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2023/4 Albums Thing 290 - Ramones “Ramones”

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14 songs in 29 minutes and 23 seconds, the longest song clocks in at at a massive 2 mins 32 secs (there are probably Prog types with longer songs than this whole album !), that’s the way to do it. They may have thought in their heads they were recreating the sound of the Shangri-La’s and the Bay City Rollers but they really, just probably, invented Punk Rock and saved rock ’n’ roll, all at the same time.

At the suggestion of journalist Lisa Robinson, former Stooges manager Danny Fields became the bands manager and put them in the studio to record demos at the end of 1975 (interestingly the demos were recorded at 914 Sound Studios, the same studio where Bruce Springsteen recorded his first 2 albums). On the strength of these demos and after auditioning for Seymour Stein, Ramones signed with Sire Records for whom this album was recorded during January 1976, in just 7 days and at a cost of only $6400 (approximately £2900 at the then exchange rate. By contrast Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” which was #1 in the UK in January 1976 had a production budget of £40,000 or $88,000 !). 

The songs are, at heart, 50’s/60’s style Teen anthems updated to suit the times spent hanging around the Bowery. The two deviations from that are “53rd & 3rd” Dee Dee’s graphic tale of (being) a rent boy on that seedy corner and the gruesome fate that befell one of the “customers”. Then there’s “Today Your Love Tomorrow The World” which Sire Records head honcho Seymour Stein (from the New York Jewish community) insisted had a lyric change from its original “I’m a Nazi baby, I’m a Nazi yes I am” (which they sadly continued to sing live and can be heard on “It’s Alive”) to what we hear on the album “I'm a shock trooper in a stupor, Yes I am” (although the very next line is still “I'm a Nazi shatze, You know I fight for fatherland”, shatze being a mangling of the German Schatzi meaning jewel or treasure used as in English we would use darling or sweetheart !). Legend also has it that someone at Sire Records commented that there were some very negative songs on the album ("I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement”, "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You”). To counter that the band wrote a new, more positive tune, which is how we got "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue".

Their thang is perfectly explained by 3 songs in the middle of Side 1. The thrashing  “Judy Is A Punk” (the first time, in 1976 anyway, most would have encountered the term Punk) is followed by the sweet 60’s/proto-indie of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” which is in turn followed by the pummelling schlock-horror of “Chain Saw”. Nights hanging with the Bowery punks followed by nights listening to 60’s hits radio followed by late nights watching re-runs of horror movies (Johnny thought the band might last 5 years and he would then move in to directing low budget horror films).

The album cover is iconic in itself. Photographed by Punk magazine's Roberta Bayley, it features Da Brudders leaning against a brick wall in the Bowery in New York City (Tommy on tiptoes so as not to look so small next to Joey). The Ramones were the first band I was a fan of where all the original members passed away. One of the saddest things I saw after Tommy died was an image of this iconic cover where all four guys had been removed and you were left with their logo above a brick wall. 

Much like “The Velvet Underground & Nico” this album sold diddley when first released but those that heard it and would go on to form the Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, Buzzcocks clung to it and used its influence like they imbibed that VU album and their Stooges and New York Dolls records. Ramones and “Ramones” shook off the bloated bullshit of late 60’s and early 70’s Blues/Heavy/Prog rock and returned it to short, sharp blasts of teenage joy. Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Beck and the rest may all have been technically proficient virtuoso players but not one of them made a guitar sound as exciting to me as Johnny Ramone, no singer expressed teenage geekiness like Joey and if you really think Dee Dee and Tommy couldn’t play then you’ve never picked up a Bass guitar or a drum stick. Many have tried to sound like Ramones, and still do, but none come close to the first 4 albums they made in just 29 months. We should thank our lucky stars that they came along to save rock ’n’ roll for us.

53rd & 3rd - https://youtu.be/jJ_q5Zu3LSg?si=gZzAA6MQ9Tauos1z

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