The Ramones are the first punk rock band. Other bands, such as the Stooges and the New York Dolls, came before them and set the stage and aesthetic for punk, but the Ramones crystallized the musical ideals of the genre.
The Ramones were an American rock band that formed in Forest Hills, Queens, New York in 1974 and are often cited as the first punk rock group. Despite achieving only limited commercial success, the band was a major influence on the punk rock movement both in the United States and the United Kingdom.
All of the band members adopted pseudonyms ending with the surname "Ramone", though none of them were actually related. They performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after a tour with the Lollapalooza music festival, the band played a farewell show and disbanded. By a little more than eight years after the breakup, the band's three founding members—lead singer Joey Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, and bassist Dee Dee Ramone—had all died.
Their only record with enough U.S. sales to be certified gold was the compilation album Ramones Mania. Recognition of the band's importance built over the years, and they are now cited in many assessments of all-time great rock music, such as the Rolling Stone lists of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time and VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. In 2002, the Ramones were ranked the second-greatest band of all time by Spin magazine, trailing only The Beatles. On March 18, 2002, the Ramones—including the three founders and drummers Marky and Tommy Ramone—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Early days: 1974–1975
The original members of the band met in and around the middle-class neighborhood of Forest Hills in the New York City borough of Queens. John Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi had both been in a high-school garage band in 1966–67 known as the Tangerine Puppets. They became friends with Douglas Colvin, who had recently moved to the area from Germany. Jeffrey Hyman was the first lead singer of the glam rock band Sniper, founded in 1972.
The Ramones began taking shape in early 1974, when Cummings and Colvin invited Hyman to join them in a band. The initial lineup featured Colvin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Cummings on lead guitar, and Hyman on drums. Colvin, who soon switched from rhythm guitar to bass, was the first to adopt the name "Ramone", dubbing himself Dee Dee Ramone. He was inspired by Paul McCartney's use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon during his Silver Beatles days. Dee Dee convinced the other members to take on the name and came up with the idea of calling the band the Ramones. Hyman and Cummings became Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone, respectively. A friend of the band, Monte A. Melnick (later their tour manager), helped to arrange rehearsal time for them at Manhattan's Performance Studios, where he worked. Johnny's former bandmate Erdelyi was set to become their manager. Soon after the band was formed, Dee Dee realized that he could not sing and play bass at the same time; with Erdelyi's encouragement, Joey became the band's new lead vocalist. Dee Dee would continue, however, to count off each song's tempo with his signature rapid-fire shout of "1-2-3-4!" Joey soon similarly realized that he could not sing and play drums simultaneously and left the position of drummer. While auditioning prospective replacements, Erdelyi would often take to the drums and demonstrate how to play the songs. It became apparent that he was able to perform the group's music better than anyone else, and he joined the band as Tommy Ramone.
April 1976 issue of Punk, featuring the RamonesThe Ramones played before an audience for the first time on March 30, 1974, at Performance Studios. The songs they played were very fast and very short; most clocked in at under two minutes. Around this time, a new music scene was emerging in New York centered around two clubs in downtown Manhattan—Max's Kansas City and, more famously, CBGB (usually referred to as CBGB's). The Ramones made their CBGB debut on August 16. Legs McNeil, who co-founded Punk magazine the following year, later described the impact of that performance: "They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song...and it was just this wall of noise.... They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new."
The band swiftly became regulars at the club, playing there seventy-four times by the end of the year. After garnering considerable attention for their performances—which averaged about seventeen minutes from beginning to end—the group was signed to a recording contract in the later part of 1975 by Seymour Stein of Sire Records. Stein's wife, Linda Stein, had seen the band play at CBGB's; she would later co-manage them along with Danny Fields. By this time, the Ramones were recognized as leaders of the new scene that was increasingly being referred to as 'punk'. The group's unusual frontman had a lot to do with their impact. As Dee Dee explained, "All the other singers [in New York] were copying David Johansen [of The New York Dolls], who was copying Mick Jagger.... But Joey was unique, totally unique." Spearheading punk: 1976–1977
MinnesotaThe Ramones recorded their debut album, Ramones, in February 1976. Of the fourteen songs on the album, the longest, "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement", barely surpassed two-and-a-half minutes. While the songwriting credits were shared by the entire band, Dee Dee was the primary writer. The record, coproduced by Tommy and Craig Leon on an extremely low budget of about $6,400, was released in April. The now iconic front cover photograph of the band was taken by Roberta Bayley, who shot regularly for Punk magazine. Ramones made little commercial impact, reaching only number 111 on the Billboard album chart. The two associated singles, "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", failed to chart at all. At the band's first major gig outside of New York, a June date in Youngstown, Ohio, approximately ten people showed up. It wasn't until they made a brief tour of England that they began to see the fruits of their labor; a performance at The Roundhouse in London on July 4, 1976 (second-billed to the Flamin' Groovies), organized by Linda Stein, was a resounding success. Their Roundhouse appearance and a club date the following night—where the band met members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash—helped galvanize the burgeoning UK punk rock scene. The Flamin' Groovies/Ramones double bill was successfully reprised at The Roxy in Los Angeles the following month, fueling the punk scene there as well. The Ramones were becoming an increasingly popular live act—a Toronto performance in September energized yet another growing punk scene. Their next two albums, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, were released in 1977. Both were coproduced by Tommy and Tony Bongiovi, the second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi. Leave Home met with even less chart success than Ramones, though it did include "Pinhead", which became one of the band's signature songs with its chanted refrain of "Gabba gabba hey!" Rocket to Russia was the band's highest charting album to date, reaching number 49 on the Billboard 200. In Rolling Stone, critic Dave Marsh called it "the best American rock & roll of the year". The album also featured the first Ramones single to break into the Billboard charts (albeit only as high as number 81): "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker". The follow-up single, "Rockaway Beach", climbed to number 66—the highest any Ramones single would ever reach in America. On December 31, 1977, the Ramones recorded It's Alive, a live concert double album, at the Rainbow Theatre, London, which was released in April 1979 (the title is a reference to the 1974 horror film It's Alive). Recordings turn more pop: 1978–1983 Tommy, tired of touring, left the band in early 1978. He continued as the Ramones' record producer under his birth name of Erdelyi. His position as drummer was filled by Marc Bell, who had been a member of the early 1970s hard rock band Dust, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, and the pioneering punk group Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Bell became Marky Ramone. Later that year, the band released their fourth album, and first with Marky, Road to Ruin. The album, coproduced by Tommy with Ed Stasium, included some new sounds like acoustic guitar, several ballads, and the band's first two recorded songs longer than three minutes. It failed to crack the Billboard Top 100. However, "I Wanna Be Sedated", which appeared both on the album and as a single, would become one of the band's best-known songs. The artwork on the album's cover was done by Punk magazine co-founder John Holmstrom. After the band's movie debut in Roger Corman's Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), renowned producer Phil Spector became interested in the Ramones and produced their 1980 album End of the Century. During the recording sessions in Los Angeles, Spector pulled a gun on Dee Dee, forcing him to repeatedly play a riff. Though it was to be the highest-charting album in the band's history—number 44 in the United States, number 14 in Great Britain—Johnny made clear that he favored the band's more aggressive punk material: "End of the Century was just watered-down Ramones. It's not the real Ramones." This stance was also conveyed by the title and track selection of the compilation album Johnny later oversaw, Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits. Despite these reservations, Johnny did concede that some of Spector's work with the band had merit, saying "It really worked when he got to a slower song like 'Danny Says'—the production really worked tremendously. 'Rock 'N' Roll Radio' is really good. For the harder stuff, it didn't work as well." The syrupy, string-laden Ronettes cover "Baby, I Love You" released as a single, became the band's biggest ever hit in Great Britain, reaching number 8 on the charts. Pleasant Dreams, the band's sixth album, was released in 1981. The record continued the trend established by End of the Century, diluting the rawer punk sound showcased on the band's initial three albums. Slick production was again featured, this time provided by Graham Gouldman of UK pop act 10cc. Johnny would contend in retrospect that this direction was a record company decision, a continued futile attempt to get airplay on American radio. While Pleasant Dreams reached number 58 on the U.S. chart, its two singles failed to register at all. Subterranean Jungle, produced by Ritchie Cordell and Glen Kolotkin, was released in 1983. Billy Rogers, who had performed with Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, played drums on the album's second single, a cover of The Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today". Subterranean Jungle peaked at number 83 in the United States—it would be the last album by the band to crack the Billboard Top 100. Shuffling members: 1983–1989 After the release of Subterranean Jungle, Marky Ramone was fired from the band because of his alcoholism. He was replaced by Richard Reinhardt, who adopted the name Richie Ramone. The first album the Ramones recorded with Richie was Too Tough to Die in 1984, with Tommy Erdelyi returning as producer. The band's main release of 1985 was the British single "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"; though it was available in the United States only as an import, it was played widely on American college radio. The song was written by Joey in protest of Ronald Reagan's visit to a German military cemetery where SS members were buried. Retitled "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)", the song appeared on the band's 1986 album, Animal Boy. Produced by Jean Beauvoir, formerly a member of the Plasmatics, the LP was characterized by a Rolling Stone reviewer as "nonstop primal fuzz pop". Making it his pick for "album of the week", New York Times critic Jon Pareles wrote that the Ramones "speak up for outcasts and disturbed individuals". The following year, the band recorded their last album with Richie, Halfway to Sanity. The record was produced by Daniel Rey, formerly a guitarist with the late-1970s punk band Shrapnel. Richie left in August 1987, upset that after being in the band for four years, the other members would still not give him a share of the money they made selling T-shirts. Richie was replaced by Clem Burke from Blondie, which was disbanded at the time. According to Johnny, the performances with Burke—who took on the name Elvis Ramone—were a disaster. He was fired after two shows because his drumming could not keep up with the rest of the band. Marky, now clean and sober, returned. Dee Dee left after 1989's Brain Drain, coproduced by Beauvoir, Rey, and Bill Laswell. He was replaced by Christopher Joseph Ward (C.J. Ramone), who performed with the band until their break-up. Dee Dee initially pursued a brief career as a rapper, adopting the name Dee Dee King. He quickly returned to punk rock and formed several bands, in much the same vein as the Ramones, for whom he also continued to write songs. Final years: 1990–1996
After more than a decade and a half at Sire Records, the Ramones moved to a new label, Radioactive Records. The band's first album for Radioactive, released in 1992, was Mondo Bizarro, which reunited them with producer Ed Stasium. Acid Eaters, consisting entirely of cover songs, came out the following year. In 1993 as well, the Ramones were featured on an episode of The Simpsons titled "Rosebud", providing the music and voices for their animated versions. In 1995, the Ramones came out with ¡Adios Amigos! and announced that they planned to break up if the album was not a hit. Its sales were unremarkable, garnering it just two weeks on the lower end of the Billboard chart. The band spent the latter part of 1995 on what was promoted as a farewell tour. However, they accepted an offer to appear in the sixth Lollapalooza festival, which toured around the United States during the following summer. After the Lollapalooza tour's conclusion, the Ramones played their final show on August 6, 1996, at the Palace in Hollywood. A recording of the concert was later released on video and CD as We're Outta Here! In addition to a reappearance by Dee Dee, the show featured several guests including Motörhead's Lemmy, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, and Rancid's Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen. Aftermath and deaths Marky Ramone at the 2009 premiere of Burning Down the House, a documentary about CBGB directed by Mandy Stein, Linda Stein's daughter.On July 20, 1999, Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey, Tommy, Marky, and C.J. appeared together at the Virgin Megastore in New York City for an autograph signing. This was the last occasion on which the original four members of the group appeared together. Joey, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 1995, died of the illness on April 15, 2001, in New York. In 2002, the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which specifically named Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey, Tommy, and Marky. At the ceremony, the surviving inductees spoke on behalf of the band. Tommy spoke first, saying how honored the band felt, but how much it would have meant for Joey. Johnny thanked the band's fans and blessed George W. Bush and his presidency, Dee Dee humorously congratulated and thanked himself, while Marky thanked Tommy for influencing his drum style. Green Day played "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" as a tribute, demonstrating the Ramones' continuing influence on later rock musicians. The ceremony was one of Dee Dee's last public appearances; on June 5, 2002, two months later, he was found at his Hollywood home, dead from a heroin overdose.
On November 30, 2003, New York City unveiled a sign designating East 2nd Street at the corner of Bowery as Joey Ramone Place. The singer lived on East 2nd for a time, and the sign is near the former Bowery site of CBGB. End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, a Ramones documentary, came out in 2004. Johnny, who had been privately battling prostate cancer, died on September 15, 2004, in Los Angeles, shortly after the film's release. On the same day as Johnny's death, the world's first Ramones Museum opened its doors to the public. Located in Berlin, Germany, the museum features more than 300 items of memorabilia, including a pair of stage-worn jeans from Johnny, a stage-worn glove from Joey, Marky's sneakers, and C.J.'s stage-worn bass strap.
The Ramones were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007. That October saw the release of a DVD set containing concert footage of the band: It's Alive 1974-1996 includes 118 songs from 33 performances over the span of the group's career.
Conflicts between members
Tensions between Joey and Johnny colored much of the Ramones' career. The pair were politically antagonistic, Joey being a liberal and Johnny a conservative. Their personalities also clashed: Johnny was a military brat who lived by a code of self-discipline, while Joey struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Johnny, who was fascinated by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, would sometimes torment Joey with anti-Semitic remarks. In the early 1980s, Johnny "stole" Joey's girlfriend Linda, whom he later married. As a consequence, despite performing together for years afterward, Joey and Johnny stopped speaking to each other. Johnny did not call Joey before the latter's death in 2001, but said in the documentary End of the Century that he was depressed for "the whole week" after the singer died.
Aside from this central conflict, Dee Dee's bipolar disorder and repeated relapses into drug addiction also caused significant strains. Tommy left the band partly in reaction to being "physically threatened by Johnny, treated with contempt by Dee Dee, and all but ignored by Joey". As new members joined, payment methods and image representation became matters of serious dispute. In 1997, Marky and Joey got into a fight about their respective drinking habits on the Howard Stern radio show.
The Ramones' loud, fast, straightforward musical style was influenced by pop music that the band members grew up listening to in the 1950s and 1960s, including classic rock groups such as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones; bubblegum acts like the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Ohio Express; and girl groups such as The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las. They also drew on the harder rock sound of The Stooges and the New York Dolls, both now known as seminal protopunk bands. The Ramones' style was in part a reaction against the heavily produced, often bombastic music that dominated the pop charts in the 1970s. "We decided to start our own group because we were bored with everything we heard," Joey once explained. "In 1974 everything was tenth-generation Led Zeppelin, tenth-generation Elton John, or overproduced, or just junk. Everything was long jams, long guitar solos.... We missed music like it used to be." Ira Robbins and Scott Isler of Trouser Press describe the result:
With just four chords and one manic tempo, New York's Ramones blasted open the clogged arteries of mid-'70s rock, reanimating the music. Their genius was to recapture the short/simple aesthetic from which pop had strayed, adding a caustic sense of trash-culture humor and minimalist rhythm guitar sound.
As leaders in the punk rock scene, the Ramones' music has usually been identified with that label, while some have defined their characteristic style more specifically as pop punk and others as power pop. In the 1980s, the band sometimes veered into hardcore punk territory, as can be heard on Too Tough to Die.
On stage, the band adopted a focused approach directly intended to increase the audience's concert experience. Johnny's instructions to C.J. when preparing for his first live performances with the group were to play facing the audience, to stand with the bass slung low between spread legs, and to walk forward to the front of stage at the same time as he did. Johnny was not a fan of guitarists who performed facing their drummer, amplifier, or other band members.
The Ramones' art and visual imagery complemented the themes of their music and performance. The band members adopted a uniform look of long hair, leather jackets, t-shirts, torn jeans, and sneakers. This fashion emphasized minimalism, which was a powerful influence on the New York punk scene of the 1970s and reflected the band's short, simple songs. Tommy Ramone recalled that, both musically and visually, "we were influenced by comic books, movies, the Andy Warhol scene, and avant-garde films. I was a big Mad Magazine fan myself."
The band's logo, based on the Seal of the President of the United StatesThe band's logo was created by New York City artist Arturo Vega, a longtime friend who had allowed Joey and Dee Dee to move into his loft. Vega produced the band's t-shirts, their main source of income, basing most of the images on a black-and-white self-portrait photograph he had taken of his American bald eagle belt buckle which had appeared on the back sleeve of the Ramones' first album. He was inspired to create the band's logo after a trip to Washington, D.C.:
I saw them as the ultimate all-American band. To me, they reflected the American character in general—an almost childish innocent aggression.... I thought, 'The Great Seal of the President of the United States' would be perfect for the Ramones, with the eagle holding arrows—to symbolize strength and the aggression that would be used against whomever dares to attack us—and an olive branch, offered to those who want to be friendly. But we decided to change it a little bit. Instead of the olive branch, we had an apple tree branch, since the Ramones were American as apple pie. And since Johnny was such a baseball fanatic, we had the eagle hold a baseball bat instead of the [Great Seal]'s arrows.
The scroll in the eagle's beak originally read "Look out below", but this was soon changed to "Hey ho let's go" after the opening lyrics of the band's first single, "Blitzkrieg Bop". The arrowheads on the shield came from a design on a polyester shirt Vega had bought. The name "Ramones" was spelled out in block capitals above the logo using plastic stick-on letters. Where the presidential emblem read "Seal of the President of the United States" clockwise in the border around the eagle, Vega instead placed the pseudonyms of the four band members: Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy. Over the years the names in the border would change as the band's lineup fluctuated.
The Ramones had a broad and lasting influence on the development of popular music. Music historian Jon Savage writes of their debut album that "it remains one of the few records that changed pop forever." As described by Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "The band's first four albums set the blueprint for punk, especially American punk and hardcore, for the next two decades." Trouser Press's Robbins and Isler similarly write that the Ramones "not only spearheaded the original new wave/punk movement, but also drew the blueprint for subsequent hardcore punk bands". Punk journalist Phil Strongman writes, "In purely musical terms, The Ramones, in attempting to re-create the excitement of pre-Dolby rock, were to cast a huge shadow—they had fused a blueprint for much of the indie future." Writing for Slate in 2001, Douglas Wolk described the Ramones as "easily the most influential group of the last 30 years."
The Ramones' debut album had an outsized effect relative to its modest sales. According to Tony James, a member of several seminal British punk bands, "Everybody went up three gears the day they got that first Ramones album. Punk rock—that rama-lama super fast stuff—is totally down to the Ramones. Bands were just playing in an MC5 groove until then." The central fanzine of the early UK punk scene, Sniffin' Glue, was named after the song "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", which appeared on the debut LP. The Ramones' first British concert, at London's Roundhouse concert hall, was held on July 4, 1976, the United States Bicentennial. The Sex Pistols were playing in Sheffield that evening, supported by The Clash, making their public debut. The next night, members of both bands attended the Ramones' gig at the Dingwall's club. Ramones manager Danny Fields recalls a conversation between Johnny Ramone and Clash bassist Paul Simonon (which he mislocates at the Roundhouse): "Johnny asked him, 'What do you do? Are you in a band?' Paul said, 'Well, we just rehearse. We call ourselves the Clash but we're not good enough.' Johnny said, 'Wait till you see us—we stink, we're lousy, we can't play. Just get out there and do it.'" Another band whose members saw the Ramones perform, The Damned, played their first show two days later. The Ramones' two July 1976 shows, like their debut album, are seen as having a significant impact on the style of many of the newly formed British punk acts—as one observer put it, "instantly nearly every band speeded up". Ramones concerts and recordings inspired many musicians central to the development of California punk as well, including Greg Ginn of Black Flag, Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, and members of the Descendents. Canada's first major punk scenes—in Toronto and in British Columbia's Victoria and Vancouver—were also heavily influenced by the Ramones. In the late 1970s, many bands emerged with musical styles deeply indebted to the band's. There were The Lurkers from England, The Undertones from Ireland, Teenage Head from Canada, and The Zeros and The Dickies from southern California. The seminal hardcore band Bad Brains took its name from a Ramones song. Later punk bands such as Screeching Weasel, The Vindictives, The Queers, The Mr. T Experience, Beatnik Termites, and Jon Cougar Concentration Camp have recorded cover versions of entire Ramones albums—Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, Road to Ruin, Pleasant Dreams, and Too Tough to Die, respectively. The Huntingtons' File Under Ramones consists of Ramones covers from across the band's history. The Riverdales, made up of former Screeching Weasel members, have emulated the sound of the Ramones throughout their career.
The Ramones also influenced musicians associated with other genres, such as heavy metal. Metallica's Kirk Hammett has described the importance of Johnny's rapid-fire guitar playing style to his own musical development. Motörhead lead singer Lemmy, a friend of the Ramones since the late 1970s, mixed the band's "Go Home Ann" in 1985. The members of Motörhead later composed the song "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." as a tribute, and Lemmy performed at the final Ramones concert in 1996. In the realm of alternative rock, the song "53rd and 3rd" lent its name to a British indie pop label cofounded by Stephen Pastel of the Scottish band The Pastels. Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, and The Strokes are among the many alternative rock musicians who have credited the Ramones with inspiring them.
The first Ramones tribute album by multiple bands was released in 1991: Gabba Gabba Hey: A Tribute to the Ramones features tracks by such acts as The Flesh Eaters, L7, Mojo Nixon, and Bad Religion. In 2001, tREND iS dEAD! records released Ramones Maniacs, a cover of the entire RamonesMania album, notable for a guest appearance by Dee Dee Ramone himself.We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones (2003) is the best known Ramones tribute album, with artists such as Green Day, Kiss, The Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Metallica, and Rob Zombie (who also did the album cover artwork). Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong named his son Joey in homage to Joey Ramone, and drummer Tré Cool named his daughter Ramona
Ramones (1976) Leave Home (1977) Rocket to Russia (1977) Road to Ruin (1978) End of the Century (1980) Pleasant Dreams (1981) Subterranean Jungle (1983) Too Tough to Die (1984) Animal Boy (1986) Halfway to Sanity (1987) Brain Drain (1989) Mondo Bizarro (1992) Acid Eaters (1993) ¡Adios Amigos! (1995