And Then There Were None
July 11th 2014 saw the untimely passing of Tommy Ramone at the age of 65 due to cancer. It is shocking to think that that now means there are no longer any surviving members of the original Ramones line-up that recorded their first three seminal albums, 1976’s Ramones, 1977’s Leave Home and 1977’s Rocket To Russia.
Joey Ramone was the first to pass away at the age of 49 in 2001 due to lymphoma. Dee Dee Ramone followed suit in 2002 following a heroin overdose, while Johnny Ramone succumbed to prostate cancer less than a month before his 56th birthday in 2004. It seems ridiculous and statistically very unlucky that three of their members would perish from cancer but in a weird way this type of bad luck symbolises the manner in which, for their entire career, the Ramones seemed beset on all sides by ill fate and poor health. They seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be cursed.
To begin with, their group dynamic was characterised by the unfortunately antagonistic relationship between singer Joey Ramone and guitarist Johnny Ramone. Joey was a liberal, Johnny a conservative. Johnny spent two years in military school and lived by a code of self-discipline while Joey struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder and alcoholism. In the early 80s, Johnny “stole” Joey’s girlfriend Linda (Joey wrote the lyrics to the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away” about this incident). As a result, the pair didn’t talk for many years afterwards despite playing together in the Ramones until 1996.
Dee Dee Ramone, the band’s original bassist, suffered from bipolar disorder, frequent lapses into drug addiction and embarked on an ill fated rap career in the late 80s. Tommy Ramone seemed to be the sole member of the band that was relatively sane and as a result felt that he had to leave the band after only four years in the band.
Despite all this chaos and their lack of commercial success, the band’s influence cannot be underestimated. Green Day played “Lobotomy” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” at the Ramones induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002, while their overall sound is clearly based on the Ramones’ combination of abrasion and melody. Metallica’s Kirk Hammett has been openly vocal about how the Ramones opened up the opportunity for bands to “just be yourself.” The band have covered “I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” in the past. Just listen to The Sex Pistols and The Clash and you can immediately hear the debt they owe the Ramones. Pearl Jam regularly cover “I Believe In Miracles” live and singer Eddie Vedder performed with them at their final gig in 1996.
The list is virtually endless: Nirvana, The White Stripes, Husker Du, The Replacements, The Strokes, The Kings Of Leon. None of these bands would exist without the enduring influence of the Ramones. They made it okay to be ugly, okay to play sloppily and were a million miles from the polished rock elite of the mid to late 70s. They encouraged others to think, “Hey. If those ugly, stupid New Yorkers can do it, so can I!”
In light of this, it seems only apt that, in honour of one of the single most influential bands of all time, Overblown runs through it’s favourite songs the band ever committed to tape. Enjoy the ensuing melodic cacophany.
10. Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?
Appearing on End of the Century, “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?” was a complete break, in terms of original compositions, from what had preceded it. It has piano, trumpet, saxophone, and even synthesizers! It’s the band’s love letter to the more innocent time of 50s and 60s rock n roll. It’s an ode to the time of their childhoods before they were beating up brats, sniffing glue and getting teenage lobotomies. That’s all something any listener can identify to. At some point, we all yearn to return to a simpler time although for most of us it’s a desire to a return to a time before deadlines, mortgages and dance recitals.
9. I Wanna Be Sedated
This one holds a special place for me. It was the very first Ramones song I heard. I hated it. At around 11 or 12, the grotesque sound of the song, which appeared on 1978’s Road To Ruin, from the oddly sung yet melodic vocals, to the four to the floor beat and the simple, hurried downstrokes on the abrasive guitar sounded completely alien to me. In retrospect, my 12-year-old self is a tool. The song was about the band’s first trip to London, which was around Christmas. At that time, everything closed down in London in Christmas and the boys were left with literally nothing to do. Equally, the song captured that feeling of aimlessness and boredom of youth/teenage years in a similar way to how Richard Linklater’s film Dazed and Confused did in 1993. In the end, it was the way that Joey sings “insane” in the pre-chorus that made me love the song. A typical example of his unique vocal delivery.
8. Baby, I Love You
Perhaps influenced by Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way”, the Ramones cover of “Baby, I Love You”, was released on 1980’s Phil Spector produced End of the Century, which was one of the Ramones many attempts at hitting the big time. Originally a hit for The Ronettes, the song is much loved in the Overblown (figurative) offices. Joey Ramone’s strangled vocals are completely at odds with the big atypical Phil Spector string arrangement. It shouldn’t work but it does. Joey’s vocals reveal a vulnerability missing completely from the Ronettes version. Plus, the tales of Spector holding the group at gunpoint in an effort to coax them into completing his vision for the album perfectly perpetuates the Ramones myth of self destructive fecklessness.
7. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
The Ramones covered a whole host of classic love songs such as “Baby, I Love You”, “Let’s Dance”, and “Do You Want To Dance?”, but the best of the love songs in their repertoire was this Tommy Ramone composition from their self titled debut album. Delicate, yearning and pretty yet also a little creepy, desperate and disheveled, the song perfectly captures the appeal of the Ramones. Underneath all the hardnut, streetwise, New York outside was a sensitive, heartfelt band that just wanted to be loved.
6. The KKK Took My Baby Away
Not only is this song, from 1980’s Pleasant Dreams record, catchy as nuts and mildly offensive, it also has an awesome back story. In fact, there are two and both are equally good. Anyway, it has been claimed that Joey wrote the lyrics in response to Johnny stealing his girlfriend, Linda. In which case the ultra conservative Johnny is symbolised by the “KKK” in the song. However, Joey’s brother, Mike, disagreed with this account of events. He claims that the song was written in response to a relationship that Joey had with a black woman. Her parents disapproved of their union. Apparently, when Mike asked Joey what happened to the girl, Joey simply responsed with, “the KKK took my baby away.” Who cares which one, if any, of the stories is true? What’s a band without some mythos?
5. Rockaway Beach
Named after an area on the Rockaway Peninsula in the New York City borough of Queens, it was written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone about his love for going to the beach! Appearing on the 1977 album Rocket to Russia, it was performed in the style of the Beach Boys and the early surf rock bands (with admittedly more distortion and reckless abandon), it again harkens back to a simpler time in the bands lives. The song is added extra poignancy due to the fact that Dee Dee struggled with drug addiction for the majority of his life, after beginning to take drugs as a teenager.
4. I Believe In Miracles
1989’s Brain Drain was pretty pants, but “I Believe In Miracles” was perhaps the best song the Ramones had committed to tape since Pleasant Dreams. The song is typical Ramones, but with an added 80s guitar solo. The strong point of the song is the focused and catchy melody and the subject matter of the song. After years of looking back and yearning for a more innocent past while lamenting the hard knocks of the present, this song looks to the forward and is hopeful. Joey sings, “Oh, I believe in miracles, I believe in a better place, for me and you”, as the band plows through the song around him. Not exactly the ferocious venom of Black Flag of Dead Kennedys is it?
3. Beat On The Brat
There’s a couple of origin stories for this track from their debut album. One goes that Joey was in a playground and saw a really rude, horrible, little spoiled child and just felt like smacking him around a bit. It has never been disclosed whether Joey did set about this brat’s head and face with a baseball bat, but I like to think he did. Dee Dee, however, maintained that Joey say some kid getting getting chased by his mother while she was sporting a baseball bat. I can’t imagine Dee Dee’s accounts of anything were the overly reliable though. At any rate, it rocks and it’s catchy. It’s Ramones.
2. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
Joey stated that with “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”, he was trying to meld surf rock, punk rock and the archetypal teenage rebellion song. It originally appeared on Rocket To Russia in 1977 and is famous for being one of the first songs to mention “punk rock” in a song despite the fact that the term had been thrown about the punk scene for a number of years by 1977. More or the less, the song celebrates the rebellion and exuberance of youth and Sheena’s identification as a punk rocker. Tellingly, according to Urban Dictionary girls named Sheena are “hypnotizing women that magnetically attract people”. If you haven’t known a couple of those in your time, you haven’t lived.
1. Blitzkrieg Bop
This Ramones classic, written mostly by drummer Tommy and bassist Dee Dee, emerged as the group’s debut single in April 1976 and opened their self titled debut album, released that same year. It famously opens with the chant, “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!”. This was apparently based on the Scottish boy band the Bay City Rollers’ song “Saturday Night” which including the chant “S-A! T-U-R! T-U-R! Day!”. Right from the get go, the dichotomy that is the Ramones output is evident. Concerns for melody and catchiness butt heads with sloppy playing and buzz-saw guitars with melodically cacophonous results.
Due to our selections for this list, I bet you think we’re all douche bags at Overblown. Well, that’s good! Let us know. What was wrong with the list? I encouragement aggressive discussion. Just remember, don’t be an asshole.