I had a discussion recently with my wife about the 1980s. We were watching VH1’s “One Hit Wonders” show—a guilty pleasure—and the focus was on 1980s movies. The themes to both Dirty Dancing and St. Elmo’s Fire made their list, and I was reacquainted with how incredibly awful those tunes are. My wife was prompted to say that the 1980s sucked, but I had to disagree. The argument can be made that so much of what hit the charts back then was treacle—but there’s a reason why so many of today’s pop artists seem to be structuring their tunes as if they were created thirty years ago. And when else could you find a chart shared by a three-chord punk band of screamers like The Ramones and a synth-driven, hyperstructured band like The Cars?
What are the other similarities between these two titans? Both bands had a string of top 40 hits that are as indelible today as they were when they were created. Both featured incredibly ugly, gangly and tall lead singers. Both knew, more than anything, how to market themselves—even if Joey Ramone professed to eschew commercialism, his appearance in the brilliantly campy Rock and Roll High School shows his true colors. And both have tribute albums released this year.
Hit the cut for the reviews…
First, let’s take a look at Osaka Ramones: Tribute to The Ramones by Shonen Knife on Good Charamel records. The album is truly a tribute: Shonen Knife make no effort to change, rework, revive, or otherwise alter the songs as played originally. What they add are their female voices and Japanese accents. As a result, the album is a blast—a quick blast—that doesn’t really stick to your ribs. If you’re a Ramones fan, you won’t want to miss it. But if you’re not, it won’t make you one. And it also probably won’t make you a new Shonen Knife fan, either. That said, it’s sexy, edgy and a rip. If you are a Ramones fan, you’re gonna want to hear this. And you’re probably gonna want to see the band live as well. Their tour dates are below.
Kris Delmhorst’s effort is much different.
Yes, there a several songs here that hew close to the originals (particularly Shake it Up), but Delmhorst’s voice is too inflectious to cover Ric Ocasek. Is “inflectious” a word? No? it is now! By that I mean that Cars music has always seemed quite sterile to me. I enjoy it and all, but I’ve never been one to go out of my way for it. And that’s largely due to Ric’s flat delivery. Delmhorst is incapable of being flat. And her joy at playing these songs is evident throughout. The album—in both it’s her extensively reworked versions (“Why Can’t I Have You”) and the more faithful renditions (“Drive”)—showcases what a great songwriter Ric was. He’s like the Bob Dylan of slick pop.
In the end, both Shonen Knife and Kris Delmhorst have produced worthy tributes. But KD’s record should—hopefully—inspire a deeper dive into her own original catalog.
Buy direct from the label, Signature Sounds.
Scroll down for an mpfree festival!
And catch Shonen on tour!
20- Toronto, ONT- Horseshoe Tavern
21- Montreal- QC- II Motore
22- Brooklyn, NY- Public Assembly (CMJ)
24- Baltimore, MD- Otto Bar
25- Durham, NC- The Pinhook
26- Atlanta, GA- Masquerade
27- Mobile, AL- Alabama Music Box
28- Houston, TX- GroundHall
29- Austin, TX- Red 7
1- Los Angeles, CA- TBA
2- San Diego, CA – Casbah
3- Long Beach, CA – Alex’s Bar
4- San Francisco, CA- Bottom of the Hill
5- Portland, OR- Dante’s
7- Vancouver, BC- Biltmore Cabaret
8- Seattle, WA- Tractor Tavern
11- Minneapolis, MN- First Ave.
12- Chicago, IL- Empty Bottle
13- Kalamazoo, MI- The Strutt
14- Indianpolis, IN- Radio, Radio
17- Pittsburgh, PA- 31st Pub
18- Brooklyn, NY- The Bellhouse
19- Buffalo, NY- Mohawk Palace