Written by: Blackie Skulless
Earlier this year, the debut self-titled Ramones album celebrated its forty-fifth birthday, and for many this was a monumental turn in the punk rock movement. Prior to Johnny and co., you had bands such as New York Dolls, The Stooges, and Death (Michigan) laying down the prototypes for this movement. Some will see them as the actual pioneers, and many will see Ramones dropping in 1976 as the actual start. This is a heavily discussed topic that is obviously important, but today, rather than argue about that, I’d like to take a retrospective look at this infamous debut on its own.
The biggest selling point that the Ramones seemed to have was their ability to use the utmost simplest of riffs and song structure, yet manage to get a clear message across to bring listeners back for repeat visits. This is clearly evident on the debut, and considering that the album opener “Blitzkrieg Bop” is still heavily referenced today, I’d say this idea holds up. (Side note; anybody remember this song being in the Jimmy Neutron movie?). This structure basically paints itself on the entire twenty-nine minute runtime of the album, allowing it to work as the perfect format for many a punk and hardcore band to come.
So it goes without saying that everything is going to be short, sweet, and follow the same attitude. “Loudmouth” is so similar to the opener that it's almost the exact same riff with maybe one chord change? You’ve also got one of my favorites, “Beat On The Brat” that slows things down a bit, using one verse and a chorus to carry the entire thing. “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” is simply one stanza stretched across a fast and repetitive riff. And of course, they even show their tamer side with the prettier “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” a tune that I also return to fairly frequently. They also manage to get pretty dark with the lyrics in “53rd & 3rd” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement.” So for having a little to work with, there is more going on than you’d think.
Except here’s where I step in and ruin everything; I actually don’t think Ramones is the masterpiece people will say it is, and I think that they drastically improved this style in the years following. Everything on this album certainly made for some great groundwork, and I do love returning to it from time to time, but I think "Leave Home," "Rocket To Russia," and "Road To Ruin" in particular capitalized greatly on all of the good things about this record. Everything from the raging energy on “Judy Is A Punk” to the fun cover of “Let’s Dance” feel great in the moment but almost always leave me wanting more. The aforementioned “Loudmouth” is one of the emptiest shells of a song I’ve ever heard. “Havana Affair” has some of the dumbest lyrics I’ve ever heard (yes I know it isn’t literal, that doesn’t make it good!) Even my personal favorite track “Listen To My Heart,” while having a great chorus and fun energy, leaves me wanting more at the end. This album, while doing so much for punk as a whole, feels like nothing more than a beginning, because that’s all it really is.
I can’t pretend that the debut Ramones record wasn't wildly influential, because it was, and still has an impact today. But I think this is nothing more than the skeleton of what not only they would become, but what many other punk bands would use. It’s a solid 7/10 listen, and what is here is for the most part, pretty solid. But the key phrase is “what is here.” This was a very untraditional format for rock ‘n roll at the time, and that’s why it got its own genre. I’m super glad that it grew significantly, even as early as on "Leave Home."
Ramones - Ramones was released 1976 via Sire Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.
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