Album: Road to Ruin
. . .
Tommy was an accidental drummer.
In the earliest incarnation of the Ramones, Joey was the drummer and Tommy — who had played guitar with Johnny in their high school band — was the manager.
After Joey became the singer, Tommy ended up playing drums because they couldn’t find anybody else to do it. And with the final piece locked into place, the world was changed. Fast-forward to 1978, and Tommy didn’t want to do it anymore. This time, however, they were able to find a drummer, and Marky, who had been playing with Richard Hell and The Voidoids — who will appear in this column — took over.
And so with Tommy in the producer’s chair, the first real attempt at breaking the Ramones in the mainstream, as the streamlined songcraft of the first three albums was expanded with acoustic guitar, ballads and even guitar solos. And it also had perhaps my favorite Ramones, the gut-crunching “I Just Want to Have Something to Do,” which matches a mid-tempo beat and a big rock riff and one of my favorite opening couplets of any Ramones songs.
Hanging out of Second Avenue
Eating chicken vindaloo
I just want to be with you
I just wanna have something to do
Since Road to Ruin was the second Ramones album I ever bought, and I grew up in Fresno, this song was the first time I’d ever even heard of “chicken vindaloo,” but whatever it was, it sure as shit seemed like a genius rhyme, and I’ve never encountered chicken vindaloo since in my life without immediately thinking of this song.
Which is perfect, as I love the chorus, which is basically Joey repeating “tonight, tonight, tonight” ever more intensely — after Marky does a drum roll! — before playing off of the big rock riff with a staccato “Wait! Now!”
In the end, there’s a big build over those “tonights” as Marky does even more drum rolls, and there some big rock guitar flourishes — not played by Johnny, who had no interest in those things, but by either Tommy or engineer Ed Stasium — as the song powers hard toward its ending. It’s a genuinely thrilling ending, and unlike anything the Ramones had yet done.
Why is this Ramones song unlike all other Ramones songs?
In all of the long history of the Ramones, this is the only song they ever wrote where the title was “want to” and not “wanna.” I would chalk it up to their newfound maturity, but the biggest song on the record has “wanna” in the title. It’s even weirder when you consider that Joey definitely sings “wanna” in the chorus.
It also provides one of my favorite scenes in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, as the Ramones drive in their Ramonesmobile singing it and then stop to serenade all of their fans who are standing in line to buy tickets to that evening’s show. As all bands did in the 1970s.
“I Just Want To Have Something To Do”
“I Just Want to Have Something To Do” from Rock N Roll High School
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