As if the commercial leanings of End of the Century weren't uncharacteristic and jarring enough, the Ramones were forced to push their hands even further by making their next album a more desperate grab for success. And really, I should be saying that it was Joey and Sire Records who were making this push, with much resistance coming from Johnny. Pleasant Dreams represents the true moment when the band that Johnny believed he should be running got the furthest away from his Republican grasp, allowing itself to make a record that possessed the least amount of pure energy, which of course was a quality this band had come to build its entire reputation upon.
The record does seem to be forgotten and dismissed by most fans, even though it contains two absolute classics: "The KKK Took My Baby Away" and "We Want the Airwaves." While the former remains one of their signature songs that could convert anyone into a devotee, it's the latter that really saw the band doing something special, with a slower but forceful tempo and Johnny playing that eerie melody that put a nice spin on the basic A-F-G chord sequence they had run into the ground. Even though Johnny most certainly did not want the airwaves and did not care what the airwaves thought of his musical choices, he played it like he meant it, with a mean but melodically assured Joey belting out the band's manifesto that almost feels more like a plea. Plus, they unknowingly wrote a perfect fit for the movie Airheads, proving that they were always head of their time, even if it was for a low-grade comedy that bombed just like Pleasant Dreams.
A big problem with this record is the choice of Graham Gouldman as producer. Gouldman came from 10cc, the band responsible for "I'm Not In Love," "The Things We Do for Love," and other songs with "love" in the title that should have been an indicator to everyone involved that he had no business even touching a Ramones record. But produce he did, and the band suffered greatly for it since Gouldman neutered their sound so there was absolutely no bite to any of the instruments. Instead of being pummeled by the drums, you're lightly slapped. Instead of having your ears burned by the guitars, it's more like a bad, slow wet willy. Even though they clearly spent a lot of time working on Joey's vocals and making them sparkle and shine, that bright spot can't make up for the overall lameness that pervades the listening experience. And Phil Spector may have allowed some lame things to happen on End of the Century, but he probably wouldn't have let the bouncy "It's Not My Place" make it onto the record. You can almost hear Johnny scowling as he's forced to play along with a song that he clearly hates with every fiber of his being.
But when it came down to it, the band mostly got their act together and managed to write enough great material that saves the record from being a disappointment. "All's Quiet on the Eastern Front" just cooks along, propelled by Marky's thumping beats, and "You Didn't Mean Anything to Me" buzzes in an even more aggressive manner. When they went at it hard, no one could stop them, but those moments don't happen often here. It's certainly a poppy, lighter record in tone and subject matter, and though a couple of the really light songs don't work, the ones that do work are excellent. "Don't Go" is so simple and easy, but Joey's vocal melodies cut through with such brightness that it's not possible to deny him. If anything, Pleasant Dreams is where Joey worked the hardest and most prominently wore his influences on his sleeve, hoping that a total recall of his girl group and '60s pop leanings would be the sound that broke his band into the big leagues. But it didn't happen, and Joey quietly slipped back into his role as Johnny's singer, never to steer the band in a nicer direction ever again.