RamonesSocialism

Why The Ramones Mattered

RamonesSocialismLate last night and into today, music lovers mourned the passing of Tommy Ramone — the last original member of the seminal New York band. Why the outpouring of affection for a group that never topped the charts? Although they weren’t the most popular, The Ramones were arguably the most influential band since the Beatles.

By 1976, rock music had run its course. The raw, raucous, rebellious teenage anthems of the ‘50s and ’60s had given way to plastic imitations. The Bee Gees and KC and the Sunshine Band played in the discos. The Bay City Rollers and “Afternoon Delight” topped the charts. The more serious listeners were wearing out pretentious LPs like Brain Salad Surgery and Tales from Topographic Oceans (the latter a double album with just four songs, carrying understated titles such as “The Revealing Science of God [Dance of the Dawn]”).

Rock had become overproduced, overwrought and no fun at all.

Four rough-looking misfits from Queens were sick of it. They took one of Paul McCartney’s pseudonyms, Paul Ramon, and named themselves after it — literally. The newly christened Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone brought only the distilled essence of rock. The songs were fast, loud and fun.

Rebelling against fashion-obsessed performers, they threw on torn-up jeans and black leather jackets to play dingy clubs like CBGB. Dee Dee would shout “1-2-3-4!” and the band would explode into a rapid-fire song of three chords and 4/4 time. After two or so minutes, they’d pause for a second before another “1-2-3-4!” launched them into the next song.

Their debut album, like most of their concerts, clocked in at less than 30 minutes. But that half-hour delivered more passion than the most bombastic rock opera.

The Ramones never broke it big, but they blasted through the sclerotic excess of ’70s music, clearing the way for thousands of other bands. The entire punk and hardcore scenes immediately followed their lead, spawning post-punk, new wave and the indie explosion of the ’90s. Metal bands sped up their songs and pampered rock icons stripped back their sound to the essentials.

In 2002, the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As usual, Johnny Ramone used his speech to rebel against the self-flattering group-think of the entertainment industry.

Now that’s punk rock.

  1. Redrudy

    My husband’s from Rockaway Beach, and he doesn’t even appreciate how cool his hometown song is.

  2. Benjamin Glaser

    “Punk is right wing.” — Johnny Ramone

  3. Mark

    Reading this makes me wanna be sedated

  4. Whiskey Sam

    Been listening to them all day.  They don’t make bands like this any more.

  5. The King Prawn

    I suppose I should find a Ramones song to add to the list I’ve been building for my wife the last few years.

  6. Whiskey Sam

    The King Prawn:

    I suppose I should find a Ramones song to add to the list I’ve been building for my wife the last few years.

     The KKK Took My Baby Away always makes me laugh

  7. Gary McVey

    Max’s Kansas City restaurant, the all-night hangout of the Warhol crowd…The Bottom Line, home of Patti Smyth, Traxx, CBGB’s…the Ninth Circle…St. Adrian’s…the Village Vanguard…

    Good times, Jon. thanks for bringing them back. But be careful not to make any noise! The rest of the culture doesn’t know the Right is up here walking around, and we don’t want to wake them up…

  8. Randy Webster

    Hm.  The Ramones must have come along after I quit paying attention to pop.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a Ramones song.

  9. Ansonia

    I dunno, Jon. Do you really think they’re anything compared to The Kinks or The Cars ? I’ll never forget Lola  or  I Know Tonight She Comes. As for their lead singer, the  young  Axl  Rose  he isn’t.
    The best I can say about them is that their songs don’t seduce anyone into imagining there’s some alternative way of living in which people can get where they want to go  without dealing with the tedious side of working for a living, and while indulging in all the drugs, uncommitted sex and spontaneous, frank  communicating they  want. But then, their songs aren’t good enough to be that seductive.

  10. Aaron Miller

    What bands are worthy successors? How do they compare to the Sex Pistols and to The Clash?

    The Ramones were playing before I was born. A punk friend my age enjoyed them and the Sex Pistols in the early 90s, though. Shortly after, he became interested in ska. Any relation? Strangely, that same friend introduced me to The Black Crowes.

    Some of the metal bands I listen to were influenced by punk rock: Anthrax, Metallica, Motorhead, and maybe Skid Row. All at least occasionally took after punk’s fast pace, cheer-like bits of choral singing, and thoughtful conservative lyrics (some of the time). 

    What are your favorite sub-genres of punk?

  11. Aaron Miller

    Ansonia: [....] But then, their songs aren’t good enough to be that seductive.

    According to Wikipedia, the band never had an album higher than 49 on the Billboard chart. Their earlier albums didn’t even make the top 100. 

    Could it be that, like with country songs, punk listeners tend to focus on the lyrics more than the music?

  12. Quinn the Eskimo

    I always loved that the Ramones took inspiration from the girl groups and surf rockers of the early 1960s.  The era between “The Day the Music Died” and Beatlemania usually has the reputation of being a musical wasteland, despite producing The Beach Boys, the Wall of Sound and garage rock.

  13. Ansonia

    Sort of off the subject, but everyone needs to go see Jersey Boys. It’s an outstanding  movie.

  14. Whiskey Sam

    Randy Webster:

    Hm. The Ramones must have come along after I quit paying attention to pop. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a Ramones song.

     I’d wager you have at least heard the opening “Hey, ho, let’s go” from Blitzkrieg Bop”.  That’s been used in various ad campaigns over the years.

  15. Christopher Riley

    Aaron Miller: Could it be that, like with country songs, punk listeners tend to focus on the lyrics more than the music?

     No doubt.

  16. Randy Webster

    Whiskey Sam:

    I’d wager you have at least heard the opening “Hey, ho, let’s go” from Blitzkrieg Bop”. That’s been used in various ad campaigns over the years.

    Maybe not.  I don’t watch TV either.

  17. EThompson

    Gary McVey:
    Max’s Kansas City restaurant, the all-night hangout of the Warhol crowd…The Bottom Line, home of Patti Smyth, Traxx, CBGB’s…the Ninth Circle…St. Adrian’s…the Village Vanguard…

    Yes! Max’s was enormously important. I was fortunate to hang out there for one evening as a Vandy senior while in NYC for interviews. I still remember the thrill of being allowed into the sanctuary despite the long blonde hair, headband, pink button-down and khakis. :))

  18. EThompson

    And …  Max’s was truly defined by the Velvet Underground.

  19. Michael S. Malone
    C

    Every day or so, pop music gets so pretentious, self-important and overproduced that it needs a good punch in the face.  That’s what Elvis did to the lounge music of the mid-50s, what the Beatles did to Hollywood pop in the early ’60s, John Fogerty and Creedence to the endless jams of the psychedelic era, and Nirvana to hair bands in the 1980s.  But none did it more simply and perfectly than the Ramones to the disco/art rock era — dumb/smart lyrics, three chords, and 3 minute singles.  That’s why I think “Blitzkrieg Bop” stands with “Johnny B. Goode”, “Gloria”, “Fortunate Son” and “Jailhouse Rock” as the supreme Rock ‘n Roll singles. RIP Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy.

  20. Michael S. Malone
    C

    Oops.  “Year” = “Decade”

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