“HEY!… HO!… LET’S GO!” From the first line of the first song on the first Ramones album, it was clear that this band was on a kamikaze mission to take rock & roll back to its leather jacketed roots. Recorded over 17 days in February of 1976, at a cost of just $4,600, Ramones features 14 songs that clock in at around 28 total minutes, with barely a breath between them (or just enough time for bassist Dee Dee Ramone to shout his famous “ONETWOTHREEFOUR!” count in). With titles like ‘Loudmouth’, ‘Chain Saw’ and ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’, these musical hand grenades combined New York swagger with low-brow pop culture, including references to horror movies, comic books, CIA operatives, Doo-Wop, drugs and male prostitution.
This album was constructed like a comic book – short, simple and graphic, each song framing a vivid panel of down ‘n dirty NYC life that sticks with you. But Ramones isn’t important so much for what it includes, but for what it leaves out. Stripped to its core, this music blasted a minimalist trail through the showy solos and pretentious wankery that pervaded rock in the mid-70s. The Ramones were so off the path of typical 70s rock that one early review graspingly described them as a cross between The Seeds and The Byrds. In truth they were probably closer to a combination of The Stooges and The Archies (with a healthy dollop of Phil Spector’s girl groups), but no musical comparisons can capture the essence of this group – they were true originals in a world of copycats.
Typical early reviews dwelled on how dumb this group was, and interviews were peppered with dat and dis to emphasize the point. The group also endlessly endured the back-handed compliment that they helped create a formula for punk rock. The Ramones were surely influential, but there’s never been another band quite like them. If their music was so simple and stupid, it should be more easily replicable. But making great music out of minimal parts isn’t easy – it’s incredibly hard, and the riffs that Johnny Ramone created out of a few chords have more than stood the test of time. Songs like ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and ‘Judy Is A Punk’ still have the power to get under your skin and make you want to beat on the brat…
Listen: Blitzkrieg Bop
Listen: Judy Is A Punk
Listen: 53rd & 3rd