I read the news today oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh…
Tommy Ramone succumbs in his battle against bile duct cancer, and the first thing I think of is The Beatles?
I know, it seems kind of crazy, but to me, it all makes sense.
In a way, The Ramones, were my Beatles. No, I am not saying they were as talented, prolific, famous, charming, and damn sure not as good looking. Nope, but these ugly bastards were wonderful in their own right, and in their own way genre-defining, as well. I love and appreciate all that The Beatles did, but I LOVED The Ramones.
By the time I was aware of The Ramones, Tommy had already been replaced on drums, in what became one of those infamous Spinal Tap-like revolving door positions speckled throughout rock history.
Tommy wrote and played drums on the band’s first three albums, during that chaotic creative outburst that spanned 1976 and 1977. The debut offering, eponymously titled, was churned out in one week, cost less than ten grand and actually mimicked some recording techniques used by the Beatles. But this music was just a wee bit different.
From Johnny’s piercing opening guitar riff, Tommy’s violent drumming, and Joey’s first lyrics “Hey Ho, Let’s Go,” the first track, “Blitzkrieg Bop” grabbed you by the ears and demanded attention. It was a breakneck punk anthem-in-the-waiting and the sign of things to come on the album and in the future. It was splattered with raw, powerful, aggressive punk. But it wasn’t all high-powered punk, as the album also offered the tender “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” a yearning ballad penned by Tommy.
Their music was often violent, sometimes political, usually thought provoking, occasionally funny and constantly captivating. They poured out a dozen albums in their tumultuous two decades together, music often covered by diverse artists, and inspiration for countless punk bands in the years to come.
The band members, who were all unrelated, fought like brothers. I’ve read enough about the band to realize that in the end, they actually did hate each other and that antagonistic relationship permeated their time together. But, that friction led to good, edgy, passionate music.
Wiry thin frontman, Joey (think a thinner, uglier Howard Stern) was the face of the band. Decked in shredded jeans, an omnipresent leather jacket and dark shades, he was a loner and all around cranky dude. He was, well how do you say it… a dick when he performed. I saw him shove a few fans off of the stage and clock a few with the business end of a mic stand. But he had undeniable charisma. He got most of the attention, and I think that added to the band’s friction, as he did minimal writing, and had questionable musical talent, but I loved watching him on-stage. And, I was not alone.
I’m tough to please at live concerts, but I caught these ruffians a handful of times and always left the night with a huge smile plastered on my face. I sang along to all of their crazy lyrics; I hate to dance, but never stopped bouncing around at a Ramones show; and I stage dove exactly once in my 500 or so concerts – yup, at a Ramones show. Their sets were short, energetic and absolute mayhem; damn near rock ‘n roll perfection.
After Tommy left the band, frustrated by poor record sales, the others pounded out a dozen more albums and a slew of memorable hits. The record sales came later, as a direct result of their killer live performances. They took an unusual approach on their fifth album, End Of The Century, where they collaborated with legendary producer Phil Spector. The result? A big Motown influenced sound, with another handful of killer tracks. Again, they pushed the envelope, and opened up fertile new ground for punk performers.
Not all rock critics and fans loved the band and their music, but the great majority could not deny the critical role they played in rock history.
Just put me in a wheelchair get me to the show
Hurry hurry hurry before I go loco
I can’t control my fingers I can’t control my toes
Oh no no no no no
If you’re a fan of rock music and you don’t own any Ramones, grab the album linked below this post. If you’ve already got your Ramones library well-stocked, take a few minutes and get your fix. You’ll be guaranteed to start your week off in a better mood.
I’ll leave you with this little sound check from the song where I grabbed my moniker.
All good cretins have gone to heaven; long live The Ramones!