Top ten Ramones songs to celebrate Joey Ramone who died 11 years ago on April 15th 2001

220px-Joeyramone-1Top ten Ramones songs to celebrate the great Joey Ramone who died ten years ago

It’s hard to believe that it’s 11 years since the great Joey Ramone died.

I once stood next to Joey Ramone at a gig. It was an experience. He was so damn tall and towered way above me and I’m pretty tall! It was the mid nineties and he looked the part. Those lanky limbs, the leather jacket, the long, bedraggled hair and the never removed glasses.

The most unlikely frontman of all time succumbed to the cancer that he’d been fighting for years on April 15th 2001, it was ironically just before his band got the mass acceptance that he so rightly craved.

I remember once having a really heated argument with the late, great Tony Wilson over who was the most influential band in punk. Tony said the Sex Pistols, I said The Ramones – the argument raged through the programme we were recording, over the ads and back live on the air on the other side.

Of course no one won. It’s impossible. The Pistols changed so much and their cultural impact is enormous, but the Ramones provided the ultimate template for every garage band on the planet and have been copied endlessly for years. When they played the Roundhouse in London in the summer of 1976 every punk band in London speeded up and nicked their image.

The band, who formed in Forest Hills in the early seventies, hit first gear in 1975 and were the ultimate fresh breath of air when their first album was released in 1976. The record was bought by a clutch of dysfunctional pre-punk youth across the UK.

I still clearly remember this freaky long haired guy called Mad Ted who went to my school walking down the road clutching that debut album. He had long hair, a greatcoat, drainpipes and brothel creepers – the whole bus stared at him whilst I stared at the Ramones album – the band’s picture on the front looked like four more versions of the school freak – gonzoid, strange and somehow cool as fuck.

The music was the same. Odd now that it sounds like pure pop- at the time it sounded like a chainsaw of avante garde sound- it took a bit of time for your ear, tuned to the seventies post glam, to get a grip of this fantastic sound but once you were in there you realised that the Ramones, who were playing that d.u.m.b. card to the hilt were total pop genius- the distillation of all that was great about pop.

The Beach Boys made great records with a sophisticated arrangement of instruments, the Ramones got the same result with that infernally brilliant guitar drone, those tough bass lines and the amazing simple drums that thumped their way through the songs with no drums rolls! There was also no guitar solos- how perfect is that?

It was all you needed from music- stripped away of all artifice- just the chords hammered out for the trump card, which was Joey’s voice- which sounded like a duck on helium for the first listen but was actually an emotional, powerful, idiosyncratic tool that was rock n roll perfection. The way he chewed the words up into shapes, his Brooklyn accent to the front wringing all the humour and emotion from the songs made the band. Joey sounded introverted, hurt and wounded -€œ all the right sounds for a great pop voice. Whilst the rest of his brothers were doing their utmost to do the simplest and most perfect thing musically, Joey’s singing was a sophisticated and powerful and totally original thing.

On stage he looked incredible- seven foot of flapping limbs and long hair and those impenetrable sun glasses- it just shouldn’t work but somehow he was pure charisma, a wackoid crane fly who gripped his mic stand for comfort in the maelstrom of Ramone sound.

I remember seeing the band live at Lancaster University in the late seventies and they were stunning. A drilled military machine with Dee Dee melded to his bass copping the coolest moves ever from a bassman whilst his cohort Johnny was doing his bowl cut, thug shapes- in the middle there was Joey, turning his introverted discomfort into something really powerful.

Their whole look was perfect as well. Those Lewis leather jackets, battered blue denims and sneakers topped off with all that drilled long hair- the most perfect band as four headed animal since the Beatles. They were the coolest looking, hoodlum street gang in the world and turned their ugliness into something stunningly attractive. They were so good at the brudders’ schtick that most people actually thought they were brothers!

And how smart or dumb they were was always difficult to discern- I’ve been to the Ramones museum in Berlin, read the books and seen the film and the whole internal band dynamic does seem pretty dumb- Johnny and Joey not speaking to each other for decades, Dee Dee’s manic craziness. They could have been playing it up though- their songs were far too clever to be seriously stupid. They made three chords into hundreds of songs which is a tough trick and their detailed love of classic pop must have taken some intellectual hunting down.

Their songs were brutal and fast- sick, dark and funny as fuck. They had a great sense of humour- strange and hilarious but also peppered with Joey’s tearjerkers where he could mash his love of Spector girl group dynamics with band’s buzzsaw sound. They were a band in a hurry- banging out three albums in two years- their creativity as urgent and impatient as Dee Dee’s iconic 1234 count ins.

The band lasted for years and released a lot of albums. Their live album from 1979 is probably their best- the songs are fast and heavy without losing all that emotion- they were rumoured to have re-recorded it after the gig but who cares, it sounded amazing.

Joey, himself, was the least obvious icon of all time but whenever a guitar gets cranked through a fuzzbox and the glory of classic, guitar pop is celebrated the ghost of Joey is in the room. Every song he sang he sang perfectly. He had a beautiful voice and also had a beautiful personality. His life was complex and his autism and illnesses have been documented but somehow he turned this all into a victory and his dream of carrying the banner of all that was great about sixties pop and safeguarding it into the future was fully realised.

Joey Ramone is one of the greatest frontmen of all time and his band is treasured by everyone who really loves their rock n roll.

Their T shirt is everywhere, even worn by many who don’t know who they are but feel that their name and logo represents something really cool and hip- and they are right.

Sorry to lose you all those years ago Joey- we loved you then and we still love you now.

Top ten Ramones tracks

1. Blitzkrieg Bop

Has to be number one. For that riff (and the way its repeated twice at the beginning), for the lyrics, for Joey’s urgent vocal, for the ”˜hey ho lets go!’ chant which has become part of rock’s lexicon.

 

2. Havana Affair

The Ramones at their most goofy. That weird were they being funny or were they being Republican lyrics written for the liberal Joey to sing.

 

3. Commando

Commando is even more lyrically dumb but also really funny- it also has a series of perfect chord changes and a well drilled military power.

 

4. Baby I Love You

Most rockers hate this one but I love it. Joey’s obsession with Phil Spector finally put in the spotlight on this cover. I also love Spector’s production on the ”˜End Of The Century’ album ”“ the perfect escape route for the Ramones who had burned out the 1234 shots of the original albums”¦

 

5. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Pure pop genius, Upbeat and brisk- it had that same sort of rush of naïve power of pop excitement as the early Beatles. Also really cool lyrics.

 

6. Now I Wanna sniff Some Glue

For the use of the word ”˜wanna’ and its controversy seeking lyrics that detail stupid bored tenager behaviour and were probably far closer to home than the band would ever admit- and also a great example of how to utilise a chant perfectly in a song.

 

7. The KKK Took My Baby Away

Joey’s song about Republican voting Johnny stealing away the love of his life, twisting his pain into a funny yet perfect slice of heartbreak pop that doubled as a great punk rock anthem.

 

8. Surfin Bird

The Ramones, like the Cramps, knew their covers and were unfailingly brilliant at picking off the wall songs and doing fantastic new versions of them.

 

9. Rockaway Beach

Anbother pop gem that was alsoa great ruch of wall of sound guitars. The song is also a great example of how to make the most of simple pop dynamics with a great vocal from Joey that captures the rush of youth.

 

10. What A wonderful World

The lead track from Joey’s solo album recorded just before he died. Right to the end he knew how to deliver a song and like a true music fanatic he knew how to choose really unlikely songs and make them work for him.

 

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38 comments on “Top ten Ramones songs to celebrate Joey Ramone who died 11 years ago on April 15th 2001”

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  1. Loved the Pistols too but would’ve been with you argueing the Ramones corner on the influential point & would say their influence still rages very strongly now. Great top 10 but you could easily pick a few more completely different top 10’s from their catlogue & it be equally good & as far as I know I own a copy of every song they put out (if I haven’t I don’t know about it)
    I’ve always felt priveledged to have seen them perform live a few times & they are truly one of the highlights of thousands of gigs I’ve attended & I am still gutted that will never happen again, they way they have gone out is a real tragedy. One of the bands that changed my life & continue to inspre me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’d have stuck “I Wanna Be Sedated” in here – another “wanna” song – although this may be due to something that happened on a very hot summer night in New York in 2003. We’d bought a Rough Guide tourist book and it was clearly a new edition as the World Trade Centre pages had been replaced by a piece about September 11th 2001 and Ground Zero, but there was one other recent piece of history that hadn’t made the edit: a mini-feature on The Chelsea Hotel contained the lines “…and don’t be too surprised if you find yourself next to Joey Ramone in the elevator”. I have to say I would have been very surprised, and (as Dee Dee had also recently passed away) the rest of the weekend was punctuated by jokes about spotting Ramone ghosts around the city.

    We went to a gig at the Knitting Factory in Lower Manhattan, and between sets we noticed people coming up the stairs from another room in the building who were rather better dressed than those going to watch David Gedge’s Cinerama supported by ex-Chameleon Mark Burgess in the main venue, and moreover many of them were carrying handfuls of buffet food. Being a bit peckish ourselves after a long day’s taking in the sights we decided to go and investigate, and found a wedding party in full swing with your traditional wedding-spec tuxedo’d cabaret covers band on a stage in the corner, albeit with a rather empty dancefloor (it was still quite early)… and nobody seemed to stop us going in. Subtly appropriating a couple of slices of cake we returned upstairs before heading back down for a second go. So I’ve got a piece of chocolate sponge in each hand and my mate, a scruffy bearded indie-goth from Leeds has loaded up on savoury pastries when the cover band suddenly launch into a tune we know – “I Wanna Be Sedated”! Before we know it (I might add that some alcohol had been consumed) we’re on the dancefloor singing and pogoing (with our buffet spoils) and within seconds party guests are joining us… at which point someone clearly asks someone else “who the hell are they!?” and with a bouncer heading our way we’re full speed back up the stairs into the gig venue and straight down the front, lost in the crowd but safe in the knowledge that with the help of those omnipresent Ramone ghosts we get someone else’s party started.

    RIP Joey.

  3. Great work John, “Blitzkreig Bop” at number One is spot on. (I was convinced The Ramones were going to have a No1 record one day). I would say “I don’t want to grow up” is another must for the top ten.

    As a young fresh faced punk in the 70’s The Ramones
    where my favourite American Punk band.Number 1 in my heart was always The Clash but the Ramones were a close second. Back in the day my fellow art student
    freinds and I would make nightly visits to the legendary Electric Circus.

    The Ramones at The Electric Circus stands out though, real hot night with the sweat dripping down the walls. Joey Ramone, stooping down, (more than ever here because of the low ceiling) bawling 1,2,3,4 then launching into Blizkreig Bop.

    Memorable night.

    Great tribute John – read my own here –

    Joey Ramone tribute :
    http://nigel-dean.posterous.com/joey-ramone-remembered

  4. I think the best cover version they ever did was Tom Waites’ “I don’t want to grow up” just perfect!

  5. Miss this band more than any other ……

  6. Good piece and hard to argue with most of the choices. I think some of their songs could have easily been huge pop hits for 60’s/70’s ‘hearthrob’ singers…ie ‘Oh Oh, I Love Her so’. I do tend to drift from preferring this to that but like The Beatles, you never stop realising the whole picture.

    Put simply, if you don’t like the Ramones, you don’t like rock n roll. Ask Lemmy.

  7. Chris Williams

    Good work John.
    Could have included anything from Road To Ruin or Rocket To Russia – which for me was still their best output.
    Saw some kids in primark buying a Ramones t shirt a few weeks ago – one asked the other who it was and he said he didn’t know but had seen another kid on a skate park with one. Clearly a cool tee to have.
    Just hope primark don’t start selling Crass t shirts though.
    Only saw them them live the once, still makes me smile that they played about 40 songs and made me want a leather jacket.
    Must get that Music from Manila article sorted sometime too. C

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  9. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about The Ramones.

  10. Personally, I don’t know how “Today Your Love Tomorrow The World”, “Bonzo Goes To Bitburg”, “Questioningly”, or “Chainsaw” aren’t on this list. However, that’s the great thing about the Ramones. They have so many amazing songs, that almost every single one of them could be on someone’s personal top ten list.

    P.S. –

    Without the Ramones, there would be no Sex Pistols. At least, no Pistols in the way we know them.

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  18. Well done for sorting that one out your head must hurt. I may quibble about the order or add a couple like ‘Rock’n Roll High School and ‘Airwaves’ but in place of what would be difficult. My head is hurting just contemplating it.

  19. great band! there is some great t shirts here for ramones fans http://www.tshirtsubway.com/Ramones-T-Shirts/

  20. Joey didn’t have autism, he had OCD

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