Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pulsating to the Back Beat: The Ramones' debut is 35

 Ramones - Ramones
The Ramones
Ratings: **** or **** 1/2 (a very high ****)

The origins of punk rock music are always in discussion: who started it all? Punk rock may've gotten a kick start in the late 1960's and early 1970's with bands like the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the MC5, and the New York Dolls. However today, critics alike think of those bands as "proto-punk". If there was one band who could be called the first flat out punk rock band, it would probably be the Ramones. On April 23, 1976, the band released their self-titled debut album. For many, the album is almost like a blueprint for punk rock music itself and how it should be done. 35 years after its release, the Ramones are probably more popular now than they were back in the day. 

The Ramones were formed in 1974 in New York. The band had come together little by little. Most of the members had been brought up in Forest Hills, not far from Queens. Guitarist John Cummings and drummer Thomas Erdelyi had met in school. They were in a high school garage band that only lasted for a year. The two later met bassist Douglas Colvin. It was Cummings and Colvin who formed the Ramones in 1974. However their drummer was a guy named Jeff Hyman. It was at that time Colvin decided to change his name to Dee Dee Ramone, the surname Ramone coming from what Paul McCartney called himself when the Beatles were on tour as the Silver Beetles (Paul Ramon). Dee Dee suggested to the other guys to change their names and also change their last names to Ramone. Jeff Hyman became Joey Ramone and John Cummings became Johnny Ramone. At that point, Dee Dee was also singing as well as playing the bass. This combination proved to be hard for Dee Dee. It was Erdelyi who encouraged Joey to be the lead singer, since Joey had a pretty good voice. Joey became the singer and Erdelyi joined the band, changing his name to Tommy Ramone. The band's first gig was on March 30, 1974 at Performance Studios. The band were also one of the many bands that played at CBGB's. Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records, signed the band around 1976.

The album starts off by kicking into "Blitzkrieg Bop", the band's most popular song. While the song might be seen as overrated and over used, there's no denying that this is indeed a great song. The lyrics pretty much describe fans of punk music and the calls of "Hey ho! Let's go!" are great. "Beat on the Brat" showcases the band's sense of humor. Not too many people know but the Ramones had a wacky sense of humor. A lyric like "Beat on the brat/Beat on the brat/Beat on the brat with a baseball bat" is dumb but at the same time genius. "Judy Is A Punk" is another classic. The "Oh yeah's" are very much like the Beatles or any Phil Spector-produced group. "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" is different from the previous three songs. The song, written by Tommy, sounds like something the Bay City Rollers would've done except this being done by a punk band. When performed live, the band sometimes got pelted with things by the audience. Early on, you can see that the Ramones had a thing for using songs that started with "I Don't Wanna". This album is no exception: "I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement" (an ode to horror films. Also the longest song off the album, clocking at two minute and forty seconds) and "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You". A song like "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" is a bit different: with so many "I Don't Wanna" songs, "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" is one of their more "positive" songs (Johnny said this himself back then)! My personal favorite off this album is Dee Dee's "53rd and 3rd". It's slower than the other songs off the album and it sounds different from the others. The song is semi-autobiographical: in New York, there was a 53rd and 3rd. It was an intersection people would go to and pick up male prostitutes. This song is about someone who is "trying to turn a trick" and ends up killing someone in the end. It's a bizarre subject for a song but still, isn't a great subject? The album's 14th and last song, "Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World", is an interesting song. First off, it's a great way to end the album. Also, the record execs weren't so comfortable with lyrics like "I'm a shocker trooper in a stupor/Yes I am/I'm a Nazi schatze/Y'know I fight for the fatherland". The Ramones' debut album is done after 14 songs. The album's length: under a half hour.

Chart wise, Ramones didn't do well in sales. However, the band had an underground following in New York and I think it's safe to say the people who bought a copy of the album back then later went out to form a punk rock band. The Ramones continued their career until their break-up in 1996. At the beginning of the 21st century Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny were dead (2001, 2002, and 2004 retrospectively). In 2002, the band were inducted in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, the band were awarded with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. This just comes to show that 35 years later, the Ramones' music is still relevant.  

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