The Soul of Rock: The Ramones!

The Ramones first full-length. Not to be missed. Get it here.

I was a novice radio producer when I made a short radio story on the Ramones for KEXP.

It was only my second series for the station and the first one where I had creative control. Punk Evolution was to be a 10-part series. My friend Angela (title guru) came up with that one. The first episode would be on “The Roots of Punk”, then “The Birth of Punk in The Bowery” and the third would be solely on “The Ramones”.

I was obsessed. Just like with every one of the 18 series that would follow, I agonized over the choices and submerged myself in the culture.

For punk I dyed my hair black, vowed not to smile so much and dove into the seemingly endless film documentaries on the subject.

Trying not to smile during my punk phase.

Punk Attitude is the riveting overview of the movement. If you’re only going to watch one, that’s the ticket. The best Ramones doc was End of the Century and if you’ve got infinite patience and a strong stomach try the 4-hour rocket ride It’s Alive.

But the very best film is the 1979 movie Rock and Roll High School. Not a documentary, this is a weird yet surprisingly smart spoof where the “dreamy” Ramones change the life of a high school rebel girl.

The high point is when Joey Ramone comes in to sing “I Want You Around” to her in her bedroom. It’s an early attempt  at a music video with different shots showing Johnny playing guitar, Marky on the drums in the back yard. Dee Dee is playing bass in her shower.

Inspired by the Bay City Rollers and their rock anthem “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night”, the Ramones wrote one of the most concise and explosive pop joints of all time – “Blitzkreig Bop”. The mythology of the Ramones power comes partially from this song. They’d open with it often. The volume coming off the stage was legendary.

For radio play there’s only one song that’s as great as “Blitzkreig Bop”. And that’s “I Wanna Be Sedated”.  It brings to mind the degenerate birthplace of punk club culture CBGBs in the Bowery.

Recently I’ve heard people claim that punk was started in the UK or Seattle. Punk was born in New York City!

The other thing I love about The Ramones is that they were outcast freaks from Queens, who took their rebel style to the world.

Lead singer Joey Ramone was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder when he was only a kid. The doctor told his mom that Joey would never be a productive member of society. Joey Ramone would go on to become one of the greatest rock stars of all time.

Now let’s time travel back to the Ramones live in London 1977.  On this song “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” you can really hear how punk is really just sped up  surf music with primal drums and distorted guitars.

Johnny is a pounding force of nature on guitar. And Dee-Dee an animal on the bass with that adorable/frightening rock muppet quality, bouncing around the stage. I have to say Joey just lights up the room when he’s singing. In fact, I’ve rarely seen such a productive member of society.

Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP 90.3FM Seattle, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features forThe SmithsonianExperience Music Projectthe University of Washington and NPR.

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Categories: alternative rock, biographies, indie rock, music, music history, videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “The Soul of Rock: The Ramones!

  1. Dave

    Cool post. Noting your link between surf music and punk; there actually is a surf band called Ramonetures that does all Ramones covers. It’s some pretty oddball/interesting stuff.
    You’ve probably already read it, but Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil is a great oral history document of first wave NYC punk.
    I suppose a case could be made for Seattle, or Tacoma, being the birthplace of punk due to the proto punk garage rock of The Sonics back in the sixties, and then bands like The Telepaths who were contemporarys of the early NYC punk bands. But the label “punk rock” really was a thing that grew out of the New York scene I guess, so I suppose it was invented there or something. Bands like The Ramones certainly embodied that musical style of pared down, fast, no frills, raw rocknroll-and the influence they’ve had on so much music since really is unparalleled.
    Gabba Gabba Hey!

    • “Please Kill Me” was fascinating, but so brutal and dark I only got through the first few chapters. Esp the stuff about Lou Reed was hard to stomach.
      Garage is not punk so I have to disagree about punk being at all rooted in Seattle. At most the Sonics could be categorized as proto-punk since their sound was influential but they were far from the scene as their heyday was the 60s, and punk didn’t start until the early 70s.
      Please do check out that Punk Evolution series I did for KEXP. I researched like crazy and it’s all about NYC!
      http://kexp.org/learn/documentaries.aspx?docid=3
      Thanks for the thoughful comment Dave!

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