#63, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," Ramones (1985)

Real quick some housekeeping--my friend Kelly is doing her top 100 too but we didn't align personal rules. She's doing one per artist. I am NOT, but capped it at 3 per artist, in case you assumed it was the former. The Ramones pick wouldn't show up so far away from #1 in the countdown if I was confined to just one choice. I should also mention that I forgot about this song and found a place for it by removing "Mandy" by Barry Manilow from the list because nobody wants to hear me talk about "Mandy," least of all me. 


Both Pete and I have a quirk about us. We are rabid Ramones fans, but our favorites come from their albums released in the 80s, not the 70s. The Ramones are best known for the sound they established on their first four albums which featured simplistic, fast, poppy, fairly traditional*, three-chord punk like you hear in their better-known tunes like "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," "I Wanna Be Sedated," and the like. This pattern was broken by their 1980 album on which they worked with Phil Spector. This was a conscious sell-out attempt and it didn't work. There are a lot of amazing horror stories from that experiment. The album itself is a beautiful mess, really compelling, and remains the album I'm most likely to put on after Too Tough to Die and Pleasant Dreams. 


*Calling the Ramones "traditional punk" feels a little like calling Einstein a "traditional theoretical physicist," and I realize this. 


After this experiment and other interpersonal scuffles, the boys stopped even trying to get along with each other, realized that they'd never be the Beatles, and switched gears to just being a rock n' roll machine. It's during this stretch immediately following End of the Century where they somehow put out their most compelling tunes. They kind of grew up during this era and put a lot of thought and emotion into the songwriting and it's great, generally criminally underrated, but is beloved by those who love the Ramones like we do. 


"Bonzo" is also the rare political Ramones song. In their early days, the Ramones made a mockery of politics and very serious themes in music in tunes such as a song that nearly made this countdown, "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World." The shift to taking stuff more seriously didn't always work for them. My favorite example is "Planet Earth 1988," released in 1984, written by Joey (bless his heart), which paints a portrait of a dystopian future. The songwriting is awkward, to put it kindly: 


Battle ships crowd the sea

Sixteen year olds in the army

Our jails are filled to the max

Discrimination against the blacks 




"Bonzo" was inspired of course by good old Ronald Reagan and a trip he made to Germany. This event drew protests because the cemetery he visited included the remains of SS troops. In defense, Reagan indicated that many Nazis were also victims, which is seems to reach Trumpian levels of ignorance and offensiveness. I thought, based on Johnny's memoir that Dee Dee was the primary author of this tune but I have learned that it was a three-way split between Joey, Dee Dee, and, randomly Jean Beauvoir of the Plasmatics, though that's in dispute as well. I'll bet the split credit was to keep Johnny from getting too mad at Dee Dee because the songwriting has Dee Dee written all over it. I'll bet you $100. 


In Johnny's aforementioned memoir, he suggests that Dee Dee wrote this just to appease their "liberal fans." He said that Dee Dee was really a conservative at heart. God, I wish people would stop putting concepts in dead people's heads, that's like the most offensive thing to me. Johnny is remembered as "the conservative Ramone," but to me his bigger crime is being a manipulative bully. I give him all the credit for keeping the band together, touring, and writing. His fascism kept them around so that fans of my generation could enjoy them, but man, what a fucking asshole. Don't read that book. Instead, read On the Road with the Ramones by Monte Melnick.


"Bonzo" is a perfect political tune which for me belongs in the same category as "Moon Over Marin" and the lone Bad Religion song that appears on this list, TBA. It's political, but they're not shouting a bunch of warnings or a list of demands on what people *should* be doing instead of listening to the song. It's personal and emotional. I will backtrack slightly on the songwriting credit piece because I'm sure Joey had influence given his heritage and general interest in this area and social justice. Joey's voice comes through in the writing for sure and his vocal performance isn't angry, but tired and sad. Stylistically, it's 100% Dee Dee. 


The name "Bonzo" of course is a reference to the 1951 major motion picture Bedtime for Bonzo. I have watched this film--sort of. It's one of two movies starring Ronald Reagan that I've skimmed through for the purpose of putting together Electric Grandmother visuals. I was also subject to Hellcats of the Navy for one of our recent songs because Nancy's in that one. I watched Bonzo for "Reagan's Got the Bomb," a tribute itself to 80s hardcore songs about Reagan. Both movies suck and I'm not just saying this because I hate republicans. I know the 1950s are known for quality historical/costume epics, but the rest of it is a garbage dump. Bedtime for Bonzo is literally about a professor and his wholesome, pert love interest raising a chimp and the madcap misadventures such an hilarious setup will cause. Bonzo is the chimp. I'd say it's incredible that such a doofus became president, but *gestures broadly*.