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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.

http://youtu.be/IVhjBmcOP30

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.

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Members have made 51 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Redrudy Inactive

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

    • #1
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm
  2. Profile photo of Benjamin Glaser Inactive

    “Punk is right wing.” — Johnny Ramone

    • #2
    • July 12, 2014 at 9:14 pm
  3. Profile photo of Mark Member

    Reading this makes me wanna be sedated

    • #3
    • July 12, 2014 at 9:33 pm
  4. Profile photo of Whiskey Sam Inactive

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

    • #4
    • July 12, 2014 at 10:32 pm
  5. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

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

    • #5
    • July 13, 2014 at 12:16 am
  6. Profile photo of Whiskey Sam Inactive

    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

    • #6
    • July 13, 2014 at 12:41 am
  7. Profile photo of Gary McVey Member

    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…

    • #7
    • July 13, 2014 at 2:12 am
  8. Profile photo of Randy Webster Member

    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.

    • #8
    • July 13, 2014 at 5:39 am
  9. Profile photo of Ansonia Member

    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.

    • #9
    • July 13, 2014 at 9:26 am
  10. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    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?

    • #10
    • July 13, 2014 at 10:18 am
  11. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    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?

    • #11
    • July 13, 2014 at 10:22 am
  12. Profile photo of Quinn the Eskimo Member

    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.

    • #12
    • July 13, 2014 at 11:09 am
  13. Profile photo of Ansonia Member

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

    • #13
    • July 13, 2014 at 11:28 am
  14. Profile photo of Whiskey Sam Inactive

    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.

    • #14
    • July 13, 2014 at 11:42 am
  15. Profile photo of Christopher Riley Member

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

     No doubt.

    • #15
    • July 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm
  16. Profile photo of Randy Webster Member

    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.

    • #16
    • July 13, 2014 at 12:31 pm
  17. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    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. :))

    • #17
    • July 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm
  18. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

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

    • #18
    • July 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm
  19. Profile photo of Michael S. Malone Contributor

    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.

    • #19
    • July 13, 2014 at 2:11 pm
  20. Profile photo of Michael S. Malone Contributor

    Oops. “Year” = “Decade”

    • #20
    • July 13, 2014 at 2:13 pm
  21. Profile photo of Michael S. Malone Contributor

    BTW: We are long overdue for something new, raw and pure to blow away all of the current over-produced, autotuned, Disney/Nickolodeon/Katie Perry crap that currently fills the airwaves. Who is the next Kurt Cobain?

    • #21
    • July 13, 2014 at 2:16 pm
  22. Profile photo of Al Sparks Thatcher

    In a sense, the Ramones remind me of the Grateful Dead, who also didn’t make it to superstar status, but had a very loyal following. I was a young adult when the Ramones started, but never heard of them during that time. I didn’t like Punk, nor the way its adherents dressed. It seemed self destructive.

    I have since listened to some of their stuff and found a sameness about it that starts to bore. I never got into The Grateful Dead either. Guess I’m too conventional.

    • #22
    • July 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm
  23. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    Michael S. Malone:

    BTW: We are long overdue for something new, raw and pure to blow away all of the current over-produced, autotuned, Disney/Nickolodeon/Katie Perry crap that currently fills the airwaves. Who is the next Kurt Cobain?

    It varies by genre, doesn’t it? At any given time, one genre needs less pretension while another needs more. The pop genre is dominant right now because Cobain convinced too many wannabes that anyone can be a rockstar just by strumming a few chords.

    I liked Nirvana, but I sure wish we could return to the days of every member of a band being adept at his or her instrument. On the other hand, there are some musicians I wish would stop showing off and concentrate on composing good music. 

    • #23
    • July 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm
  24. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    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.

    They are new to me as well, and I am glad. I could not get past the first six minutes of the Youtube video. I abandoned rock and roll when I graduated from college in 1971. I have never looked back. 

    • #24
    • July 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm
  25. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    Michael S. Malone:

    BTW: We are long overdue for something new, raw and pure to blow away all of the current over-produced, autotuned, Disney/Nickolodeon/Katie Perry crap that currently fills the airwaves. Who is the next Kurt Cobain?

    It may never happen because youngsters are dedicated to the iPod that provides music Apple has chosen to highlight as opposed to the boomer TV shows Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand and FM radio that introduced the new stuff.

    • #25
    • July 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm
  26. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Aaron Miller:

    Michael S. Malone:

    BTW: We are long overdue for something new, raw and pure to blow away all of the current over-produced, autotuned, Disney/Nickolodeon/Katie Perry crap that currently fills the airwaves. Who is the next Kurt Cobain?

    It varies by genre, doesn’t it?

    I guess!

    Lauridsen’s Fire Song 3 and Pärt’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten would fit within my parameters of “pure” and “raw” – especially the sustained, grating “fire chord” in Fire Song 3. Certainly, the music is neither autotuned nor overproduced, as it comes from a genre where using autotune or other production tricks is considered cheating.

    Nonetheless, I would find it weird to call either composer “the Kurt Cobain” of the classical world. What would that even mean?

    • #26
    • July 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm
  27. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    Paul A. Rahe:

    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.

    They are new to me as well, and I am glad. I could not get past the first six minutes of the Youtube video. I abandoned rock and roll when I graduated from college in 1971. I have never looked back.

    Speaking as an insufferable Boomer snob, Professor Rahe, that is okay by me! 🙂

    • #27
    • July 13, 2014 at 4:00 pm
  28. Profile photo of Christopher Riley Member

    Musical tastes differ tremendously, in part, because individuals regard music as serving varied purposes.

    For many, music is a social phenomenon (hence the success of pop); some prefer music conducive to dancing; others enjoy relevant or thoughtful lyrics.

    Given that I fear people, hate dancing, and prefer the instrumental to the vocal, I embrance the genres described as “pretentious” and “overwrought.”

    • #28
    • July 13, 2014 at 4:59 pm
  29. Profile photo of Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Member

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve never really listened to the Ramones — in fact, the only song of theirs I can think of is their rendition of “Happy Birthday” from “The Simpsons” — but I’ve always had a vague sense that they were the real deal. I’m a huge Beatles fan, but I’d never before heard that they took their name from the “Paul Ramon” pseudonym. That fact along makes me want to seek out their music and understand their importance for myself.

    • #29
    • July 13, 2014 at 6:57 pm
  30. Profile photo of Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Member

    Michael S. Malone:

    BTW: We are long overdue for something new, raw and pure to blow away all of the current over-produced, autotuned, Disney/Nickolodeon/Katie Perry crap that currently fills the airwaves. Who is the next Kurt Cobain?

    Dig just a little, and you’ll find a huge and thriving world of independent music that is every bit as creative, genuine, and innovative as you could want, in pretty much every genre you can think of (and some you can’t). The major labels and broadcast radio are irrelevant. They’re not where the action is anymore.

    We’ll never again see a success like the Beatles, or even Nirvana, because it’s now so easy for every audience (however small) to seek out and find the musicians they like (however obscure). The days of a monolithic “top 40” are over.

    • #30
    • July 13, 2014 at 7:01 pm
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