Graded on a Curve: Ramones, Ramones

It’s easy to take this the Ramones’ landmark 1976 self-titled debut too seriously. Sure, it signaled a seismic shift in rock music, exploding like an M80 in the minds of every cretinous young thing who’d had it up to here with the pompous, bloated likes of ELP, Queen, and the Eagles. And sure, this baby is often celebrated as the first real punk rock LP.

But so far as declarations of war go, Ramones is a hilarious one. On it the most famous band to ever come out of Forest Hills, Queens state their demands (they wanna be your boyfriend and they wanna sniff some glue; they don’t wanna go down to the basement and they don’t wanna walk around with you), dabble with fascism (“I’m a Nazi schatze”), and beat on the brat with a baseball bat. The Ramones weren’t the first NYC band to give voice to the inchoate yearnings of teengenerates everywhere; the Dictators got there first with 1975’s Go Girl Crazy!, and they deserve their due. 

But unlike Handsome Dick Manitoba and Company the Ramones got their yucks playing their songs at tempos that boggled the imagination; I saw the Ramones early on, without having ever heard a single note of their music, and the experience bordered on the traumatic.

The songs–which segued one into the other with nary a pause–went by at an insane, buzzsaw blur that night, obfuscating what is obvious to anyone who listens to the album now–that the Ramones mated their 160 beats per minute ferocity to an impeccable pop sense that gives many of these songs the loving feel of good bubblegum.

The Ramones won their rep by keeping their songs nasty, brutish and short. But their secret ingredient was melody; their songs are both catchy and likable, and that’s what makes Ramones sound as fresh today as it did the day it hit the streets.

Listening to Joey Ramone’s streamlined vocals, those really great hooks and melodies, and the campy backing vocals, I can’t help but think this shit would have sounded just as good on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 as it did in the cramped confines of CBGB. Wishful thinking, of course–both of the singles from the LP failed to chart.

Recorded in just 7 days on the 8th floor of Radio City Music Hall for a miserly $6,400, Ramones offers a surprisingly diverse set of songs. Sure, the Ramones jack up the BPMs on the majority of them, but on others they sacrifice sheer speed to a more metallic crunch. And then there are those songs–like the wonderful cover of Chris Montez’ “Let’s Dance”–where the boys practically do the twist. And compared to the other songs on the LP, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” proceeds at a crawl.

While humor was an indispensable ingredient of the Ramones sound, on their debut LP some truly dark stuff creeps in–the murderous, razor-wielding male hustler of the semi-autobiographical “53 and 3rd” is no laughing matter. But for the most part they get their jollies mining the same adolescent turf that the Dictators staked out before them and that the Beastie Boys would long afterwards.

Joey sings an anthem to sniffing glue, bemoans the fact that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre stole his baby away, and calls himself “a shock trooper in a stupor” on “love as lebensraum” ode “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World.”

And the Texas chainsaw massacre isn’t the only thing giving poor horror-movie-addicted Joey nightmares; he doesn’t want to go down to the basement, daddy-o, and that’s that. As for “Beat on the Brat,” he goes for laughs by singing in a very affected accent from… I’ll be damned if I know. Listening to him mince words is an experience in and of itself; you can’t help but think, who exactly is this guy channeling, anyway?

Lyrically, the Ramones take their cue from Man of Few Words Iggy Pop; they keep ‘em short and simple and rely on simple repetition to get their point across. The “message” in most of these songs can be distilled down to a single declarative sentence, and some of those declarative sentences serve as song titles. When Iggy sang “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” these guys’ ears perked up for sure.

I could go on forever about how this album influenced everybody, changed everything, and in general remade the world. But what shocks me now is how very few of the punk bands this baby inspired managed to recapture its light touch, zany lust for life, and sheer joyous spirit. In a sense, the only punk album that ever matched it wasn’t really a punk album at all–it was the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill.

The Dictators, the Ramones, the Beastie Boys–NYCers all of them. Makes you wonder if they put something in the water to produce that wonderful barbaric yawp.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text