They were prolific - releasing
18 studio and live albums between 1976 and 1996 - and professional, typically
cutting all of the basic tracks for one of those studio LPs in a matter
of days. They were stubborn, a marvel of bulldog determination and cast-iron
pride in a business greased by negotiation and compromise. And they were
fun, rock 'n' roll 's most reliable Great Night Out for nearly a quarter
of a century. Which seems like a weird thing to say about a bunch of guys
for whom a show, in 1974 or '75, could be six songs in a quarter of an
were loud and fast. Everyone knows that, even the poor, blind saps who
never loved the band. But the Ramones were many other things, and
gloriously so, from the moment of their inception in Forest Hills, New
York, in 1974, until their final concert, #2,263, in Los Angeles on August
The Ramones were also
first: The first band of the mid-'70s New York punk-rock uprising to get
a major-label record contract and put an album out; the first to rock the
nation on the road and teach the British how noise annoys; the first new
American group of the decade to kick the smug, yellow-bellied shit out
of a '60s superstar aristocracy running on cocaine-and-caviar autopilot.
Above all, the Ramones
were pop: Stone believers in the Top 40, 7-inch-vinyl songwriting aesthetic;
a nonstop hit-singles machine with everything going for it--hammer-and-sizzle
guitars and hallelujah choruses played at runaway-Beatles velocity--except
actual hits. According to an August 1975 article in England's Melody
Maker about the crude, new music crashing through the doors of a former
country-and-bluegrass bar in lower Manhattan called CBGB, the local
press was already hailing the Ramones as--get this--"potentially
the greatest singles band since The Velvet Underground," a peculiar
compliment since the Velvets' own few 45s were all crushing radio
The Ramones are the
first punk rock band. There were other bands, such as the Stooges
and the New York Dolls, that came before them and set the stage
and aesthetic for punk and bands that immediately followed, such as the
Pistols, that made the latent violence of the music more explicit,
but the Ramones crystallized the musical ideals of the genre. By
cutting rock & roll down to its bare essentials - four chords, a simple,
catchy melody, and irresistably inane lyrics - speeding up the tempo considerably,
the Ramones created something that was rooted in early '60s, pre-Beatles
rock & roll and pop but sounded revolutionary. Since their breakthrough
was theoretical as well as musical, they comfortably became the leaders
of the emerging New York punk rock scene. While their peers such as Patti
Smith, Television, Talking Heads and Richard Hell all
were more intellectual and self-consciously artistic than the Ramones,
they nevertheless appealed to the same mentality because of how they turned
rock conventions inside out and celebrated kitschy pop culture with stylized
stupidity. The band's first four albums set the blueprint for punk, especially
American punk and hardcore, for the next two decades. And the Ramones
themselves were major figures for the next two decades, playing essentially
the same music without changing their style much at all. Although some
punk diehards - including several of their peers - would have claimed the
band's long career wound up undercutting the ideals the band originally
stood for, the Ramones always celebrated not just the punk aesthetic,
but the music itself.
The Ramones put a lot
of work, and analysis, into how they carried themselves in public. The
black leather jackets, T-shirts, pudding-bowl haircuts, and torn, faded
denim were a combination of their everyday wear in Forest Hills and the
evocation of vintage class--a cock-strut throwback to '50s bikers and '60s
garage mods, with a military-wardrobe twist. Calling themselves "Ramone"
was a touch of The Beatles, originally cribbed by Dee Dee
from Paul McCartney, who used it (spelled "Ramon") as a stage
name in his Silver Beetles days. They shouted out a call to arms,
and the rallying cry - 'Hey ho, let's go' - started a movement which
changed the course of rock.
Based in the Forest
Hills section of Queens, New York, the Ramones formed in 1974. Originally,
the band was a trio consisting of Joey Ramone (vocals, drums; born Jeffrey
Hyman, May 19, 1951, died April 15th 2001), Johnny Ramone (guitar; born
Oct. 8, 1951), and Dee Dee Ramone (bass; born Douglas Colvin,
Sept. 18, 1952), with Tommy Ramone (born Tommy Erdelyi, Jan.
29, 1952) acting as the group's manager. All of the group's members adopted
the last name "Ramone" and dressed in torn blue jeans and leather
jackets, in homage to '50s greaser rockers. The group played their first
concert on March 30, 1974, at New York's Performance Studio. Two
months after the show, Joey switched to vocals and Tommy
became the band's drummer. By the end of the summer, the Ramones
earned a residency at CBGB's. For the next year, they played regularly
at the nightclub, earning a dedicated cult following and inspiring several
other artists to form bands with simliar ideals. All of the Ramones
sets clocked in at about 20 minutes, featuring an unrelenting barrage of
short, barely two-minute songs. By the end of 1975, the Ramones
secured a recording contract with Sire; discounting Patti Smith,
they were the first New York punk band to sign a contract.
Early in 1976, the
recorded their debut album for just over $6, 000. The resulting album,
was released in the spring, gained some critical attention, managed to
climb to 111 on the U.S. album charts. Their debut album together with
a seminal gig at London's Roundhouse on bicentennial day, July 4,
1976, gave the punk movement a kick-start, and spurred dozens of aspiring
young bands to take up the banner. English bands like The Clash,
Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols subsequently went on to eclipse
the New Yorkers in terms of chart success and notoriety, but punk heroes
like Joe Strummer readily admitted their debt to the American 'fab
four' who had created it all. The Ramones were nihilists with a
sense of humour, and their ground-breaking debut album defined punk: the
perfect black-and-white cover shot, fourteen tracks inside just over thirty
minutes, driving basslines, vocals that smacked you in the face with their
yobbishness. Uncompromising, and ultra-cool, Ramones returned the
compliment The Beatles had paid to the USA in 1964. Throughout 1976,
the Ramones toured constantly, inaugurating nearly 20 years of relentless
By the end of the year, the
group released their second album, Ramones
Leave Home. The aural assault continued: passionate, blistering,
no-frills, 1-2-3-4 fun, it also introduced Carbona ("Carbona
Not Glue"; for unbeknownst to them Carbona was a corporate trademark.
To avert a potential lawsuit the track was substituted in the U.K., by
"Babysitter", in the U.S, by
"Sheena Is a Punk Rocker"), pinheads
("Pinhead"), headbangers ("Suzy
Is a Headbanger"), and the chant of 'Gabba Gabba Hey'. While
the album just scraped the US charts, Leave Home became a genuine
hit in England in the spring of 1977, peaking at number 48. By the summer
of 1977, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones were seen as the
two key bands in the punk rock revolution, but where the
imploded, the Ramones kept on rolling.
Following the U.K. Top 40
"Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," the
released their third album, Rocket
to Russia, in the fall of 1977. Arguably the definitive
album, it underlined their ability to combine the punk approach with catchy
melodies. In slightly over two minutes, "Teenage
Lobotomy" encapsulated everything there is to say about teenage
alienation. The album also contained "Sheena",
as well as the pure pop genius of "Rockaway
Beach". It found its way into every punk collection - and that's
both fans and musicians.
The double album
Alive (1979), recorded at London's Rainbow Theatre on
New Year's Eve 1977, captured the band at the peak of their powers. Containing
an entire Ramones set, it showed that few bands could match the
fury and passion of the twice-the-speed-of-sound shows for which they are
left the band in May 1978, although he produced the group's subsequent
album. He was replaced by former
Marc Bell, who immediately
changed his name to Marky Ramone (drums; born Marc Bell,
Jul. 15, 1956). With their new drummer in place, the Ramones recorded
their fourth album, Road to Ruin,
which was released in fall. Another classic, its shock tactics included
acoustic guitars, songs lasting longer than two minutes, and guitar solos,
albeit short ones. Marky brought with him a heavier drum sound.
Road to Ruin marked the band's first significant attempt to change
their sound - not only were there stronger bubblegum, girl group, surf
and '60s pop influences on the music, it was the first of their albums
to run over a half hour. The stripped-down style was embellished but not
compromised; the integrity remained. "I
Wanna Be Sedated" became an anthem.
Although their sound was
more accessible, it didn't gain the band a noticeably larger following.
Neither did Rock 'N' Roll High School, the 1979 Roger Corman
film in which the Ramones had a pivotal part. The soundtrack to
'N' Roll High School and the U.K.-only live album It's Alive
were the band's only releases of 1979. For most of the year, they were
in the studio recording their fifth album with legendary '60s pop producer
Spector. The title song to the Corman movie was the first track
released from the sessions, although the soundtrack album did feature a
number of older Ramones songs remixed by Spector.
of the Century, the Spector-produced
album, finally appeared in January of 1980 to mixed reviews. Despite the
lukewarm reception to the album, the record's cover of the Ronettes'
I Love You" became their only Top Ten British hit; in America,
none of the singles made an impact, although the record became their biggest
hit, peaking at number 44. But working with the famously unpredictable
Spector was a chastening experience for the Ramones, and
the meeting of spiritual opposites resulted in an album that pleased nobody
The Ramones continued
their attempts at crossover success with their sixth album, Pleasant
Dreams, which was released in 1981. Featuring a production
10cc member Graham Gouldman,
the record was a commercial disappointment in both America and England.
With 1984's Too
Tough to Die, the Ramones delivered a belated response
to America's burgeoning hardcore punk scene that was largely produced by
Tommy Erdelyi. It found the Ramones back at their hard-hitting
best. The album helped restore their artistic reputation, as did the 1985
single, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,"
(1985), a hilarious dig at Ronald Reagan following his much-criticized
visit to a cemetery containing SS graves, confirmed that the quasi-Nazi
imagery of early Ramones songs and symbols had been outrageously
ironic jokes. In the same year, Joey Ramone contributed to the anti-apartheid
single "Sun City", finally nailing the myth of the band as a bunch
of right-wing rednecks.
The band was relatively
quiet during 1982, spending most of their time touring. In the spring of
1983, the band returned with Subterranean
Jungle, which was produced by
Ritchie Cordell and Glen
Koltkin, the heads of the American indie label Beserkley Records.
Not only did Subterranean Jungle fail to gain the band the larger
audience they desired, it continued the erosion of the band's diehard fan
base, as well as their decline in the eyes of many rock critics. Following
the album's release, Marky Ramone left the band; he was replaced
Richard Beau, a former member of the Velveteens, who changed
his name to Richie Ramone (drums; born
Aug. 11, 1957).
Instead of continuing with
the sound of Too Tough to Die, the Ramones began pursuing
a more streamlined, stylized, and conventional take on their songwriting
formula with 1986's Animal Boy.
This was a direction the group followed for the remaining ten years of
Following the release of
1987's Halfway to Sanity,
Richie Ramone left the band and
Marky Ramone rejoined the
In 1988, the career retrospective
Mania appeared. This compilation packs in 30 digitally remastered
cuts. Although the song selection is straightforward, the running order
is entirely non-chronological; a British B-side ("Indian
Giver"), a previously unvinylized movie mix of "Rock'n'Roll
High School" and a couple of 45 versions make it mildly attractive
Besides a T-shirt and poster,
the luxurious limited edition (2,500) boxed set entitled End
of the Decade contains half a dozen UK 12-inch singles (with
some B-side rarities), dating from 1984-1987. A strange era to cover in
such an expensive package.
the Stuff (And More) Volume One (1990) and Volume
Two (1991) look like greatest hits compilations, but are actually
the one-CD/cassette pairings of Ramones/Leave Home and Rocket
to Russia/Road to Ruin, combined with previously unreleased
demos, B-sides and a live tracks.
In 1989, the Ramones
contributed the theme song "Pet Sematary"
to the Stephen King movie, and the track was included on Brain
Drain, which was released in the summer of that year. After its release,
the group's bassist, Dee Dee Ramone, left the band to pursue a career
as a rapper called Dee Dee King (he even released an album called
Standing in the Spotlight;
1989); after his debut rap recording failed miserably, he formed the band
Dragons. Dee Dee was replaced by C.J. Ramone (bass; born
Joseph Ward, Oct. 8, 1965). A former fan, he stepped neatly into Dee
Dee's shoes, and gave the band a new sense of purpose.
In 1991 a video called Lifestyles
of the Ramones showed up, which is a compilation of all the
Ramones' videoclips mixed with interviews with the band and other
artists like Debbie Harry, the Talking Heads and Anthrax.
In the early '90s, the Ramones
sobered up, with both
Joey and Marky undergoing treatment
for alcoholism. The band returned to recording in 1991, first releasing
the live Loco Live.
Then they released Mondo
Bizarro (1992), although too perfectly produced for some punk
die-hards, surprised many critics who had written the Ramones off
as an anachronism. But their first studio album in three years turned out
to be a commercial failure.
In 1993 Jim Bessman
relased the book Ramones: An American
Band, presenting the bands history from the beginning.
The 1994 covers album, Acid
Eaters, provided an odyssey through the band's own influences,
including covers of songs by artists as diverse as The Who, Jefferson
Airplane, Love and Bob Dylan. This eclectic collection
underlined the secret of the Ramones' craftsmanship twenty years
on, and they were still stripping rock down to its underwear.
Following the release of
Eaters, the mainstream guitar-rock audience in America finally embraced
punk rock, in the form of young bands like Green Day and Offspring.
Sensing that the climate may have been right for the crossover success
they had desired for so many years, the Ramones immediately followed
Eaters with Adios Amigos
(1995), claiming that unless the new album sold in substantial numbers,
the band would call it quits after a final farewell tour. The album showed
them going back to their roots, with all the attack, vision, humour and
punch of their early work. Adios Amigos only spent two weeks
in the charts.
Nevertheless, the Ramones
embarked on a long farewell tour that ran throughout the rest of 1995.
The band was set to split in the beginning of 1996 when they were offered
a slot on the sixth
Lollapalooza festival. The Ramones toured
with the festival that summer. Following the completion of the tour, the
Ramones parted ways, 20 years after the release of their first album.
After finally calling it a day we've seen two live albums, MCA's
Greatest Hits Live (1996)
and Radioactive's We're Outta
Here! (1996; also released as a video + CD box set). Neither
should really have seen the light of day.
After 2,263 shows, 14 studio
records, 5 live records and one classic film Rhino payed tribute
to the band that invented punk with the release of Hey
Ho Let's Go!: Ramones Anthology (1999), a 2CD retrospective
presenting the Ramones' work from beginning to end.
Since the band called it
a day, individual Ramones have remained musically active. Apart
from Johnny Ramone, that is, who swore never to pick up a guitar
again (but who recently made a guest appearance at a Pearl Jam show
The youngblood CJ Ramone
has been touring and recording with his new band, Los
Gusanos. They released their selftitled debut in 1998. After Los Gusanos dis-banded CJ formed a new band called the Warm Jets, who after releasing a single renamed their band to Bad Chopper.
Drummer Marky has
a new band, Marky Ramone and the Intruders.
They have released two albums, their selftitled debut (1996) and The
Answer to Your Problems? (1999). Marky recently released his
home video collection of life on the road ("Ramones Around the World")
a kind of Spinal Tap but of course, Ramones-style. In 2001 Marky formed a new band called Marky Ramone and the Speedkings. They already released an album called No If's, And's Or But's!
Original drummer Tommy
is set to unleash some new material.
After releasing an album
with his group I.C.L.C. (I Hate
Freaks Like You; 1994) Dee Dee Ramone has already released three other
solo albums: Ain't it Fun
(Europe) / Zonked! (U.S.) (1997),
Hop Around (2000) and
Greatest & Latest (2000),
as well as an autobiography, "Poison
Heart: Surviving The Ramones" ("Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones" in the U.S. version) and the novel Chelsea Horror Hotel.
and Marky have toured together with Dee Dee's wife Barbara
Zampini (aka Barbara Ramone) as the Ramainz, playing mainly Ramones songs.
They have released a live album in 1999 called Live
Long time drug addict Dee Dee (R.I.P.) died from an overdose in his Hollywood home on June 5th 2002.
Singer Joey Ramone (R.I.P.),
has produced a record for Ronnie Spector and performed regularly in the USA until he passed away on April 15th 2001 after a long battle
with cancer. His post mortem debut solo album Don't Worry About Me came out in february 2002.
In 2001/2002 Rhino re-releases the first eight Ramones albums in remastered and extended versions with a lot of rare bonus tracks and the compilation Masters Of Rock: Ramones is released.
Will there ever be a Ramones
reunion? Most unlikely, and for that we should be grateful. Let's remember
the Ramones as they were, and, as Lemmy said, "don't forget
"Before the Ramones, there
-A rock critic
"The Ramones were the
only outside band that everyone looked up to."
"They've remained true
to their vision of rock'n'roll as fast, fun music"
"They speak up for outcasts
and disturbed individuals."
-Jon Parales, The New
"People say that your
music is loud and destructive and lethal to mice, but I think you're the
Beethovens of our time."
-from Rock 'n' Roll High
"Virtually every current
commercial guideline in rock is broken somewhere in the Ramones."
"We're not trying to compete
with Bruce Springsteen."
"One of the Seven Great
Rock Bands of All Time."
"We've always been our
own breed of band. We concocted a unique sound and style all our own
"Everyone says their fans
are the best. Ours really were. Our fans didn't like anything--but us."
"If there were a Punk
Rock Hall of Fame...the Ramones would be the first inducted."
"Thirty-five songs in
ten minutes, the way they don't babble between songs, the way they wear
their leather jackets... They understand about rock and roll, you see -
most people don't."
"If you're not in it,
you're out of it."