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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Ramones - A New Appreciation (Revisited) Part One 1976-1980

I did this post back in 2009! Since then I have noticed that there are a number of dead links and the type face needs redone so I thought I'd give it a fresh update with new links and new pictures and also updating what has happened since 2009!

Click on the links to enjoy the music of The Ramones.

It's been 38 years ago since my ears first heard the sound of The Ramones blaring out of the radio (thanks John Peel) and in that moment the way I listened to music totally changed. All around at the time were bands that were far to self-indulgent with themselves. Albums were a bit of a chore to listen to as musicians seemed to max out on heavy duty guitar solos and over the top keyboard solos. It was not uncommon for songs to last eight or nine minutes. Enter into this mix the self titled debut album of a band from Forest Hills, New York called The Ramones.

Released on April 23rd 1976, containing 14 songs that clocked in at 29 minutes and 4 seconds! This album was a radical departure from what had been the norm. Even in New York City bands like Television and Talking Heads were quite arty whereas The Ramones were a band that had their sight clearly set on reclaiming true pop music! Though in saying that, the themes of their songs were not exactly "radio friendly" ('Chainsaw', '53rd and 3rd', and 'Beat on the Brat' are good examples!) and on release the album was pretty much ignored by American Radio and the record only reached #111 in the Billboard Charts.

Not taken seriously in their own land the band's first date outside of the USA was in London at The Roundhouse alongside The Flaming Groovies on July 4th 1976 to celebrate the American Bi-Centennial.

A further show at Dingwalls in Camden the next night had pretty much the founding fathers of English Punk Rock in attendance (The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Damned).

May 29th 1977 was the first time I saw them live and it totally blew me away. The venue was the Croydon Greyhound and they were touring with The Talking Heads. Their second album 'Leave Home' was already out and they were getting some stick from politicians over the track 'Carbona Not Glue'. It didn't phase them though and each show was becoming a celebration of dysfunction.

Later in the year The Ramones released their third album 'Rocket to Russia' and managed to get a hit record with 'Sheena is a Punk Rocker' which reached #22 here in the UK and they were back touring in the UK again in December that culminated in the famous New Year's Eve show at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park that was recorded and eventually released as 'It's Alive' in 1979. Sire Records actually made a huge mistake in releasing 'Rockaway Beach' to coincide with the tour. Legs McNeil in his liner notes for the expanded edition of 'Rocket to Russia' says, "Rockaway Beach is the band's anthem to every juvenile delinquent's ultimate summer beach party". The song opens with the classic line, "Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum/the sun is out and I want some." As it happened the sun was not out, it was winter and the single failed to chart!

By 1978 The Ramones were about to put out 'Road to Ruin'. That was a little bit different because it was more pop orientated and even included acoustic guitars! Live though they were still the same buzzsaw guitared rock and roll band as can be seen from their performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test the same year. The fourth studio release was also the first for new drummer Marky as Tommy remained in the background producing.

One of the high points of the album was of course the inclusion of what has become a classic Ramones song in 'I Wanna Be Sedated'. That song over the years has made a profound impact so much so that even Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed it on his Working on a Dream tour stop in Boston (22nd April 2009).

It would be a further two years before a new studio project arrived and that was 'End of the Century' produced by Phil Spector. 

They didn't have a great time working with the legend and stories are told of Spector pulling a gun on the band when they wanted to leave the studio after thinking they had done enough! 'End of the Century' was also the first album on which the band appeared without their trademark leather jackets and from it came a hit single that was nothing like The Ramones at all! 'Baby I Love You' had orchestration on it and not the usual power chords the band had become known for. In the UK the single reached the lofty heights of #8, their biggest selling single by a country mile ('Sheena' had been the highest placed single up to this point at #22).

A few insights around the time of the recording come from Trouser Press magazine where the band spoke about the recording process with Spector:
"Phil would sit in the control room and would listen through the headphones to Marky hit one note on the drum, hour after hour, after hour, after hour." (Dee Dee) and Joey noted that "Phil insisted that we play songs over and over. The entire process took only three weeks, but in Ramones time, it was interminable."

Johnny said regarding the recording of 'Baby, I Love You' that, "I wanted to do a Phil Spector song...I realized that it was a mistake, and to me it was the worst thing we've ever done in our career."

The album is embraced by some, hated by many yet I think it has some of their most enduring songs ('Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?', 'I'm Affected', 'Rock 'n' Roll High School', 'Danny Says'). The album became their biggest hit reaching #14 in the UK and #44 in the USA.
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