As far as guitar players go, nobody in the history of rock and roll did more for the notion of simplicity than Johnny Ramone. For over two decades, Ramone kept to the formula that he perfected on the Ramones‘ first album: barre chords, downstrokes, and distortion. No inversions, no 7ths, and no solos. Period.
When the time came for a rare deviation from the norm, Johnny often stepped aside and let others take a crack at it. Throughout the band’s career, producers and guest musicians like Ed Stasium, Daniel Ray, or even drummer Tommy Ramone would sooner overdub a lead guitar line than for John to attempt it. Everyone once in a while, Johnny would acquiesce and play a “solo”, which usually consisted of long sustained notes like in ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ or simple riff-like lines on ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’.
Ultimately, either in spite of or because of the simplicity involved, Ramone began to influence the players around him. Economy and minimalism became valued currency within punk rock, and it became clear that much of the power of the Ramones punch came from their lack of deviation. It seemed simple, but it wasn’t easy: Johnny would spend up to an hour and a half playing nothing but sustained downstrokes, the likes of which would give other guitarists carpal tunnel syndrome.
Even as the band expanded their scope beyond the simplistic punk of their roots, Johnny’s guitar playing never adapted to the styles that the rest of the band would integrate. Whether it was the heavy metal of ‘Danger Zone’, the girl group pop of ‘Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio’, The Beach Boys pop of ‘California Sun’, or even the balladry of ‘I Want You Around’, Ramone would continue to employ his tried and true method of keeping a steady tempo and a constant power.
It’s hard to find the single definitive Ramone song to show off his skill, but ‘Rockaway Beach’ from Rocket to Russia just might be the perfect example. Throwing in occasional half measures just to challenge anybody who thought they weren’t completely locked in as a unit, the Ramones power through one of their catchiest slices of summer pop-punk in just around two minutes time. Johnny is as steady as always, letting Joey’s vocal melody do all the heavy lifting. The results are positively earworm worthy, and the perfect example of making something relatively difficult sound completely effortless.
Check out the isolated guitars for ‘Rockaway Beach’ down below.