The Ramones – Pleasant Dreams (1981): Forgotten Series

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Deemed revolutionary freaks when their self-titled debut album was released in 1976, the Ramones had become mighty familiar faces upon the musical landscape by the time their sixth studio effort, Pleasant Dreams was released.

Despite the reality the New York band had not netted commercial success, they boasted their own special cheerleading section and regularly received pounds of press. Even those who never heard a stitch of the Ramones’ music at least knew who they were.

With each passing project, it seemed as if the Ramones were inching closer and closer to staging a serious breakthrough. The band’s appearance in 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School movie provided added visibility, while the following year they joined forces with fabled knob twiddler Phil Spector and issued the much-ballyhooed End of the Century album. Mainstream appeal was obviously the goal, but the record lacked fire and focus. At this point, many of the original fans moved on, claiming the band had deserted their street credibility.

Although the Ramones had developed into a bit of a poppier proposition, they always managed to retain the sniveling punk attitude and energy that made them so unique and exciting to begin with. But by no means was there ever any danger of the band compromising their ideals and turning into a conventional act.

Aiming to find the perfect balance between rebellion and accessibility, the Ramones cooked up Pleasant Dreams, which was produced for Sire Records by legendary songwriter and 10cc maestro Graham Gouldman. Fastened tight with plucky tunes and inspired performances, the album synthesized the band’s rough and ready roots with a crisp and clear contemporary sound.

A shameless plea for radio play, “We Want the Airwaves” kicks the album off with an explosive bang marked by a taunting chorus and swift and sturdy traction. In a fair world, the song would have topped the charts, as well as the jubilant “She’s a Sensation” and the heart-tugging “7-11,” which recounts the tale of meeting and falling in love with a girl at the noted convenience store standing by the Space Invaders video game.

Propelled by buzzing guitars, choppy chords, slashing rhythms and lean but mean arrangements, “You Sound Like You’re Sick,” “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” “You Didn’t Mean Anything to Me” and “This Business is Killing Me” are classic Ramones all the way. Heaving with hard-hitting hooks and sing-a-long harmonies, these catchy numbers emote angst, frustration and sarcasm with raw honesty.

Rocking front, center and back, Pleasant Dreams for whatever reason, was not the most warmly received Ramones outing. Reactions were indeed mixed but, in the end, Pleasant Dreams would be the band’s last truly great album.

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