41 Years Ago: Ramones Release Their Self-Titled Debut Album
On April 23, 1976, the Ramones forever sped up rock music with their self-titled debut album. To many, it’s considered to be the first true punk rock album, still inspiring buzzsaw-guitared acts to this day.
After forming in 1974 and emerging as the leading act for now-iconic New York City venue CBGB, the Ramones took to the eighth floor of Radio City Music Hall to record Ramones at Plaza Sound studio. Thanks to the Ramones’ no-frills spirit, immense work ethic and Johnny Ramone's refusal to do more than a few takes for each track, Ramones was recorded in just seven days for a minute sum of $6,400.
Clocking in at just over 29 minutes in length, the Ramones committed 13 original tracks and one cover (Chris Montez’s “Let’s Dance”) to their debut. Though proto-punk acts like the Stooges and Television were of tremendous inspiration to the Ramones, a much less obvious influence, the Beatles, actually shaped much of Ramones’ final product. Extremely raw production in placing Dee Dee Ramone’s bass strictly in the left channel, Johnny Ramone’s guitar in the right channel and dropping Tommy’s drums and Joey’s vocals in the center was an homage to the Beatles’ earliest work. The original Ramones album cover was also inspired by the Beatles, but it was scrapped for the now-iconic band shot taken by Roberta Bayley, which shows Johnny Ramone slyly slipping us the middle finger.
An amalgam of tongue-in-cheek topics filled Ramones’ track listing. “We all kind of shared a dark sense of humor,” Joey Ramone divulged in the acclaimed documentary End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones. Cartoonish Nazi rhetoric was placed into classics like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World,” the latter of which contains lyrics like, “I’m a shock trooper in a stupor / Yes I am / I’m a Nazi schatze / Y’know I fight for fatherland.” These weren’t the original lyrics, however. Sire Records president Seymour Stein pleaded with the Ramones to drop the verse, "I'm a Nazi, baby, I'm a Nazi / Yes I am.” After threatening to remove Ramones’ closing track completely, the band ultimately agreed to the lyrics we all hear today, though you can listen to Joey barreling through the song’s unrecorded verse on the Ramones’ legendary 1979 live album, It’s Alive.
Dee Dee, whom future Ramones drummer Marky Ramone still calls the greatest songwriter the Ramones ever had, shed an uncomfortable amount of light onto his personal life in the band’s debut. Though he would often avoid talking about the song’s subject, “53rd & 3rd” is widely believed to be inspired by Dee Dee’s own life as a male prostitute. Dee Dee’s wildly tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend at the time was the blueprint for “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You” and the bassist’s longtime penchant for drug use was playfully turned into “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”
The most obvious mirroring of the Ramones’ influences came with the Dee Dee-penned track “Loudmouth.” The New York Dolls had an equally raw track “Chatterbox” from their 1974 Too Much Too Soon album. The Dolls’ influence can also be witnessed in a 1975 promotional video for the Ramones where Joey starts off “Loudmouth” with an opening line delivered in the style of Dolls singer David Johansen.
Though the Ramones were a no-nonsense, razor-edged act, a softness was prevalent at the band’s core. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” remains one of Joey Ramone’s signature vocal tracks and epitomizes his identity as a lonely heart and gushing romantic. The lyrics were actually written by Tommy Ramone, but it was Joey’s heart-wrenching presentation that connected the cut with listeners.
Joey branded his influence on another fan favorite, "Beat on the Brat." "There was a playground with women sitting around and a kid screaming," Joey said recalling a scene from his Forest Hills, Queens upbringing. "A horrible kid just running around rampant with no discipline whatsoever. The kind of kid you just want to kill. You know, 'Beat on the brat with a baseball bat' just came out. I just wanted to kill him." [via Rolling Stone]
Ramones was vastly ahead of its time, selling poorly upon its release. Sire still stuck to their guns and supported the Ramones, watching as the punk icons gained a big following overseas, especially England, leading to the formation of bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
It took Ramones 38 years to attain gold status by the RIAA, finally selling half a million copies in the United States as of April 30, 2014. To this day, Ramones remains the only studio album in the bands catalogue to go gold. Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone had all passed away long before they were awarded their gold plaques, though they did enjoy a victory in 1994 when the Ramones' Mania compilation went gold in 1994. Tommy Ramone lived long enough to see Ramones sell half a million copies domestically, but sadly died just three months later.
Four decades later, Ramones remains untouched by the rust of time. And though the Ramones would go on to release many more classics during the band's 22-year career, Ramones remains a brilliant recording from front to back.
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