If you cut Joey Ramone open, he’d bleed some kind of sticky punk ooze scraped from the floors of CBGBs. So ingrained in the birth of a genre that changed the face of music, you’d be able to smell the debauched streets of New York City in his aura, such as the value of how Ramone epitomised a movement. He became the face of a counter-culture revolution, and interestingly, it was The Who that played a seismic role in his musical development.
Truthfully, the career trajectory of the two acts hasn’t been aligned in the traditional sense. However, one thing that can’t be ignored is the ferocity that both groups packed into every ounce of their time on stage. While The Who became a staple of the much-lucrative stadium circuit and capitalised on their mainstream success, the Ramones instead veered into a cultish direction with arenas never beckoning them in.
However, the Ramones never had any grand plans for world domination, unlike The Who, a group that always unapologetically manifested their dreams to become an unstoppable behemoth of a band. It’s no understatement to say that the British band have become more than just a musical outfit, but an institution – and the same could be said for the New York punks, too.
Joey Ramone’s music taste boasts a shared ethos that ties his record collection together, and one band that helped form what he likes listening to more than most was The Who. The singer saw the band play live when he was 16, and it was a life-altering experience. The version of Ramone that left the theatre that night was a different entity to the one who had stumbled in some hours previously, and from that point, he knew what he wanted to do.
“When I was 16, I saw The Who,” the singer recalled to EW in 1990, “It was the first time they played America. It was a Murray the K show at the RKO theatre on 59th street [in New York City] — like 30 bands and The Who and Cream for the first time in America. Cream were great, but The Who blew my mind.
“The character and the visuals, Townshend, Keith Moon. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. When I perform, I want to blow people’s minds like that,” he added.
Furthermore, Joey got to make his teenage dream come true when the Ramones collaborated with Pete Townshend on a cover of The Who’s ‘Substitute’ in 1994, with the legendary guitarist offering a helping hand on backing vocals. The snarling frontman revealed to Rolling Stone at the time: “[It] was a real highlight for me, because I was always a big Who fan from the first time they came to America, and Townshend had always been kind of an unseen mentor for me.”
Adding: “He was in town doing finetuning on [the stage play] Tommy, and when he heard we were doing the song, he came down, heard the track and got all excited,” remembered the singer. “I was very nervous because the day he came down was the day I was laying down my lead vocal for the song. I had never met him before. I had met Roger Daltrey, I think in 1980 in London,” a meeting which didn’t quite go down as smoothly with The Who singer bizarrely offering the Ramones fashion advice.
It’s wholesome to reminisce how Joey Ramone successfully transitioned a wide-eyed fan studiously watching on in awe of Townshend as a 16-year-old to his collaborator. Life can work in miraculous ways, and out of all the connections Joey made through music, few friendships held as much personal significance as this one.