8. “Ruby Soho” by Rancid (1995)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

Rancid is the best band of all-time. I don’t think this take is even 5% controversial. They write unimpeachably great punk music. They have an authentic DIY work ethic. They have an unparalleled pop sensibility. They look like axe murderers. They ARE rock ‘n roll.

Of course, like the giant dunce I am, I came around to this point of view much, much later than I should have. I think it was the axe murderer thing that initially turned me off from Rancid. I used to reject the idea of a “punk uniform” and would say dumb shit like “I don’t want to be a sheep in a smaller flock.” Not adhering to anyone else’s idea of how you should express yourself is generally good. Indiscriminately crapping on the idea of easily signaling to fellow travelers that you’re into a niche subculture is generally bad.

The first time I met my friend Jason, I saw what I thought was a try-hard poseur. We were in high school and Jason had a mohawk haircut, and clothing and a backpack covered in patches of band logos affixed with safety pins. Of course this dork’s favorite band is Rancid. Just look at him. I’ll bet he talks with some phony ass English accent too.

He didn’t. And I learned that because I was cast as Mr. Kraler (one of the only characters not onstage for the whole thing) in our high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Jason was some sort of hybrid Student Director/running crew and we ended up spending a ton of time offstage together while the rest of the cast slogged through what turned out to be one of the worst renditions of that fucking play anyone has ever seen. Just a dull, plodding, lifeless, LOOOOOONG exercise in tedium and mediocrity.

That gave us ample time to hang out, poke fun at our fellow castmates, and become best friends within a month. He liked pro wrestling and I liked pro wrestling. He liked punk rock and I liked punk rock. He could make me laugh and I could make him laugh. He wasn’t a try-hard poseur at all, and I wasn’t the loud-mouthed, attention-craving douche bag he initially thought I was (at least not to the extent he thought I was).

It still took me some time to come around on Rancid, and the most likely culprit is finding Tim Armstrong’s delivery – which is lovingly referred to by music critic Tom Breihan as a “broken-tooth gurgle-slur” – not to my taste. The very first Rancid song I fell in love with was “Olympia, WA” and that’s because NOFX did a kickass cover of it. I had come around on them a bit through the years. Saw them play live a few times and enjoyed them, put a few songs on some of my own personal comps, and recognized them as pillars in the 90s revival of punk music.

Then five years ago, Jason made me an ultimate Rancid mix CD, complete with liner notes, interesting personal trivia about him, esoteric memories, and additional insights about each song. I put that in my car’s CD player and listened to it over and over again for months. Having your own personal mix of songs curated by a Rancid superfan makes a band very easy to fall in love with. And he’s always had superior taste, anyway.

So, what did he have to say about “Ruby Soho?” Let’s consult the liner notes. Here we are. It reads, “I don’t think I need to say anything about this.”

Ah. So I’m on my own here, then. But truthfully, he doesn’t need to say anything about this song. If you know a Rancid song, you almost certainly know this one (or possibly “Time Bomb”). Rancid is in many ways the reincarnation of The Clash in both sound and ethos. But this song feels like it’s more from the lineage of bands like The Beach Boys and The Ramones. It’s perfect pop rock filtered through a gritty punk aesthetic. I defy you not to join in on that gigantic chorus when the gang vocals start shouting “DESTINATION UUUUUNNNN-KNOWN RUBY, RUBY, RUBY, RUBY SOHO!” It’s wonderfully catchy and damn near impossible not to love.

We chose “Ruby Soho” as the second-to-last song of our wedding reception, and I remember having all my friends around me as we drunkenly jumped up and down in a big, crowded group singing along to it.

One time when Grace was like 3, I drove her to preschool as this song came on the radio. I pulled up to the entrance right as Tim sang, “Ruby’s fading out, she disappears it’s time…” and then turned the car off at that exact moment. I opened my door, took two steps and opened the back door so I could undo Grace’s car seat. As I opened the door, with perfect timing, Grace goes “Time to say goodbye!” hitting Tim’s next line perfectly. I doubled over myself laughing. I’m still tickled by that moment.

“Ruby Soho” is a song that deserves to be famous and lionized until long after we’re all dead. It’s the best band in the world’s best song.

The last song on the mix Jason curated for me is “Fall Back Down” a song written by Armstrong after the dissolution of his marriage to Brody Dalle about how good friends will always be there to pick you back up again. Here’s what he wrote about that one:

You tell me a bunch and I don’t say it enough, but I am so happy you are my friend and you are in my life and I love you. And I hope you think that every time you hear this song.

It ain’t just that one, my friend. It’s every Rancid song, including this, their best one. I cannot think about Rancid without thinking of you. I love you too, buddy. My life is better because you’re in it.

Up next: You say I only hear what I want to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.