January 8, 2011

ramones OK, that Ian Dury and The Blockheads post from yesterday has me cruisin’ back to my punk-rock days of the late ’70s. Sure, Dury, The Clash, Blondie, et al, were great, but the band I absolutely fell in love with from the first blistering-hard chord were the Ramones – a band that turned their love of every kind of early ’60s three-chord riff into punk perfection. Whenever my friend Paul and I would cruise the clubs in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville I’d be wearing my blue jeans (tear in one knee), black Ramones t-shirt, brown corderoy jacket (with a Monkees logo pin on the lapel, no less!), and brown suede shoes – that most surely marked me as a sophisticated suburban punk music fan!

The Ramones were almost like comic-strip characters that came to life on stage – Joey with the long curls and shades down on his nose, Johnny with the long straight hair and Fender strapped low, Dee Dee with the short hair and sleeveless, the drums thundering behind them pounding out the same frenetic beat, over and over and over and over. Their hour-long shows featured at least thirty – count ‘em, thirty! – songs, all played in machine-gun fashion, no break except for Dee Dee counting off a quick “1-2-3-4!”.

In an era of pretenders and sound-alikes, The Ramones were truly an original. In concert, there was nothing, and I do mean nothing, like them. Here’s a baker’s dozen of my favorites – be sure to turn the volume way way up!

13. I Just Want To Have Something To Do“Hanging out on Second Avenue, eating chicken vindaloo…” Lots of power chords and feedback behind a tough New York attitude here…

12. We’re A Happy Family – “Sitting here in Queens, eating refried beans, wearin’ all my magazines, gulping down thorazines. We ain’t got no friends, our troubles never end, no Christmas cards to send, daddy likes men.” I mean, how great is that? I mean, not even Rod McKuen got that lyrical!

11. Warthog – I don’t know what the hell Dee Dee is singing here, but it’s a great song. As hard-core punk as the Ramones would ever do, and the loudest song I ever heard played at a concert.

10. (Do You Remember) Rock N’ Roll Radio – Produced by Phil Spector, you can tell from the saxaphones and the echoed cheesy Farfisa organ that Phil hadn’t lost his touch. Some people say the song sounds like an over-produced mess. Can’t say I disagree – where Johnny’s guitar? – but I can’t help but love it nonetheless…

9. Teenage Lobotomy“DDT did a job on me, now I am a real sickie. Guess I’ll have to break the news that I have no mind to lose.”. Sigh – they just don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

8. Baby, I Love You – Another Phil Spector production, can’t you tell from the classic droopy strings? Not as good as the Ronettes’ version (a Top 5 on The Great White Shank’s all-time list), but a good job nonetheless. Legend has it that Phil kept a gun on the band while in his mansion for hours so they couldn’t leave until they learned the intracacies of this song as he played it for them over and over and over again…

7. Needles And Pins – A great remake, far better than the original Searchers hit

6. I Wanna Be Sedated – Heard this one day while grocery shopping at the local Fry’s in the canned goods aisle. The Ramones go supermarket – thought I’d puke and die right there.

5. The KKK Took My Baby Away – For the title alone this song would have to be included. But it’s a great tune that somehow survives the cheesy key change for the last verse – barely.

4. Blitzkrieg Bop – I knew western civilization was finished when I heard this playing over the sound system while grocery shopping at the local Fry’s a few weeks ago.

1. Rock And Roll High School – Actually, there are two versions, both good: the single version, produced by the Ramones themselves, and the album version produced by Phil Spector. The song is so good you can’t lose either way, but I prefer Phil’s – it has a little more energy, and the bit of echo employed gives it some extra power – especially that very first power chord. Phil’s best Ramones project effort.

3. Rockaway Beach“Chewin’ out a rhythm on my bubble gum, sun is out and I want some…” One of the ultimate all-time great summer songs. I dare anyone to try and drive with this playing and not have it turned up full volume blast. Great lyrics, great tune, great beat – a classic.

2. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker“Well the kids are all hopped up and ready to go… they’ve got their surfboards and they’re going to the discotheque a go-go.” Cool lyrics, just a great, timeless pop song. Could fit into any Top 40 play list in the ’60s or ’70s. 70′s punk at its finest – and it still sounds current and great some thirty-plus years later.

1. Rock And Roll High School – Actually, there are two versions, both gear fab: the single version, produced by the Ramones themselves, and the album version produced by Phil Spector. The song is so good you can’t lose either way, but I prefer Phil’s – it has a little more energy, and the bit of echo (you can’t have a Spector-produced record without echo!) gives it some extra power – especially that very first bone-crushing power chord (which Spector forced Johnny to play literally hundreds of times to get just right), which makes the song.

I went to a lot of Ramones concerts in my time and they were all great, every one of them. My favorite memory is from the last one we went to, Tracey and me with my friend Paul. This was back in the early or mid ’80s, and we all got dressed in our best Ramones style – y’know, torn blue jeans, and black leather, etc. – and the club was absolutely mobbed with kids a helluva lot younger than we were. It was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself even hear yourself think. So Paul says to us he’s going to get us a couple of drinks and heads towards the mosh pit. We never saw him again that night and ended up leaving sometime before the concert was through, we were so afraid of losing our hearing. Crazy times…

There’s a great documentary on the Ramones called “End of the Century – The Story of the Ramones”. They really were one of the pioneers of the punk rock movement, and if you’d like to know just how cool they were in defining the genre they helped establish out of the legendary CGBG’s, it’s well worth seeing.

Gabba Gabba Hey!

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