Canada's original 1977 punk rock bad boys Teenage Head team up with Marky Ramone here to re-record an album of Head classics. Produced by Daniel Rey, this is the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with Teenage Head's unique Ramones-meet-Eddie Cochrane-meets-New York Dolls sound. The idea for this recording started when Head guitarist Gord Lewis and bassist Steve Marshall performed a short set with Marky Ramone at the conclusion of a couple of his spoken word performances. With eight albums of material to choose from, Teenage Head with Marky Ramone is a 12-track collection of high-energy `70s-style punk rock that borrows most heavily from the group's 1979 self-titled debut album.
It's always interesting to hear a new version of something you've become very familiar with over the years. Unlike a live album where you have the band stripped down to their basic elements and working in tandem with an audience, a studio re-recording runs the risk of losing the magic that made the original unique. Even with a guest musician of Marky Ramone's stature, there is potential for failure. That is certainly not the case here.
"Top Down" opens the disc with Marky playing the drum intro from the Ramones' "Touring" before kicking into the song proper. The soundtrack to your next speeding ticket, it's a glorious, high-octane wall of slashing guitars and pumping drums, topped with some whistles and yells and a savage solo. This song originally appeared on Teenage Head's debut album and sounds just as exciting and relevant now as it did in 1979.
The second tune, "Let's Shake" kicks off with the another pounding drum intro. From 1980s Frantic City, this song was a huge hit in Canada and is a staple of classic rock radio. With Marky energizing an already uptempo tune and the guitars cranked to ten, the group turns in a driving, intense and killer performance that surpasses the original. Vocalist Frankie Venom has one of the most unique voices and deliveries in punk and like Joey Ramone, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer et al., is in a league of his own. This album finds him spitting out the lyrics with all the snarl and charm of the originals.
Two more tracks from the debut follow: "You're Tearing Me Apart" and "Picture My Face." The latter was also the group's first single and really benefits here from the gritty and loud production. One of the best tracks to come from the band, "Picture My Face" has some really honest lyrics with the lines, "Some day you'll remember me and picture my face / Some day you may smile at me and I'll walk away / Yesterday I needed a buck today I need a bank / I knew who was always there and it's me that I have to thank." The first song Gord Lewis ever wrote, "You're Tearing Me Apart" is an instantly addictive hook-driven rocker with insanely catchy bass playing. Energetic and fun.
The title track of 1982's Some Kinda Fun was a cover version of a 1962 hit by Chris Montez. The band resurrect it here as it has become synonomous with Teenage Head over the years. For the nostalgists, this is the second Montez cover that Marky Ramone has been associated with, as his most famous hit is the classic "Let's Dance." As with the Ramones' take on "Let's Dance," "Some Kinda Fun" is all power chords and rock 'n' roll energy and totally infectious. A far and welcome step from the bubblegum original.
The always driving "Lucy Potato" rips out with the signature guitar intro and jumps straight for the jugular with a potent high-energy performance. Teenage Head are often referred to as Canada's answer to the Ramones so it's not a stretch to image Marky behind the kit on this collection. He brings a tight, machine-like precision to the proceedings and with his patented style gives the songs new dynamics, while keeping all of the original integrity intact.
"You're the One I'm Crazy For" is the first surprise of the album and a real cause to salivate for Teenage Head fans. When it first appeared on 1988's Electric Guitar, Frankie Venom was no longer in the band, a victim of the excesses of life in the songs he wrote about. (He later returned to the group in the early 1990s.) To hear him sing this is almost like a vindication and proof that there was only one true Head singer.
"Ain't Got No Sense" and "Little Boxes" harken back to the debut and both are classics -- loud, raw and edgy. "My mother kicked the bucket and my dad's on his way / Well I can hardly wait to cash his pay / My little sister's shy cause she's got no sense / She'll learn her lesson when I get intense," Venom snarls on the former tune before proclaiming he "ain't got no sense." The latter has him railing about the price to pay for a relationship gone sour; "Does she dry up like a raisin in the sun / Or fester like a sore pucker up and then run / Spending my money every week / And end up on the table like a piece of meat."
Next up is "Teenage Beer Drinkin' Party," the second track to feature from Some Kinda Fun. It's pure rock and roll excess without the overproduction (read: annoying piano) of the original -- an ode to the high school house parties that erupt when the parents leave.
"First Time" is the Boys classic and Teenage Head originally recorded it for 1995's Head Disorder. It was also included here because Joey Ramone was said to have liked their version after the group played with the Ramones. As a tribute to Johnny Ramone, the guitar solo is dropped in favour of power chords.
The album curiously ends with "Full-Time Fool," another track from the Frankie-less Electric Guitar It is a boppy rock 'n' roll number that sounds great, but knowing the depth of the Teenage Head catalogue seems to have taken the place of perrenial live set closer and fan fave "Disgusteen." Maybe they're saving it for Volume Two; with six out of twelve songs on here from their debut album, there are a lot of great tracks from their back catalogue that would be interesting to revisit.
While huge in their native country, Teenage Head never managed to break the US market but still retain an underground following in many parts of the world. With their recorded output spread out over a handful of different labels most of their catalogue is out of print, save for the first three albums. Except for a short time at the beginning of the 1990s, the group has been continually playing the live circuit, where they made their reputation as one of Canada's most exciting bands. Daniel Rey has managed to capture that live energy and what bursts from the speakers is the heart of the Teenage Head sound: explosive, energy-laden punk anthems. No glossy productions tricks here -- just loud, in-your-face three-chord rock and roll.
Teenage Head with Marky Ramone is almost like a time capsule with a twist: a fresh collection of vintage tunes performed with the energy and experience of punk veterans. It is the best outfit Marky Ramone has played with since the Ramones called it a day and recommended listening for all fans of the 1-2-3-4 style of punk rock. With detailed liner notes and pictures this is a really strong package. It remains to be seen what kind of interest this release will create, but it's a good guess that the spotlight will be shining on Teenage Head once more. Check it out.