The first press release issued by the Ramones read: “The Ramones are not an oldies group. They are not a glitter group, they don’t play boogie music and they don’t play the blues. The Ramones are an original Rock and Roll group of 1975, and their songs are brief, to the point and every one a potential hit single.” Apart from the bit about the hits, which proved few and far between, it knocks the nail on the head. The Ramones revolutionized punk rock. They stripped it to the bones, reducing it to three chords and an attitude. From their very first single and their very first album, they made everything else feel tired and old and impotent. Their ferocity and potency didn’t and couldn’t last, but before they imploded, Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy Ramone changed the face of popular music forever. In tribute to rock’s ultimate misfits, here are the 10 best Ramones songs of all time.
10. Needles And Pins
Originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1964, Needles And Pins has to be one of the most covered songs in rock history. Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Gene Clarke, the Searchers, and even Cher have all tackled it at some point or another. Not wanting to feel left out, The Ramones gave it a bash in 1978. The result beats the rest hands down.
9. Pet Semetary
When Stephen King asked the Ramones to write a song for the upcoming film adaptation of his horror novel Pet Sematary, the band duly obliged. The film was lousy but the song was divine, even if it did end up winning a nomination for a Razzie for the worst soundtrack song of ’89.
8. Do You Remember Rock N’ Roll Radio?
As loudersound.com points out, they might have been punks, but the Ramones didn’t like being poor misfits. They wanted to be rich misfits. Their fifth album, End of the Century, was meant to make them that. More specifically, Phil Spector was meant to. It should have been a heavenly match. As groovyhistory.com writes, masterpieces of yesteryear were Spector’s specialty, and the Ramones build their songs on those same structures. In the event, it was a disaster. Whereas the Ramones were spontaneous, Spector was a perfectionist. He was also a straight-up madman. As if making Johnny play the same chord for 12 hours straight wasn’t enough, he ended holding the band hostage at his house and separating Joey from the rest of them. And then there were the guns, By the end of it all, the Ramones were scared, Spector had shuffled a little further into lunacy, and the album was a mess. Or at least, most of it was. Do You Remember Rock N’ Roll Radio? was one of the rare nuggets, a perfect combination of sepia-tinged nostalgia and teenage rebellion. It didn’t make them any richer, but it did make us happy.
7. Judy Is A Punk
Pastemagazine.com sums up everything you need to know about Judy is a Punk with the quip “One and half minutes of perfection.” It’s a 90-second punk anthem, a song that stripped away the idea you had to be a man to be a punk and made it clear that the Ramone lifestyle was open to everyone, regardless of gender. In 1975, it was revolutionary stuff.
6. Rockaway Beach
The Ramones knew New York like the back of their collective hand. On songs like Rockaway Beach, they made everyone else feel like they knew it too. Rockaway Beach celebrates being alive in NYC when the sun is shining, the beer is flowing, the hot dogs are frying, and the sidewalks are sizzling. There’s nothing complicated about it, and for once, there’s nothing particularly angsty about it. This is as cheerful as the Ramones ever got, and it’s glorious.
5. The KKK Took My Baby Away
As faroutmagazine.co.uk writes, by 1981, the Ramones were skating on thin ice. They’d stopped being brothers in arms and become brothers at war. The KKK Took My Baby Away committed those conflicts to tape. Some people have suggested it was written about Linda Ramone, a former girlfriend of Joey’s who later ditched him for Johnny – the KKK being an allusion to Johnny’s staunch right-wing politics. Even if it wasn’t, the fact the band wasn’t getting on is obvious. Fortunately, happiness and punk aren’t natural bedfellows anyway, with the result that The KKK Took My Baby Away is made no worse off by whatever battles were waging behind the scenes.
4. Teenage Lobotomy
The Ramones didn’t just appeal to the disenfranchised youth, they were the disenfranchised youth. They weren’t relatable, they were real, and when they sang about lobotomies, it wasn’t from a point of distance, it was from a point of understanding. They didn’t exactly normalize psychiatric disorders, but they had them, and they didn’t care if you had them either – you were still on the guestlist. When that Labatomy chant kicked in, huge swathes of misfits grabbed a scalpel and sang right along with them.
3. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
For a lot of people, Sheena Is A Punk Rocker was their first introduction to punk rock. They couldn’t have asked for a better one. It took the surf rock and bubblegum pop influences of Joey’s youth, beat them over the head with a mallet, added a heroine icon in the form of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and created the first surf/punk rock teenage rebellion song. Sheena didn’t want no disco, she wanted to be in the chaos of the CBGB. After listening to this, so did the rest of us.
2. I Wanna Be Sedated
I Wanna Be Sedated is about being on tour in London and having nothing to do save have a bad time and maybe do some drugs. The band were feeling lousy, made all the worse by the fact Joey Ramone was recovering after receiving severe burns to his face. Sounds grim, right? But for all that, I Wanna Be Sedated ranks as one of the most life-affirming songs the Ramones ever released. It might not have the mainstream quality that ‘Blitzkrieg Bop has, but it’s impossible not to sing along.
1. Blitzkreig Bop
Blitzkreig Bop was the world’s introduction to The Ramones. This, their debut single, was what transformed them from underground heroes into punk rock legends. It prodded at the bloated belly of what rock had become and instantly transformed it into something lean, mean, and compelling new. It was to the point, unashamedly blunt, and utterly beguiling. It had rage and joy and teenage angst and four surly losers from NYC waging war on pop, rock, and everything in between. It wasn’t a declaration of intent, it was a battle cry, with “Hey, ho, let’s go!” leading the charge.