Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?
By the early seventies, Rock's contemporary
musical direction and outlook had noticeably split itself in two. One half
was largely comprised of a sound which might be best described as an ongoing
embellishment of the psychedelic hard rock explosion of the late sixties,
spearheaded by acts like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Vanila Fudge,
and Iron Butterfly. The other half sought to redefine the significantly
softer, sticky bubble-gum pop sensibilities of Rock that dominated the
airwaves before, shall we say, John, Paul, George, and Ringo became hip
to drugs; before amplifiers got louder, and guitars could be shot up with
distortion. The airwaves were awash with the unrelentingly saccharine and
safe sounds of (for example) Looking Glass, Johnny Nash, Carole King, Rod
Stewart, Tom Jones, The Carpenters, Daddy Dewdrop, and Tony Orlando &
Dawn. By 1974, songs like "Don't Rock the Boat" (The Hues Corporation)
and "Jungle Boogie" (Kool & The Gang) signaled that (what was to become)
the disco deluge was just around the corner. There was a marked antagonism,
and the result for some was a sense of cultural restlessness.
This was the dominant musical climate,
beneath which The Ramones would form in 1974. In one sense, they were a
product of their own worst enemy. It was on the streets of their working
class neighborhood in Forest Hills, Queens--- with its "Anytown, USA" parcels
of brickface tenements, ball courts, chain link fences, department stores,
and greasy burger joints--- that these social misfits turned their frustrations,
delinquent proclivities, and overwhelming sense of boredom, upon their
instruments. Starting out as a trio featuring Joey on drums/vocals, and
Tommy playing the role of manager (a prophetic scenario, as Tommy would,
in time, come to manage other vital "exterior" functions for the band),
The Ramones took stage, for the first time, on March 30th of that year.
It was quickly decided that if The Ramones were going to work out, Joey
needed to be front and center, but that left a gap behind the drum kit.
Tommy was the logical choice--- he was already a "Ramone" in every sense
of the term--- and so he reluctantly took the job. As the summer of 1974
turned the bend into its final stretch, this rag tag collection of leather,
long hair, and denim, were playing a steady string of gigs in the Manhattan
Bowery district, at CBGBs--- and the locals were taking notice. By 1975,
their dizzying live rampage, during which confounded spectators would be
slapped wide-eyed by a jolting 20-minute set, interested Sire records enough
to sign the band. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy entered the studio and,
for a total of around $6,000 (USD), emerged with the first of a series
of releases, which were to unintentionally open a new chapter in the history
of Rock and Roll.
Recalling those early days in an interview,
Dee Dee once quipped the The Ramones didn't have a "positive song" until
they recorded "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue". To be sure, their songs boiled
with juvenile energy and vocalised negation, harboring the kind of retaliatory
defiance that later became the de facto calling card of the late seventies
punk rock uprising--- evidenced by titles like "I Don't Wanna Walk Around
With You", "I Don't Wanna Get Involved With You", "I Don't Wanna Be Learned,
I Don't Wanna Be Tamed", and "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement".
Right from the get-go, The Ramones were
a band who could make a profound impression. There can be no question that
their legendary gig at the Roundhouse in London struck the match that ignited
the UK punk scene, according to the aptly documented testimonials from
members of bands like The Clash, The Damned, and the Sex Pistols. While
well known acts that antedated The Ramones--- such as the Velvet Underground,
the Stooges, MC5, The Who, and the New York Dolls refined the brand of
fuel it ran on--- it was The Ramones who functioned as the undisputable
ignition spark that cold started punk rock's cylinders. In the aftermath
of this movement, the very face of Rock and Roll, as it was identified
to that point, had been altered.
The Ramones formula was revolutionary.
Why was it revolutionary?
The opening paragraph deals with the two
primary courses that music culture, pursuant to the culmination of the
late 1960s, had come to characterize itself by--- a continuation of hard,
amplified, blues-based Rock, and the nostalgically driven reach back to
Rock in its state of infancy--- sock hops, bubblegum, surf, and the girl
The Ramones were the first traceable band
which effectively fused these two (apparently) antagonistic ideals and,
along the way, filtered it all through a prism of forced march beat tempo,
loud volume, unprecedented speed, and their humorous, delightfully unwholesome
commentary on the world that they knew--- drugs, booze, hookers, baseball
bats, punks, pinheads, geeks, airplane glue, turning tricks for dope money,
huffing roach spray, chainsaws, bothersome girls, razor blades, and psychosis.
They took Rock and Roll by its index finger, and stuck it right into a
wall outlet. After The Ramones, the definitions of "fast" and "loud", as
used in musical terms, came to be understood in an entirely different way.
Let alone the fact that very, very few
bands can lay claim to such a singular pedigree--- what is perhaps equally
important, is that The Ramones showed a dedication to their fans over the
course of twenty years, by way of their non-stop touring schedule. By the
time they played their farewell tour in 1996, the Ramones had effectively
played over 2,260 shows worldwide. You read that last number accurately,
even though your checking it twice is understandable. Their impact and
influence over fans and musicians--- from hard rock, to punk, to hardcore,
to heavy metal--- cannot be charted. They united so many different kinds
of people because they brought them together under the banner of fast,
loud Rock and Roll, and at the end of the day, that's a greater joy than
the sum of its many offshoots.
A friend of mine once asked me to explain
the cultic appeal of The Ramones to him, in the simplest possible terms.
This is why The Ramones have been immortalized:
People believe in music. They believe in
the bands that make it. There is a strange mechanism of trust that gets
placed between the musician and the listener. Forget the "punk" credentials---
at the very core of things, The Ramones were an honest to goodness Rock
and Roll band. They were loyal to that ideal above all else, and it was
tested over the course of twenty-plus years by trends, as they came and
went, but The Ramones always emerged as themselves--- as if they had never
left the streets of Queens--- and that is the essence of what makes a Ramoniac
(such as myself) return that loyalty tenfold.
Thank you Johnny.
Thank you Joey.
Thank you Dee Dee.
Thank you Marky.
Thank you Tommy.
You live on through the music, as legends
Check out the links below to learn more
about the group and also get a copy of their brand new Box Set!
CD Info and Links
Legends: The Ramones
and Purchase This Boxset Online
the official homepage
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