Ramones: Ramones – [Record 22]
Ramones: is the debut studio album by the American punk rock band the Ramones, released on April 23, 1976 through Sire Records. After Craig Leon agreed to produce the album, the band recorded a demo for prospective record labels. After much encouragement, Sire president Seymour Stein offered the band a recording contract and the Ramones began recording in February 1976. Needing only seven days and $6,400 to record, Ramones used similar sound-output techniques to those of the Beatles. The album cover, photographed by Punk magazine’s Roberta Bayley, featured the four members leaning against a brick wall in north-side New York City. After its release, Ramones was promoted with two singles and several tour dates.
Lyrical themes center around violence, male prostitution, drug use, and Nazism, but the albums also incorporates relationship issues and humor into lyrics. It opens with “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which is among the band’s most recognizable songs. Most of the album’s tracks are noticeably uptempo, with many songs clocking at well over 160 beats per minute. The songs are also rather short; at two-and-a-half minutes, “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement” is the album’s longest track. Ramones also contains a cover of the Chris Montez song “Let’s Dance.”
Despite peaking at number 111 on the US Billboard 200, Ramones was very well received by critics. It was rewarded numerous five-star reviews, with many writers commenting on the album’s establishment of the punk-rock genre. The album has received many accolades as well, earning the top spot on Spin magazine’s list of the “50 Most Essential Punk Records.” Ramones went on to inspire many bands like the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Clash, and Green Day. Aside from sparking the punk-rock scene in both the US and UK, it has had a significant impact on other branches of rock music, such as grunge and heavy metal.
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.
9. Havana Affair.
10. Listen to My Heart.
11. 53rd & 3rd.
12. Let’s Dance.
13. I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You.
14. Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World.
Background: The Ramones began playing gigs in mid 1974, with their first show at Performance Studios in New York City. Having a style similar to the songs they would release on their debut album, they typically performed at clubs in downtown Manhattan, specifically CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. In early 1975, Lisa Robinson, an editor of Hit Parader and Rock Scene, saw the fledgling Ramones performing at CBGB. Subsequently, she wrote about the band in several magazine issues. The group’s vocalist Joey Ramone relates: “Lisa came down to see us, she was blown away by us. She said that we changed her life, She started writing about us in Rock Scene, and then Lenny Kaye would write about us and we started getting more press like The Village Voice. Word was getting out, and people starting coming down.” Convinced that the band needed a recording contract, Robinson contacted Danny Fields, former manager of the Stooges, and argued that he needed to manage the band. Fields agreed since the band “had everything [he] ever liked,” and became the manager in November 1975.
On September 19, 1975, the Ramones recorded a demo at 914 Sound Studios that was produced by Marty Thau. Featuring the songs “Judy Is a Punk” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” the band used the demo to showcase their style to prospective labels. Producer Craig Leon, who had seen them perform in the summer of 1975, brought the demo to the attention of Sire Records’s president Seymour Stein. After persuasion from Craig Leon and his ex-wife Linda Stein, the Ramones auditioned at Sire and were offered a contract, although the label hitherto only signed European progressive rock bands. Drummer Tommy Ramone recalled: “Craig Leon is the one who got us signed, single handed. He brought down the vice president and all these people—he’s the only hip one in the company. He risked his career to get us on the label.” The label offered to release “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl” as a single, but the band declined, insisting on recording an entire album. Sire adapted to their request and agreed to release a studio album instead.
Recording and Production: In January 1976 the band took a break from their live performances to prepare for recording at Plaza Sound studio. Sessions began in early February 1976 and were completed within a week for $6,400; the instruments took three days and the vocals four. In 2004, Leon admitted that they recorded Ramones quickly due to budget restrictions, but also that it was all the time they needed.
The band applied microphone-placement techniques similar to those which many orchestras used. The recording process was a deliberate exaggeration of the techniques used by the Beatles in the early 1960s, with a four-track representation of the devices. The guitars can be heard separately on the stereo channels—electric bass on the left channel, rhythm guitar on the right—drums and vocals are mixed in the middle of the stereo mix. The mixing of the production also used more modern techniques such as overdubbing, a technique used by studios to add a supplementary recorded sound to material. The band also used a technique known as doubling, where the vocal line used is sung twice.
Recording for the album was expanded by Mickey Leigh (Joey’s brother) and Leon with percussion effects, which went unmentioned in the liner notes to the album’s release. Author Nicholas Rombes said that the production’s quality sounded like “the ultimate do-it-yourself, amateur, reckless ethic that is associated with punk,” but concluded that they approached the recording process with a “high degree of preparedness and professionalism.”
Photography and packaging: Initially, the Ramones wanted an album cover similar to Meet the Beatles! (1964), and subsequently took pictures for $2,000, but Sire was dissatisfied with the results. The art direction was by Toni Scott and, according to cartoonist John Holmstrom, the cover idea came out “horribly.” The band later met with Roberta Bayley, a photographer for Punk magazine. Holmstrom said that making the Ramones pose was like “pulling teeth,” but said it turned out to be “the classic Ramones album cover.” The black and white photograph on the front of the album was originally in an issue of Punk. Shortly after, Sire bought the rights to the picture for $125 and used it for the cover.
The cover photo features (from left to right) Johnny, Tommy, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, staring at the camera with blank faces. They are all wearing ripped/faded blue jeans and leather jackets, standing upright against the brick wall of a private community garden called Albert’s Garden, located on the north side of New York City between Bowery Street and Second Street. The stance of the group members in the photograph would influence their future cover designs as well, with the majority of their succeeding albums using a picture of the band on the front cover. Music historian Legs McNeil states that “Tommy [is] standing on his tip-toes and Joey [is] hunched over a bit.” The back cover art, which depicts a belt buckle with a bald eagle and the band’s logo, was designed by Arturo Vega. Liner notes on the back cover fail to acknowledge backing vocalists and additional instrument players. Leigh, who performed backing vocals on several tracks, asked guitarist Johnny why he was not mentioned on the record’s credits. Johnny replied: “We didn’t want people to get confused with who’s in the band or who’s not. It’s our first album, you know, and we didn’t want people to get confused.”
The artwork became one of the most imitated album covers in music. The image of a band in front of a brick wall dressed in ripped jeans and leather jackets was copied by Alvin and the Chipmunks in Chipmunk Punk. Ramones’s artwork was ranked number 58 on Rolling Stone’s 1991 list of 100 Greatest Album Covers.
Singles: There were two singles released from the album: “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” The first was released in April 1976, originally as a seven inch split single with “Havana Affair” as its B-side. The release, along with the Ramones 2001 Expanded Edition, featured “Blitzkrieg Bop” remixed as a single version, although it maintains a time of two minutes and twelve seconds. On January 6, 2004, Rhino Entertainment re-released the “Blitzkrieg Bop” as a CD single, using “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” as its B-side. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” was released in October 1976 as a seven inch single. It included “California Sun” and “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around with You” as B-sides. Unlike the previous single, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” was released in the UK, giving the band a presence in the European marketplace. Even though the song saw some success in Europe, it failed to chart.
Touring: In 1974 the band played 30 performances, nearly all at the New York-based club CBGB. All but one of the band’s 1975 gigs, were booked for New York City, with Waterbury, Connecticut as the exception. After the album’s recording, the Ramones headlined for very few shows, usually opening for an identified cover band which played Aerosmith and Boston. When they opened at Brockton, Massachusetts, the audience appeared extremely uninterested in the Ramones so Johnny swore off playing as an introduction for other bands. Following this, Fields booked several headlining shows around the Tri-state area, and they began playing frequently at gigs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. After performing with Blondie in New Jersey, they continued their tour to Boston, Massachusetts for three shows.
“Traveling was difficult. Most of the time, it was just Danny Fields, me, and the members of the band. We’d get two rooms in the hotel, three of us in each. They couldn’t afford any more help at that point, so the band had to pitch in unloading the equipment. I’d play the drums during sound checks, while Tommy went out to the board and mixed the sound—and instructed the soundman not to fuck with the settings. We would enlist aid of any fan willing to help us load out at the end of the night.” —Mickey Leigh
At the time, Joey’s brother Leigh was road manager, stage manager, chauffeur, and head of security. Vega, who contributed to the album’s packaging, helped out with the road crew as much as possible. Tommy’s friend Monte Melnick occasionally helped with the audio output, but this was typically done by Leigh.
Following their debut album’s release, the band performed at over sixty concerts for its promotion. While most of the gigs were booked in North America, two dates—July 4 and 5—were in London’s Roundhouse venue and Dingwalls, respectively. Linda Stein pushed to make these events happen, setting up the band performances in the UK during the United States Bicentennial. Fields relates: “On the two hundredth anniversary of our freedom, we were bringing Great Britain a gift that was forever going to disrupt their sensibilities.” The band sold out for their first London performance, with an audience of roughly three thousand. Leigh described the Dingwalls gig to be very similar to performances at CBGB. Likewise, these sites would go on to be headlined by other punk bands like the Clash and Sex Pistols. The band performed over 100 concerts the following year.
Lyrics and compositions: Ramones featured songs which center several lyrical themes including violence, male prostitution, drug use, and Nazism. While the moods displayed in the album were often dark, Johnny said that when writing the lyrics they were not “trying to be offensive.” Many songs from the album have backing vocals from different guests. Leigh sang backing vocals on “Judy Is a Punk,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and in the bridge of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Tommy sang backing vocals on “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You,” “Judy Is a Punk,” and during the bridge of “Chainsaw.” The album’s engineer, Rob Freeman, sang backing vocals for the final refrain of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” The album’s length is 29 minutes and four seconds and contains 14 tracks.
“Blitzkrieg Bop,” the album’s opening track, was written by Tommy, and originally named “Animal Hop.” Once Dee Dee reviewed the lyrics, the band changed the wording, the name, and partially the theme. According to Tommy, the song’s original concept was about “kids going to a show and having a good time,” but the theme became more Nazi-related after its revise. The piece begins with an instrumental interval which lasts about 20 seconds. At the 20th second, the guitar and bass cease, marking Joey’s first line: “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” The bass and guitar gradually rebuild and, as put by Rombes, is in “full–force” once all the instruments play together in ensemble. The piece resolves by repeating what is played from 0:22–0:33. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic described “Blitzkrieg Bop” as a “three-chord assault.”
“Beat on the Brat” was said by Joey to have origins relating to the upper class of New York City. Dee Dee, however, explained that the song was about how Joey saw a mother “going after a kid with a bat in his [apartment’s] lobby and wrote a song about it.” “Judy Is a Punk”—written around the same time as “Beat on the Brat”—was written by Joey after he walked by Thorny Croft, an apartment building “where all the kids in the neighborhood hung out on the rooftop and drank.” The song’s lyrics are fictional and refer to two juvenile offenders in Berlin and San Francisco and their possible deaths at the conclusion of the song. “Judy Is a Punk” is the original album’s shortest track at 1:39.
“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” the slowest song on the album, was solely written by Tommy, and pays homage to love songs in pop music acts of the 1960s. The song uses a twelve-string guitar, glockenspiel, and tubular bells in its composition, and was said by author Scott Schinder to be an “unexpected romantic streak.” The next song, “Chain Saw,” opens with the sound of a running circular saw and was influenced by the 1974 horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. At nearly 180 beats per minute, “Chain Saw” has the fastest tempo among the album’s songs, and according to Rombes, is the most “home-made” sounding.
“Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue” contains four lines of minimalist lyrics which depict youthful boredom and inhaling solvent vapors found in glue. On the question of the authenticity of the text, Dee Dee said in an interview: “I hope no one thinks we really sniff glue. I stopped when I was eight [years old].” Dee Dee also explained that its concept comes from adolescent trauma. After several pieces by the Ramones whose song’s titles begin with “I Don’t Want to … ,” Tommy said that “Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue” is the first positive piece on the album. The song served as an inspiration for one of the first punk fanzines, Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue. “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement” is also a minimalist piece, and was inspired by horror movies. The entire text is composed of three lines, and the composition is based on three major chords. With a playing time of 2:35, it is the longest piece on the album.
“Loudmouth” has six major chords and is a harmonically complex composition. The song’s lyrics are—depending on the reading and punctuation—just a single row or four very brief lines. The next track, “Havana Affair,” has a lyrical concept which incorporates the comic strip Spy vs. Spy of the Cuban-born illustrator Antonio Prohias. At roughly 170 beats per minute, “Loudmouth” and “Havana Affair” practically proceed at the same tempo. “Havana Affair” plays into “Listen to My Heart,” which is the first of many songs in the repertoire of the Ramones voicing an ironic and pessimistic perspective on a failing or already failed relationship.
Written solely by Dee Dee, the lyrics of “53rd and 3rd” are about a male prostitute (“rent boy”) who is waiting at the corner of 53rd Street and Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. When the prostitute gets a customer he kills him with a razor to prove he is not a homosexual. In interviews with Dee Dee, the piece is described as autobiographical. “The song speaks for itself,” Dee Dee commented in an interview, “everything I write is autobiographical and written in a very real way, I can’t even write.” Johnny insists that the song is about “Dee Dee turning tricks.” The half-sung and half-shouted bridge in “53rd and 3rd” is performed by Dee Dee, who’s voice is described by author Cyrus Patell as what “breaks the deliberate aural monotony of the song and emphasizes the violence of the lyric.”
The album’s next track is a version of the Chris Montez song “Let’s Dance.” The song features Leon playing Radio City’s large Wurlitzer pipe organ. The thirteenth track on the record, “I Don’t Want to Walk Around With You,” consists of two lyric lines and three major chords. It is one of the group’s earliest compositions and, according to Johnny, was originally titled “I Don’t Want to Get Involved With You.” It is the first song on their first demo tape, written at the beginning of 1974. “Let’s Dance” fades into the album’s final track, “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World,” a song which refers to a Hitler Youth member. Seymour Stein complained about the song’s original lyrics—”I’m a Nazi baby, I’m a Nazi, yes I am. I’m a Nazi Shatzi, y’know I fight for the Fatherland”—insisting that the track was offensive. When Stein threatened to completely remove the track from the album the band put together alternate lyrics: “I’m a shock trooper in a stupor, yes I am. I’m a Nazi Shatzi, y’know I fight for the Fatherland.” Stein accepted the revision and it was published in the album.
Reception: Ramones was released on April 23, 1976 through Sire Records and initially had mixed review. Being reviewed by few critics upon its release, many writers leaned towards a neutral rating. Music critic Adam Brown explains that early reviews of the album are hard to come by, calling initial reactions “basically, non existent.” Despite many early critics giving somewhat negative reviews, in 1976 Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone wrote that the album is similar to early rock and roll, and is constructed using rhythm tracks of great intensity. Jeff Tamarkin of AllMusic said that the album ignited the punk rock era, writing: “rock’s mainstream didn’t know what hit it.” Critic Joe S. Harrington declared that the album was a huge landmark for music history, proclaiming that “[it] split the history of rock ‘n’ roll in half.” Theunis Bates, a writer for Time magazine, summed the album up with: “Ramones stripped rock back to its basic elements … lyrics are very simple, boiled-down declarations of teen lust and need.” Bates also said that it “is the ultimate punk statement.” Charles M. Young, an employee for Rolling Stone, regarded Ramones as “one of the funniest rock records ever made and, if punk continues to gain momentum, a historic turning point.”
Music critic Robert Christgau gave the album an “A” and continued with a positive review, specifically writing about the album’s themes and sound quality. It was awarded five out of five stars by AllMusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who said the album “begins at a blinding speed and never once over the course of its 14 songs does it let up.” He also noted that the album is about “speed, hooks, stupidity, and simplicity.”
Regardless of this critical acclaim, Ramones was not as successful commercially. It only reached number 111 on the US Billboard 200, and sold 6,000 units in its first year. Outside the US, the album peaked at number 48 on the Swedish Sverigetopplistan chart.
Accolades: The album was included in Spin magazine’s List of Top Ten College Cult Classics (1995), where it was noted that “everything good that’s happened to music in the last fourteen years can be directly traced to the Ramones.” Also in 1995, Spin named it the number one alternative rock album. In 2001, the magazine also included the album in its special issue 25 Years of Punk with a list of The 50 Most Essential Punk Records, where it resided at the top spot. That same year, it was named the fourth best punk album by Mojo magazine, who called it the “coolest, dumbest, simplest, greatest rock’n’roll record ever to be cut by four sweet, dysfunctional screw-ups.”
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 2002 induction ceremony, with the website stating that their first album changed the rock genre from “bloated and narcissistic,” to “basic” rock and roll. In 2003, Ramones was considered by Spin’s Chuck Klosterman, Greg Milner, and Alex Pappademas to be the sixth most influential album of all time. They noted that the album “saved rock from itself and punk rock from art-gallery pretension.” Q Magazine included the album in their “100 Greatest Albums Ever” (2003) list, where it went down at number 74. Ramones was included in Chris Smith’s 2009 book 101 Albums that Changed Popular Music, who said the album “opened a whole new world of garage rock for those fed up with the excesses of existing rock gods.” It was also included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Legacy and influence: Ramones is considered to have established the musical genre of punk rock, as well as popularizing it years afterward. Rombes wrote that it offered “alienated future rock,” and that it “disconnected from tradition.” The album was the start for the Ramones’ influence on popular music, with examples being genres such as heavy metal, thrash metal, indie pop, grunge, post-punk] and most notably, punk rock.
“When the [Ramones] hit the street in 1976 with their self-titled first album, the rock scene in general had become somewhat bloated and narcissistic. The Ramones got back to basics: simple, speedy, stripped-down rock and roll songs. Voice, guitar, bass, drums. No makeup, no egos, no light shows, no nonsense. And though the subject matter was sometimes dark, emanating from a sullen adolescent basement of the mind, the group also brought cartoonish fun and high-energy excitement back to rock and roll.” —Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Despite the lack of popularity in its era, the importance of the album for the development of punk rock music was incredible, influencing many of the most well known names in punk rock, including the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, the Clash, and Green Day. Billie Joe Armstrong, singer for Green Day, explained his reasoning for listening to the band: “they had songs that just stuck in your head, just like a hammer they banged right into your brain.” The album also had a great impact on the English punk scene as well, with the bassist for Generation X, Tony James, saying that the album caused English bands to change their style. “When their album came out,” commented James, “all the English groups tripled speed overnight. Two-minute-long songs, very fast.” In another interview, James stated that “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.” In 1999, Classic Albums by Collins GEM recognised Ramones as the start of English punk rock and called it the fastest and hardest music that could possibly be concocted, stating: “The songs within were a short, sharp exercise in vicious speed-thrash, driven by ferocious guitars and yet halting in an instant. It was the simple pop dream taken to its minimalist extreme.”
Cover versions and tributes: Each song on Ramones has been covered by various bands. In 1991, German punk band Die Toten Hosen played “Blitzkrieg Bop” on their cover album Learning English, Lesson One. A tribute album titled Gabba Gabba Hey: A Tribute to the Ramones was released on August 30, 1991. It contained the songs “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” “53rd & 3rd,” “I Do not Wanna Go Down To The Basement,” “Loudmouth,” and “Beat on the Brat.” Screeching Weasel released Ramones (1992), which consisted of the band performing the entire album track list. 1998’s Blitzkrieg Over You!: A Tribute to the Ramones featured a cover “Judy Is A Punk” in German, and in 2000, both “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Beat on the Brat” were in Dee Dee’s solo release titled Greatest & Latest. The compilation album Ramones Maniacs included Youth Gone Mad’s version of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Yogurt’s version of “Beat On The Brat.” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Havana Affair,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” were all covered on The Song Ramones the Same. We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones (2003) had several of the album’s songs covered by bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Havana Affair”), Rob Zombie (“Blitzkrieg Bop”), Metallica (“53rd & 3rd”), U2 (“Beat on the Brat”), Pete Yorn (“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”), and John Frusciante (“Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World”). In 2006, “Blitzkrieg Bop”‘s composition was fashioned into a children’s version of the song on the album Brats on the Beat: Ramones for Kids.