The scope of influence that the Ramones have had on music and pop culture is largely unmatched. As the founders and crafters of punk rock, the Queens foursome blazed a trail that is still being travelled on by bands to this day. Everyone from the Sex Pistols to Green Day owe their careers to the Ramones, and they remain one of the most commonly cited bands of the last 50 years.
But all of that acclaim and influence never actually amounted to a lot of tangible success. The Ramones toured like crazy for 20 years straight, and it wasn’t just because they liked doing it. Their records routinely only sold a couple thousand copies, mostly in their home country. Their profits came mainly from selling T-shirts and merchandise, and the group were only able to upscale their concerts out of dingy clubs when they went over to foreign territories.
In England during the punk boom of the 1970s the Ramones were major live draws, but their album sales were minuscule when compared to the likes of The Clash and their punk contemporaries. In 2014, the group’s eponymous debut album finally went gold, nearly 40 years after it was first released. Fellow CBGB bands like Talking Heads and Blondie were finding major success on album and singles charts, but the Ramones weren’t able to join in themselves.
Even though they kept releasing singles, the Ramones only ever scraped the bottom rungs of the Billboard Hot 100. ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ had a major pop hook at its centre, but it only reached number 81. ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ has since gone platinum thanks to its multiple re-releases, but the track has so far failed to land on the singles chart in any capacity. Songs like ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and ‘Rock N Roll High School’ are certified classics, but they too have failed to land on the charts.
The highest that the Ramones ever got on the Billboard Hot 100 was number 66. The song to accomplish this feat was ‘Rockaway Beach’, the surf-centric cut from 1977’s Rocket to Russia. Written by Dee Dee Ramone, the two-minute burst of summertime fun and distorted punk attitude is among the group’s most commercial tunes. Despite this, the general public failed to grab the single.
The UK charts were slightly more sympathetic to the legendary punk pioneers. The Ramones actually got a top ten hit on the UK with their cover of The Ronettes ‘Baby, I Love You’ from 1980’s End of the Century, which reached number eight that same year. Otherwise, the group had no top 20 singles – not even during punk’s cultural takeover.
The Ramones weren’t exactly a commercial outfit, but they had the proper amount of catchiness and cultural cache to land a genuine hit. It just never happened for them, something that they felt at least slightly bitter about, especially when compared to their peers. In a way, it’s probably best that they never had a big hit – it gives the Ramones a certain purity. They never sold out, they never cashed in, and they never hit it big.
It adds to the group’s legacy that there isn’t a fluke chart success to point to, even if the members were slightly downtrodden about it at the time.