Revisiting "Let's Ram It," The L.A. Rams' Ode to… Ramming
Before the Rams left LA for St. Louis, they recorded a preposterous single-entendre song about, um, ramming. As they head West again, we gave it another spin.
Image via eBay
Listen, let's just get straight to the point: this is not going to be one of those Sportscore entries dedicated to finding the secret musical worth or historical interest in a cruddy athlete-performed novelty song. The 1986 Los Angeles Rams were a decent but unspectacular team, one of the innumerable teams that existed, finished above .500, then lost a Wild Card game and bowed out of the playoffs. They'd had seasons like that before, and they would have seasons like that again. It's doubtful that longtime Angeleno fans of the now de-relocated franchise would put that particular season among their happiest memories, right up there with Eric Dickerson's rushing-record season. And yet these ultra-forgettable Rams recorded a novelty song-and-dance video in 1986 and put it out as a 12" single—not out of any particular commemorative effort or goin'-all-the-way hubris but because that was what sports teams did after the Super Bowl Shuffle set a benchmark for mid-80s inanity. Oh, it's Sportscore all right.
If the '86 Rams were unspectacularly good, "Let's Ram It"—on record, at least—is unspectacularly bad. Instrumentally, it's a karaoke-quality lift of "Party All the Time" that has been neutered to the point making the Rick James-produced Eddie Murphy vanity single sound like "Maggot Brain." It's cheesy but catchy in a way that doesn't really grate enough to be aggravating, and any sense of looming disaster is at least a little mitigated after Hall of Famer Jackie Slater admits off the bat that "we can't sing and our dancin's not pretty." It's self-effacing and knowingly silly, but it's also unusually competent for the most part—even Nolan Cromwell and Dennis Harrah ride the beat well enough through their respective prairie- and mountain-man twangs. It's goofy as hell, but it's not even the most preposterous team-recorded anthem of that year.
Still, time makes kitsch of everything, and there's something about "Let's Ram It," and especially in its music video, that gets to some of the weirder spaces in our collective pop-culture mind. The song is unremarkable, and yet it's also close to the most ridiculous thing conceivable in its own little milieu. Less than a week ago, none other than Shaquille O'Neal—no stranger to the musician-athlete crossover himself—gave it a listen on his podcast (check at the 41-minute mark) and was absolutely floored with laughter. Why he immediately spotted the ridiculousness in "Ram It" when presumably nobody in the Rams front office or locker room did is a mystery—almost as much of a mystery as whether all involved were all in on this as this as a joke. It's complicated, and all that's certain is that the end result Raises Questions.
And so here, in glorious Artifact-O-Vision, is a glimpse into a fever dream of mislaid, utterly failed cool—a project bound to trigger wave upon wave of awkward, self-aware revulsion and embarrassment among men overly concerned with what the stakes of masculinity require. Or, in other words, a masterpiece.
If you're just listening to the song in a strictly audio context, it might vaguely register in the adolescent portion of your brain that there are some lyrics in "Ram It" that could be considered references to, like, fucking. The question as to whether these references are naive and accidental or wink-and-nudge purposeful eventually evaporates into a damp cloud of mortified discomfort when the visuals are added in. It is one thing to hear Gary Jeter describe his defensive prowess in terms like "I come from the end, lookin' for the sack/I don't stop comin' 'til I put 'em on their back." It is another, far more bewildering situation to actually see it with his accompanying shimmies and wiggles and scowls. (Gary also brags about being the best-dressed of the team when he's wearing the same uniform as everyone else in the video, but it's understandable when logistical issues like this are lost under all that Our Team Name Could Also Signify Humping business.)
There are other bits that scan as embarrassing in more bad-showbiz ways. Jim Collins, already dealing with the disappointment of being sidelined with a season-long shoulder injury, delivers his lines with a dissociative, middle-distance stare and a half-hearted shoulder shake. Carl Ekern both looks and sounds like he's rapping through gritted teeth as he hunch-straddles over a motorcycle. But let's face it: there are a lot of verses in this song that juxtapose a fondness for Ladies and an enthusiasm for Rammin' It in a pretty suggestive way. And that's where the comments section comes in.
Trying to track real-world sentiment through YouTube comments is like trying to follow the news from bathroom graffiti. Suffice it to say that a lot of them are along the lines of "this is gay"—not merely in the teenage "synonym for unmacho corniness" sense but in the belief that "Let's Ram It," despite being an actual NFL Officially Licensed Product created in the nauseatingly normative heart of 80s Reagan America, is literally an expression of homosexual desire. I'm not at the proper Kinsey scale point to confirm this in the positive, and I'm not struck with the kind of anxious-hetero Penis Panic that immediately jumps to the negative interpretation. But something seems to be at work here, even with the full assumption that this video was intended as "a little something for the ladies."
This is because there's no camp in football. Nope. No thanks. Save your comedic irony or your Tim & Eric weirdness for lower-stakes sports like baseball or basketball, the ones with a modicum of tolerance for absurdists and eccentrics like Bill Lee or Shaq or Ichiro. Under the imperium of The Shield, where punk meant Jim McMahon writing passive-aggressive Pete Rozelle callouts on his unauthorized headband, there is only Pride and Honor and Battle; humor and irreverence seem to be abandoned unless it is somehow accidentally buttfumbled into existence.
The NFL, as it exists in this moment, is an anti-nonconformity machine constructed to make examples out of the Cam Newtons and Ricky Williamses of the world, and the one game that's least aware of its status as a game. It has leveraged that self-serious attitude to become the single most omnipresent entertainment institution in the entire United States. Our valiant gridiron heroes must never look like anything less than the most constricting, conservative version of True Manhood; if they fuck that up somehow, then that facade has crumbled. One must never let that mask slip, ever.
For some Rams players, participation in the "Let's Ram It" video wound up defining them more substantially than their actual playing careers. Norwood Vann, who caps off his verse with a hip thrust that would make "Ravishing" Rick Rude stammer, has more Wikipedia verbiage on his "energetic appearance" in the video than on his actual pro career. For others, it's a goofy footnote, the kind of thing that might get dragged out as a clip if the Hall of Fame induction ceremony ever doubled as a roast. ("Hey Slater, are you actually playing that saxophone?")
They are all worth saluting: grown men unafraid to look like total goofy ding-dongs, many of them not far removed from historic athletic landmarks or careers that would enshrine them in Canton. This song is silly, yeah. It's definitely easy to laugh at, even if it means inadvertently laughing with it, too.
And if you've sincerely believe there's no place for this kind of ridiculousness in professional sports? Well, these dudes have a suggestion as to what you can do with it.
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