Some artists can cover a plethora of different songs and make them their own, and some just can’t. The New York punk upstarts, the Ramones, were certainly among the artists who can, as this list proves. The group’s singular sound has always gathered equal praise and derision as their sound, straight as a razor’s edge and just as cutting, proved to soundtrack the birth of punk rock.
However, judging by the below, it’s clear that the group weren’t the three-chord wonders people had suggested. Though not often verging beyond the aforementioned barrier, the band was equally as happy taking on a mammoth song as they were thrashing out a small ditty. For the Ramones, it was all about the electric atmosphere, and on every single cover below, they turn the wattage up to death-defying levels.
We will admit one thing though, on every one of the covers tracks feature, which includes esteemed artists such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, you can guarantee that within the first few bars, that anybody listening in, will know it’s the Ramones. Such is their unique sound and perfect positioning.
This unique sound made the band one of the forefathers of punk rock and helped to establish its place in the music world. The band’s material also allows the Ramones to take on any song in the world and truly make it their own, which has always been the sign of a great group.
Below, we’re picking out our favourite Ramones covers of all time.
Ramones 10 best covers ever:
10. ‘My Back Pages’ – Bob Dylan
While ‘My Back Pages’ marked a moment that Bob Dylan changed direction away from “one-dimensional songs” and moved towards more introspective work, the Ramones decided to rip up the map and totally spin the song around when they put their own special sauce into the song’s recipe.
The track came in the early 1990s as part of their covers album Acid Eaters, a record which will feature quite prominently below. Though punks of the day were expected to always denounce the past, the Ramones were clearly fans of the counter-culture revolution of the sixties.
It’s a powerful tribute to Dylan, whom most artists would say was an influence on their career but perhaps held special meaning for the New Yorkers. Naturally, the track is imbued with the sense of urgency the group took everywhere with them.
9. ‘Surfin’ Safari’ – The Beach Boys
Another song to come from the band’s tribute album to the sounds of the 1960s was the Ramones cover of The Beach Boys classic, ‘Surfin’ Safari’—it’s a match made in heaven.
There aren’t many artists who are so separate yet have shared covers of each others work, but the Beach Boys and Ramones are two such bands.
Who’d have thought it but as the East Coast upstarts take on the West Coast gems a marriage of furious punk tone with the pounding rhythm of surf-rock is created. It’s an absolute joy to behold and one that The Beach Boys have reciprocated on, singing ‘Rockaway Beach’ live on numerous occasions.
8. ‘Take It As It Comes’ – The Doors
Another shining Californian inspiration for the New Yorkers was Jim Morrison and The Doors. As part of their Acid Eaters record, the Ramones paid tribute to the band by taking on their song from the 1967 album of the same name.
Lyrically the song is about being at peace with the world around you and accepting that you can do little to change it. It’s the challenging work that has seen many people turn away from trying to put their own spin on Morrison’s work.
However, under the tutelage of the Ramones, it’s just another head-banging, foot-stomping romper. Below the band are joined by Robbie Kreiger for a special performance of the song.
7. ‘Somebody To Love’ – Jefferson Airplane
Few people can match the high-level of vocal performance that Grace Slick gave Jefferson Airplane on ‘Somebody To Love’—one of them certainly isn’t Joey Ramone. Instead, the leading man does what any sensible punk would do and shouts and screams the blood from the back of his throat.
His snotty and snarling performance is about as melodic as Joey ever gets but it’s really Johnny Ramone who shines on this cover.
Far removed from his usual thrash, though he does a fair bit of that too, is the guitarist’s welcomed drone that underpins the whole song and transports us back to the 1960s. It’s the kind of performance that confirms the Ramones, despite their image, were bonafide flower children.
6. ‘When I Was Young’ – The Animals
Chances are, if you’re a fan of The Animals, like the Ramones are, that the band had a profound effect on you. The group were born out of the sixties counterculture movement and represented entirely different from the rest of pop music at the time.
Not your usual cover song, the original is a little twisted in its own right. But the way the Ramones take it to the next level proves their power.
The same can be said of the Ramones, and their cover of The Animals proves it. A strange and swirled sixties anthem has been given a proper punk punch-up. Oh, and it’s bloody brilliant.
5. ‘Street Fighting Man’ – The Rolling Stones
If there was one guitarist ready to kick out against the establishment in 1968 it was Keith Richards and on Beggars Banquet he was a regular Karate Kid. ‘Street Fighting Man’ sees Richards at his most gnarly.
It’s widely regarded as one of The Rolling Stones most underrated songs and the Ramones kick it up a notch when they got their grubby hands on it. Though the band make it their own, they couldn’t have done it without the volatile original material.
One of the Stones more caustic compositions provided a perfect place for the Ramones to get their kicks. The group push the song away from it’s ’60s origination and down deep into the depths of punkdom.
4. ‘Surfin Bird’ – The Trashmen
Arguably one of the most perfectly crafted songs for the three-chord punk Kings, The Trashmen’s ‘Surfin’ Bird’ has found fame over recent years thanks to an episode of Family Guy which was created around the discover of the song.
It’s a classic balls to the wall situation where the Ramones let rip over a classic and somehow not only make it their own but make us forget the original ever existed.
Listening is a genuine joy to behold and one that we prescribe everyone we ever meet.
3. ‘I Don’t Want To Grow Up’ – Tom Waits
The Ramones weren’t afraid of taking on a cover or two. It’s something that the group carried on doing until the very end. The pioneering punks even put a cover of Tom Waits‘ ‘I Don’t Want To Grow Up’ on their final album.
The record was 1995’s ¡Adiós Amigos! and saw the thrashing foursome take on Waits’ 1992 hit ‘I Don’t Want To Grow Up’ as part of their farewell to the music industry. Tom Waits may have a punk spirit, but his ethos is more closely intertwined with jazz, punk’s mortal enemy.
The Ramones take the track on a scenic route to New York’s underbelly and give it the punk treatment that turns it into a real beauty.
2. ‘Baby, I love You’ – The Ronettes
This one was included on the band’s disastrous album End of the Century produced by the infamous Phil Spector—a clash of personalities that would almost end in fights every time the band and he stepped into the studio.
However, if there was something to take from the record it was this classic cover of The Ronettes’ ‘Baby, I Love You’ which lets the band do their best impression of a sixties girl group.
As well as Joey Ramone providing a unique but tuneful vocal the band slow things down, shimmying and shaking like they were about to meet Berry Gordy for lunch. It’s one of the band’s best songs, let alone best covers.
1. ‘Substitute’ – The Who
One track the Ramones loved so much from their Acid Eaters they gave it a video was The Who’s iconic song ‘Substitute’. The video can be seen below and is a whirling swirling reminder of why the ’90s made our eyes hurt.
Aside from the somewhat deranged video, the Ramones otherwise stay pretty close to The Who’s 1968 original. Johnny and Joey Ramone are every bit the punk Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey and deliver an astounding cover.
This song is about as close to classic rock as the Ramones have ever got. And, when you boil it down, the song is still as punk as can be.