Pete Townshend was fairly unique in that he was one of the few stars of the British Invasion generation that didn’t write off punk as amateurish garbage when the genre burst onto the scene. His group, The Who, had been the punk rockers of their own day, offering up a chaotic swirl of sound concocted with limited expertise. So, when the genre hit the mainstream in the mid-1970s, he was quick to embrace this generation of new bands emerging from the underground. Unfortuantely, the majority of those groups weren’t so accepting of him; except, that is, for The Ramones, who had a taste for early British rock ‘n’ roll groups like The Who, The Kinks and even Led Zeppelin, something that gave Johnny Rotten enough reason to label Marky Ramone a “heavy-metal fucking reject”.
But The Ramones were unashamed of their tastes, going so far as to cover The Who’s jangle-pop single ‘Substitute’ on 1993’s Acid Eaters. As it turns out, Townshend caught wind of the band’s rendition and offered them his services as a backing vocalist. As Joey Ramone later recalled: “For ‘Substitute,’ Pete Townshend came down and sang background vocals, which 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.”
Townshend happened to be in town with his stage play Tommy: “He heard we were doing the song, he came down, heard the track and got all excited. He did a great job, he was really into it. 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.” However, Townshend was by no means the first member of The Who Joey had been introduced to.
In the 1980s, The Ramones had performed on Top of The Pops and bumped into Roger Daltry backstage. According to Joey, Daltrey sidled over and said: “‘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?”
Acid Eaters was the penultimate album The Ramones recorded before the death of Joey Ramone in 2001. Comprised entirely of covers, the album saw Joey and company pick their favourite tracks from the 1960s and give them the punk treatment. You can check out their cover of The Who’s ‘Substitute’ below.