New York punks Ramones are one of the most influential outfits of all time. One of the first actual punk bands, they set a precedent for all the punk that followed in their wake with their breakneck tempos, anthemic choruses, and chainsaw guitars.
Fittingly, for a band so consequential, their 1976 debut album, Ramones, is one of the definitive of the punk era and continues to inspire legions to this day. Surprisingly, the album was recorded with relative ease, but it set the band on course to achieve everything else that came in their career, such as their third opus, the masterpiece that is 1977’s Rocket to Russia.
Notably, after the sessions for Ramones, the band had so much material that it gave them their following two records, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, which were both released the following year. This wealth of songs accounts for exactly how the band were able to release two masterworks in quick succession and set the world alight in the process.
“We had the songs for the first three albums when we did the first one,” recalled Johnny Ramone in Rolling Stone. “We already had 30 to 35 songs, and we recorded them in the chronological order that we wrote them. I didn’t want the second album to be a letdown by picking through all the best songs for the first album and using the lesser songs for the second album.”
For Ramones, the band of non-brothers also took some defining pointers from their heroes, The Beatles. Wanting to emulate the excitement of the Liverpool band’s 1963 debut, they exaggerated techniques that The Beatles had used, including microphone placement and using a four-track recorder, giving the record an old school essence.
The guitars were recorded through their separate stereo channels, the bass on the left, the rhythm guitar on the right, and the drums and vocals mixed in the middle of the stereo mix. In addition to this old school method of recording, the band and producer, Craig Leon, added more contemporary techniques such as overdubbing. Perhaps the most famous of all, though, is the doubling of the vocals, which gives Joey Ramone’s delivery the warmth that is so iconic.
Remarkably, the band recorded the album over the course of just one week. Three days were used for backing tracks and four for vocals. “We recorded the songs in the same order that we played them in our live set at the time,” Johnny later explained. It was such a creative success that the band then used this method for Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, creating a triptych of albums that can be hailed as siblings of one another, with each one building on what came before.
Leon was so happy with this method of recording that at one point, he wanted to record Ramones as one single track with no breaks between the songs. Eventually, he opted otherwise but employed this technique in a more diminutive setting between the album’s last two songs, ‘I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You’ and ‘Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World’.
“Capturing the energy of the live shows was quite important,” Leon told The Vinyl Factory. “But if you jump to the conclusion that the sound of the recording was just the sound of the band live, you would be mistaken — even though that’s what I was trying to convey. The album is quite layered and structured and took full advantage of the studio technology of its time.”
The album was completed for only $6,400, and to many, this has been seen as the moment that one of the most important foundations of punk was laid; how to approach making records. Joey Ramone recalled: “Doing an album in a week and bringing it in for $6,400 was unheard of, especially since it was an album that really changed the world. It kicked off punk rock and started the whole thing—as well as us.”
As a parting gift, we’ll leave you with this nugget of information. Even though Ramones is renowned for its depiction of ’70s New York’s dark underbelly, it was actually recorded at one of the city’s most upmarket venues, Plaza Sound Studios in Manhattan, which is situated in the same building as Manhattan’s Radio City Musical Hall. The building is an Art Deco wonder that is about as far away from punk as Cliff Richards. However, this was Ramones. They were iconoclasts, and this was only the beginning.
Listen to Ramones in full below.