When the Wall of Sound Met the NY Underground – Frank Meyer (review)

When the Wall of Sound Met the New York Underground: The Ramones, Phil Spector, and “The End of the Century” – Frank Meyer (Single Notes / Warner Music Group) review

Ever feel like reading a book is just too much work?  I mean, who has the time for all that commitment?   I’ll admit, sometimes, I’m just not up to the task.  I never finished the Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, because it was just too damned long.  That’s what makes Single Notes, a new series of e-books from Warner Music Group, so enticing.  They’re meant to be both inexpensive (most run for only about $2), and more importantly, quick reads.

Arguably the strangest pairing in all of rock: Phil Spector – the lunatic perfectionist who created such pop masterpieces as “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” and “Be My Baby,” meets the Ramones – kings of the two-minute punk anthem who pretty much single-handedly started the New York underground scene – and they agree to do an album together.  When the Wall of Sound Met the New York Underground from Frank Meyer chronicles this bizarre collaboration in a new short-form book from Single Notes / Warner Music Group.

Believe it or not, it seemed to make sense at the time.  The Ramones were becoming desperate to break into the mainstream (something friends like Blondie and Talking Heads had already done), and Phil Spector was looking to return to the top of pop royalty (he hadn’t had a hit since John Lennon’s Rock n’ Roll album in ’75).  Unfortunately, the record they created, End of the Century, did neither.

Author Frank Meyer wrote an extensive book on the band called On the Road with the Ramones and penned the liner notes to several of the group’s CD remasters, so he’s certainly got a grasp of the band’s history.  His brief book, totaling only 24 pages, is written in a conversational manner taken from a fan’s perspective.  Using quotes from the band, as well as engineer Ed Stasium, and friends who were present at the sessions, Meyer reveals what we probably already knew – that those sessions were a hot mess; strained and filled with plenty of gun toting and ridiculous behavior from Spector, who apparently still thought he was at the top of his game.  At one point, Stasium is quoted as remembering Spector saying that “The Ramones would be bigger than the Beatles.”  Wow, that guy really was nuts!

At the same time, many critics and purists have viewed the resulting album, End of the Century, as a sell out – the complete opposite of what punk was all about.  As Meyer insists – no musician really wants to be a cult hero.  Isn’t it the ultimate goal of every artist for their music to be heard by as many people as possible?  In that sense, this era of the band makes plenty of sense.  Add to it that leader Joey Ramone was a huge 60‘s girl group fan — who wouldn’t want to work with the man who helped create all those great classics?

What makes this book work is that Meyer is a musician himself.  Interspersed with recollections from the band and those who were there, he inserts his own personal experiences, which bring things down to a more intimate level.

Is End of the Century as good as the first few, primal Ramones records?  No.  But, it’s also not the debacle that many people have labeled it.  While it’s never become the stone-cold classic that the band and producer would have wanted, it still stands as one of the finest examples of great songs from the Ramones, and one of Spector’s best post Sixties productions.

Plus, the entire book is easily read in one sitting! –Tony Peters