Dedicated to those songs that I can’t stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend,” Led Zeppelin’s “C’mon Everybody,” and M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.”
The active ownership of and listening to demo cuts acts as a barometer for fanship. You might love a band or an album, but do you love a band or album so much that you need to hear alternate versions of the songs you’ve already memorized? Since the CD revolution, the tagging on of previously-unreleased material to old albums only attracts the super fan. I like Elvis Costello, but I can honestly say I only have the demo tapes attached to the Special Edition of This Year’s Model because it came that way. On the other hand, it turns out that I love the Ramones more than I realized, and I knew that I really loved them. The demos attached to their re-issued material are not just bonus features to me; they’ve become essential tracks. I’m tempted to call Ramones demos “cheating” since most of their material (save for the less-produced cuts from End of the Century) plays like demos to begin with. They weren’t big on thinking. They were more about catching lightning in a bomb and exploding.
“Smash You” is one of those quintessential discoveries among the Ramones’ previously unreleased treasures. It sounds exactly like every other Ramones song (like they all do) and it rocks as hard as every other Ramones song (like they all do). From the count at the top to the effortless way they coax a sing-along out of the listener, the song’s true power is in its relentlessness. Like their greatest songs before it, “Smash You” feels like a full-speed horse race that never lets up. The only switch up comes at the perfect 3/4 moment where, nearing the final turn, we stay in one key, get everyone to sing the same thing twice, remount, and repeat.
I’m not gonna solve all the Ramones’ problems, in music or otherwise. But I can’t help lamenting the fact that “Smash You” — representing such a higher-than-normal high for one of the greatest bands to walk the Earth — is underrepresented. This happens to many bands of course, but it seems to be a habit for the Ramones. Despite glories in sound, songs like “S.L.U.G.” never found a proper home. “Babysitter” isn’t technically part of the album “Leave Home” and “Please Don’t Leave” never stayed around and now “Smash You”. The deck is stacked against these guys.
I’m thankful that I was the right kind of lazy — the cheap kind — when I purchased Too Tough To Die — on iTunes instead of buying the CD used. It’s a constant war, my battle with laziness; sometimes I avoid the pricey end of stuff and win, sometimes I indulge and lose. It was a difference of ONE dollar between a used original-version CD and this extended edition. The coolest part about “Smash You” in the context of the album is that it serves like a second album closer. I can only assume they didn’t include the song in the original release because Ritchie had a hand in writing it, and they were all kind of dumb and jealous and mean that way.
Not that it would have made much difference in the world. It still would have been one more song in a long list of ignored-by-the-planet songs from a prolific, unapologetically awesome band. And, yes, that’s been lamented a million times before (and, yes, I’ve even called myself out like this before about another band)… but this time it seems particularly apropos. The Beatles are the most popular band ever, so it’s less difficult to find a cut song from one of their less popular albums. Listening to a song so perfect — so obviously excellent — inspires me to write columns complaining about why people don’t profess their undying devotion to this perfect, obviously excellent music. What blows me away now is that with 20/20 hindsight on our side, the Ramones don’t have any radio play on classic rock stations. They wrote pop songs. They wrote songs you could sing to. They wrote songs that rock. It’s all right here in “Smash You”.
Like “Smash You”‘s exclusion from the album, it’s gotta be about money. With Ritchie writing the song, and the band’s notoriously tight purse strings, the powers that be must have excluded the song to hog a little cash. The only other possible reason for depriving the world of this song could be that “Too Tough” was already full of great songs anyway. But you still had “Animal Boy” and “Halfway to Sanity” with Ritchie, and they certainly aren’t as wall-to-wall great as “Too Tough”. I mean, I love “Go Li’l Camaro Go”, but I’m not an idiot.
Then again, perhaps society is to blame. Again. “Too Tough To Die” was the group’s eighth studio album, and fifth “greatest” album. Prior to 1985, they had pumped out substantially fantastic music that was largely ignored by the mainstream world, and that has to do something to the band’s selection process. Perhaps by the time this song came around, their assessment of what’s “good” was way out of whack. At some point they must have thought, “If ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ can’t get airplay, what chance does this song have?’”
And maybe it’s the burden of being uncompromising pioneer morons that holds the truth. The song technically deals with lurid subject matter: a guy is so pissed at his pill-popping girl that he wants to smash her. But it also seems pretty harmless. He doesn’t want to cut her up and throw her in the trunk. He wants to “smash” her. The vocabulary seems childlike, tied more to the Incredible Hulk than an actual abusive relationship. There’s sadness and humor walking hand in hand in this song, especially in the line “you’re the best girl that I’ve ever had.” It comes after 3 previous verses of steam-from-the-ears fury, and portrays more relatable truth that anyone cares to admit. This guy is settling, even if it means fist fights on the street and dealing with her mood swings.
As a kind of tribute, I’m attaching a video of a demo for this song with Ritchie singing. The guy managed the impossible, being an outsider who wrote a song more Ramones than the Ramones were playing, and he deserves more credit for it. The studio cut has a bit more Ramones magic, but as you can hear in this early cut, the components were there.