The Ramones: Pretty in Punk

Are The Ramones really considered punk rock? I admit, I’m no expert on the band, but they are like Paul Revere and the Raiders in leather jackets and shaggy hair. The Sex Pistols, The Damned and the Dead Kennedys are punk rockers.

A search of punk rock bands almost always lists The Ramones at the top, and credit is given to them for originating or leading the genre.

My only previous experience with the family Ramone was in the 1979 film Rock and Roll High School and the 1980 Phil Spector-produced album End of the Century. Spector even had them cover the early 1960s hit, “Baby, I Love You.” Punk rockers?

In the beginning, these guys from Queens, New York, introduced something unique to the fast, furious, rockers playing the famed CBGB club. Wearing jeans and motorcycle jackets, they weren’t exactly glam, not exactly tough. Garage bands of the 1960s had this manic energy and directness, with three chords and basic lyrics, and a few verses and out. Instead of matching suits, they wore denim and leather, had longhair in their faces and shared a last name. They weren’t Ramones, but as Joey said, the shared surname gave them unity.

Here are some interesting tidbits I learned from End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2005). The Ramones found success in England before they did in America. When the Sex Pistols came to America, their reputation for strange and disgusting behavior followed them and scared radio programmers from playing any “punk” music including the Ramones, who were trying to get their first recorded songs played.

What’s also interesting is that the band members, and those who were close to the band, refer to each other by their Ramone first name. The Ramone persona seemed to with them continuously, even many years later. There were more than four Ramones, although the early incarnation included Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy. I’d list their real names, but why?

The Ramones didn’t have the success that other contemporary bands like Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and the Clash.

The Ramones got a great offer to appear in and provide some music for Rock and Roll High School, a film produced for an audience who liked the Ramones. This coincided with the End of the Century album, produced by Phil Spector. It admittedly was more pop-centered to increase album sales, which didn’t happen. Internal strife began boiling over between band members and with management. The managers were not re-resigned. The lineup began to change more frequently. A woman that Joey dated left him to date Johnny, who she eventually married. This was one more issue that kept Joey and Johnny at odds till the end of Joey’s life. They never reconciled.

The biggest thing to change in the 1980s was the constant shift of musical style from punk to pop to hard rock to punk metal. The Ramones didn’t have a consistent direction as leadership constantly bounced from Joey to Johnny. Dee Dee left in the early 1980s, he played bass and wrote many of the songs. Joey was more pop and Johnny was more punk, a tension that endured.

Their later albums seemed in search of a style. After the Phil Spector experiment, they were hooked up with for 10cc member Graham Gouldman, another odd choice that didn’t seem to gain them any ground. Future albums took a harder and darker turn, before coming full circle to their pop-punk roots. By then, the public had lost interest. As I listens to these latter stage Ramones albums, I didn’t find anything fun or original; very tough listening.

The band broke up in 1996, calling it quits, perhaps out of frustration at failing to break through like other bands. For nearly 25 years, they had a small, but loyal following, achieving critical greatness, but not the larger audience and recognition that came with leading a revolt against the rock establishment. It’s ironic, it was only their final years that I found the Ramones fitting the image of punk rockers.

Here is my top ten Ramones songs.

“I Want You Around”

“The KKK Took My Baby Away”

“Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?”

“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”

“Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”

“Blitzkrieg Bop”

“Judy is a Punk”

“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”

“I Wanna Be Sedated”

“She’s the One”

One thought on “The Ramones: Pretty in Punk

  1. I think The Ramones are fun. Their brand of punk rock is very accessible. It’s got a good dose of pop and ’60s vibe. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” sounds like surf rock era Beach Boys on steroids. Like those early Beach Boys songs, there isn’t much variety in Ramones tunes. I still like them. That said, I’ve never explored their albums in greater detail.

    Liked by 1 person

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