I’m going to begin a series of blog about bands I’ve loved since I first got into music, when I went to York college about 16-17. I gave up religion, no-swearing and decided I was political, and I like punk. It was a really important time in my life, backed by house parties, friends, Youth Theatre and exciting college subjects. Over the following days/weeks/months I just want to look at some of the bands which cemented my love for music starting with…
My Love Affair With: THE RAMONES
It all began when I decided at College “I like Punk” and my Mum was happy enough to oblige. We were in Scarborough, and went to a CD shop called Discworld. There, Mum picked out some Stranglers CDs, Siouxsie & The Banshees live album Nocturne and Rocket To Russia by The Ramones, declaring these were ‘punk’ bands. I added them to my collection of Sex Pistols, The Jam and The Clash I’d pilfered from her CD collection (recused from sitting next to Elton John and Wham!) and eagerly checked out this ‘punk’ thing.
At first glance, The Ramones were everything punk was meant to be. Fast, loud, simple, about as to-the-point as you could get. Leather jackets. Ripped jeans. On every single Punk Best Of CD. Featured in Q and Kerrang when it came to ‘Ultimate 100 Punk Bands EVER’. Influencing many bands to come. T-shirts. But really, their music is almost devoid of basic political statements that defined Stiff Little Fingers and The Clash (in fact, Johnny was a casual racist conservative Republican). They never liked the term ‘punk’ and never bought into the “destroy” and “anarchy” ideology. They were just hapless romantics. They struck a chord (just the one of three, mind) as just making sense.
You can meet a lot of music-lovers who just don’t get The Ramones, some of them punk music-lovers themselves. It’s just too simple, musically and lyrically. It’s not political enough. It’s just the same song over and over again. Etc.
Joey Ramones, the gentle giant, longed for a simpler time in music, Rolling Stones, The Who and Beatles. His lyrics are bubblegum pop, about girls and dancing. He’s a romantic. It’s only when he fuses this tweeness and surf rock with a sense of loneliness, weirdness and freakishness of suburban Nixon America it becomes the strange bastard child ‘pop-punk’. It’s upbeat and odd. It’s dark and danceable. From beaches to basements, crushes to chainsaws. HEY-HO, LET’S GO. Call to arms. They entered into the philosophy more is better. Fit 16 songs into 30 mins? Go for it. (rock at the time being a word synonymous with pomp and artifice). Freakish super-heroes, gangly imaginary friends, cartoons-made-real. They are the Peter Parkers of rock music.
I think what appealed to me about The Ramones was the paraphilia that accompanied them. The 1-2-3 before every song. The uniform of leather jackets. The exact same haircut. ‘The Pinhead’ who would dance on stage to Gabba-Gabba-Hey. The clone album covers. The repetition of “I wanna” or “I don’t wanna” shtick in the lyrics. Cartoon artwork. The logo designed by Arturo Vega. It’s the same reason I loved Warhammer, Spider-Man and James Bond. You can dip your toe, or you can dive in and become an obsessive geek. The Ramones were geeky at heart, and appealed to the magpie collector in me. Their digestible format meant you could quite easily fall in love one element, or buy into the whole think. The songs about hopeless love, being cretins, freaks, misfits appeal to the outsiders. As Joey sings “We accept you/one of us”.
The Ramones vibe was infectious. It seemed you ‘got it’ (like you got Batman or Star Trek) or you didn’t. I certainly ‘got it’. I easily learnt the words to the first three Ramones albums, and currently have 234 tracks on my iPod made up of Best Ofs, Demos, Live albums, compilations and their first seven releases. I never listen to them as much as I should any more, partly because I can flip a switch in my head and their best songs are there, so simple and infectious are they.
The whole short-lived “Are they brothers?” question proved irrelevant. Such a varied bunch of personalities and characters were more like a scripted cast of characters than a rock band (rock at the time being a word synonymous with pomp and artifice). They had to be brothers. They sure as hell weren’t friends! You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.
Like the name suggests, The Ramones made you feel like a family. “We’re a happy family” they sang on Rocket To Russia. I felt home.
Essential album: self-titled debut The Ramones
Essential track: Teenage Lobotomy, Blitzkrieg Bop & Sheena Is A Punk Rocker are classic punk rock staples of any young blood discovering their style. But Cretin Hop, opener from Rocket To Russia, has that beautiful fusion of freaks, misfits and madmen having a boogie, with the surf-pop sensibilities of “going for a whirl with my pretty gal”.
Essential rock moment: Joey Ramone delivering the classic line “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School!?” in the Ramones move (of the same name) as if the script were written on logs.