One of rock and roll’s all-time greatest bands. Period. The work that Joey (vocals), Johnny (guitar), Dee Dee (bass), C.J. (second bass player), Tommy (original drummer), Marky (2nd and 4th drummer) and Richie (3rd drummer) created from 1974-1996 will in my opionion never be duplicated, they were that original and important. Most bands I can remember the exact moment I first listened to them, not the case with The Ramones because it was so long ago. The only thing I know for sure is it was sometime after the band’s fourth album Road to Ruin was released in 1979.
I was like most kids, I grew up listening to whatever was on the radio, plus the music my parents played at home. Therefore my music upbringing included artists such as Santana, Journey, The Doors, Bread, Chic and Neil Diamond. I won’t divulge what artists from that list I will actually listen to today. When I listened to The Ramones the first time I was floored. The simplicity of that 3-chord attack was matched by the stunning power the band created. I had never heard anything like it before, my first introduction to the world of punk rock.
Rocket to Russia was the first Ramones album I purchased. That record changed my life. 14 songs that clocked in at just over a half hour was unheard of back then and the crazy thing was every song had a hook. It was not a case of listening to music that was so hyperkinetic it became unlistenable. This was music that immediately grabbed my attention and if I lost focus for even a second the song was over before I had a chance to regain proper consciousness. More important, the speed and intensity of the music was matched by a shotgun style vocal delivery and lyrics that were unlike anything I had ever played on my turntable in the past. The Ramones spoke about brain surgery (“Teenage Lobotomy”), blowing off the discos and instead hanging out at punk rock clubs (“Sheena is a Punk Rocker”) and dysfunctional 20th century families (“We’re a Happy Family”).
I was already familiar with a couple other Ramones songs such as “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Commando” so next on the agenda was picking up the first two albums, Ramones and Leave Home. The production on both albums was pretty rough but holy cow, what a way for a band to open its career! Leave Home is probably my more favorite of the two but both albums are chock full of killer material that 38 and 39 years later still sounds more fresh and original than the majority of filler released today. Highlights (and there are many) from Ramones includes “Blitzkrieg Bop” with that patented intro of “Hey Ho! Let’s Go!”, “Beat on the Brat”, “Judy is a Punk”, “Chain Saw”, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”, “Let’s Dance” and “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You”. Highlights from Leave Home (and there are just as many) include “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” (a personal favorite from The Ramones), “Suzy Is a Headbanger”, “Pinhead”, “California Sun” and “Commando”. “Carbona Not Glue” may be my favorite song from the band and was included on the original pressing of Leave Home but due to legal issues was later omitted.
Yes folks, it has been nearly four decades since The Ramones released their first album in 1976 and to the band’s credit the first four albums released between 1976-1978 remain in my opinion one of the best opening four album runs in music history. I have been thinking about a Musings in reference to that topic for quite a while now …
The next two albums, 1980’s End of the Century and 1981’s Pleasant Dreams saw the band straying away from its patented punk rock sound and heading toward a more accessible pop direction. It did not work in terms of gaining much more of a fan base. End of the Century had a few great songs but overall it is not a Ramones album I make a point of listening to, while Pleasant Dreams is actually one of my favorite albums from the band. Pleasant Dreams featured some great songs such as “We Want the Airwaves”, “All’s Quiet on the Eastern Front”, “The KKK Took my Baby Way”, “Don’t Go” and “She’s a Sensation”. A lot of Ramones fans did not think too highly of the album, I love it. Subterranean Jungle released in 1983 was considered to be a return to a more classic Ramones punk sound but I will be honest, I really did not like this album at all. The one highlight for me is “Psycho Therapy” and it is in my top five in terms of Ramones tracks.
1984 rolled around and the band released its eighth studio album Too Tough to Die. I fell in love with the band all over again with this album and more important, the concert at the Palace West (today the Orpheum Theatre) the winter of 1984. It was the first of three albums to include Richie Ramone on drums and the first album from The Ramones that featured the band playing at a breakneck pace on songs in the same manner as many of the hardcore contemporaries the band inspired. “Endless Vacation” and “Wart Hog” were absolutely incendiary tracks and “Mama’s Boy” and the instrumental “Durango 95” outstanding additions as well. That show with Black Flag opening was out of control, one of my all-time favorite concerts. I don’t think the venue appreciated the stage diving and the seats being ripped out though. I remember guitarist Johnny Ramone and bassist Dee Dee Ramone starting the show standing on top of stacks on each end of the stage in a cloud of smoke.
Dee Dee was a part of The Ramones for three more albums, 1986’s Animal Boy, 1987’s Halfway to Sanity and 1989’s Brain Drain. Each disc had a few standouts but unfortunately with each successive release the magic was gradually disappearing. C. J. Ramone joined on bass for the last three albums from the band and I loved the youthful energy he brought but the songs just were not up to the standard set early in their career. The Ramones set the bar so high on the first four discs that maintaining that momentum was going to be close to impossible.
I honestly cannot remember how many times I saw The Ramones over the years. All I know is the shows I saw up to the 1984 Palace West show were great, that particular concert was the culmination of things then the band’s concerts after that lagged more and more each time. The last time I saw them was at the Party Gardens and it was a dreadful experience, not the way I wanted to remember the band. Today I put on the 1979 live double album It’s Alive to remember The Ramones in the proper manner: stunning; intense; songs chock full of bubblegum pop hooks; hearing four band mates focused on the songs rather than rock and roll attitude; precise musicianship while still maintaining that proper punk aesthetic. It’s Alive remains of my all-time favorite albums.
If you are uninitiated to the world of The Ramones (and to be honest if you follow this blog that would surprise me) I suggest picking up 1988’s Ramones Mania for the perfect introduction to the band. There are 30 cuts on this double album with songs from the self-titled debut through Halfway to Sanity. If you are a long-time fan of The Ramones and are looking for a good retrospective then 1999’s Hey Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology is essential. I refuse to pick just one song from the band so I decided to give you three of my favorites. I know you will enjoy. 🙂
“Carbona Not Glue”
Album Inspiration: Hey Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology