The Ramones had high expectations for Rocket To Russia. Songs like “Rockaway Beach,” “Locket Love” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” were pure pop. When the album peaked at 49 on the billboard charts the band was bitterly disappointed.
Many blamed the stalled momentum on a rival band from the U.K. The Sex Pistols had dirtied up the punk aesthetic with their nihilistic self-destruction. For better or worse, the genre was now viewed as confrontational and dangerous. Radio shunned all things punk. Any chance of Rocket to Russia yielding a top ten hit vanished.
In reality, The Ramones and Sex Pistols represented two polar opposite takes on punk. Where the Pistols were designed to shock and alienate, The Ramones were lighthearted and inclusive. Sure, their humor had dark tinges. Songs of lobotomies are hardly the subject matter of pop hits. Still, even a lyric about a dead girl floating in formaldehyde is so silly one can’t help but laugh.
Above all, the Ramones were FUN! Rocket to Russia expands on the humor that made the first two albums so memorable. For what was supposed to be their big breakthrough, the band hired an artist to create humorous drawings.
Just look at the rear sleeve. Some serious shit is going down. Cold War nightmares have been realized. The United States has launched a nuclear warhead that will obliterate Russia.
Santa Clause certainly looks alarmed. The vantage point of the North Pole gives him a bird’s eye view of the disaster in progress.
First, the missile must fly over grinning European Kings and Scandinavian Vikings. Down in Transylvania, Dracula stalks shadowy streets outside of his castle. No disaster will befall them as the warhead passes overhead.
Further south, we have Fidel Castro glancing up from Cuba. With arms folded back nonchalantly, he looks unconcerned. A question mark looms in the background. Fidel remains aloof as he puffs on a fine Cuban cigar.
Over in Russia we get a view of the Kremlin. In the distance, a criminal has been sentenced to hard labor in the salt-mines. A cruel master whips the poor slave, keeping him subservient. Both seem blissfully unaware of the impending devastation.
But wait! Is that a Ramones logo on the side of the missile? The pinhead straddles the rocket, flashing a peace sign as he flies through the stratosphere. Clenching a flag bearing the famous “Gabba Gabba Hey” chant, a provocative scenario is instantly reduced to a joke.
All in all, there is nothing terrifying about this act of war. A Ramones warhead will bring about as much devastation as a Saturday morning cartoon.
Inside the sleeve is where the real fun begins. The lyric sheet contains a personalized doodle for each song.
Look at this party! Who ARE these people? Have lunatics escaped the asylum and formed a rock band? No clothes required. A well-placed leaf keeps a sense of decency on stage. Might as well bring a rubber chicken. You never know what may come in handy when audience members bang nails into their heads with a wide-tooth grin. Everyone dances. It’s all laughter and madness.
A greaser rabbit chews a carrot as his girlfriend soaks up the sun. In the distance, a cretin dances. The boardwalk promises fun with an arcade, “Spook House,” hot dogs, and amusement rides. Rockaway Beach is the coolest vacation destination for fun loving punks.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
A man parties with a ghost in the cemetery. There’s beer, laughter and television. A headstone informs us, “HERE LIES SOMEONE’S DEAD BODY.” Our young drunkard sprawls out before a giant tombstone that reads “RIP 1969.” The summer of love is long gone. It’s now 1977…The Year of Punk!
The Ramones wrote a love song. So what! They look really cool in a locket.
I DON’T CARE
The lyrics say it all. This man doesn’t care about this world. Not even about that girl.
SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER
Clad in a leopard outfit and gripping a hunting spear, we get a glimpse of the 1930’s comic book heroine, “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.” What would happen if Sheena found herself transported to NYC in 1977? Surely she’d head down to CBGB’s and catch a Ramones’s gig!
WE’RE A HAPPY FAMILY
This all American family is happy to dine on their pork dinner. VERY happy.
Lobotomies make you happy!
DO YOU WANNA DANCE?
This grinning bohemian really knows how to get down when dancing with his girl. Just listen to the beat of The Ramones. You simply HAVE to move.
I WANNA BE WELL
A poor soul is reduced to a straight jacket inside a padded cell. Kids. Don’t let this be your fate. Lay off that LSD!
I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING
This is a very angry man. Scowling with raised eyebrows, he pouts. Those muscular arms could surely do harm to a mindless cretin. Just imagine being stomped on by his giant feet. What is that contraption that substitutes for clothing? It detracts from his tough-guy persona. Still, it’s best to get away from this man. There is nothing he can offer a Ramones fan.
Look at this badass punk rock girl. Men may swoon over this ultra-cool dream woman. They are all out of luck. Sweet little Ramona is only interested in Johnny, Dee Dee, Tom and Joey.
An Eagle catching a wave is as strange as The Ramones covering this 1960’s hit by The Trashmen. Just like eagles and beach culture, rock and roll and The Ramones are American institutions.
WHY IS IT ALWAYS THIS WAY?
Only the Ramones could make a tragic song of untimely death come across as a light-hearted song of humor. A young girl’s life is gone but the mourner will never have to let her go. Preserved in formaldehyde, she will live forever.
In some ways, Rocket to Russia represents the end of the era. Frustrated by inner turmoil and lack of commercial success, Tommy quit the band to focus on producing the next Ramones record. With Marky Ramone taking over the drum kit, the band didn’t miss a beat. One look at the cover of Road to Ruin and it was clear that the band’s fun-loving brand of cartoonish punk was here to stay.