Tuesday, August 08, 2006

hey ho, let's go!



ramones - 'ramones'

released: april 23, 1976
sire records

songs: 1. blitzkrieg bop 2. beat on the brat 3. judy is a punk 4. i wanna be your boyfriend 5. chain saw 6. now i wanna sniff some glue 7. i don't wanna go down to the basement 8. loudmouth 9. havana affair 10. listen to my heart 11. 53rd & 3rd 12. let's dance 12. i don't wanna walk around with you 14. today your love, tomorrow the world

The Ramones did everything quick. Johnny once famously said that 'our songs aren't short, we just play 'em really fast'. And so it was with the recording of their first album. In 17 days, for $6200 (unbelievably cheap, even for 1976 standards), Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone cranked out one of the most significant records in rock music history.

And who would have known? In those first, now legendary, CBGB live appearances, the general opinion was more or less 'they're crap'. It took time to get used to the Ramones, because they were very different from everyone else. Yes, the punk foundations had been laid down by bands like MC5 and The Stooges, but it were the Ramones who shaped the definitive outline of the then proto-genre. and they did so the simplest way possible - by stripping rock music down to its most essential core.

Note that I've been using 'rock music' when affirming the significance of this record, and I do that because I think it's wrong to look at it as punk (or metal, as some defend) or any other genre. The main point about this record is precisely its universal appeal, based on the deceptive simplicity. Four guys in leather jackets, playing frantic two and a half minute songs about girlfriends, horror movies, sniffing glue and beating rich kids up? It doesn't get any rockier than that. But look a bit further than the comic-book bizarre lyrics and apparently clumsy playing and you'll find incredible depth too.

For starters, strictly musically speaking, 'Ramones' has stood the test of time with brilliance, 30 years later those bubblegum choruses still maintain all their joviality and energy intact. Thematically, even if the lyrics mostly consist of 3 or 4 lines repeated through the song, you will find they're brimming with oblique references to all the troubles, doubts and joys of urban humanity, surprisingly up to date. Some of the clearer examples are '53rd & 3rd', about Dee Dee's drug habit and the street corner where he satisfied it, or 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue', about bored teenagers (of Forest Hills) seeking cheap thrills.

'Ramones' is also a rather cruel reminder of a certain childish innocence the world has progressively lost. Not only Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee are not with us anymore, but the days of comic books and bubble gum and silly haircuts (and even glue-sniffing) are mostly a distant memory that has been replaced by mostly much worse things.

Songwise, it's hard to find highlights, such is the consistency of the record, but the infectious 'Blitzkrieg Bop' with its immortal opening 'Hey ho, let's go!', a rallying cry for rock if there ever was one, the endearingly sweet 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' and the surprising Chris Montez cover 'Let's Dance', where they showed they could also do something a bit different, are probably the ones I'd pick.

Even if the Ramones never really hit it big in the charts like their current legendary status might lead to think, 'Ramones' is a landmark in every way, musically and socially. With simplicity, vitality and a little bit of healthy innocence, these four guys paved the way for countless bands and artists.

One of the very few perfect 10 records of the last 30 years.

the good: everything - from the oddball but strangely affecting lyrics to the eternally catchy simple songs, 'ramones' is rock music stripped to its essential core
the bad: nothing, apart from the stinging nostalgia long-time fans might get from it

5 comments:

  1. This album and most of their earlier stuff holds up so well due to how simple the songs are. Unfortunately much like Motorhead and the Misfits it took a long time for them to get any major recognition despite how influential they were in their genre.

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  2. I have to admit, I don't know a lot of Ramone's, I do own greatest hits live album. But they are fantastic in, as you said, they're simplicity. I've always claimed that "I wanna be sedated" is like a way of life and not just the anthemic punk tune it appears to be. One of my favourite songs. That and Joey (?) Ramone's cover of Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World" ... absolutely brilliant and very moving.

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  3. A classic. I find it hard to dislike any of their music. This album is full of great songs. I regret never seeing them.

    I've been reading your comments about Celtic Frost at Heavy Metal Time Machine. I have tickets to the Philly show in November and I can't wait.

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  4. You have a great blog here! I am going to link to you if you don't mind. Thank you so much for stopping by mine. I will be back to visit you often and I already have an album to suggest.

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  5. mark - that is true. those and some other bands have been criminally underrated for so long... and then suddenly it's like they blow up and every kid's wearing a t-shirt. strange phenomenon.

    dpth - that cover is so great... it's from the 'our little corner of the world' soundtrack, which also has stuff by pj harvey and björk. it really shows what an artist joey was.

    fred - that is one of my great regrets too, along with joe strummer. and regarding celtic frost, i think you won't be disappointed. :)

    layla - thank you very much, you're too kind! thank you also for linking to me, i've already done the same to yours. oh, and bring on the suggestions! :)

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