Ramones (Deluxe Edition)

Ramones (Deluxe Edition)

Sure, there were plenty of antecedents to their music, including The Stooges, a Detroit band of hooligans whom the Ramones loved. But it was the four misfits from Queens, New York, who formalized the sound of punk rock, right down to song lengths and onstage attire. Even all these years later, punk exists in its original, unevolved form, played by thousands of bands worldwide, because there’s no simpler or more democratic way to express strong feelings—especially negative ones. The Sex Pistols are often credited as the fathers of punk, but their debut album came out a few weeks before the third Ramones album. Johnny Ramone played a $50 Mosrite guitar on this earth-shaking album, which was recorded for only $6,500—an amount Fleetwood Mac might have routinely spent on a catered lunch. The Ramones were minimalists who created an entire world out of just a few chords and one or two ideas. They played like they were in a hurry: a typical set in 1976 included 20 songs, which the band sped through in less than 40 minutes. They didn’t write songs about girls because, Johnny later said, they didn’t really have any. Instead, in the manner of Pop Art painters like Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton, they made art out of the commonplace events in their lives. The songs on Ramones are dark and antisocial, but usually with a knowing sense of humor. “Beat on the Brat” is about kids who behave badly, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” is about getting high, and “53rd & 3rd,” an autobiographical song by Dee Dee Ramone, the band’s most prolific songwriter, is about working as a male prostitute. “I’m tryin’ to turn a trick,” Joey Ramone sings in his charming British-by-way-of-Queens accent. One of the band’s most prominent influences was B movies; there’s even a Texas Chainsaw Massacre reference in “Chain Saw.” The debut album also shows off a little of the band’s romantic streak, via a cover of “Let’s Dance,” a 1962 hit for Chris Montez, and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” written by drummer and co-producer Tommy Ramone. It’s the album’s slowest song—calling it a ballad would be an exaggeration—and, while not quite Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it incorporates some different sounds via 12-string guitar, glockenspiel, and tubular bells. One thing that distinguishes the Ramones from the punk bands that followed them is their genuine love of (and occasional facility with) melody. They admired lots of 1960s groups, from the Beach Boys to the Shirelles, and they thought every song on their debut album was a potential hit single, even though they sounded nothing like the biggest rock bands of 1976—most notably Queen, the Eagles, and Boston. The Ramones thought they were about to become the most popular band in the world. They didn’t, but instead they became something better than that: one of the most influential bands in the world.

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