Sucker punches don’t come any more swift and compact than Leave Home, the second album from the legendary punks the Ramones. After almost single-handedly inventing the genre with their debut LP Ramones, the band focused on raw power and melody for their sophomore effort.
With more experience working and writing together, the band received a (slightly) higher budget and more time to record and mix in the studio for their second LP. Drummer Tommy Ramone took on a greater role in the album’s production, sowing the seeds for both his career jump to the other side of the mixing board and his eventual departure from the band only two years later.
The personalities of the band could easily be heard in the songs they individually spearheaded. Dee Dee was as sardonic and tongue in cheek as ever, churning out anti-love songs like ‘Glad to See You Go’ and focusing in on his early preoccupation with mental illness on ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’ and ‘Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy’. In stark contrast, Johnny wanted immediate impact and straightforward lyricism for tracks like ‘Commando’ and ‘You Should Never Have Opened That Door’.
It was Joey, however, who made the biggest leap in terms of personal identity. After flirting with horror movie imagery on ‘Chain Saw’, the singer doubled down on his appreciation for old school terror by incorporating the “Gabba Gabba Hey, one of us” chant from Tod Browning’s Freaks into ‘Pinhead’ and going right for the throat on ‘You’re Gonna Kill That Girl’. But more importantly, Joey became more comfortable talking about love and human relationships, which would become a throughline in his work. After hearing Tommy get personal on ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ on their debut, Joey let his heartfelt love of classic pop show on tracks like ‘Swallow My Pride’ and ‘Oh Oh I Love Her So’.
The one thing missing from Leave Home is a surefire all-time classic signature song. There’s no ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ or ‘Rockaway Beach’ or ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ on Leave Home. Instead, there are 14 tracks that remain emblematic of The Ramones surprisingly quick evolution: elements of the girl group-influenced bubblegum pop that the group would explore on End of the Century is clear as day on ‘California Sun’ and ‘What’s Your Game’. Also present is the band’s later forays into hardcore, present on songs like ‘Commando’ and ‘I Remember You’.
But more than anything else, Leave Home is a continuation of the pure punk that the band established on their first album. ‘Suzy is a Headbanger’ is a direct descendant of ‘Judy is a Punk’ and an immediate precursor to ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’, while ‘Carbona Not Glue’ harkens back to the jerky rhythms of ‘Beat on the Brat’ and the degenerate attitude of ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’.
To perhaps their own detriment, the Ramones opted for a slightly smoother sound on Leave Home, incorporating jangly guitars and less impactful fuzz than the grimy and lo-fi sound of Ramones. The struggle between bright pop sensibilities and dirty amp-heavy distortion would be a balance that the band would experiment with over the years before settling into a more intense signature sound. Leave Home is an ideal middle ground between the two camps, and the Ramones keep their combative edge while unapologetically incorporating more love songs than ever before.
Even though it doesn’t have the revolutionary groundbreaking power of the band’s debut or the all-encompassing crowd-pleasing punch of Rocket to Russia, Leave Home is a workmanlike statement of intent. It showed that the Ramones were only going to double down on the speed, simplicity, and snottiness that made them the world’s most important punk band.