On April 23, 1976, Ramones released their self-titled debut album…and the world would never be the same.
In the history of rock music, there are a number of bands that are considered trailblazing pioneers that influenced entire genres. Ramones were as influential in their own right as legends like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Black Sabbath and others. While they are given their just due within the punk world (and by rock fans and musicians in the know), you rarely hear about them mentioned with other legendary artists in the mainstream. Of course, punk is the antithesis of the mainstream, so maybe it’s a fitting tribute in some strange way.
Although Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone and Tommy Ramone were not actually related, the band was a brotherhood just the same. Sadly, as of 2014, all of the original members of the band have passed away. The silver lining is that their music lives on in the massive influence that they have had on the entire punk genre. In many ways, all roads lead back to Ramones for most punk and grunge acts.
Ramones were the quintessential NYC rock band. They were as raw and gritty as the city itself was in the 1970s. The beauty of the band lies in their minimalism. Four chords, upbeat tempos, and a uniform look consisting of long hair, t-shirts, ripped jeans, sneakers and leather jackets. The world could use the Ramones of the ‘70s right now.
In an ironic twist, these anti-establishment rockers got their big break after being featured by the editor of Hit Parader (one of the premier rock magazines of all time). Lisa Robinson discovered the band at a gig in NYC. After writing about them, she took a proactive approach in helping the band by introducing them to their manager (Danny Fields). The chain reaction continued when Fields convinced Craig Leon to produce their debut album. Leon then persuaded Sire Records president Seymour Stein to listen to the band perform. He would go on to sign Ramones to the label.
The recording of the band’s self-titled debut album began (and ended) early in 1976. It only took the band a week and $6400 to record the album. The iconic album cover features a black and white photo of the members of the band leaning against a brick wall in NYC. In the true minimalist fashion of the band, the photo (which was shot by Punk magazine’s Roberta Bayley) only cost $125.
Although neither of the singles – “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” – charted, the album did peak on the Billboard 200 chart at #111, and was certified gold. Overall, the album wasn’t considered a commercial success, but its place in rock and roll history cannot be denied. Not only is the album critically acclaimed, but it is also cited as being an album that helped to spark the punk movement in both the US and the UK. In later years, their influence would carry over into the heavy metal and grunge genres.
The Ramones debut album features 14 songs, but the total length still comes in just shy of 30 minutes. The songs range in length from 1:30 (“Judy Is A Punk”) to 2:35 (“I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement”). Lyrically, the songs center around subjects like violence, drug use, male prostitution, relationship issues, humor, and Nazism. Most of the songs feature a high-adrenaline pacing of over 160 beats per minute.
One of the most well-known songs on the album – “Blitzkrieg Bop” – was originally about kids going to a show and having a good time. The theme became more Nazi-related after the lyrics were changed.
“Beat On The Brat” is about Joey seeing his mother going after a kid with a bat in his apartment building.
“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” is an homage to love songs by pop music acts of the ‘60s. The slowest song on the album features some decidedly non-punk elements (12-string guitar, glockenspiel, and tubular bells).
“Chainsaw,” the album’s fastest tempo track (over 180 beats per minute), was inspired by the 1974 horror cult classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
“53rd and 3rd” was written about a (self-hating, homophobic) male prostitute, who kills his johns with a razor to prove his heterosexuality. Dee Dee joked that the song is autobiographical.
“Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World” is one of the more controversial songs on the album. The song is about a member of Hitler Youth. Stein (a Jewish record executive) was offended by the original lyrics, but accepted the changed lyrics.
Although the Ramones’ debut album lyrically tackled a variety of subjects, what made it stand out most was the influential sound that created a ripple effect that began in the ‘70s and is still felt to this day…