One of the biggest mistakes in my record collecting life has got to be NOT collecting the original run of Ramones albums, along with selling off my first pressing copies of Rocket to Russia and Pleasant Dreams back in the waning days for vinyl in the Eighties. I was depressed and wanted to give in to society’s demand that I switch to CDs all the while I still enjoyed playing my albums. And, after I switched careers from being a decently paid medical technologist to a vastly underpaid beginning teacher, I would periodically sell off an album or two at vinyl’s ebb just to supplement our money for the bills. This disaster is followed by my getting rid of of The Runaways eponymous debut and all of my KISS albums. Still, not collecting Ramones back in our heydays was the biggest collecting mistake, bar none.
Honestly, I have NO good reason for staying away from the Ramones. I just if the albums did not make the Top 100, then I did not buy them. But, wait! I have the Sex Pistols and all of The Clash albums, except that last one they did after sacking Mick Jones. I made a HUGE mistake that is now number one on my want list: Ramones on vinyl. Fortunately, I do have the Ramones on CD, but there is something totally wrong about Ramones and digital technology. They were and are of the analog era and should be appreciated as such. I have gained so much insight to the bands’ talents of the analog era by listening to their albums on vinyl versus their albums on disc or, worse yet, mp3. In the latter two cases, something in the sound is missing. Now, I am no audiophile. Hell, I can’t pass a hearing exam any longer, so why waste the money. But, I can discern instrumentation better from a vinyl source than a digital source. And, in their crude simplicity, the Ramones were created for the analog era. That’s why you can hear the guitar in one speaker and the bass in the other, making the band one of the simplest band to learn to play their songs.
And, as I said last week, the Ramones belong with AC/DC and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts as being the most consistent artists in rock history as they were able to sustain a hugely successful career while mining the very same sound from album to album. And, it was that consistency that won fans for the band without ever being a force on the charts. And, therein lies the crime of the 20th century: the Ramones never had a hit single or album. And, this is a band whose first five albums each sound like a Greatest Hits package unto itself.
By now, every rock fan understands the shadow the Ramones cast over rock music. Initially, they worked with Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Television and Johnny Thunders to make CBGB’s the heart of the New York City punk movement in the mid-Seventies. Then, in the aftermath of their tour of the UK in 1976, the whole UK punk scene broke wide open, unleashing the likes of Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, Buzzcocks and a host of other influential punk bands. Later, that punk energy and playing speed was co-opted by the UK metal scene, giving birth to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal artists like Motörhead and Iron Maiden to the fore, whether any of those guys want to admit to it or not. Then, a bunch of American kids who bought Ramones albums in their youth started forming their own bands in college, giving rise to the hardcore and alternative scenes that popped across the USA. Without Ramones, there would never have been two of my favorites, the Pixies and Hüsker Dü. Then, the whole Seattle grunge scene and alternative nation of the Nineties have Ramones DNA flowing through it, right Nirvana, Green Day, Weezer, The Offspring and The Presidents of the United States of America? And, the Ramones influence continues to be felt in the newer pop-punk bands such as Titus Andronicus, Sheer Mag and Car Seat Headrest.
So, today, I would like to rank the fourteen studio albums that the Ramones released during their brief 20+ year career. Today, the original four (singer Joey died in 2001, bassist Dee Dee in 2002, guitarist Johnny in 2004 and original drummer Tommy in 2014) have all passed on to the great Punk Club in the Sky, leaving second drummer Marky (who was in and out of the band many times), third drummer Richie (only around for one album) and bassist for the final decade C.J. Remember, these guys were all from the same “family”, with the surname being Ramone. Sure, those seven people were the Ramones, along with 1987 tour drummer, Elvis (Blondie drummer Clem Burke), but weren’t we all Ramones? Their brilliance laid in the fact that they played with a simplicity that made many of us believe we could play too. Plus, there is an underlying joy in their music, although it may have come from suburban pain. Like I said, AC/DC, Ramones, Joan Jett, birth, taxes and death: the only things guaranteed in life.
- Rocket to Russia (1977). Normally, the debut album sits atop these lists, but this was the right album at the right time for me.
- Ramones (1976). This is the blueprint for punk. ‘Nuff said. Next!
- Road to Ruin (1978). Any album that has a song as great as “I Wanna Be Sedated” is a classic by default.
- End of the Century (1980). This is a notorious album, which proves the old adage that your shouldn’t meet your heroes. No, it wasn’t the classic that everyone hoped it would be when we found out Phil Spector was producing our boys. But listen to the album again! It’s pretty darn good.
- Leave Home (1977). This was the first Ramones album I ever heard, and I was hooked…on listening to my friends’ albums instead of buying my own. Stupid!
- Too Tough to Die (1984). This is the last good album from the band’s first decade and represents the end of the Golden Era.
- Pleasant Dreams (1981). I remember laughing so hard in the dorm with some friends as we listened to “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” Just a little too polished for my tastes.
- Subterranean Jungle (1983). Although nothing really stands out on this album, it is still consistently good.
- ¡Adios Amigos! (1995). The farewell album. At least the band did not go out with a whimper. But, it wasn’t a roar either.
- Acid Eaters (1993). This is the band’s tribute to the songs that influenced them. I told you that Nuggets album was a huge influence on punk!
- Animal Boy (1986). Much to conservative Johnny Ramone’s chagrin, this album contains the anti-Reagan anthem “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.”
- Halfway to Sanity (1987). None of the last three are really good enough to mention. These album almost take away from the legend of the band.
- Brain Drain (1989)
- Mondo Bizarro (1992)
And, that, my friends, is my take on the discography of the beloved Ramones. I hoped it jogged some memories for you.