- 19 May 21
Today, we're celebrating what would've been Joey Ramone's 70th birthday. In this 1999 piece – ostensibly an album review of Hey Ho Let's Go: The Ramones Anthology, but as much a full-on retrospective – Peter Murphy pays tribute to the original band of brudders...
It's been held that the best rock 'n' roll is a dumb noise made by smart people.
Be that as it may, The Ramones were no stoopids. To strip the form down to its bare essentials, formulate a whole slew of slogans that virtually defined gonzo-rock and top it all off with an unmistakable look - in this case, a low-maintenance combination of skin-tight strides, leather jackets and pisspot haircuts - takes intelligence, not to mention a firm grasp of the dynamics of marketing.
When The Ramones first stumbled out of the bowery and into the spotlight in 1975, they polarised the rock cognoscenti. Unfortunately, only 50% of those that loved the band would admit to it. Here was primitivism a go-go, a basic amalgam of Del Shannon, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Crystals, The Dolls and The Stooges - these tunes would self-destruct in three minutes.
Incompetence is the mother of invention: the fact that Tommy Ramone - a fine engineer - couldn't play anything other than a clubfooted four-on-the-floor, that Johnny wouldn't even whistle a guitar solo, let alone play one, that Joey Ramone sang like a 15-year-old doing a very befuddled impression of Joey Ramone, none of it mattered. In an era dominated by Peter Frampton and The Eagles, this shit was new(s).
Throughout their 22-year career, the quartet stuck to what they knew best - buzzsaw guitars, apeshit beats and great bozo bubblegum classics like 'Blitzkrieg Bop', 'Beat On The Brat', 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue', 'Sheena Is A Punk Rocker', 'Cretin Hop', 'Rockaway Beach' and their legendary take on The Trashmen's 'Surfin' Bird' (an idea pilfered from The Cramps). Their occasional forays into social commentary - 'Commando', 'My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)', 'The KKK Took My Baby Away' - while laudable, were somewhat beside the point. The Ramones were a social comment in themselves, and didn't need to become idiot Dylans to prove their worth.
Yet beneath all that teenage jerk shtick festered a mysterious disquiet, highlighted in tunes like 'I Just Want Something To Do'; itchy, aggravated expressions of adolescent/twenty-something boredom and futility. Even the adrenalised 'I Wanna Be Sedated' had self-obliteration as its core sentiment, while 'Chinese Rock' rendered a no-shit depiction of junkie squalor. But of course, the bottom line was, The Ramones were funny: anyone who could come up with the couplet, "Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em/That I got no cerebellum" (from the awesome 'Teenage Lobotomy') gets this listener's Booker Prize.
It was a long strange trip, and the only glaring omission from this anthology is the band's biggest hit single, 'Baby I Love You', from the Phil Spector-produced End Of The Century album, sessions which were characterised by the Tycoon of Teen forcing his charges to perform up to ten hours of re-takes at gunpoint. These extreme measures didn't always work, but nevertheless, 'Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio?' remains an epic distillation of glam terrace chants, disaffected punk energy and '60s nostalgia.
After the mid-'80s, the band were decreed dead in the water. There's some truth in this consensus, and at least a third of the 58 tunes collected here are less than vital, but what's surprising about Hey Ho Let's Go is the amount of fine songs on the second disc; anthems like 'Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love)', 'Something To Believe In' and 'Pet Semetary'. Besides, it's no mean feat to paint your Guernica (in this case, the killer hat-trick of Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket To Russia) in your mid-20s.
When all the chips are counted, Da Brudders don't owe us nutten.