“I think our peak, our greatest moment, is that New Year’s Eve show of 1977 into 1978. I think that’s our greatest moment as a band.” – Johnny Ramone
New Year’s Eve in 2020 is going to be a little different for most of us, the days where we could all mingle at a sweaty punk show to bring in the New Year are a distant memory. Instead, we’ll have to use our intuitions to create a fun-filled night. It was a different story 43 years ago, however, at the height of the punk movement, when the Ramones sailed across the Atlantic to take to London’s Rainbow Theatre stage. They delighted the thirsty crowd with a double-shot of stringent punk fun as the band tore through a New Year’s Eve set that will go down in history.
If you were a true punk in 1977 then there was only one place to be on that day, The Rainbow. 3,000 punks crammed in to create a sweaty, heaving mass of bodies in awe of their four heroes Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy deliver one of their most feverish performances of their jet-fuelled career. It was a monster set that was buoyed by an incredible list of acts supporting the New Yorkers. Billy Idol’s Generation X and Scottish reprobates the Rezillos taking the stage before the leather-clad quartet made for an entertaining night of beer-drenched revelry. It would see the Ramones at the top of their game, so much so that they would record the evening’s proceedings and deliver it as their first-ever live album; It’s Alive.
The title came from a US horror film of the same name and soon became known as one of greatest live rock and roll records of all time. Lucky for us the whole thing was not only captured on record but on film too as the 26-minute video below shows. The New Yorkers are on their peak form, delivering a juggernaut of punk energy with every thrashing note; every bouncing song making sure that they were surely the only rock and roll royals around.
Though the set took place at the end of the most glorious punk year, 1977, It’s Alive wouldn’t hit record shops until 1979, nearly a year and a half after the event. It landed as a double-LP and offered up a perfect tableau of the Ramones’ furious energy. They smashed through a range of hits from their then-three released records including ‘Blitzkreig Bop’, ‘Rockaway Beach’ and ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ plus a host more of 90-second gems.
The band’s manager, Danny Fields, viewed that night as the zenith of the Ramones. Telling The Guardian: “This was a year and half after their first appearance in London, and they’re headlining the Rainbow on New Year’s Eve 1977 – they had to leave America to get the multi-thousand audiences. It’s Alive, the album recorded that night, has no downtime, no gaps between songs, no tuning. Don’t give them any time to think; no time to do anything but be in that moment.”
Fields then recalled how it all changed for the Ramones the following year when Tommy left the group and as he puts it, “They were no longer my Ramones. They were the Ramones with substitutes.”
This extraordinary evening is the pinnacle of not just the Ramones but, quite possibly the whole of the punk movement. They may have been the New York side of punk’s pumping fists, but London treated them like they were one of their own and Joey, Johnny, Tommy and Dee Dee paid them back emphatically by staging the show of their careers. It’s a lesson to all aspiring musicians in how to take a gig from 0 to 100 in a simple “1-2-3-4!”
Watch below as the Ramones gave their most significant live performance ever on New Year’s Eve in 1977.