This lesson will discuss the history and cultural significance of the Ramones. We will learn why punk rock was so revolutionary in the mid-1970s and assess the influence that the Ramones had on future generations of bands.
The Ramones: Punk Rock Originators
The Ramones are, to put it bluntly, one of the most important rock bands of all time. The euphoric, stripped down version of rock’n’roll that the Ramones championed in the mid-1970s was brilliant in its simplicity. Although the term punk did not really exist when the band came bursting out of Forest Hills, Queens in 1974, the Ramones certainly are one of the most important influences for punk music, and many people consider them to be the first real punk band.
Rejecting the Rock Stars
In the 1960s, rock music experienced an artistic splintering. Psychedelic rock bands like Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa moved away from the pop-friendly sounds of the early 1960s and towards a more free-form, jazz influenced sound. The Beatles and the Beach Boys were being hailed as rock geniuses and rock music more generally was taken more seriously by music critics. Even the most revered jazz artists like Miles Davis were dabbling in rock’n’roll.By the early 1970s, progressive rock was becoming the flavor of the era, particularly in the UK. Bands were expected to have lofty concept albums, virtuosic musicianship, and high art pretensions.
Major rock bands like the Rolling Stones, Yes, and Pink Floyd were placed on pedestals, high above the audience, the archetype of the god-like rock star.The Ramones, and the punk rock movement that they spawned, attacked this notion of the semi-divine rock star and the high art pretentions of mainstream rock. Whereas progressive rock bands were composing increasingly more baroque songs, producing the most deliberately complex music that they could devise, the Ramones wrote short, intense, three chord ditties that got straight to the point. Speed, intensity, and simplicity replaced the grand ambitions of other rock music of the 1970s and for many it was an exhilarating breath of fresh air.
The Ramones seemed more like a gang than a rock band in the 1970s.
The members changed their names so that all members shared the same last name: Joey Ramone on lead vocals, Johnny Ramone on guitar, Dee Dee Ramone on bass, and Tommy Ramone on drums. They wore leather jackets, jeans, and unkempt, long hair. Instead of playing huge stadiums, the Ramones specialized in small, packed clubs, most significantly, CBGB in Manhattan’s East Village. CBGB would remain the epicenter of the New York punk world until its closure in 2006.
HEY! HO! LET’S GO!
In 1976, the Ramones released their self-titled debut album. Driving, spartan, and unpretentious, ‘Ramones’ seems to harken back to a pre-1960s version of rock’n’roll, while simultaneously sounding like something completely new.
Opening track ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ begins with a very simple three chord guitar line, before unleashing the iconic opening line that would become a battle cry for both the Ramones and the punk movement more generally: HEY! HO! Let’s Go!. ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ crashes into the listener like a tidal wave. The joyous energy of ‘Blitzkrieg Bob’ is undeniable and it would remain a live staple for the rest of the band’s career. ‘Ramones’ also contained numerous other classic songs like ‘Judy is a Punk,’ ‘Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue,’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.’ The longest song on the album is 2:35, and the entire record clocks in at less than 30 minutes.
No Future: The Ramones’ Influence on the British Punk Scene
The Ramones toured the UK in 1976 and left a significant impression on the angry, disillusioned young people who saw them. Among those whose lives and careers would be indelibly changed by this event are the members of the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and the Damned. These bands, along with numerous others, would go on to establish the British punk movement of the late 1970s.
The Ramones created the bare-bones, intense sound of punk rock, but the British bands of the late 1970s, especially the Sex Pistols, created the look, ideology, and subcultural style of punk.
England in the 1970s was a fairly bleak place. The post-war British economy had never really gotten off the ground and unemployment was high. Social conformity was stifling to many young people and racial tensions concerning Caribbean and South Asian immigrants were keen, particularly in London. British punks wore the hopelessness, nihilism, and decay of British life in the 1970s for all to see.
British punks like Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols looked like post-apocalyptic vagrants and sounded like pure noise to rock fans raised on the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Conservative elements within British society were scandalized by punk, particularly the Sex Pistols song ‘God Save the Queen’ which voraciously criticized the British monarchy. Many cities banned the Sex Pistols from playing and much of the mainstream media condemned punk as sheer degeneracy. Many young people, however, took the basic elements of punk and used them to transform British popular music. The British punk scene of the late 70s was one of the most important popular music movements of the 20th century and it would not have occurred without the Ramones’ influence.
The 1980s and the Legacy of the Ramones
The Ramones would continue adding success to success in the years after 1976. The Ramones continued to tour regularly and consistently release well received albums. In spite of personal conflicts, substance abuse, and mental illness within the band, the Ramones soldiered on until 1996. All original members of the Ramones have since passed away.
The Ramones were a highly important and influential punk rock band.
Beginning in the mid 1970s, the Ramones pioneered the genre of punk rock and left a profound influence on popular music. The back to basics, minimalist style perfected by the Ramones transformed rock music both sonically and ideologically.