The Ramones were four costumed heroes from Queens. They were deeply flawed much like the greatest comic book characters. Every member chose to use their gifts for the greater good. They battled against the establishment and showed resilience in the face of adversity. The story of the Ramones is exciting, tragic and at times amusing. In the year of the 40th anniversary of their debut album let’s take a look at the story of the Ramones and what made them such a special band.
In 1974 the New York music scene was reinvigorated by the appearance of a brand new sound. It was violently raw and completely unapologetic, it was Punk Rock. One of the greatest purveyors of this gritty sound were the Ramones. A group of four misfits from Forest Hills in Queens, NY who have managed to leave a serious mark in music history. July 29 will see the 40th anniversary re-release of the Ramones’ self titled debut album, a ground breaking piece of work that changed the face of music. The band built on foundations laid out by the likes of MC5, The Stooges and New York Dolls but it was this debut album that jump started the punk rock movement in April 1976.
“This music saved rock and roll” – Legs McNeil, Punk Magazine Co-Founder
The Ramones were a breath of fresh air in the 1970s, their aggressive, stop-start sets, that included their early hits were intertwined with aggressive arguments on stage. Despite the outward perception they were an organised machine and had a clear vision for who and what the band was. This was something new for the New York music scene and helped to grow their initial popularity. Often cited as a band under appreciated at their peak (in terms of album sales), their cult status grew in later years and considerably more after the group disbanded in 1996. The Ramones are now regarded among the greatest rock bands of all time.
The Ramones are a band that have remained iconic, possibly more on their influence on music imagery than anything else. The group all grew up as fans of comic books and movies and knew that they had to be both musically and visually innovative. The band adopted a uniformed look of long hair, leather jackets, T-shirts and torn jeans. Inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol, the band worked with art director, Arturo Vega who created nearly all the iconic images surrounding the band, including the now famous Ramones seal.
A lot their early success came from the sheer honesty in their lyrics, they sung about the world and life they knew. It was sometimes violent, bleak and depressing but always pumped with energy and emotion. The Ramones spoke to the disenfranchised youth of America and the rest of the world, they were the voice of a generation, even if no one knew it at the time. The best evidence of this was the amount of bands that began to spring up across America following their relentless touring of the country. From The Replacements to The Cramps to the Dead Kennedys. The Ramones effect was by no means limited to the US, they were key to the emergence of British bands such as, The Clash and the Sex Pistols, who both went on to be even bigger than the Ramones at the time.
The relationships and conflict between the members of the band are almost as iconic as the music and the black leather jackets. The founding members were Dee Dee who played bass guitar and was the band’s main song writer, Joey, on lead vocals, Johnny, the lead guitarist and Tommy, the drummer. Tommy was the first to the leave the band in the late 1970s as he disliked the tour schedule and preferred his role as producer for the band. Joey also actively disliked Tommy for nominating himself the band’s spokesman in the early years.
Marky Ramone was brought in as replacement drummer but was fired in 1983 when his severe alcoholism began affecting the group. Richie Ramone joined and lasted 4 years before he quit the band because Johnny refused to evenly share the revenue from merchandise sales. Marky, now clean and sober returned until the band’s eventual split in 1996.
Throughout his time in the band Dee Dee was a heavy drug user while also suffering from bipolar disorder, this caused numerous conflicts with every other member of the band. In 1989, Dee Dee quit and was replaced by C.J. Ramone who added a youthful energy to the group during their last few years of touring and studio albums.
Johnny and Joey were the only two members to remain in the band throughout their history. Johnny a tough, right-wing conservative and Joey a quieter, left-wing liberal clashed on nearly every issue. The hatred between the two was compounded when Johnny ‘stole’ Joey’s girlfriend, Linda in the early 1980s. As a result, they stopped talking to each other completely despite continuing to tour and record together for the years that followed. Notwithstanding their persistently strained relationship Johnny admitted in an interview after Joey’s death in 2001 that he couldn’t help but be emotionally affected by the loss. It was his deep love for the band and that despite never liking Joey, he was a part of the Ramones. The pair knew what they had, the Ramones were bigger than both of them and stuck with the band despite their irrefutable differences.
In 1996 after 2,262 live shows worldwide and 14 studio albums over 22 years, the Ramones retired, furthermore as of 2014, the four founding members had all died. The Ramones may not have sold millions of records, nor even appealed to mass audiences throughout their tenure but their influence and legacy is undeniable. Bands such as, Nirvana, U2, Motorhead, Pearl Jam, Metallica and Green Day have all cited the importance of the Ramones.
“This music not only stands the test of time, it totally obliterates everything before it and after it,” – Joe Strummer, The Clash
In the years since the Ramones disbanded they have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Long Island Music Hall of Fame and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Ramones: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition 3-CD/1-LP set is currently available for pre-order