Beer Test Study Guide #4: The Ramones
I need well rounded kids that can pass The Beer Test.
I am not talking about underage drinking, but the ability to have a conversation with anyONE about anyTHING. Music knowledge is a key component to this test and I want to talk about a band that need to be remembered…
1–2–3–4…if you don't know what that means, then you don’t know The Ramones.
But to be honest, I didn't realize the originals members, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone and Tommy Ramone were not actually related. I am sure I’ve lost some of my street cred, but thankfully, I can find comfort in my stupidity with Ben Gibbard’s (of Death Cab for Cutie) statement that “music doesn't have to be important to you to know how
important is was to other people.”
So even though The Ramones are a band I don't purposely listen to, I recognize their revolutionary contribution to what would become the punk rock phenomenon. And if I should know about them, so should my kids.
Not that appearances necessarily matter, but in a 1970s disco era where everyone was glittered and glammed up, this ridiculously awkward looking band (lead singer, Joey Ramone was 6’6’’) stood out not just because of their floppy haircuts, leather jackets and sneakers but because they were different.
Alien invasion different.
The type of different that appeals to disaffected youth.
The type of different that parents don't understand.
In fact, different enough that in 1979, Rolling Stone said they were, “Mop-haired and sickly looking, with faces so acne-caked they resembled pink peanut brittle.” Not exactly a glowing recommendation.
To put them in context, in 1976, the year The Ramones recorded their debut album, groups like Elton John, Donna Summers, and The Bee Gees were consistently found in the top 40. David Bowie’s “Golden Years,” was only number 33, way below the number 12 pop ballad “Afternoon Delight.” And no one ever says, “Yeah, ‘Afternoon Delight’ really influenced my musical career.”
So what made Rolling Stone change their opinion so much they later named them as one of the top 100 Best Bands of All Time?
Because hindsight is 20–20 and historical context shapes our understanding of the actual musical culture of an era. The Ramones, with their self described limited talent, rejected the culture, which inspired other contemporaries to do the same, and fundamentally influenced future bands like Green Day, The Clash and U2.
The Ramones were the antithesis of the “more is more” musical period that was dominated by disco balls and sequins. Short, quick, feverish songs, which started with a quick 1234 count in, followed by a simple 3 chord progression, and finished in about 2 minutes. Performances could last 17 minutes and consist of 8 songs.
To hear the aggressive yet minimal rock songs from the all black clad Ramones was enough to send any mainstream music listener into a tailspin. But is was the basic songwriting, hypnotic hooks and frantic songs that lured in so many fans. Could someone else have come along and done the same thing? Perhaps. But not with the components of awkwardness, look and noise.
On a more basic level, The Ramones defined punk. And punk influenced everyone. Some people think punk is not caring about anything. Wrong. Punk is caring deeply about something without giving a damn about what other people think. Patti Smith said that punk rock was another word for freedom, but I like Billie Joe Armstrong’s interpretation:
“A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’ So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’ So he kicks over a garbage can and says ‘That’s punk?’ and I say ‘No, that’s trendy!’”
As a parent, I think this matters. I need my kids to be more punk. I need to be more punk.
And The Ramones make that possible.