5/30/2019 by Tim Sommer
Two of the most iconic bands in American musical history, the Ramones and the Beach Boys made enduring pop that was elementary and original, radically artistic and instantly hummable. Both bands became poster boys for gigantic musical genres that they were largely credited with originating. Heck, the names and the likenesses of these two acts have come to stand for entire zip codes, entire decades.
Whether the lyrics were about the sand or the subway, the Bowery or the beach — in many ways, when we hummed one, we hummed the other. In the mind of many a music fan, The Beach Boys and Ramones have always lived together, which is why it seems amazing that this particular crossover didn’t happen until now.
On May 30, Mike Love, who co-founded the Beach Boys 58 years ago, will release his version of the Ramones’ classic “Rockaway Beach.”
“It felt so natural to sing it,” says Love, who turned 78 in March. “It fits beautifully in the Beach Boys surfing song genre. Not only is it a great song, it’s also right in my vocal range. It’s almost as if it was designed for me to sing, and that’s why I am so eager to play it live.”
The Beach Boys (which includes Love and long-time Beach Boy Bruce Johnston) will feature “Rockaway Beach” in their live act this summer. And don’t be surprised if you see long-time Ramones drummer Marky Ramone join them on stage.
The Ramones cover is the lead track off from Love’s July 19 album, 12 Sides of Summer (which also features covers of “Summertime Blues” and “California Sun,” along with re-boots of “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’”). Production on the album was split between long-time Beach Boys’ musical director Scott Totten and Panic! At the Disco/Fritz and the Tantrums producer Sam Hollander. “Rockaway Beach” is one of the Totten-produced tracks, and is performed by long-serving members of the Beach Boys’ touring band (Totten and Brian Eichenberger on guitars, John Cowsill on drums, Keith Hubacher on bass, Randy Leago on sax, and Tim Bonhomme on keyboards). Totten, who joined the Beach Boys in 2001 and became musical director in 2007, has done a tight but relatively unpolished recording that reflects the energy of both ’62 and ’77.
“We were working on these new tunes at soundcheck every day for quite a few weeks, so when we got into the studio we could put the charts aside and just play our hearts out and give it a good bash,” Totten says. “Mike’s only comment to me about the original was, ‘Well, that’s a lot of guitars, can you do something to make it sound more like the Beach Boys?’ So I enlarged the harmony spectrum a bit, and there was a spot where I took a cue from Brian’s production of ‘Sloop John B’ and at the end of one of the verses I had the band drop out and just let the vocals carry a bar.”
According to the legendary Ed Stasium, who produced the Ramones original version of “Rockaway Beach” (and added both guitar and harmony vocals to the track), the Beach Boys were never far from the Ramones’ mind.
“Every one of the Ramones expressed their admiration for The Beach Boys on numerous occasions,” notes Stasium, who produced five albums for the Ramones between 1977 and 1984. “When we recorded ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ in the spring of ’77, Johnny asked specifically if I could play a guitar bit that would reflect the ‘plonky’ guitar on the Beach Boys’ ‘Little Honda’. And when we recorded Chris Montez’s ‘Let’s Dance’ for the Rocket to Russia LP, the Beach Boys version of the song served as a blueprint, especially for the backing vocals. And there is no doubt that ‘Rockaway Beach,’ from the same album, was deeply influenced by the Beach Boys.”
“The Ramones, along with most music lovers, were very aware of the Beach Boys,” says Ramones drummer Marky Ramone, who joined the band not long after “Rockaway Beach” was recorded. “We were big music fans and we’d talk about all types bands, musicians, our influences. I think you can hear the resemblance in ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ and the end of the song—BaBaBaBa I wanna be sedated.”
And the punk legend readily signs off on Love’s version. “[This] adaptation of ‘Rockaway Beach’ is killer. Beach Boys to the max.”
Mickey Leigh, Joey Ramones’ younger brother and a noted musician in his own right, underlined the Ramones/Beach Boys connection. “Growing up in Forest Hills, Joey and I bought every single and every album of theirs, which led to buying every record by Jan and Dean and The Trashmen, and on and on. That’s all reflected in the Ramones music. We saw them live as often as we could, and when we were first playing together in our garage and bedroom, we even bought a Theremin so we could attempt ‘Good Vibrations.’”
And if the Ramones had a little bit – or a lot – of the Beach Boys in them, maybe the Beach Boys had some of the Ramones in them…before the Ramones even existed. I suggested to Mike Love that when the Beach Boys were at the beginning of their career, banging out three chord originals and doo-wop covers in VA Halls and at the bottom-of-the-bill in big package shows, maybe they were a bit like a punk rock band.
“Y’know, I think we were, basically,” answers Love. “Energetically, I totally can see that. That’s what happens when you take Chuck Berry and take it to the beach! Of course we had the harmony component, what with our fascination with the Four Freshmen, with our love for the Everlys, and doo-wop in general. I also think that kind of mixture of energy and simplicity — which is certainly something the Ramones had too — was the reason we had hits with ‘Surfin’ Safari,’ ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ and ‘Do It Again.’ It’s really neat that they were fans of our group, and years later I can do their song and feel so good about doing it. I cannot tell you how much fun it was for me to sing it. I am just sorry that Joey Ramone isn’t around to hear it.”