Joey Ramone may not have been the most gifted lyricist in his time but he was undoubtedly one of the greatest a turning a normal gig into a pile of sweaty heaving bodies. He, along with the rest of the legendary punk outfit the Ramones, would never have taken the stage though if it wasn’t for one inspirational band, The Who.
Arguably one of the most influential artists in rock and roll history, the Ramones garnered a huge chunk of fandom when they burst on to the scene in the underbelly of New York’s music scene. Their three-chord throwdown saw them dominated the stage at CBGB’s and soon find commercial success in Europe. Though the group never truly cracked the charts, their legacy will always be held in the highest regard.
That legacy comes with a slight caveat. As wonderful as the Ramones are, as ubiquitous as their snotty anthems like ‘Blitzkreig Bop’, ‘Beat on the Brat’ and ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ have become, the band aren’t technically very good players. Not gifted musicians, the Ramones relied on their wits and their energy instead.
It’s a nuance that Ramone always cherished in his favourite band, the band which made him want to start making music, The Who. Though it would be a bit harsh to call the incredible Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey below-par musicians (in fact, the former two are pretty damn good) it was the band’s feverish energy and appetite for destruction that initially set them apart from the rest of the British invasion.
It was an invasion that a young Joey Ramone looked at with glee. In a 1990 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ramone revealed the first time he saw the band live and how they ins[pure him to make music. “When I was 16, I saw The Who,” the singer recalls, “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.”
He added: “When I perform, I want to blow people’s minds like that.”
Of course, the 16-year-old Joey would be inspired by The Who’s performance and begin to plot his own path to the stage. Musically the band would borrow heavily from The Stooges and other heavy rock aspects but in reality, the Ramones’ biggest inspiration is the energy that The Who showed at every performance.
The Ramones even paid tribute to the band in 1994 when, as part of their all-covers record Acid Eaters, the punk band covered The Who’s ‘Substitute’ and even welcomed Pete Townshend in the studio to help with backing vocals. Ramone 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.”
Continuing: “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 was altogether a little weirder.
“We were on Top of the Pops, and that Daltrey was there was a little strange; he didn’t seem to understand what the Ramones were about,” confessed Ramone probably both captivated and confounded by the ‘Who Are You’ singer. “He told me, “You guys will never make it if you wear leather jackets; you’ll only make it if you wear suits and ties.” I think this was around the time the Knack were so popular, and this probably confused him. Coming from him, the singer for one of the first really rebellious rock bands, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know if he was kidding or what. But I don’t think he was, you know?”
Below you can listen to the Ramones take on The Who’s song ‘Substitute’ as part of the band’s all covers record Acid Eaters, safe in the knowledge that it was likely a highlight of Joey Ramone’s entire life.