With the sad passing of the last original Ramone today – drummer Tommy Ramone – it seems fitting to talk about one of the greatest American bands of all time.
What’s that? You don’t have any Ramones albums? You don’t know much about them? Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.
I was always amazed at how much bigger the Ramones were outside of the U.S. then they were in the States. They’d play arenas in South America and large festivals in Europe, then come back to America to play small clubs.
But enough of my ranting. Here’s why the Ramones are important.
During the 1970s, the music scene started moving in a specific direction – spurred on by three bands in particular: The Beatles, Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd.
That direction was progressive. Thanks to the work The Beatles did on their last few albums, even though they ended in 1970, bands like Floyd were inspired to see what they could do in the studio. They wanted to see how much they could do to the music.
Music became advanced. It became more complicated, more intricate. Songs became longer, more sweeping.
Then the Ramones came along.
Yes, there were bands like KISS and New York Dolls already playing just straight forward rock. And yes, the Stones were still around. But none of them did what the Ramones did.
When I say stripped down, I mean, the first Ramones album has 14 songs and is 29 minutes long. They joked the Ramones would do a full set of 25 songs in about 45 minutes.
There were no frills with the Ramones. It was just a wall of angry guitar and bass. When you saw them live, it was always kicked off by bassist Dee Dee Ramone shouting “1-2-3-4″ at the top of his lungs.
It caught on. The music hit a mark with young people who were looking for a different avenue of music. It particularly hit in England, where bands like Sex Pistols and The Clash responded with expanding the punk genre even more. Even stateside, bands like Black Flag, The Misfits, Green Day and countless others tried to recreate what the Ramones did.
That punk genre then became part of the influence of bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead and was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The speed and anger of punk music became a huge part of what ended up being thrash metal.
The closest reference I can come up with is this: Ramones was the Nirvana of the 1970s. They came out, created a brand new genre and turned the music world around. They completely changed the New York music scene.
While they never had the commercial success – particularly domestically – as Nirvana, Kurt Cobain himself said his dream was to be in a band like Ramones.
And now all of the Ramones are gone. One of the most important rock bands in the history of this country – at least the four founding members – is gone.
Now it’s up to Marky Ramone, who has been carrying the torch for a while, as Tommy was always a bit more reclusive. In fact, Tommy didn’t even want to be in the band, but when he was teaching people how to drum along with the songs, no one was better than he was. So he stayed on for three albums before moving on to producing a lot of their albums.
RIP Tommy Ramone. Gabba Gabba Hey. Truly, you were “one of us.” And you will definitely be missed.