Arguably one of the greatest punk rock songs ever written was composed from the most mundane set of circumstances. Though it’s often considered a ‘road song’, written about life touring, it worked as an anthemic punk moment of kicking out against the mundanity of modern living. A song that screams, despite all the entertainment in the world, if you can’t connect with people then life’s not worth living.
The song saw many different releases over the years, first arriving on British shores as the B-side to ‘She’s the One’. It’s fitting that the song should find its first release in Britain as it was in the capital, London, that the song was first composed. London at Christmas time is a dream come true for many but when Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy were touring England it was a nightmare.
In New York, the Ramones had quickly gained a searing reputation around their punk rock haunts. Though the venues were unaware of what the term punk rock actually was, the Ramones were bringing their ferocious brand of fast-paced three-chord wonders to stages around the city and bringing fans with them. But outside of the city and the noise of the adopted brotherhood was falling on deaf ears—except, in the UK.
At the same time as the Big Apple, the Big Smoke was also beginning to burn with the fires of punk rock. Who inspired who is up for debate but it was clear that the Ramones were underground heroes across Britain way before the majority of the US cottoned on. It gained them a headline slot on the 31st December 1977, taking to the stage at the Rainbow in London and deliver a powerhouse performance.
“I think our peak, our greatest moment, is that New Year’s Eve show of 1977 into 1978,” said Johnny Ramone of the show. “I think that’s our greatest moment as a band.” While the moments on stage can’t be contested, off stage it was clear the band had not enjoyed their run around the capital and even composed the ultimate boredom anthem to go with it.
‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ may well be the band’s greatest songs. If ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ is the mainstream hit that even your grandmas 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. The song, it turns out, was written by Joey Ramone and he recalled its composition: “It’s a road song. I wrote it in 1977, through the 78. Well, Danny Fields was our first manager and he would work us to death. We would be on the road 360 days a year, and we went over to England, and we were there at Christmas time, and in Christmas time, London shuts down. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go.”
It was not the vision of tour life the band had in mind: “Here we were in London for the first time in our lives, and me and Dee Dee Ramone were sharing a room in the hotel, and we were watching The Guns of Navarone. So there was nothing to do, I mean, here we are in London finally, and this is what we are doing, watching American movies in the hotel room.”
Though the track was a rather autobiographical affair, 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. Joey Ramone was the archetypal punk and he will be forever sorely missed.
The band eventually released the song in 1980 for the US market and it caught some attention, partly thanks to its unique video. Acting as a Beastie-Boys pre-cursor, there’s a degree of silliness which underpinned the Ramones and one which always helped to alleviate their boredom.