Published on July 14th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
Crushing Wisdom – What Only the Ramones Could Have Taught Us
Ever wonder why the Ramones’ songs are so short? Because all you get is the hook.
It wasn’t something I was immediately hip to. But a few years ago I was talking shop with a New York-based musician named Willie Nile. Nile’s made it as a recording artist for more than 30 years, has played at Shea Stadium with Bruce Springsteen and opened for the Who in the 1980s.
I asked him to name his favorite record of all time.
“Hmm,” he responded. “Probably the Ramones’ Greatest Hits.”
Later I spoke with Jesse Malin, who was then pursuing a solo career but was once the lead singer for a prolific under-the-radar punk band called D Generation. Malin had a similar respect for the Ramones, and at one time he knew most of the members personally. After Tommy Ramone – the group’s original drummer – died last week, Malin wrote on Facebook that Tommy “invented a drum style,” a “sound” and was “part of one of the best bands in the world.”
It was a terrific tribute, one of many you might have noticed or even read in the past week. So Overdue Review would like to chime in, and we hope you don’t mind.
The recent passing of Tommy Ramone, born in 1949 as Tommy Erdelyi, is a big deal. When the Ramones formed, Tommy was the group’s manager. He took over on drums when it was decided Joey Ramone couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time. He was as much of a motor as anyone in the band, co-producing the group’s early albums and taking on the task of being the main writer on a slew of classics now taught by guitar teachers. That includes the iconic “Blitzkrieg Bop,” released on their 1976 debut.
Tommy’s reputation was that he was the “normal” one in the group, which is a little like being the thinnest kid at fat camp. Although he left the group in the late ’70s (the band officially called it quits in 1996), he bolstered his talents as a producer. He notably handled production duties for his former bandmates on their mid-’80s blast, Too Tough to Die. He also produced the Replacements’ Tim, which is another album that reset the clock and ambitions for an entire fresh-faced generation. If you haven’t heard “Waitress in the Sky” or “Bastards of Young,” it’s time to get busy.
“Our music is an answer to the early ’70s when artsy people with big egos would do vocal harmonies and play long guitar solos and get called geniuses,” Tommy once told a reporter when he was in the Ramones.
“First of all, (the Ramones) weren’t four morons,” he told another. “Second of all, none of it was an accident. And third of all, it’s four talented people who know exactly what they like and who know what they’re doing.”
As if Tommy’s passing wasn’t enough, we’ve now officially lost all earthly contact with the original Ramones. Tommy was the last surviving member of a group scorned by traditionalists for their gloriously snot-nosed minimalism, yet revered by kids for their accessibility.
“To me, they were pop music,” said Legs McNeil, co-founder of Punk Magazine. “They were what was played on the radio in the 60s. I thought they were the most commercial band in the world and was kind of shocked when everybody said they weren’t.”
Indeed, the group was an urban, industrial version of the Beach Boys. “Songs” were essentially hooks. But their sugar rush nature of their material had more brawn and brains than almost anything else coming out of the ’70s at the time. They spoke to us straight up – the Ramones delivered hardcore singalongs about adolescent alienation and identity. If you got it, you got it.
After the plugs from Nile and Malin, I bought the aptly-titled Loud, Fast, a retrospective album that crammed 30 classics onto a single disc. At the time, I was familiar with the Ramones’ legacy as documented by music journalists; however, I hadn’t listened to the band much on my own. I soon fell in love with the angst. Bubblegum music had never gotten in my face like that before.
“Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” “Judy is a Punk,” and “Rockaway Beach” all fascinated me. When Nile and I spoke, he told me he covered the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” the night before. It would be a tune I would fall hard for myself.
Then there’s the renegade pop of “Somebody Put Something in My Drink,” which is probably my favorite Ramones song of all-time. It’s up there with “The Crusher,” a cut from their final album, when the band’s tempos were slowing down a bit.
The Ramones played more than 2,200 shows over the 22 years. That’s 110 shows a year. They stayed true to their sound, arguably to a fault. Like AC/DC, you never had to guess where the Ramones were going to land. You could depend on them.
Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone all died within 9 years of the group’s break up. Eerily, when the group went, most of its members did too. Everyone but Tommy.
“It was highly unusual for three people to pass away so close and in the prime of their lives,” Tommy told the press. “It was sad, depressing, confusing. The way I deal with it is to think of them as still being around, otherwise it’s too baffling.”
The Ramones had no idea what kind of genie they were letting out of the bottle in the 1970s. Their anti-message was clear enough to change the course of rock music. Forget the bullshit, the Ramones argued. Lord knows there’s enough of it out there.
The Ramones taught us that sometimes life comes down to playing your best three chords.
You just have to know what to do with them.
Andy’s Top 10 Ramones Songs:
10) Beat on the Brat
9) Rockaway Beach
8) Blitzkrieg Bop
7) I Wanna Be Sedated
5) The Crusher
4) Main Man
3) Judy is a Punk
2) Sheena is a Punk Rocker
1) Somebody Put Something in My Drink