Ramones are one of the most iconic bands of all time. Creating the framework from which every other punk band would take their cues, the punk and non-related version of The Osmonds left an indelible mark on popular culture that can only be described as pioneering. The irony of their whole career was that although they were hugely influential, they never hit the commercial heights they thought they could do or perhaps deserved.
This was strange. The band fused the bubblegum pop melodies of the ’50s and ’60s with their iconic, blistering pace and buzzsaw guitars, creating an innumerable amount of hooks, more than any other punk band. However, bands such as Sex Pistols and The Clash, as well as their CBGB peers such as Blondie and Talking Heads, had no problem filling their coffers.
You could argue that in the economic sense, Ramones were about as punk as they come, as well as musically, and together these two elements make a strong case for Ramones being the ultimate punk band. The Clash were punk but not punk, and the Sex Pistols brand of punk was a relatively futile and hollow take on the faux-nihilistic ‘ethos’.
When discussing the best punk bands of this first wave, lyrical density is always a subject that comes to the fore. Joe Strummer of The Clash was undoubtedly the best punk lyricist Britain had to offer, with his socially aware and heavily politicised lines galvanising a generation.
But then, if were you switch over to the American hub of punk, you’d see that Ramones dealt with rather complex themes as well, surprising for a band often defined as plainly ‘three chords’. Their lyrical themes touched on racism, drug use, violence and even Johnny Ramone’s un-punk political ideals.
All their records, particularly from their classic era, are brimming with exciting and often challenging themes. Then in 1978 and 1980, a song was released in the UK and US, respectively, that showed that Ramones were not afraid of touching on any subject. Just this time, the subject matter was a lot less salacious.
‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ is one of the band’s most enduring anthems, and it turns out that it was written in response to boredom and isolation felt by the band at Christmas time when on tour in the UK.
Of the song’s iconic chorus, frontman Joey said: “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.”
He explained: “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.”
That makes sense. London has a knack for being a pulsating yet isolating place even at the best of times. It’s quite a pertinent image thinking of old Joey and Dee Dee watching the classic Gregory Peck film whilst wishing they were back home feasting on a turkey.
It is also a pretty stark departure from all the tales of licentiousness and depravity that they pulled straight from the mean streets of their hometown. If you’re ever in the mood for a straight-up punk record, ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ is one of your best bets. There’s no messing around, and you can hear the band’s frustration permeating the track.
In a funny sense, ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ is very much the American answer to Buzzcocks‘ classic ‘Boredom’. Additionally, as it was written at Christmas, does it qualify it as a certified Christmas song? If so, the family are in for a treat this yuletide.
Listen to ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ below.