Classic Rock Profiles: History of Ramones


Formation of the band, stint at CBGB, and first album

In 1974, the group that would be the Ramones was formed in the neighborhood Forest Hills, Queens in New York City, New York. Originally, the group consisted of a trio of vocalist/drummer Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Hyman in 1951 – died 2001), Johnny Ramone (born John Cummings in 1951) and Dee Dee Ramone (born Douglas Colvin in 1951 – died 2002). Tommy Ramone (born Tom Erdelyi in 1952) stood as their manager.

Although their last names were “Ramone,” this was just a stage name and they weren’t really related to each other. The idea for that name stemmed from Paul McCartney’s use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon during their Silver Beatles days. Dee Dee Ramone was inspired by it so he adopted the “Ramones” stage moniker.

The Ramones played their first gig in March 1974 at Manhattan’s Performance studios. It was the first time that the band exhibited their would-be signature sets where they literally blasted the house with their loud, fast-paced, barely two-minute songs. A few months later, Joey took the lead singing, and Tommy formally joined the band to replace Joey behind the drum kit.

In the summer of 1974, the Ramones made their debut at CBGB’s, and it was that club where the group built up their reputation in the midst of New York’s thriving punk rock scene. The following year the Ramones became regulars at that club and gained an enthusiastic cult following. At the end of 1975 the punk rockers were signed to their first recording contract with Sire Records, and almost immediately went to record their first album on a shoestring budget.

Early in 1976, the Ramones released their self-titled debut album, which received good reviews and peaked at #111 on the Billboard 200. Throughout the year the band constantly toured, and would be the installment of their 20 prolific years of touring.

Leading the punk rock scene

In 1977, the Ramones released the sophomore effort Leave Home. While it only went to #148 on the US album chart, in the UK it was a sizable hit at #45. The album featured one of the group’s signature tunes “Pinhead.” In that same year they released Rocket to Russia which became one of the best-performing albums; it reached #49 on the Billboard 200. The album was also first to feature their first charting singles “Rockaway Beach” (#66 US Hot 100, #22 UK) and “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” (#81 US Hot 100, #22 UK). The Ramones were far more popular in the UK than in their own country, and were seen together with the Sex Pistols as pioneers of the punk rock movement.

In 1977, Tommy Ramone left the band, to be replaced by another drummer Marc Bell, formerly of Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Upon joining the band Bell became Marky Ramone. Tommy Ramone, however, stayed on to produce the Ramones’ next album Road to Ruin. In this album, the band attempted to tweak their sound so that it would fit more into the “pop” genre and be more accessible in style. They hoped to finally break out commercially in the States. While this didn’t happen in their homeland, Road to Ruin otherwise was a guaranteed UK hit at #32 on the national album chart. One of the album’s tracks was “I Wanna Be Sedated,” which would become one of the Ramones’ best-remembered songs.

In 1979, the Ramones starred in the motion picture Rock ‘n’ Roll High Schoolwhich was directed by Robert Corman. Legendary (and infamous) producer Phil Spector helmed the band’s fifth studio album End of the Century in 1980. Spector’s grandiose yet cloying musical touch is obviously heard on the album’s single “Baby I Love You” which was their first-ever Top 10 hit of any singles ranking, peaking at #8 on the UK singles chart. Despite the lukewarm receptionEnd of the Century became the Ramones’ highest-charting album ever. It peaked at #44 on the US album chart despite its singles making an almost-zero impact on the charts; in the UK, the album reached #14.

Buoyed by the some success of End of the Century, the Ramones continued with this trend with 1981’s Pleasant Dreams (produced by 10cc’s Graham Gouldman) in an attempt to broaden their audience and hopefully to also lift themselves up commercially. Alas, it was a commercial flop on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the album registering at #58 (but the single “We Want the Airwaves” only landed at #50 on the dance charts).

The Ramones released Subterranean Jungle in 1983. During the recording of the album, Marky Ramone had been sacked from the group due to problems with alcohol. Subterranean Jungle was to become the band’s last crack at the top 100 album chart at #83.

Marky Ramone was then replaced by former Velveteens member Richard Beau, now Richie Ramone. The Ramones released their first album with Richie Too Tough to Die in 1984; the album was produced by former Tommy Ramone (now in his real name Tommy Erdelyi) and now marked their return to their fast paced musical style. An import-only single “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” — an attack of President Reagan’s 1985 visit to Germany — became popular on the US college radio stations.

One last hurrah

Tensions surfaced among the band members, particularly Joey and Johnny Ramone. Their own personal issues as well as money were also the reasons of the band’s troubles.

But things went for a bit better at least on the members’ situation. Marky and Johnny Ramone became sober, and the band moved from their longtime label Sire to a new label Radioactive Records. They released their debut album on that labelMondo Bizarro in 1992. The following year the band issued their 13th album Acid Eaters, in the midst of the bourgeoning new punk revival scene which saw the rise of such bands as Green Day and Offspring. The Ramones were prepared to do one last hurrah with ¡Adios Amigos! in 1995 — unless the album would sell well considering the dominating musical trend.

Despite ¡Adios Amigos! spending only a couple of weeks on the album chart, its single “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” reached #30 on the alternative rock charts. The Ramones embarked on their final series of tours, highlighted by a performance at the Lollapalooza in 1996. Following that stint, they disbanded for good.

Deaths of Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone; and the band’s lasting influence and legacy

Five years after their split Joey Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001, aged 49. A year later, Dee Dee Ramone was found dead in his Los Angeles home. In 2004, Johnny Ramone succumbed to prostate cancer, which he had quietly battled for some time.

The Ramones are mostly considered as the world’s first true punk band. Despite the Ramones’ longtime inability to break out commercially, their influence outlasted it, even the band themselves. The generation of rock musicians and bands that followed the Ramones, has owed so much to them. The Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

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