From CBGB to the Hall of Fame | RAMONES Are Still a Sensation
May 19, 2020 by Harriet Kaplan
Life is funny, we measure it by our successes, our ups, our downs and the people we love. Somewhere between all that is the music that helped us get through each day. It’s the eras from our musical story that defines us best. The 50’s are best known for Johnny Cash and Elvis. The 60’s the Beatles, the 70’s…Led Zeppelin and Donna Summer. You don’t have to be a music expert to know that there were a few other bands that caused a shift in the music world. The 70’s also gave us the Clash and Bowie, and one other band that’s part of who we are. The band is the RAMONES; this is their story.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter who you are… where you live, or when you went to high school. The RAMONES are the quintessential band of a lifetime. Ask anyone in a band, or someone over 35 and they’ll tell you all about how they lived through their favorite RAMONES songs.
L-R Johnny, Tommy (drums) and Joey Ramone
The band formed in Queens, New York… Forest Hills to be exact. They played countless shows in their garage back in the day. Once upon a time they were known as the Tangerine Puppets. Like any teenage band, they had lofty goals. They wanted to be the biggest band in the world on par with The Beatles.
The thing about this band was despite their teenage rebel-like appearance, they were very smart marketers. The band consisted of Thomas Elderly, John Cummings, Jeffrey Hyman and Douglas Colvin. As the music fates would have it, Doug was a huge Beatles fan. He was inspired by Paul McCartney’s use of the pseudonym Paul Ramone during his Silver Beatles days. Doug convinced the others to change the band name and their own. They were now RAMONES featuring Tommy, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. Needless to say… legends were born.
The band started to take shape in 1974. They started playing clubs throughout NYC, even CBGB’s. Sadly, the band didn’t experience the commercial success they aimed for in those early days. Things were about to change for the world of music. On April 23, 1976 the RAMONES released their freshman eponymous album.
Their seminal album did very well in the local scene with hits like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat,” “Judy is a Punk” and “I Wanna be Your Boyfriend.” Despite the buzz, the band just didn’t get the recognition they deserved or hoped for at the time.
Luckily, they didn’t give up, and as a result their enduring influence and legacy can’t be underestimated or overstated.
Original Lineup 1976: L-R Johnny, Tommy (drums), Joey & Dee Dee
The band persevered and as a result, they pioneered punk rock and left an indelible mark on popular music and culture.
One other thing to keep in mind, like the Stones, Zeppelin and Sex Pistols, the RAMONES logo has become an iconic symbol of rock and roll.
Like anything else in life, it’s hard to be around anyone that long and not have disagreements. In time, the band had its share of inter-family issues that saw members leave. As with most bands, they had to replace the exiting bandmate. In this story they were replaced one by one by Marky, Elvis and C. J. All of them took the last name of Ramone. Sometimes partings came be amicable, and sometimes not so much. For the RAMONES, they had a little bit of everything.
So what’s the skinny with their musical style? They are renowned for their back to basics, minimalist approach that transformed rock music in terms of sonics and as an ideology. Their more-is-less ethos destroyed the template of the time that you had to be larger than life to make it in rock and roll.
Unlike bands such as Toto, Kansas and Boston, The Ramones basically lowered the bar of entry into the prevalent bombastic, self-important musical landscape. Their sonic vision was truly street music stripped way back of the pretense, bombast and bloat.
Unlike the rock supergroups of the 70’s, these guys weren’t removed from their fans as they were real and ordinary people just like them but also true and original individuals with their unique personalities as authentic juvenile delinquents. They had their own regular street uniform, brand and persona that was real rock and roll. It was simple, it consisted of jet black hair, t-shirts, jeans and black leather jackets.
Their iconic songs pared their playing and lyrics down to greatest simplicity, so they could find basic truths within a three-chord blueprint/formula. The trademarks of their style included very limited guitar solos and songs that were short and to the point featuring a number of what are now considered classic punk standards.
While the band remained true to themselves, they also had a playful side and it’s said they grew tired of the punk label with the associated violence, spitting and vomiting present onstage in the UK, they played it up being gross instead. In 1977, they released Rocket To Russia, and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” became an anthem for the youth of the day as well as the disenfranchised.
Throughout their career (1974 to 1996), they did what every band strives for, to put out their music. In the end, they released 14 studio albums, seven live albums, 16 compilation albums, 71 singles, 32 music videos and 10 films for generations of new bands to carry the torch.
Newer bands picked up the torch lit by RAMONES-Mania bringing it forward into the mainstream with much success. Bands that have been influenced by their music include including Green Day, Nirvana, Arcade Fire, Metallica, The Clash, The Hives, Beastie Boys, The Strokes, The Offspring and Rancid just to name a few.
In fact, the Berkeley, CA-based punk rock band helped celebrate The Ramones’ farewell as part of the 1996 Lollapalooza tour.
By 1981 the band was finally getting the recognition they deserved. Songs like “She’s a Sensation” became an instant fan favorite. Other hits that made them the juggernaut we know today include “Do You Wanna Dance,” “We Want The Airwaves,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” “Little Bit O’ Soul,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio,” “Rockaway Beach,” “California Sun,””Swallow My Pride,” and their cover of “Spiderman.”
This album remains one of the favorites in the RAMONES fandom world. The Double album features their biggest hits and is certified gold with album sales worldwide.
You known you’ve made it when you’re immortalized on
As time went on, their music became not only commercially successful, it was the trademark of cool movies and TV shows. Recent TV use of their music include features seen on Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Gilmore Girls, Young Sheldon, The X Files, My Name is Earl, Shameless and of course, the Simpsons. Feature film projects include Airheads, 200 Cigarettes, Billy Madison, School of Rock, Car 54 and Pet Sematary.
They say that imitation is sincerest form of flattery. Over the years, RAMONES music has been covered by so many bands it’s hard to list them all. In 2019, an adaptation of the Stephen King film Pet Sematary was released. The notable soundtrack was very well received. The title track was performed by L.A.-based ALT Rock band, Starcrawler. The cover has been accepted by the RAMONES fandom police.
Other bands that cover their music, style or sonic vision include US bands like Gabba Gabba Hey, The Huntingtons, K-Man and the 45’s, New Found Glory, The Mr. T. Experience and The Maxies. From Germany there’s Die Toten Hosen and from Japan there’s the All-Girl band, Shonen Knife (Aka The Osaka Ramones).
So what impact has this band had on us? They are part of our history, they are part of our entertainment culture, but mostly… they are part of the soundtrack of our life. The guys have come a long way from the garage band practices to the streets of NYC to CBGB’s; now they can be considered one of the greatest bands of all time. On March 18, 2002 they received the greatest honor of all. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Other band accolades include them being listed as “50 of the Greatest Artists of All Time” by Rolling Stone Magazine. They’re also listed as VH-1’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” AND on February 12, 2011 they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 53rd Grammy Awards.
In the end, they did what they set out to do. It was a long and perilous journey. They faced the abyss and it did not stare them down. They now reign among the Titans of the music world. No matter what happens, for many of us, they’ll forever be that band we love and remember from Rock ‘N’ Roll High School!
As a postscript to their story, there’s an annual event celebrating the life of Joey Ramone. It’s become a pilgrimage for many RAMONES fans. The event is put on by Linda Ramone and held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.