Playlist: Hey! Ho! Let’s Go! Remembering The Ramones

The Ramones

With the sad passing of drummer and last surviving bandmate, Tommy Ramone, over the weekend, Joseph Viney reminds us why The Ramones stood out in a New York punk scene teeming with talent…

The cover of the Ramones’ debut LP has now become an historical document.

The sight of four ne’er-do-wells slouched against a brick wall in (matching!) patched-up clothes, perfecting that “you jus’ come to da wrong neighbourhood, buddy” look, remains as one of the defining images of what came to be known as ‘punk’, not just on either side of the Atlantic, but worldwide.

The death of Tommy Ramone late last week signified the final and saddest “1-2-3-4!” count of the Ramones’ career; the ascension of the band’s entire original line-up to the great gig in the sky.

Tommy’s passing aged 62 followed on from Joey (2001), Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004).

Much has been written and said about the Ramones ever since that eponymous 1976 debut, and despite the band constantly being on the brink of all-out civil war, their legacy has long since been assured.

The Ramones stood out in a New York City scene already teeming with talent. Against the glamour of Blondie and the aesthetic anonymity of Television, ‘Da Bruddas’, with their ramshackle uniform, gangly lead singer and ear-splitting, buzzsaw compositions, grabbed the scene, city and world by the throat and refused to let go.

Although punk was in its infancy, the Ramones offered a comic-like alternative to the violent intensity of the Stooges and the gender-bending decadence of the New York Dolls. Dee Dee, as chief songwriter, put his obsessions with Nazism, girls, drugs and horror movies on the page for all to see. Backed up by Johnny’s manic guitar playing, Joey’s other-wordly appearance and Tommy’s clattering time-keeping, it was this mix of the childlike and serious that appealed to so many.

“The Ramones fed off negative energy… they thrived in scum-pits and drew strength from being bottom of the pile and kicked while they were down”

Purists/snobs will tell you that the Ramones first three LPs (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia) were the best. As unfortunate as it seems, Tommy’s death draws a neat line in the sand; offering that run of records and that period of times some of that ‘closure’ thing US talk show hosts are always banging on about.

But despite all of the adulation, sales and influence life was never easy for the Ramones. Constant touring offset bad business dealings, while tensions within the band were always high. Joey and Johnny clashed politically then stopped speaking altogether when Joey’s girlfriend left him for Johnny (who stayed married to her until his death). Dee Dee tended to try and fight the entire world, and then if that wasn’t bad enough, undertook a rap career so awful it appears to have been wiped from the cultural consciousness altogether.

Tommy, playing up to one of those clichéd ‘quiet one’ roles, set about ruining his own health before falling out irreparably with his band-mates before moving to the other side of the desk.

The Ramones never really seemed to recover from having their fifth album, End Of The Century, produced/mangled/saved (delete as appropriate) by the gun-toting madman Phil Spector, and the following years saw any number of peaks, troughs and line-up changes. One of Joey’s last notable contributions to public life was an ill-advised drunken phone call to the Howard Stern Show to dispel idle chatter about the extent of his drinking.

Obituaries tend to offer a chink of light into an area of darkness. Light-hearted anecdotes come to the fore, RIPs are made and the dead generally well-remembered. But the point is, the Ramones fed off negative energy. Whether they liked it or not they thrived in scum-pits and drew strength from being bottom of the pile and kicked while they were down.

And so, they probably hated us, the average music listeners and writers, but despite everything, we loved them.

Gabba-gabba-hey, gabba-gabba-bye.

Joseph Viney

Posted on 15/07/2014 by thedoublenegative