Monday, October 18, 2010

Rocktober Album #12: The Ramones - The Ramones (1976)

Admittedly, I got into punk music relatively late. It's not that I didn't like punk; it's more that I wasn't exposed to it. In the '80s and '90s, you didn't hear punk on the radio as much as classic rock, hard rock, or even metal.

In case you've been in a Mason Storm-like coma for the past 34 years, The Ramones were the leaders of the punk revolution. They were four guys from Queens who took their name from an alias Paul McCartney used to use at hotels, and they all changed their surnames to Ramone -- becoming the first family of punk. They were ugly, they were raw, and they dressed like greasers. It was the opposite of what was popular back then.

In 1976, mainstream rock music was becoming more and more overproduced. Bands like ELO, Styx, Yes, and Led Zeppelin made albums with elaborate productions, filling arenas and putting on over-the-top shows with lasers, smoke, and long guitar solos. Worse yet, disco was starting to emerge. The Ramones stripped everything down to its essence and brought rock back to what it used to be -- catchy, two-minute songs -- but they added an element of anger and frustration, along with adult subject matters. Don't get me wrong. Obviously, I love Zeppelin and '70s rock, but I think my generation doesn't quite understand how revolutionary and different The Ramones were when they arrived. In a day and age where Ramones t-shirts are worn with reckless abandon and popular children's shows are named after Ramones lyrics, it's hard to imagine a time when The Ramones weren't around.

Anyway, this is the band's self-titled debut. You learn pretty quickly that The Ramones were all about power chords (and not many of them), driving beats, straightforward lyrics, and garbled singing. Half the time, I have no idea what Joey Ramone is singing, but you eventually figure it out. Despite the fact that this album peaked at #111 on the Billboard charts, it is generally recognized as one of the best albums in rock history. The album is 14 songs, yet it's barely 29 minutes. (Also, there's a 2001 remaster with demo versions of eight songs added on, which is pretty solid for $7.98.) From start to finish, it's speed and energy, and it was a undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for a lot of people.

1. Blitzkrieg Bop
"Hey! Ho! Let's go!" Could there have been a more perfect opening line for punk music to introduce itself to the world? "Blitzkrieg Bop" is a rock and roll classic, and among the many honors it has received over the years, Rolling Stone ranked it as one of the top 100 songs of all-time.

2. Beat on the Brat
This is a rather straightforward song about beating a brat with a baseball bat. "Brat," of course, does not mean a German encased sausage in this instance. In fact, legend has it Joey Ramone wrote this after seeing a mother running after her son with a bat in the lobby of his building. Only in New York!

3. Judy Is a Punk
This is probably my favorite Ramones song. It's relatively insane, if you listen to the lyrics, as it's about Jackie (who is a punk) and Judy (who is a runt) going to Berlin to join the Ice Capades. Perhaps they'll die. Of course, I had no idea what he was saying for several years until I actually looked up the lyrics.

4. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
It's no secret that The Ramones loved early rock and roll and doo wop. This is a '50s throwback, complete with a relatively sweet and vanilla subject matter, a nice melody, and backing "oohs."

5. Chain Saw
I like this song because it's about chainsaws. Better yet, Joey Ramone repeats the phrase "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and he pronounces "massacre" as "mass-a-cree."

6. Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
This is a punk classic about boredom and things one might do to escape from that boredom. I've never been much of a glue sniffer -- more of a silver spray paint in a tube sock kind of guy -- but I can see how this appealed to all those dirty loser punks who listened to this crap. I kid.

7. I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement
At a whopping 2 minutes and 34 seconds, this is the longest song on the album. It took me awhile to figure out what Joey Ramone was saying when he was singing the title to the song. I don't know what I thought he was saying, but it sounds like "I don't wanna go dance in the face." Of course, once I actually read the title to the song, things became much clearer, although basements are usually pretty cool, so I don't know what the deal is.

8. Loudmouth
I definitely like the message of this song -- loudmouths should shut up or get beat up.

9. Havana Affair
This is your classic punk song about a Cuban who helps the CIA. He used to pick bananas for a living. Unfortunately, only has a live version, so that's what I included.

10. Listen to My Heart
This is another song where I should have paid more attention to the title before trying in vain to figure out what Joey Ramone was saying. "Next time, I'll list 'em aaaaalllll" is not what he's saying. I don't know why you'd make a song about writing lists anyway, so good call Ramones. This one isn't on, unfortunately.

11. 53rd & 3rd
This is a great song. Interestingly, Dee Dee Ramone wrote it about a street corner in New York that was notorious for gay prostitution, and the song's narrator kills a Vietnam vet with a razor blade to prove that he's not a sissy. We've all been there.

12. Let's Dance
You may recognize this song, as it's a cover of the Chris Montez classic. The Ramones covered several '50s and '60s songs throughout the years, adding their flavor and energy. This song translates really well to punk, but unfortunately, it's not on

13. I Don't Wanna Walk Around with You
This song asks the question that has plagued many bad relationships since the dawn of time: "I don't wanna walk around with you, so why do you wanna walk around with me?" Unfortunately, this too is not on

14. Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World
I really like this song. It has an odd backstory. Dee Dee Ramone lived in Germany when he was young because his father was stationed there. This song is sung from the viewpoint of a German boy fighting "for the fatherland." It's often misconstrued as a pro-Nazi song, which it absolutely is not (and would be strange considering Tommy and Joey Ramone were Jewish). To me, it's more about the flaws of blind allegiance, but then again, I didn't write the song.

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