The Ramones are one of the biggest ‘failed’ bands of all time. Think about it, with a band so iconic and synonymous with the history of punk rock (and rock and roll in general) they should have been as big as their heroes The Beatles, or The Stones, but commercially it’s hard to think of a band more plagued by a lack of success.
Their stubbornness, creative ambition, and continual drive over their 20 year (and 14 studio album) history however is what has made the New York band so endearing years after the passing of the band’s most iconic members (the latest being Tommy in 2014).
In 1989, a young bass player by the name of Christopher Joseph Ward walked into one of the toughest jobs in the history of rock and roll – he took over as bassist with the icons and proved he was more than up to the task, and helped the group survive and thrive in its final years.
To prove that the Ramones are more than a t-shirt design, here’s our six album guide to one of history’s greatest (and most unappreciated) bands.
Ramones ‘The Classic Record’
Their debut self-titled record with forever remain the most legendary, (and most visually iconic thanks to Punk magazine’s Roberta Bayley’s sharp eye, and the re-appropriation of the image on faux ‘punk style’ t-shirts which can be purchased at almost every low level department store around the world).
Recorded over only seven days and within a budget of less than $6,500 this is the band at their most basic and essential. Peaking at No. 111 on the US Billboard 200, Ramones explores themes of boredom, drug use (‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’), violence (‘Beat On The Brat’), prostitution (53rd & 3rd) and Nazism (‘Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World’).
What makes the Ramones so distinguishable from all the other New York bands rolling out during the mid-70s was their relentless gigging, rapid-fire speed of which they spat out songs, and their grubby trodden form of bubblegum pop. Ramones is the band is their most pure, and though lacking any commercial success it paved the way for the band to be able to make more records.
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’53rd & 3rd’
‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’
Rocket To Russia ‘The Must Hear Record’
The third studio album (and the last one to feature original drummer Tommy Ramone aka Thomas Erdelyi) Rocket To Russia is considered by many to be the best record from the group, and definitley one of the most accessible. Released only 10 months after their sophomore (and less accliamed) effort Leave Home, Rocket To Russia explores the band’s sonic (and visual) motifs established in their debut.
The budget for Rocket To Russia was substantially larger than their debut, with Sire Records forking out $25,000-$30,000 in support of the record. Most of this money however was spent on production and post production rather than the recording process.
This LP sees the band tapping into their pop influences, producing some of their most popular surf rock infused punk gems like ‘Rockaway Beach’ and ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’. If you were to own one Ramones record, this should be it.
‘We’re a Happy Family’
‘Surfin’ Bird’ (The Trashmen cover)
End Of The Century ‘The Pop Record’
Though considered by many to be one of the first ‘punk’ bands in the most typical idea of the genre, there is no question that the Ramones wanted to be commercially successful. An ambition spearheaded by the band’s frontman and shameless pop music fanatic Joey Ramone (aka Jeffrey Ross Hyman).
After four years of releases (and relatively low chart positions) the band enlisted the help of producer genius, and undenable madman Phil Spector to work with them on their fifth record End Of The Century. Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ extravagant style of production and equally extravagant budget (of around $200,000) challenged the band’s ethos and created a rift between the the producer and the band. Rumor has it that during the early sessions of the recording process Spector held the band hostage at gunpoint.
Their first foray into the pop music world didn’t fare too badly for the band however, as it was the band’s highest ranking album, reaching number 44 on the US Billboard 200.
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Highschool’
‘Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio’
Too Tough To Die ‘The Hardcore Record’
1984, Sire/ Beggars Banquet Records
After kicking out their second drummer Marky Ramone (Marc Steven Bell) due to alcoholism, the band enlisted the talents of Richie (aka Richard Reinhardt) to kick off their ‘punk rock’ comeback of sorts. After releasing two lukewarmly received albums since End Of The Century (1981’s Pleasant Dreams and 1983’s Subterranean Jungle) Too Tough To Die was the band’s attempt to capture the hardcore and heavy metal resurgence that was surfacing at the time.
Featuring the band’s bass player Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Glenn Colvin) on vocals for ‘Wart Hog’ and ‘Endless Vacation’, and their first ever purely instrumental track ‘Durango 95’, this the band’s eighth studio album was one of their most sonically ambitious. The statement ‘Too Tough To Die’ is essentially the epitome of the band’s career.
‘Too Tough To Die’
Acid Eaters ‘The Covers Record’
1994, Radioactive/ Chrysalis
In the 10 years since Too Tough To Die, the band lost a drummer (Richie), regained an old drummer (Marky) lost a bass player (Dee Dee), recruited a fresh new face, bass player C.J Ramone (aka Christopher Joseph Ward), and released four LPs to a mixed response. For a band that had a 20 year career and release 14 studio records, it would almost be strange for them not to release a covers record. Acid Eaters is that covers record.
Featuring a mix of classic rock songs (‘Substitute’ by The Who) and straight up bizarre covers (‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’ (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Acid Eaters may seem by some a a lazy cash grab, but in all honesty, for a band who wore their influences and musical love on their sleeves it could be one of the band’s most earnest and genuine records released in their late career.
‘Substitute’ (The Who cover)
‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’ (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
‘Somebody to Love’ (Original by The Great Society cover)
It’s Alive ‘The Live Record’
The Ramones were nothing if not the most legendary live act. Released in the prime of their ascent. Featuring the original line up, It’s Alive was recorded on New Year’s Eve 1977 at The Rainbow Theatre London.
Featuring material from the band’s first three albums, the release is 28 tracks, and in typical Ramones fashion it clocks in in at an astounding 53 minutes, that’s an average of 1 minute and 50 seconds per song.
In a bizarre twist of fate it also became of the the band’s most successful releases, becoming certified gold in Argentina in 1993.