Ramones Dee Dee (bass, vocals), Joey (vocals), Johnny (guitar),
Tommy (drums, later replaced by Marky) were the American punk
band, an endless wellspring of noise, energy, attitude, humor
and (sometimes forgotten) great songs, who helped reinvent rock
‘n’ roll when it needed it most in the mid-'70s.
Working for indie Sire Records in the mid-'70s, producer/talent
scout Craig Leon became involved with the percolating New York
underground music scene. One summer night in 1975 he went to
CBGB’s and saw two bands, the Talking Heads and the Ramones.
“I went to that show and there were literally four people
in the audience besides me, but the bands were phenomenal,”
“A lot of people didn’t even think the Ramones could
make a record. There were weeks of preproduction on a very basic
level: like when the songs started and when they ended. Their
early sets were one long song until they ran out of steam or
You could see it as a performance art-type thing, where you
had a 17-minute concise capsule of everything you ever knew
about rock ‘n’ roll, or you could see it as 22 little
songs,” he said. They went for the songs.
The Ramones’ first album (1976) is a roaring minimalist
icon — the first real American punk record. Layers and
layers of accumulated bloat and sheen were stripped away to
reveal rock ‘n’ roll at its most basic and vital
on songs like “Blitzkreig Bop,” “Beat On the
Brat” and “Let’s Dance.” The Ramones’
sound was blazing early-'60s surf music played through the overdriven
distortion of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Yet, according to
Leon, the Ramones saw themselves as a pop band. “In our
naivete, we thought they were going to be bigger than the Beatles.
They had even named themselves after Paul McCartney’s
early stage name, ‘Paul Ramone,’” Leon said.
While most agree the Ramones’ astonishing first album
— which cut through the competition like a 747 in a paper
airplane contest — is their most important album, it isn’t
my favorite. My favorite is one of the band’s most eccentric,
“End of the Century” — produced by the enigmatic
pop icon (and now murder suspect) Phil Spector — and the
album that explicitly acknowledged such a thing as “pop
punk” for the first time.
Recorded in 1979, the album made explicit the connection between
early-'60s pop-rock and the punk band’s psyche, and holds
up as both a Ramones and a Spector classic — Spector’s
idiosyncrasies never overwhelm the roar of “Chinese Rock”
or “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School,” and
the Spectorish “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll
Radio” rollicks with just the right retro touches.
The band’s remake of the Ronette’s “Baby I
Love You” is as touching as it is fun, and shed a whole
new light on singer Joey Ramone (who died in 2002 after a long
bout with cancer — I sure do miss that guy).
The two-CD set “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go” is a spectacular
overview of the band, with all of the above songs (except “Baby
I Love You”) plus “California Sun,” “Sheena
Is a Punk Rocker,” “Cretin Hop,” “Rockaway
Beach,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “I Wanna
Be Sedated,” “She’s the One,” “She’s
a Sensation,” “We Want the Airwaves” and many,