40 Years of Ramones Mania
The Ramones in Houston, early '80s
Photo courtesy of Ben DeSoto
The influence of the Ramones is actually hard to exaggerate, since they literally jump-started the punk musical insurrection that leapfrogged across the globe. No doubt, others of their ilk across the country, which was barely disentangling itself from “Me Generation” soft rock, had starting paving the way too — among them Blondie, Suicide, Rocket From the Tombs, Suicide Commandos, the Real Kids and the Nerves. But apart from the Sex Pistols (who charged to life in 1975), the Ramones (who began their campaign for real rock in a year earlier) are likely the most seminal first-generation punk band.
Few bands actually inspire other bands to names themselves in tribute (like the Ramonas), or spur clubs to appropriate their song titles — the axiom of the UK's Albany club was “Today the Albany, Tomorrow the World” — and propel others to record entire tribute albums, like the Vindictives recreating Leave Home and Jon Cougar Concentration Camp taking on Too Tough to Die. Meanwhile, a tribute to Johnny Ramone at Hollywood Forever Cemetery attracted Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats, filmmaker John Waters, actor Johnny Depp, and Billy Zoom of X. That gathering represents just a tiny fraction of the band’s magnetic appeal.
The Ramones have become so ingrained in the mythic, and much-debated, history of punk that often people forget how the band made a deep, personal impact on fans. Academics, including myself, have long weighed in on their legacy — including their mutant, juvenile, scorching pop; their sociology of toughness and sweetness rolled into one band like something out of West Side Story set into the crumbling streets of New York City in the mid-1970s; or their pop-culture sponge effect, namely the way they effortlessly soaked up and weaved references to Nazi Germany, beach boardwalks, slasher films, weepy teen love, and fast food. To me, they were literally a frenzied, mobile Pop Art unit, with slashing guitars and skinny jeans.
With Britain currently basking in the 40th anniversary of punk, I reached out to a host of voices perhaps to stake America’s own claim — last month marked the 40th anniversary of the Ramones first self-titled LP, which Rhino will reissue in a Deluxe Edition next month — on the genre, but also to see how the band still shapes the lives of the young and old.
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Owner, Frontier Records (TSOL, the Adolescents, Circle Jerks, etc.)
I can remember screaming at the TV set alongside my much older sisters when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. The Beatles caused rock to accelerate at a blinding pace, and I guess I did as well — as I swooned to the Left Banke and the glam Bowie in just five years. After five years I was buying every issue of PUNK magazine — the NY bands, cartoons, and pics captivated me while I impatiently waited for someone to PLEASE put their damn records out. Two things happened in my last semester of high school in April of 1976: I committed popularity suicide by having the Runaways play the auditorium, and I bought the Ramones' debut LP at Fedco, a cheesy suburban department store. I stared at it the whole bus ride home, thrilled that PUNK's Roberta Bayley took the cover pic and tickled that Johnny was surreptitiously flipping the bird. SO COOL: didn't get any cooler than this!
The whole LP cost well under $10,000 and was about a half-hour long. This meant everything to the high-school me that despised bloated and keyboard-laden prog-rock. Also, since I came from the crap suburban town of Sun Valley, California, the fact the Ramones were from Forest Hills [Queens] instead of Manhattan was monumental to me. Now? Who cares! Which is what I said when it became known the headliners of the first two Ramones' L.A. shows on August 11 and 12 would be the Flamin' Groovies (also on Sire Records). I had to go to BOTH SHOWS or I would DIE!
I enlisted my friend Eddie Valerio, a teen enforcer with a bitchin’ Camaro, to spend the night with me...on the sidewalk in front of the Roxy Theater on the Sunset Strip. I thought we'd be the only ones die-hard enough to camp outdoors for tickets: turned out many fiends were ahead of us. Suddenly, we didn't feel like such 8-balls. We met kids from all over the Southland as well as an Australian tourist named Liam. He didn't think the Ramones would ever make it to Perth! Sleeping on concrete paid off as we walked away with tickets for both gigs, but the wait for August was excruciating.
When I think about details, I remember the whole thing as a roaring sound, a sensory disintegration. The Ramones inexplicably didn't play my faves ""Sniff Some Glue" or "Basement," but the spontaneous crowd meltdown to "Blitzkrieg Bop" is something I'll never forget. The Ramones' debut LP didn't go Gold until 2014, and I realize now that they were my Beatles, from that rare place where Gold records are meaningless, especially since they swept away everything that came before them.
Photo by David Ensminger
The Dicks; Sister Double Happiness; Black Kali Ma
When I played the first song on the first Ramones' beautiful new album, it was like playing the Beatles for the first time years earlier. It was a sound that meant change. At once I knew it, then I played the album about 20 times in a row and ate every song like cake and ice cream. I snarfed it and rolled in it. Life-changing experience. Better than cake.
PROF. DANIEL MAKAGON
Depaul University; Author, Underground: The Subterranean Culture of DIY Punk Shows
The Ramones are kind of the gateway band for many punks. They blend garage rock and “Spector sound” pop delivered at rapid speeds. But even as many punks move on to heavier and more aggressive sounding bands, the Ramones remain a regular go-to band for sound and style. That iconic album cover and those rapid-fire songs (with the longest clocking in at 2 minutes and 30 seconds), as well as that perfect mix of melody and aggression, have helped define what punk should look like and how the music should feel.
Photo by David Ensminger
Doomsday Massacre; Owner, Lone Star Posters
On the Ramones first LP, I liked it from the jump. It was fresh. It was pure rock’n’roll, yet it was different from anything before. Unlike the meandering slow jams of the boomers with all the guitar noodling and ballads, Ramones songs were loud, focused bursts of energy with biting satire that still resonates today. Their music led me to find my voice and my people, and let me know that all things were possible for us misfits. I eventually joined and formed bands of my own. Nothing quite so prolific. I never connected with my own parents through music in any meaningful way, but have been able to connect with my kids through music. I’m always asking them, "What have you heard new? Share it with me." Different Ramones songs resonate now for me than did at first listen. The first LP is a timeless classic. In fact, the Ramones got me laid starting when I was a teenager, and hopefully they will again. Plus, I was just reminded of a video I recently saw with a big room full of six-year-old(ish) Korean kids loudly singing "Judy is a Punk" and dancing about. Proof there is hope for the next generation. Perhaps they are eternal.
Stinkerbell; SugarHill Studios
Were Stinkerbell fans, or were we obsessed? Our songs were always two minutes or less. We had a tune called, "I Kissed a Ramone," as well as several mentions of Joey Ramone throughout our repertoire. Founding member and bass player, Kelly Keane, was indeed, the biggest Ramones fan I have ever met!
Culturcide; President/Senior Producer, SugarHill Studios
The Ramones became the arbiters of the 'short, sharp, song—tight arrangements and easily identifiable storylines. There would have been no Buzzcocks without the Ramones.
Red Hare; Retisonic; Bluetip; Garden Variety
As a kid from Flushing, Queens with only a quick bus ride from Union Turnpike and 150th Street up to Queens Boulevard and 67th, where the Ramones truly began, I felt a huge kinship with my local heroes. From a very young age, I had heard all about them from older, tougher, neighborhood kids. I remember hearing a later song, “Rockaway Beach,” on the local rock radio and thought it was just stellar. They were tough as shit, melodic, kind of simple, cool as hell, and very dangerous (at least to the 9-year-old me). When I figured out a few of them were Jewish? I was completely floored and incredibly proud. I mean first Bob Dylan, next Paul Simon (and also from Forest Hills), and now THE RAMONES? No kidding, right the fuck on!
Each of them was how I wanted to be: rock-star thin, with black, worn leather jackets, naturally tattered, torn jeans, the whole dirty, white, slip-on sneaker thing...I’d never seen anything like that before, but the look was actually attainable and not too foreign from the neighborhood toughs that caused me to fear certain streets more than others. I remember seeing the Ramones with Sha Na Na on TV and was so into it and pumped. They were funny too, who knew! Weirdly, many years later, in the mid-'80s, my father would interview and almost hire Joey Ramone’s mother, Charlotte, for a job at New York Life Insurance, right there on Queens Blvd. just blocks away from the Ramones' humble beginnings. It’s a very small, wonderful world.
The epic first Ramones LP is still the blueprint for almost anything punk-related, both East and West Coast, and arguably the rest of the world. Roberta Bayley’s incredibly stark and awkward black and white cover image — Joey hunched slightly and an odd leg move, Tommy stretching to meet the other three, Johnny looking like he’s gonna knife you, and on the other end, a cold looking Dee Dee resembling every school-skipping, drug-addicted, street hustler of seedy 1970s Times Square — set the mood for what was to come. The genius debut begins with the blistering, opening chords, steady drum chant, and shockingly accurate Beach Boys-styled harmonies of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and moves to Joey’s funny, faux, U.K. accent on “Beat on the Brat,’” and then fast forwards to a complete 180-degree turn with “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” which gave the band a softer, pop dimension the first three songs would never have suggested. Reading that Tommy, the diminutive drummer, wrote the first and fourth songs really had me thinking that this band was way more than just your garden-variety rock or punk band. Even more shocking was the fact that they had an actual song on the record about Dee Dee's days hooking with men on 53rd and 3rd just to pay for his drug use... [Knowing] that Johnny was a pretty tough, right-wing guy, it becomes even more of a startling song and story.
Another thing about the 1976 debut record, other than the fantastic songs and arrangements, was the actual delivery of those revolutionary compositions. Let’s never forget the youthful, fiery power of Johnny Ramone’s right hand, and all on his cheap, Mosrite guitar; the selfless, egoless drumming and song-serving Tommy Ramone with his soon to be signature, rigid eighth notes on the hi-hat; the always on-point Dee Dee Ramone bashing his bass in perfect time; and, most importantly, singer Joey Ramone’s unique vocal delivery with the breakthrough phrasing of leaving off many ends of words like “Down to the base…” (instead of “basement”). I remember first hearing him sing the word “banana” and calling it a BA-NAA-NAA. I had to laugh. This was a guy, and a band, with a huge sense of humor, and we all got it, at least most of us.
We all owe a huge debt, that’s obvious.
MDC's Dave Dictor
Photo by David Ensminger
MDC (formerly The Stains)
I saw the Ramones twice in the late '70s, both times at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. They were perfect monotone disaffected rock’n’roll [sic]. “Blitzkrieg Bop” was one of the first songs we put into the Stains' first set. I remember the “Gabba Gabba Hey” sign carried by a Zippy the Pinhead character. They were N.Y.C. cool.
Four Letter Word; Editor/Publisher, Artcore
Like sniffing glue on Sesame Street, things started to go awry the moment the Ramones walked into the Happy Days diner in 1976 and helped light the fuse for a generation of malcontents in a cultural basement of brown polyester. Distilling all the post-war rebel rock that had come before into one big game of Ringolevio on the streets of Queens, they dropped in with a one, two, three, four and generated their steam heat up through the manhole covers and onto the streets of Manhattan. Pan left for bass, right for guitar, the first album was a production chainsaw massacre custom built for kids the world over to sit and work out a chord, then another, and then a third, before forming their own bands. With one 14-song album, The Ramones managed to somehow simultaneously deconstruct and redefine rock and roll all at the same time, and all under thirty minutes. And for those who were listening, it was a shaft of sunlight in the basement.
Editor/Publisher, Suburban Voice
I remember reading a review of the album in Creem in 1976, written by Lester Bangs, where he went to a baseball game and brought his tape recorder and started playing the first album ... he said something about "Blitzkrieg Bop" being perfect to play at ballgames. How prescient was that? Also, "53rd and 3rd" was always my go-to-track. So dark and standing out, musically … Definitely getting away from what was the perception of them as cartoon-like characters. That was real life.
Articles of Faith; Jones Very; Alloy; Report Suspicious Activity
The first Ramones album I got was Road to Ruin, because in the late '70s I was in high school in Pensacola, Florida, and we didn't get punk rock down there. So the "breakthrough" commercial albums were the ones that made it into our little backwater: Give 'Em Enough Rope by the Clash; Easter by Patti Smith; and Road to Ruin. Which doesn't mean I don't appreciate the first album. It's just I came to it the long way around.
Road to Ruin floored me. I had this mess-up stereo with a channel that you could plug an electric guitar into and play along with the records. So, I played along with both sides of that album until I knew every lick and chord. It was dumb and fun and new and kind of astonishing. Along with the records I could get in Pensacola, it convinced me that Punk Rock was my generation's thing the way Rock n' Roll was for the Hippies. I wanted in.
A year later I'd escaped Florida and was in college in DeKalb, Illinois, and found the handful of people there into punk rock and we all borrowed cars and drove to Schaumberg, Illinois to see the Ramones at some suburban strip-mall disco converted to rock club for the purpose of the show. The Ramones stormed the stage flanked by PA speakers the size of Saturn V engines. They were the loudest thing I had ever heard. You had to push forward to keep from getting knocked over by the sound. They were a sonic tornado. The show left me spent and thrilled and most definitely bought in.
The Ramones were a permanent part of my landscape after that. I saw them many more times, and met them on tour. But because I had discovered them through Road to Ruin and the live shows, I never really listened to the first album as an album, just songs here and there, and so the significance of that record never cohered for me.
Fast-forward to now, and I have a 15-year-old daughter who's a musician and who mines the used record stores like a historian discovering the past. Catholic in taste, she prefers classic rock and jazz to punk and hardcore. Except the Ramones. The Ramones she gets. Because they don't take themselves seriously. Because they are dumb and fun and are a gateway drug to all the great highs in rock and roll. And so she listens to that first album, and by proxy now, so do I.
Here's what I hear: That lo-fi sonic tornado, absolutely groundbreaking for the time. It's rock minimalism in the sense that all minimalism is a Zen concentration of nuance. The harmonics of the guitars are almost indescribable, like a wind chime in a hurricane. The pop gloss is so sticky and sweet and — let's face it — perverse that you can't get the melodies out of your head. There's a reason Phil Spector could do nothing with the band on End of the Century. Tommy Ramone and the boys took a completely different approach: instead of building the wall of sound by addition, they did it by reduction. It's a high-concept for the lowbrows. Absolute genius. It only took me 40 years to figure it out.
Photo by David Ensminger
Screech of Death; 45 Grave; Nina Hagen; Lisafer; etc.
I first heard the Ramones when an Italian family from New York moved in catty-corner across the street from my family. It was 1978. I used to put them on to build up my stamina while playing drums. I love the Ramones with all my heart. This was in the Los Angeles suburbs, and they did spark my interest, as they sounded much faster than anything else I ever heard. I was a kid, and I listened to Rodney Bingenheimer on Sunday nights on "Rodney on the Roq" — KROQ. He also played the band called Van Halen. And early Van Halen was pretty rockin' and raw, but the Ramones were something far beyond that. They sparked something in my soul and set it on fire. And as a kid, I was a total pyro!! The Ramones made me feel wild then, and still do now. No one can touch ‘em. Simple is better than anything. They took simple and threw it at you like a load of bricks. I saw them so many times I took it for granted that they'd be here forever…
The Contractions; Executive Director/Co-Founder, H.E.A.R. Foundation
The Ramones were fantastic supporters when it came to our H.E.A.R. foundation. Joey did an on air call-in four hour KFJC radio show "Ear-i-tation"(1990), with KFJC DJ Phil Dirt, Dick Dale, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, me, and Flash Gordon M.D., H.E.A.R. C.O.F. Board of Director, talking about the important issues surfacing around music hearing loss in our industry and bringing their own personal stories to light. Marky Ramone appeared in "Can't H.E.A.R. You Knocking" (Flynner Films), our first film for schools. Ramones were generous with their support of H.E.A.R. We love the Ramones! As a songwriter/bass player with the Contractions, I was heavily influenced by the Ramones' punk-rock lightning speed, sound, and Joey's iconic voice! I am so lucky to have the Ramones as a musical inspiration.
Seeing the Ramones and meeting them briefly in 1977 was an epiphany for me. That show was one of the events that inspired me to write songs and form a band. Even their look had an effect on me — the following month for my birthday I asked my mother for a leather jacket. I started wearing a pair of combat boots my father brought back from his tour in the Vietnam War and graffitied a white T-shirt. Their longevity is a testament to how relatable they were, musically as well as their outward personas, which is something I always hoped for my music and myself.
The Ramones at Houston's Fast and Cool Club, date unknown
Photo Courtesy of Ben DeSoto
Co-Founder, PM Press; Author, The Philosophy of Punk
By the time Ramones had finally sold Gold by heartless business calculations (500,000 copies) in 2014, the album had been borrowed or handed down by cassette to literally millions of people around the world as their introduction to the greatest music of the 1970s. The album created an absolutely global army of fans who were previously unsatisfied, turned off by, or simply could not relate to the humorless, meaningless slop that media was offering as “Rock’n’Roll.” With their roots deep in the previous era of singAlong pop and with branches thick enough to hold up multiple generations of Punk Rock, the band and their first album struck a timeless chord (or three, at best) that is just as powerful today amongst rebels of the status quo as ever before.
The Dils; Rank and File; Blackbird; Cowboy Nation (as told to author, early 2000s)
On one of my favorite albums of all the times, the first Ramones album, the music...is very simple, but to me it’s an artistic simplicity...That record was cut in the contemporary world of [Rick Wakeman's] The Six Wives of Henry VIII. It was cut in the world of Steely Dan, cut in the world of Jethro Tull, in the world of pop music getting ever and ever more complex, and that album was a brilliant intellectual reaction to that. I always dug the Ramones, but to me that first album is the thing because it is such a complete piece. They made other good records. I’m not a rock critic who says, well, after this...That’s not what I am talking about. But that first album has sheer brilliance. That is the closest thing since rock became self-aware and “this is rock’n’roll music” happened in 1963 or 1958, when rock music became self-aware of itself as rock music.
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