“The Ramones are a little of each. Their sound is not unlike a fast drill on a rear molar.“ — The Ramones
When The Ramones first took to the stage at CBGB’s clad in leather and dressed in ripped denim, nobody could have predicted that they would revolutionise rock ‘n’ roll. Even fewer would say they would revolutionise the most potent music genre of all time by reducing it to its very bones. Boiled down and braised to the ground, the Ramones made sure that three chords would always be enough to fill the dancefloor.
Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy were the original gang of brats that brought punk to the masses. Finding fame in New York, the city that had created them, the group struggled outside of the Big Apple to make any waves until they jumped on a ferry across the Atlantic to land in Britain. It was here that the group truly took off and launched a thousand bands in their wake.
“The Ramones are not an oldies group,” read their first press release. “They are not a glitter group, they don’t play boogie music and they don’t play the blues. The Ramones are an original Rock and Roll group of 1975, and their songs are brief, to the point and every one a potential hit single.” There’s no doubt that the press statement captured the intensity of the band with aplomb. Not only were the band the newest and hottest group in NYC, but each one of their songs rumbled with the potency of a gang-led knife fight.
Of course, there’s a good reason that each song had similar potential — they all sounded the same. Well, this is what the punk lamen would have you believe. To try and scoff at the Ramones for their comprehensive use of thrashing three chords across a simple disco backbeat is to deny them their very own uniqueness. The band founded their sound, made it their own and refused to bow down to societal pressure for guitar solos and droning arthouse persuasions.
They persisted with their purist punk sound up until they parted ways in the 1990s. When they did finally hang up their leathers, they left behind a legion of fans, a host of inspired artists and a back catalogue that can be whipped through in just a few hours. They may all be under three minutes, but the Ramones made some searing songs. Below, we’ve got ten of the best.
The Ramones 10 greatest songs:
10. ‘Do You Remember Rock N’ Roll Radio?’
Though the Ramones may well be the bastion of punk, the leather jackets, ripped jeans and snarling attitude was about as close to an archetypal punk as you could get in the mid-seventies.
That said, it didn’t mean they still weren’t driven by money. Despite what you may think, the Ramones wanted to be rich.
It was this drive that sent them to connect with Phil Spector and record the frightening record End of the Century with the infamous pop producer. While the mismatch of producer and band was clear for all to see, they did manage to find one or two good songs in the pop pile of Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’, most notably this gem, ‘Do You Remember Rock N’ Roll?’ which has a curious combination of ageing nostalgia and effervescent youth.
9. ‘Teenage Lobotomy’
Right in the heart of the punk battle, the Ramones released their seminal album Rocket to Russia and it gathered up a huge plethora of fans for its advantageous title alone. What’s more, the record’s fiery lyrics and ferocious speed made it an instant hit.
Starting off the LP’s second side was the powerful ‘Teenage Lobotomy’. It captured the B-movie glamour of the band and offered a scalpal to swathes of a generation.
Ed Stasium, who worked with the band on the album told Rolling Stone of the song: “It has every element of what’s great about them, in one song – the big drum intro and the ‘Lobotomy’ chant; the little background-harmony ooohs; the subject matter.”
8. ‘Beat on the Brat’
If you ever needed proof that the Ramones were living the punk life before anyone else, then ‘Beat on the Brat’ is the only song you need.
As one might expect, Joey Ramone wrote the track with a simple premise “I was living in Forest Hills, walking around the neighbourhood,” he said. “Annoyed by all these rich ladies with their bratty kids.”
Joey constructed himself a simple song with a powerful motif and with the quick inversion of the 1968 bubblegum hit ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ one of the band’s seminal songs was complete.
7. ‘Pet Sematary’
The eighties were a crazy decade for the Ramones, ending with Dee Dee leaving the group. However, before he did, the acclaimed novelist and supreme Ramones fan, Stephen King, asked if the group would write a theme song for the film adaptation of his bestselling horror novel Pet Sematary.
What transpired is one of the band’s few commercial hits and added as a nice ending note to finish the hellish decade for the group. Still, though it may not have been a great time to be a Ramone, it’s hard to ignore the punch and the push of this classic punk track.
Stick this one on and get ready to blow the house down.
6. ‘Rockaway Beach’
In the slew of three-chord, three-minute gut punches that the Ramones call songs, there aren’t many bonafide ‘hits’. Except, of course, this classic vision, ‘Rockaway Beach’.
The surf-punk pioneer is full of summer in New York joy, featuring cheap hot dogs, cheaper beer and sunburnt bodies crackling in the sun. It’s a song that typifies the brighter side of being in the Ramones.
It was the band’s ability to seamlessly weave in the visions of the city they were surrounded by that always added extra weight to their songs. It made them not only attainable for those in the know but punks on the other side of the Atlantic; it also offered an extra degree of mysticism.
5. ‘Judy Is A Punk’
The Ramones were always looking to include people in their gang of punks. Usually, they did this through song. On ‘Judy Is A [Punk’ the band made it clear that their sound and lifestyle wasn’t determined by gender — they were open to the entire underbelly of society.
A purely fictional punch of punk, the song runs for only 90 seconds and can be revered as perhaps the archetypal Ramones anthem, if not their greatest.
The song remains a classic of the genre and while it focuses on Jackie and Judy in the song, a couple who are revisited on End of the Centruy, it was a universal anthem for all those who heard it.
4. ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’
Possibly one of Joey’s most personal songs, by 1981 the Ramones were running on thin ice. Their familial tendencies had long since dissolved and this song typifies the strain.
Allegedly written about Linda Ramone who dated Joey before marrying fellow bandmate, Johnny Ramone, there are even suggestions that the ‘KKK’ reference was to Johnny’s staunch right-wing beliefs.
It would be a point of considerable pain for the group and cause its members to barely fraternise with each other. The trouble is, when they did, they came up with gold like this.
3. ‘Blitzkreig Bop’
The first song of the Ramones self-titled debut album was, undoubtedly, the first powerful notes of a band determined to make an impression. The song rattles out at just over two minutes and was a firm fan favourite from the very beginning, proving itself as one of the ultimate punk anthems.
Played at pretty much every Ramones gig over their 22-year career, if there was one song to symbolise their undying influence it is this punk number’s infiltration of the mainstream.
Who can resist the “Hey, ho, let’s go!” whenever they hear it? Truly, there isn’t really a ubiquitous punk song like it. But that doesn’t mean it is Johnny’s best.
2. ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’
If you weren’t “in” the punk scene in the mid-seventies then chances are, ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ may have been your very first introduction to not only the Ramones but punk itself. It scraped the top 100 in the pop charts and found itself some airplay on rock radio. In 1977, it was positively revolutionary.
It not only took the melodies of the 1960s and turned them on their head to more easily kick them in the teeth, but it also put Sheena, a leftover from the pulp magazine days, and made her part of the gang.
Sheena wouldn’t be swayed by rhinestone disco. No, she wanted to be in the muck and the mire of CBGB’s sweating and thrashing with the rest of us.
1. ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’
If ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ is the mainstream hit that even your grandma would throw her fists up into the air for, then ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ was the reason the band were still the kings of the underground.
Though the track was a rather autobiographical affair (Joey Ramone suffered severe burns to his face in 1977 and was recovering when he penned the song), the way Ramone sang the lines, with sardonic disenchantment, endeared him to a mass of disengaged youths.
He was the epitome of it all; tall, awkward, gangly, ugly hair, ripped jeans, a stinking old leather jacket, and as stubborn as a mule. The Ramones were the archetypal punks and they will be forever sorely missed.