Ramones Turns 40 With Deluxe Reissue
It may or may not come as a surprise that punk rock is my first love. Growing up, there was so much chatter about music that I couldn’t connect to, and punk rock was about the one thing that a teen growing up in the suburbs could really connect with. My older brother turned me on to so many records, some of which I still own and some that were easily forgotten. Though his mention of a band called Bad Brains would start the path that lead me to so many great albums like Out of Step by Minor Threat and London Calling by The Clash; it also lead me to the band that really defined so much of my core, Ramones. Their debut album, Ramones from 1976, was literally my anthem for at least five years, and it’s one of those records that I have at least six different versions of in my collection. Recorded in only seven days for a measly $6,400, the album contains two of my favorite songs of all time with “Judy Is A Punk,” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement.” My first guitar was a Peavey Predator “Strat” copy in white with a black pickguard, which was influenced by Johnny Ramone. Sure, it wasn’t a Mosrite like Johnny played, but the color was correct and it’s why I chose it. I don’t think that four kids from Forest Hills who never had a hit song to their name would ever know this, but they changed so many lives as well as my life for the better and this was the album that kicked it all off.
It could be the fact that the album starts with the anthemic “Hey, Ho! Let’s Go!” of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which while simplistic, is also the core of the band’s sound. One guitar, drums almost buried in the mix like a sixties era country album, and Joey’s vocals upfront are pretty much you need to form America’s answer to distancing itself from the “tame” rock music of the 1970’s. Following up with “Beat On The Brat,” the band definitely knew how to write hooks that stick in your head. I remember never knowing what all of the lyrics were, and honestly never looking them up until recently. The song just works and stays with you for days after the first listen and makes you wonder why the band never really saw mainstream success.
“Judy Is A Punk,” is just another example of how catchy these songs were, including the endearing lyrics, “second verse, same as the first.” The doo wop nature of the backing vocals coupled with the tambourine alongside the drums, and Joey’s catchy nasal heavy sneer make this song one of the best classic punk tracks of all time. Those doo wop sounds continue of the slower pace of “I Wanna’ Be Your Boyfriend,” where the band almost channels The Ronettes. They keep their catchy nature and charming lyrics on “Chain Saw,” where Joey mispronounces the word “massacre,” then they switch back to their rousing nature with “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” where the group vocals make the chorus sound like something bored suburban teenagers would shout from the rooftops on any humid night.
I don’t think there’s been a time in my life where I’ve heard “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement” and I didn’t immediately sing along. I love this song so much that it was one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar, and a catalyst for a love of this album and subsequently the band as well. Three tracks later, the band keeps things going strong with “Listen To My Heart,” which is more of a warning than a love song. There’s something to the driving guitar style that Johnny employs that makes the song another unforgettable track. This is followed by the sad and almost biopic “53rd & 3rd,” which is essentially about a male prostitute attempting to turn tricks to pay for a drug habit. Though it would later be revealed that Dee Dee lived that life, it definitely explains the lyric “you’re the one they never pick,” and why it sounds so personal. The band keeps things interesting with the cover of the Chris Montez classic, “Let’s Dance,” which was a sixties mainstay pop single in its own right.
Though the band goes a little comical on “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You,” they close the album off with the blistering sound of “Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World.” The attitude of the track, the ideal that “love can make anything happen,” was optimistic on album filled with tracks about Nazism, violence, and drug use. The bass line alone on the song is one you’ll hear repeated over and over on a ton of punk rock albums that have come out after this album was released. The fourteen-song album clocks in at just under thirty minutes, but it’s a definite classic from start to finish. The crazy history of the album alone contains facts like that it was recorded on the eighth floor of Radio City Music Hall, or the fact that they employed the same microphone placement as the Beatles, or even that “Loudmouth” has a very complex harmonic composition containing six major chords. The history behind the album, the band, and all involved are available in a super limited edition reissue available through the band’s website. The Ramones 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition includes a book, a mono version of the album on vinyl, a stereo remastered version from the album’s original producer Craig Leon on CD, a live concert from 1976 on a second CD, and outtakes from the album’s sessions on a third CD. For an album that didn’t go gold until a couple of years ago, it’s definitely one of my favorites that ushered in a love for catchy songs that exists to this day.