Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Ramones are two groups to have played a crucial role in shaping New York City’s fabric. They both remain central in two of the most dynamic eras of the city’s legendary history, both of which have made it the musical capital of the world. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs blistering cover of ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ sees them pay tribute to their forefathers in emphatic fashion.
No place on the planet has had a more significant impact on culture than New York. This Big Apple is the city that we have to thank for the folk scene that Greenwich Village gave the world in the 1960s, the punk scene that provided the voiceless a voice in the ’70s, introduced hip-hop to the world in the ’80s and then made everyone fall back in love with rock ‘n’ roll at the turn of the century. The songs on this list aren’t all simply odes to New York. Instead, they tell the tale about the many facets to the city’s personality — both the beautiful and the cruel — the very humanity that makes it hum.
‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ confirmed their greatness and helped make their third album, Rocket To Russia, the highest-performing of their career. The record helped see the New Yorkers become the figureheads of the punk movement; there was no place better in 1977 than inside the four walls of CBGB’s. The venue had become a hub for the next generation of talent through its famous doors; it was the birthplace of punk and all the grim-filled beauty that went with it. Founded by Hilly Kristal, the club stood for all that was expressive and authentic with the Ramones in the centre of everything.
This track helped confirm the Ramones’ status as certified gods. The late Joey Ramone later commented on what made the track a punk classic, noting: “‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ first came out as a single. I played it for (Sire Records President) Seymour Stein. He flipped out and said ‘We gotta record that song now.’ It was like back in the ’50s; you’d rush into the studio because you thought you had a hit, then put it right out. To me ‘Sheena’ was the first surf/punk rock/teenage rebellion song.
“I combined Sheena, Queen of the Jungle with the primalness of punk rock. Then Sheena is brought into the modern day: ‘But she just couldn’t stay/she had to break away/well New York City really has it all.’ It was funny because all the girls in New York seemed to change their name to Sheena after that. Everybody was a Sheena.”
When Yeah Yeah Yeahs were approached by War Child to perform a cover for their 2009 charity album, Heroes, they paid homage beautifully to the Ramones with this animated version of ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’, with Karen O channelling her inner Joey Ramone. Take a few minutes out of your day and let Yeah Yeah Yeahs take you on a journey to CBGB’s.