Ten years into their career The Ramones were in tough times. It was 1984 and their last 2 albums sold poorly. 1981's Pleasant Dreams was produced by 10cc pop god Graham Gouldman and 1983's Subterranean Jungle was produced by Tommy James and The Shondells bubblegum king Richie Cordell.
The Ramones were touring endlessly. Tommy Ramone had left the band after 2 records because he couldn't take all the touring. He was replaced by Marc Bell, the drummer for Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Marky Ramone had been booted for his alcohol problems, and The Ramones wanted to get back to basic for their eighth album Too Tough to Die.
They had several factors to help them: Richie Reinhardt was recruited from The Velveteens as new drummer. Richie Ramone was ready for whatever The Ramones could make, and Dee Dee was starting to write a lot of new songs with Johnny.
To make it all right again, Tommy Erdeyli (once Tommy Ramone) agreed to produce the record, as he had done on the first four albums. The band's manager asked one of his other acts to produce a song, and Dave Stewart of The Eurhythmics was on board to craft a radio hit out of the Dee Dee penned Howling At The Moon (Sha-la-la).
Ramones had the best of both worlds - a back to basics sound from the producer who knew them best, and superstar production for the leadoff single. But the band did not receive the break they hoped for. The LA punk sound of Black Flag was in full swing, and hardcore had sped up the beat into a sound which made The Ramones sound lite.
Dee Dee sang two songs which were as wild and fast as any hardcore. Wart Hog and Endless Vacation were a new sound for the band. Also new, Durango 95 (named after the car Alex and his droogs steal in Clockwork Orange) was the first ever instrumental by The Ramones.
When The Ramones started out they used to gig with bands from New Jersey such as Steel Tips and Shrapnel. One of the best songs on Too Tough To Die was co-penned by Daniel Rey of Shrapnel (who was at the time fronting Adrenalin OD). Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love) has Joey's pop vocal and a super catchy tune.
Of the 12 bonus tracks, I like Smash You best. Smash You sounds like a song from one of the first three Ramones records. It is the nth rewrite of Oh Oh I Love Her So, and it rules!
The track No Go sounds like a mixture of The Rezillos (Somebody's gonna get their head) Kicked In Tonight and rockabilly.
There is a cover of the Rolling Stones song Street Fighting Man, and demos of several songs from Too Tough To Die.
On the demo version of the Dee Dee penned Planet Earth 1988 you can hear why Dee Dee wasn't enlisted to sing to final version (hint: Linda McCartney carried a tune better than Dee Dee!).
This record is better than I had remembered it to be. Like the hardcore kid I was at the time, I had previously only valued the Dee Dee songs Wart Hog and Endless Vacation. Now in 2003 I can hear the record afresh and have judged Too Tough to Die to be a darn good LP.