Thursday, September 15, 2016

1976 - The Ramones

This year by year venture has me pulling out my hair. I've dismissed prog nearly completely, while in the 70s it was an essential part of my being. Close to the Edge was as much a part of who I was as pot and girls. And yet I'm not after personal faves, I've stuck to my guns and reviewed what is the most influential of each of these monumental years. It just seems odd, now that I'm putting it into perspective, all that I've left out. Maybe there should have been five per year, but that's another endeavor. 

It feels pretty lame to simply go with Hotel California, the year's biggest seller, the title track the second most played song on FM radio, and Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior was just too out there. And Bob Marley and Judas Priest... I had hair like Dee Dee's; now it's all gone. 

But we're talkin' 'bout a revolution in this series and that, my friends, is indubitably The Ramones.

14 songs, 29 minutes utilizing some of the silliest chords and absurd lyrics one can imagine (or is it just one song 14 times?). That's rock 'n' roll. This was the record you could play max volume at 3am and it'd be over before the police arrived. Released during the disco diaspora in 1976, this aural assault went largely unnoticed at the time. Much like the equally-important, underrated, and influential Chuck Berry, The Ramones are often derided for their deceptively simple 3-chord song structure and seemingly dumb lyrics. The smart listener will realize Joey's phrasing as intentionally tongue-in-cheek; Tommy and Dee Dee's efficient (and danceable) pulse, and; Johnny's life-affirming power chords. Yes, the Stooges, MC5, Velvet Underground set the backdrop in terms of style and attitude, but The Ramones are the ones who defined punk rock and therefore saved American popular music from itself. The Sex Pistols may have had a lot to say, but the Ramones were and are the embodiment of everything that Rock music ever was and may still be again. 

SEYMOUR STEIN (co-founder, Sire Records): "They had a special gig for me, but I had the flu. So the next day, I rented a rehearsal studio for an hour. In 20 minutes, they had gone through about 20 songs. I fell in love with them."

CRAIG LEON (producer): "Until we made the record, they literally hadn’t rehearsed how to end songs."

STEIN: "Joey was so sweet; the songs he wrote were so tender. Dee Dee was Dee Dee. Tommy was the brains. Johnny was the Paul McCartney of the group; he was the one who held the band together."

When The Ramones played CBGB's in '74, they didn’t strike anyone as a band that mattered; the set was 12 minutes long and they needed to play it twice to quell the crowd. Many thought The Ramones a joke, i.e. "Gabba gabba whatever." For the American labels, commercial-pop like ABBA and the Bee Gees muddled the innovation of New Wave and dismissed the punk snarl. Nevertheless, Sire Records saw the value (read that as "ca-ching") in these burgeoning genres and made recording artists of The Ramones, Talking Heads and The Pretenders. A new era had begun.