Joey Ramone - Don't Worry About Me (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Joey Ramone

Don't Worry About Me (2002)

Sanctuary Records

                I’m going to this review off with a bold statement; Joey Ramone is the greatest vocalist in the history of punk rock. There was something in his voice that was honest but guarded, angst ridden but tuneful, and simply put just honest. Nowhere is this more apparent than on his solo debut, Don’t Worry About Me. While many artists make solo albums to step away from the sound popularized by their band, Joey didn’t need to do that. Joey’s voice will always be inseparable from the band and from his adopted last name.

The album opens with a cover of the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World,” and while there were certainly hints of nihilism on every Ramones album, there was never a punk vocalist more perfectly suited for this song than Joey. Everything about this song says hope for a better world tomorrow, and by the time this album was being recorded it’s difficult not to wonder if Joey was seeing the writing on the wall when it came to his health. With that in mind, it adds another layer to this song because for me this song was never about beginnings, but endings. This song, both Louis Armstong’s version and Joey’s, have always has been about how in spite of a world falling down around you, there was still hope that one day it would be better. That in spite of everything, some good would still come of it. And that feeling is captured perfectly here.

After The Ramones called it a day, Joey developed a crush on business news anchor Maria Bartiromo, and wrote a song about her. While some may say that singing about stocks, AOL, and Intel are not punk rock at all. I would argue that anyone who only listens to this song and hears that, is missing the point of the song. When he sings “I watch you on TV every single day, those eyes make everything okay.” It becomes very obvious that the appeal isn’t the economic news, but someone who in spite of all the negativity they were reporting could still make him feel like the world wasn’t falling apart. That’s a huge thing to get from someone.

Joey doesn’t turn a blind eye to the negativity in the world though “It a Different World Today (Venting)” is some of the most point blank social ranting found on any album with the name Ramone anywhere on it. The lyrics are decrying the insanity Joey sees in the world around him, and how he just doesn’t understand it. Perhaps it isn’t as politically savvy as a Joe Strummer lyric, but it’s certainly more relatable. We’ve all been utterly confused, outraged, and depressed by the world around us. And that is as an important of a part of being socially active as the action itself.

While there is a fair amount of filler on this album, it’s hard to fault Joey or the band for that, as Joey passed prior to the album’s release and not everything on it may have been exactly as he wanted it be. The one song that stands out above all others though, “I Get Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” which was written about a hospital stays due to his progressing lymphoma. While Joe Strummer also released an album posthumously, he was never actively aware he was dying. Joey was, and the way he puts it down on record and croons about sitting in a hospital bed and how he wants his life. Simply put, it’s absolutely heartbreaking every time I listen to it. Most artists never get the chance to knowingly document their own impending death, Warren Zevon being the first exception that pops into my head, but when they do it’s always brutal to hear.

While there would be one more posthumous release from Joey Ramone, this has always been what I consider his swan song. There may have been material left to release after this, but this was his final statement. And even where it falters it still paints an honest picture of a man looking both life and death, in the face.