer.” The standouts are the utterly sweet “What Did I Do to Deserve You?”(and its “Beat On the Brat” refrain) and “Party Line,” a nod to Ramone’s affinity for Spector pop that features a lovely shared vocal by Holly and the Italians’ Holly Beth Vincent. While the 15 songs in this collection were recorded over the decade and a half leading up to the singer’s death, the album’s cohesiveness illustrates again just how timeless Ramone, and the Ramones themselves, really are.

For the most part …Ya Know? comes across exactly as one would hope—like a collection of songs Joey Ramone would have been proud to share with the world. The Ramones are arguably the greatest rock and roll band to come out of America. When they finally called it a day back in 1996, the state of punk rock was already being questioned. And whether or not they left things in good hands could be argued for another two decades. If anything, Joey Ramone’s latest posthumous release proves the adage that if you want something done right, it’s best just to do it yourself.