The Ramones were an American rock band often regarded as the first punk rock group. Formed in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, in 1974, all of the band members adopted stage names ending with "Ramone", though none of them were actually related. They performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after a tour with the Lollapalooza music festival, the band played their final show and then disbanded. A little more than eight years after the breakup, the band's three founding members—lead singer Joey Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, and bassist Dee Dee Ramone—were dead.
The Ramones were a major influence on the punk rock movement both in the United States and Great Britain, though they achieved only minor commercial success. Their only record with enough U.S. sales to be certified gold was the compilation album Ramones Mania. Recognition of the band's importance built over the years, and they are now regularly represented in many assessments of all-time great rock music, such as the Rolling Stone lists of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time and 25 Greatest Live Albums of All Time, VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, and Mojo's 100 Greatest Albums. In 2002, the Ramones were voted the second greatest rock and roll band ever in Spin, trailing only The Beatles. On March 18, 2002, the Ramones—including the first four members and drummer Marky —were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Ramones began taking shape in early 1974 when Cummings and Colvin invited Hyman to join them in a band. The initial lineup featured Colvin on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Cummings on lead guitar, and Hyman on drums. Colvin, who soon switched from rhythm guitar to bass, was the first to adopt the name Ramone, dubbing himself Dee Dee Ramone. He was inspired by Paul McCartney's use of the pseudonym Paul Ramone during his Silver Beatles days. Dee Dee convinced the other members to take on the name and came up with the idea of calling the band the Ramones. Hyman and Cummings became Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone, respectively.
A friend of the band—Monte A. Melnick, later their tour manager—helped to arrange rehearsal time for them at Manhattan's Performance Studios. Johnny's former bandmate Erdelyi was set to become their manager. Soon after the band was formed, Dee Dee realized that he could not sing and play bass at the same time; Joey became the band's new lead vocalist. Dee Dee would continue, however, to count off each song's tempo with his signature rapid-fire shout of "1-2-3-4!" Joey soon similarly realized that he could not sing and play drums simultaneously and left the position of drummer. While auditioning prospective replacements, Erdelyi would often take to the drums and demonstrate how to play the songs. It became apparent that he was able to perform the group's music better than anyone else, and he joined the band as Tommy Ramone.
The Ramones played before an audience for the first time on March 30, 1974, at their rehearsal space. The songs they played were very fast and very short; most clocked in at under two minutes. Around this time, a new music scene was emerging in New York centered around two clubs in downtown Manhattan—Max's Kansas City and, most famously, CBGB (usually referred to as CBGB's). The Ramones made their CBGB's debut on August 16. Legs McNeil, who co-founded Punk magazine the following year, later described the impact of that performance: "They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song...and it was just this wall of noise…. They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.
The band swiftly became regulars at the club, playing there seventy-four times by the end of the year. After garnering considerable attention for their performances—which averaged about seventeen minutes from beginning to end—the group was signed to a recording contract in autumn 1975 by Seymour Stein of Sire Records. Stein's wife, Linda Stein, had seen the band play at CBGB's; she would later co-manage them along with Danny Fields. By this time, the Ramones were recognized as leaders of the new scene that was increasingly being referred to as "punk".
Ramones made little commercial impact, reaching only number 111 on the Billboard album chart. The two associated singles, "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", failed to chart at all. At the band's first major gig outside of New York, a June date in Youngstown, Ohio, approximately ten people showed up. It wasn't until they made a brief tour of England that they began to see the fruits of their labor: a performance at The Roundhouse in London on July 4, 1976 (second-billed to the Flamin' Groovies), organized by Linda Stein, was a resounding success. Their Roundhouse appearance and a club date the following night helped galvanize the burgeoning UK punk rock scene, inspiring future punk stars, including members of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned. The Flamin' Groovies/Ramones double bill was successfully reprised at The Roxy in Los Angeles the following month, fueling the punk scene there as well. The Ramones were becoming an increasingly popular live act—a Toronto performance in September energized yet another growing punk scene.
Their next two albums, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, were released in 1977. Both were coproduced by Tommy and Tony Bongiovi, the second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi. Leave Home met with even less chart success than Ramones, though it did include "Pinhead", which became one of the band's signature songs with its chanted refrain of "Gabba gabba hey!" Rocket to Russia was the band's highest charting album to date, reaching number 49. In Rolling Stone, critic Dave Marsh called it "the best American rock & roll of the year". The album also featured the first Ramones single to break into the Billboard charts (albeit only as high as number 81): "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker". The follow-up single, "Rockaway Beach", climbed to number 66—the highest any Ramones single would ever reach in America. On December 31, 1977, the Ramones recorded It's Alive, a live concert double album, at the Rainbow Theatre, London, which was released in April 1979 (the title is a reference to a 1974 horror movie).
In early 1978, Tommy, tired of touring, left the band, though he continued as the Ramones' record producer. His position as drummer was filled by Marc Bell, who had been a member of the early 1970s hard rock band Dust and punk icon Richard Hell's backing band, The Voidoids. Bell became Marky Ramone. Later that year, the band released their fourth album, and first with Marky, Road to Ruin. The album, coproduced by Tommy with Ed Stasium, included some new sounds like acoustic guitar, several ballads, and the band's first two recorded songs longer than three minutes. It failed to crack the Billboard Top 100. However, "I Wanna Be Sedated", which appeared both on the album and as the B-side of a single, would become one of the band's best-known songs. The artwork on the album's cover was done by Punk magazine co-founder John Holmstrom.
After the band's movie debut in Roger Corman's Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), legendary producer Phil Spector became interested in the Ramones and produced their 1980 album End of the Century. During the recording sessions in Los Angeles, Spector pulled a gun on Dee Dee, forcing him to repeatedly play a riff. Though End of the Century was to be the highest-charting album in the band's history—number 44 in the United States, number 14 in Great Britain—Johnny made clear that he favored the band's more aggressive punk material. (A stance also conveyed by the title and track selection of the compilation album he later oversaw: Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits.) He later commented on working with Spector, "It really worked when he got to a slower song like 'Danny Says'—the production really worked tremendously. 'Rock 'N' Roll Radio' is really good. For the harder stuff, it didn't work as well."Colin Devenish "Johnny Ramone Stays Tough: Ramones guitarist reflects on Dee Dee's death and the difficult Eighties". Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2008-01-05. The syrupy, string-laden Ronettes cover "Baby, I Love You" released as a single, became the band's biggest ever hit by far in Great Britain, reaching number 8 on the charts.
In 1981, the Ramones' sixth album, Pleasant Dreams, came out. The record continued the trend established by End of The Century, diluting the rawer punk sound showcased on the band's initial three albums. Slick production was again featured, this time provided by Graham Gouldman of UK pop act 10cc. Johnny would contend in retrospect that this direction was a record company decision, a continued futile attempt to get airplay on American radio. While Pleasant Dreams reached number 58 on the U.S. chart, its two singles failed to register at all. On August 1, 1981, however, the Ramones became the first band to be interviewed on the newly formed cable network MTV, which temporarily provided a more receptive outlet for the band's music.
Subterranean Jungle, produced by Ritchie Cordell and Glen Kolotkin, was released in 1983. Billy Rogers, who had performed with Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, played drums on the album's second single, a cover of The Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today". Subterranean Jungle peaked at number 83 in the United States—it would be the last album by the band to crack the Billboard Top 100.
In 1986, the Ramones were invited to record the soundtrack to the film Sid and Nancy. During their work, some management problems developed, and the deal was cancelled. However, a handful of songs created for this movie were included in their 1986 album Animal Boy. Produced by Jean Beauvoir of the Plasmatics, it included a mix of hard and poppier punk songs.
In 1987, the band recorded their last album with Richie, Halfway to Sanity. The record was produced by Daniel Rey, formerly a guitarist with the late-1970s punk band Shrapnel. Richie left in August 1987, upset that after being in the band for four years, the other members would still not give him a share of the money they made selling T-shirts. Richie was replaced by Clem Burke from Blondie, which was disbanded at the time. According to Johnny, the performances with Burke—who took on the name Elvis Ramone—were a disaster. He was fired after two shows because his drumming could not keep up with the rest of the band. Marky, now clean and sober, returned.
Dee Dee Ramone left after 1989's Brain Drain—coproduced by Beauvoir, Rey, and Bill Laswell—to pursue a brief solo career as a rapper, adopting the name Dee Dee King. He was replaced by Christopher Joseph Ward (C.J. Ramone), who performed and recorded with the band until their break-up. However, Dee Dee continued contributing to the Ramones' music by lending his lyrics for use.
In 1993, the Ramones appeared on an episode of The Simpsons ("Rosebud"). They were booked to sing "Happy Birthday" at Mr. Burns's birthday party, where they showed their distaste for the gig, shouting, "I'd just like to say this gig sucks!" (Joey), "Hey, up yours, Springfield!" (Johnny), and "Go to Hell, you old bastard!" (C.J.); though Marky quipped, "Hey, I think they liked us!" Afterwards, Mr. Burns mistakenly ordered Smithers to "have The Rolling Stones killed."
In 1995, they came out with ¡Adios Amigos!—it would turn out to be their last studio album, After a spot in the 1996 Lollapalooza festival, the Ramones went on a short club tour and then disbanded, reportedly due to ongoing personality clashes and frustration at not achieving commercial success commensurate with their influence.
Their final show was on August 6, 1996, at the Palace in Hollywood. The show was recorded, and later released on video and CD as We're Outta Here!. The show featured several special guests such as Lemmy from Motörhead, Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, and Chris Cornell, then in Soundgarden.
In 2002, Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, Marky and Tommy Ramone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, the surviving inductees spoke on behalf of the band. Tommy spoke first, saying how honored the band felt, but how much it would have meant for Joey. Johnny thanked the band's fans and blessed George W. Bush and his presidency, Dee Dee humorously congratulated and thanked himself, while Marky thanked Tommy for influencing his drumstyle. This was one of Dee Dee's last public appearances; two months later he was found dead at his Hollywood home on June 5, 2002, from a heroin overdose. Also at the ceremony, Green Day played "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" as a tribute to the Ramones, demonstrating the Ramones' continuing influence on later punk rock bands.
In the summer of 2004, the Ramones documentary End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones was released in theaters. Johnny Ramone, who had been privately battling prostate cancer, died on September 15, 2004, in Los Angeles, California, almost exactly as the film was released.
On the same day as Johnny's death, the world's first and only Ramones Museum opened its doors for the public. Located in Berlin, Germany, the Ramones Museum Berlin features more than 300 original memorabilia items from the Ramones, including a pair of stage-worn jeans from Johnny Ramone, a stage-worn glove from Joey Ramone, Marky Ramone's sneakers and CJ Ramone's stage-worn bass strap. The Ramones were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
In October 2007, a DVD was released containing live footage. It's Alive 1974-1996 includes 118 songs from 33 performances over the span of the group's career.
On stage, the band adopted a focused approach directly intended to increase the audience's concert experience. Johnny's instructions to C.J. when preparing for his first live performances with the group were to play facing the audience, to stand with the bass slung low between spread legs, and to walk forward to the front of stage at the same time as he did. Johnny Ramone was not a fan of guitarists who performed facing their drummer, amplifier or other band members.
Due to a similar musical style, many bands were claimed to be "an answer to the Ramones" by critics in the late 1970s. There were the "English answer" (The Lurkers), the "Irish answer" (The Undertones), the "Canadian answer" (Teenage Head), and the "Mexican answer" (The Zeros).
The band's logo was created by New York City artist Arturo Vega, a longtime friend who had allowed Joey and Dee Dee to move into his loft. Vega produced the band's t-shirts, their main source of income, basing most of the images on a black-and-white self-portrait photograph he had taken of his American bald eagle belt buckle which had appeared on the back sleeve of the Ramones' first album. He was inspired to create the band's logo after a trip to Washington, D.C.:
I saw them as the ultimate all-American band. To me, they reflected the American character in general–an almost childish innocent aggression. Then the first time I went to Washington, D.C., I was impressed by the official atmosphere of the buildings and agencies and all the flags everywhere. I thought, 'The Great Seal of the President of the United States' would be perfect for the Ramones, with the eagle holding arrows–to symbolize strength and the aggression that would be used against whomever dares to attack us–and an olive branch, offered to those who want to be friendly. But we decided to change it a little bit. Instead of the olive branch, we had an apple tree branch, since the Ramones were American as apple pie. And since Johnny was such a baseball fanatic, we had the eagle hold a baseball bat instead of the [Great Seal]'s arrows.The scroll in the eagle's beak originally read "Look out below", but was later changed to "Hey, ho! Let's go!" after the opening lyrics of the band's first single "Blitzkrieg Bop", while the arrowheads on the shield came from a design on a polyester shirt Vega had bought. The name "Ramones" was spelled out in block capitals above the logo using plastic stick-on letters. Where the presidential seal read "Seal of the President of the United States" clockwise in the border around the eagle, Vega instead placed the stage names of the four band members: Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy. Over the years the names in the border would change as the band's lineup fluctuated. Vega went on to serve as the band's lighting director and sold their merchandise. In 2003 he had the original logo tattooed across his back with his own nickname, "Arty", in place of Tommy.
The seminal hardcore band Bad Brains took its name from a Ramones song. Later punk bands such as Screeching Weasel, The Vindictives, The Queers, The Huntingtons, The Mr. T Experience, John Cougar Concentration Camp and the Beatnik Termites have all recorded covers of entire Ramones albums; including Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, File Under Ramones, Road to Ruin, ""Too Tough to Die" and Pleasant Dreams, respectively.
The Ramones also influenced the sound of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, including that of bands such as Motörhead and Iron Maiden. Motörhead lead singer Lemmy first met the Ramones in 1976. His band composed and performed the song "R.A.M.O.N.E.S" as a tribute, and Lemmy would perform at the final Ramones concert in 1996. The simplicity of the Ramones' approach also influenced electronica pioneers Kraftwerk.
The first Ramones tribute album by multiple bands was released in 1991 under the title Gabba Gabba Hey: A Tribute to the Ramones, featuring tracks recorded by such notable bands as L7, Mojo Nixon, and Bad Religion. Many more tribute albums followed, We're a Happy Family being the most well-known, with artists such as Green Day, Kiss, Metallica, The Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and Rob Zombie (who also did the album cover artwork). Green Day members have gone as far as naming their children in honor of the band. Billie Joe Armstrong named his son Joey as tribute to Joey Ramone, and Tré Cool named his daughter Ramona for similar reasons.
|Rocket to Russia|
|1978||Road to Ruin|
|1980||End of the Century|
|1984||Too Tough to Die|
|1987||Halfway to Sanity|