Review Summary: While not altogether perfect, and with a half-point added on for historical significance, the Ramones’ 1976 offering continues to rank as one of the all-time greats in its genre, a full forty-five years after its release.
A buzzsaw guitar riff bursts through the speakers, backed by simple, yet impacting drum shuffle. After a few seconds, the guitar goes quiet, leaving the percussion to carry the song just as the vocals come in, with a rallying cry of ’Hey, ho, let’s go!'
A few more seconds, and the bass comes back in, buzzing along behind the singer, before the guitar finally re-joins the fray, bringing the madness full circle and launching a brand new round of raw sonic aggression.
Thus begins what are widely considered to be both the first ‘proper’ punk song and the first ‘proper’ punk álbum in musical history. And while this assessment is not strictly
true (the Stooges, for one, had been championing this sort of musical aesthetic for the best part of a decade by the time the aforementioned single hit the airwaves) it cannot be denied that, forty-five years on from its original release, the impact of that song, that album, and the band who created them in the history of rock’n’roll still cannot be overstated.
The perpetrators of such a sonic assault were four young men from the Queens neighbourhood of Forest Hills (famously the canonical childhood home of one Peter Parker, Spider-Man) who, in true punk rock fashion, were determined not to let small details like good musicianship get in the way of their dreams. First coming together as a band in 1974, with each of the musicians taking over a different role than the one they would become famous for, within a few months the four self-styled ’bruddas’
had re-shuffled their lineup, eschewed their real names in favour of the more Latin-sounding, Paul McCartney-inspired ‘Ramone’ moniker, and set about on the road to fame and fortune, one two-minute blast of raw rock’n’roll noise at a time.
While their ‘hobo boy-band’ look – all bad haircuts, scuffed leathers and ripped denims – and energetic performances soon garnered them attention around the historically punk-friendly New York scene, however, Jeffrey Hyman, John Cummings, Douglas Colvin and Tamás Elderlyi would have been hard-pressed to predict that a single, thirty-minute, fifteen-song album would be enough for their group to go down in the annals of rock’n’roll history. That is, however, exactly what transpired, as Ramones
, the album, though far from immediately successful, would eventually come to be regarded as one of the greatest punk rock albums of all time, and cement its eponymous group of musicians.as bona-fide legends within the genre.
And yet, for all its (undeniably deserved) accolades, the Ramones’ self-titled debut is not quite the best punk rock album of all time; in fact, it is not even the best album in the band’s own canon.
Make no mistake, however – Ramones
is an undeniably excellent punk rock album. Had the band not released anything ever again, they would likely have enjoyed the same cult status they acquired with the punk and rock crowd (if not more), and been mentioned alongside such other one-and-done luminaries as Minor Threat and Operation Ivy. The sound the four bruddas
present on this half-hour of music broke new ground within the punk rock genre, mixing the template set by the Stooges and fellow New Yorkers the New York Dolls with the members’ own 1960s power-pop and doo-wop influences, then infusing the result with unprecedented levels of speed, energy, and reckless, aggressive abandon, to create a sound uniquely their own. Even four and a half decades – and several hundred copycats - removed from its inception, this album remains one of the best examples of the true ‘Ramones sound’, and one of the best entries into not only the band’s discography, but the early punk-rock genre as a whole – which is a credit to the band in and of itself.
No, it is not the album’s sound or music that is the problem – rather, the issue lies with the fact that the Ramones themselves would go on to improve on this formula over their next two offerings, eventually perfecting it on magnum opus Rocket to Russia
and its devastating live companion, It’s Alive!
The sheer compositional and performative prowess presented in these two albums would retrospectively strip Ramones
of some of its impact, though none of its transformative power.
Even still, taken as its own entity, the bruddas’
debut is nothing short of fantastic. The best among these fifteen songs – and there are several – deservedly remain stone-cold classics of the punk rock genre, with opener Blitzkrieg Bop
even crossing the chasm into mainstream popularity. The problem, then, lies with the handful of not quite as classic tracks which help beef up the album, none of which can be considered bad
, but none of which do anything to stand out from the pack, either. Cuts like I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement, Loudmouth
or I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You
pale in comparison with the best moments on this album, and the group’s emphasis on cohesive songwriting occasionally causes the album to become a homogenous mass of sharp riffs and fast drumming, rather than a collection of individual songs.
As mentioned, however, when this album is at its best, it ranks among the very elite of the classic punk and power-pop genre. Tracks like the aforementioned Blitzkrieg Bop
, second single Judy Is a Punk, Chain Saw
or Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
see Johnny Ramone grind his strings to dust, Tommy Ramone absolutely batter his skins and Dee Dee Ramone whack away at his low-end strings with manic glee, while Joey Ramone narrates his horror-movie and boy-meets-girl tales over top, in his characteristic hoarse sneer. Elsewhere, Beat on the Brat, 53rd and 3rd
and the final third of closer Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World
show the group are equally as adept at writing stompers, Let’s Dance
becomes the first of many winsome covers of hits from decades past, and the Tommy-penned I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
belies the commonly perceived truism that Joey is the hopeless romantic of the group, all while asserting itself as the best representative of the ‘Ramones ballad’ in the group’s canon. Tommy and Craig Leon’s (at the time) innovative production style – with the guitar in one channel of the stereo mix, the bass on the other, and the vocals and drums smack in the middle – also helps create a distinct ‘wall-of-sound’ effect which adds to the overall rawness and aggression of the album, while at the same time allowing each instrument its own room to breathe. The overall effect is as cohesive as it is pleasing, making for an incredibly well-balanced, if not always stellar, listening experience.
In the end, then, the good in Ramones
, the album, far outweighs the bad, fully justifying the fame and success it (eventually) brought its eponymous act. While the band’s next two albums would see them evolve both as composers and as musicians (Tommy’s idea of emphasis on this album mainly amounts to harder
hits on his kick drum or toms), said evolution would not have been possible without the debut, as it was these thirty minutes of music that set the blueprint for the remainder of the group’s career. The reputation the bruddas’
eponymous debut continues to enjoy to this day is, therefore, more than the result of a simple grandfathering effect; while not altogether perfect, and with a half-point added on for historical significance, the Ramones’ 1976 offering continues to rank as one of the all-time greats in its genre forty-five years after its release, and remains essential listening for anyone interested in punk rock, power-pop, or even just well-crafted noisy rock’n’roll.
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
53rd and 3rd
(The 2001 remaster of this album adds about 15 minutes’ worth of rare tracks to the album’s original lineup, including demo versions of songs culled from the group’s first three albums, a ‘single edit’ for Blitzkrieg Bop
and two previously unreleased originals, I Can’t Be
and I Don’t Wanna Be Learned, I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed
. Sadly, none of these particularly adds to the overall experience of the album. Of the new tracks, I Can’t Be
is fun, but throwaway, while Learned, Tamed
is a barely minute-long draft of an idea for a song; Blitzkrieg
’s ‘single edit’ simply adds more production bells and whistles to the song, which remains otherwise unaltered, and the demo tracks are just that – rawer versions of songs which would be mastered and included in albums at a later date. Among these, the most interesting are probably You Should Never Have Opened That Door
and I Don’t Care
, which serve as previews of sorts for the band’s next two records; sadly, I Don’t Care
also remains the absolute nadir of early Ramones songwriting, so the remaster would have arguably been just as well-off without it. Overall, a worthy, but not essential upgrade to an album which did not really need it.)