Four kids from Forest Hills, Queens who might not have set out to do anything but perhaps ditch the stigma of being from Queens ended up making musical history, pioneering the punk movement of the late ’70s.
Joey Ramone said that in using the name “Ramone” it “brought a sense of unity” to the band. The brothers Ramones, if you will.
Four kids who sometimes went to school, hung out and smoked weed often wondered what the hell was going to happen to them. They were not musicians, at first, but definitely music fans in a big way. Fitting into a work-a-day world was never going to happen. There had to be some way out of that kind of madness. There had to be an escape from the mundane existence that lie like a trap eager to ensnare any and all who made the all too common mistake of drifting near it.
The Ramones were something new. New things, new ideas, and especially new sounds in this case, are often dismissed by the status quo as useless or simply no good. The Ramones fought this battle for almost their entire career, which was as amazingly dramatic as their music. They survived as a working band for twenty-one years, released fourteen studio albums from 1976 through 1995 and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Eddie Vedder in 2002.
Some critics said they couldn’t play or sing, that they looked like something left in the alley. Of course, none of that mattered too much to them. They laughed at everyday musical conventions. If people wanted to call them a joke then they were in on the laugh. Once the band recognized the sounds they were making were the manifestations of the ideas in their collective head, they knew to keep going. They knew what they had to do.
Their first album, Ramones, literally exploded with all the stinging emotion, melody and furor that had been festering within them. When a force such as this is let loose people are going to take notice. From the first gigs at CBGB when there were only four or five folks in attendance to later ones when the house was packed, the Ramones did not disappoint.
Producer Rick Rubin said, “the Ramones really invented a whole new genre. I don’t know if music would sound the same if it were not for the Ramones.” Their first album not only broke new ground, it created new ground to be broken. The Ramones communicated their feelings with others. We feel more satisfied somehow when we are able to share our feelings.
A defining moment for the young band arrived on July 4th 1976 in London, England at the Roundhouse. The Flamin’ Groovies were the main act but everyone had come to see the Ramones. The show was sold out. It’s reported that during their sound check kids told Joey that the Ramones were responsible for them forming their own bands. Joe Strummer of The Clash and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols were there to meet the Ramones after the show. Neither of those bands had yet tasted success but were already huge fans of The Ramones.
Joe Strummer later said, “If that first Ramones record did not exist I don’t know that we could have built a scene here.”
Back in the states, the Ramones spread their influence by constant touring. Danny Fields, their first manager said, “ They were pied pipers out there. A town with no bands would have bands once the Ramones came back to play a second time.”
Ramones included fourteen songs and clocked in at just over twenty-nine minutes. It was recorded in seven days at a cost of about $6,400.00. They had their baby. Like The Beatles, the Ramones had impeccable timing. CBGB embraced them, Lisa Robinson, a well known rock journalist, saw them and was able to set in motion their audition with Sire records and Seymour Stein.
All the songs were short, fast and irresistible. Memorable. Even the titles. Who could forget, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” or “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement”? And the way in which they were able to attach a melody to lines like these was just…a total Ramones thing to do.
The album opened with the classic, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which should have been an immediate hit single and closed with “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World.”
Perhaps it’s best they didn’t know quite how prophetic that title was.
(RIP: Joey, 2001; Dee Dee, 2002; and Johnny, 2004. Tommy still survives.)
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