The Ramones – Why they were shit and how they ruined punk

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The Ramones – did they ruin punk?

Reflecting on the golden age, Getintothis’ Banjo String vents his fury at The Ramones, their pernicious influence and how they eradicated individuality and intelligence from punk rock.

Now I know they have become something of a sacred cow and that a lot of people I respect rate them very highly, but I have something to get off my chest –  I hate The Ramones. There, I’ve said it. To be more accurate, what I hate is I think they had a disastrous effect on punk from which it never really recovered. I know, I know, but let me explain…

First of all, punk was a major life changing event for me, without it I would not be the person I am or have lived the life I have lived. I owe it a lot and I love it dearly. But the punk that had this impact on me was as inventive as it was incendiary, as thoughtful as it was terrifying. For me, The Ramones were not part of this and, as their shadow crept more and more into the new wave of bands arriving almost daily in 1976/77, a lot of the things I love about it were lost.

I can understand them seeming revolutionary in 1975 and 1976, both the breakneck speed and the brevity of their songs going against the prevailing mood of the times, but to my ears that’s where any kind of punk ethos started and finished. I acknowledge too that the movers and shakers of what was to be Britain’s punk scene were all on board very quickly, and The Ramones gigs in London were a rallying point for many of the early faces.

Read our feature on Liverpool’s Deaf School here

I further understand that if you picked up a guitar for the first time as an angry teenager in the late 70s, Ramones songs were an easy role model to follow.  But, their cartoon-rock take on Beach Boys melodies had no intention other than to be a novelty band, no agenda and nothing really to say. My main point of concern is that the first wave of British punk bands were making music that was different to each other and didn’t conform to a pattern, the rallying cry being “Be individual, think for yourself”, and The Ramones‘ influence on many of the bands that followed halted this in its tracks and contributed to the uniformity that dogged certain parts of the scene all too quickly.

As punk started in Britain, early gigs by The Sex Pistols seem to have a had an almost messianic effect on some of the audience, Steve Jones recalled seeing people coming to shows with long hair and flared jeans, only for them to turn up to subsequent shows with short spiky hair, drainpipes and home made t-shirts; clearly things were changing. (Incidentally, it is very telling that the only Sex Pistol who really fell for The Ramones was Sid, and we all know how that one turned out).

The bands that formed in the Pistols’ wake picked up the call for individuality and set about creating bands and songs of their own. This first wave included Buzzcocks’ spiky pop, The Clash’s urgent attack, The Slits’ defiant noise and X Ray Spex’s sax driven songs of consumerist concerns, all notable for creating their own style as they went along.  Other early bands formed in these heady days were Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Damned, all with their own identity, agenda and reason for being.

Read our review of Wire’s gig at Liverpool earlier this year

This is not to say that there were no three-chord thrash bands around, there were, but looking back it is striking to think how different it all sounds, particularly as the prevailing wisdom of the time, at least for those set against the new movement, was that it all sounded the same. John Peel once described The Slits as being where an inability to play met a determination to play, whereas The Ramones were proficient musicians pretending to be bad ones, dumbing down their abilities. One gets the feeling that if The Slits were as skilled at their instruments the music they made would have made the most of these skills, not played them down.

You may well think that without The Ramones the Brits would never have had the confidence to pick up their guitars and form bands without first feeling they had to learn to play like Jimmy Page or Steve Hackett, but I disagree. The punk scene that started here was a reaction against what was going on at the time rather than picking up on any ideas from America. Plus there seems to have been something in the air in 1976/7, with bands such as Manchester’s Buzzcocks forming for similar reasons, away from the capital. Those who did pick up instruments and formed bands in those early days then learnt to play them in public and, initially at least, made a noise that was all their own.

How did we get from this spirit of inventiveness, this instinctive need to create something that was new and different, to the desire to play something that sounded like punk put together by Sun readers. Listen to The SlitsNew Town, and then to The Exploited’s Dead Cities.  How did we get from one to the other?  Well, we could blame the pernicious influence of The Ramones!

To be fair to the band, we can lay a fair amount of blame at the feet of new bands taking the easy option to play ramalama punk like The Ramones rather than taking up the call of the early British punks to be individual, plus it must certainly have been easier. The Ramones themselves can not really be held accountable for the way their own style was picked up and imitated, but I do wonder what would have happened to punk if The Ramones had never existed or been so looked up to.

I do think it all would still have happened without them, but would have evolved differently. Patti Smith, Television and Blondie were also held in high esteem by Britain’s early punks, but for some annoying reason it was The Ramones who seem to have set a blueprint. To me, The Ramones embody dumbing down, playing up stupidity rather than treating your intelligence as your biggest and best weapon. “D U M B everyone’s accusing me” is no God Save The Queen.

On that note, let’s take a look at lyrics. Caroline Coon tells a story of seeing an early Pistols gig and coming to the realisation that Johnny Rotten was a poet, and it’s easy to see what she means.  Looking at his lyrics there is intelligence, cynicism, anger, disgust… what’s not to love?

“When there’s no future, how can there be sin?
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
We’re the poison in your human machine

“I don’t believe illusions, too much is real

“Claustrophobia; there’s too much paranoia
There’s too many closets
So when will we fall”

The only Ramones record I bought was Rockaway Beach, where they proclaim,

“Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It’s not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach
Up on the roof, out on the street
Down in the playground, the hot concrete
Bus ride is too slow, they blast out the disco on the radio

“Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
Rock-rock, Rockaway Beach
We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach”

Is it any wonder I never bought any more of their records?

For me it is an intriguing idea to think of an alternative punk timeline, where the stereotypical punk noise was never set and perhaps The Lurkers or Sham 69 never existed. Where the creative heart of punk was never overrun and where the shock and art (for want of a better word) of early punk was allowed to flourish and became what it was known for, and where being a punk meant more than wearing a leather jacket, ripping the knees of your jeans and playing  D U M B.

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22 Comments

  1. Boy you sure have opinions. You didnt do shit but write another article. Bravo, you win. Rock prevails. Fuck all the filler words around it and you

  2. Lovely qualification for writing a full article about a punk band that predated everyone else on your beloved British punk list: You heard one song that riffed on The Beach Boys. Also, thanks much for the stupid adherence to fashion as the most important part of the punk scene. The Ramones famously wore ripped jeans and adopted leather jackets because it was the kind of thing they wore every day. Much unlike the New York Dolls rip off McLaren and Westwood tried to establish.
    Yes Lydon is a good lyricist, but if you singled out “Liar” by The Sex Pistols the way you singled out Rockaway Beach, it would look something like this:

    “Lie, lie, lie, lie lie,
    well you lie, lie lie lie lie
    Tell me why, tell me why,
    Why you have to lie
    Do you realize that you should just tell the truth?
    Do you realize, you know what I know:
    You’re in suspicion….you’re a liar.”

    Yes, truly deep. Surely the work of a great poet. So you see how listing lyrics to one song can badly misrepresent the body of work of said lyricist. It’s a shame the “one song you bought” wasn’t “Chinese Rock” which reads:

    “Somebody called me on the phone,
    Said hey hey is Artie home?
    You want to take a walk?
    You want to go cop?
    You want to go get some Chinese Rock?

    I’m living on a Chinese Rock
    All my best things are in hock
    I’m living on a Chinese Rock
    Everything is in the pawn shop

    The plaster’s falling off the wall
    My girlfriend’s crying in the shower stall
    It’s hot as a bitch
    I could’ve been rich
    But I”m just digging a Chinese ditch.”

    It paints a little bit more of a vivid picture than Rockaway Beach, though each is equally successful at doing what it is meant to do.

    As for lauding the bad musicianship of the Specs and saying The Ramones were virtuosos underplaying on purpose, I can say: I saw the Ramones eight times during their career, and they could be tight, and they could be sloppy. They dressed like they dressed on the street and played like they played in their heyday until Dee Dee left and was replaced by a better technical bass player to the band’s detriment.

    You have every right to hate whatever bands you wish, to hold whatever opinions you’d like, but this attempt at biased journalism is laughably obvious. The Specs music is still there, so is the creativity of The Exploited, Sham 69, Siouxsie et al. So is the Ramones’ comparatively prodigious work.

    Why don’t you practice a bit of journalistic precision and just say: “The Ramones aren’t British, therefore I have to put them down.” It is, afterall, what you clearly mean.

  3. It’s always real funny how someone can sit on the sidelines and carp that they can do better, especially 40 years after the fact. Sometimes the catalyst is not the biggest or the brightest spark but it is still the spark that starts the fire. BTW what were you doing in 1974?? probably not even born yet or at least still crapping your nappies.

  4. You can’t claim they were important, and state that said importance would have occured without them.

    However, to each his/her own.
    That’s all I can say.

  5. It’s always real funny how someone can sit on the sidelines and carp that they can do better, especially 40 years after the fact. Sometimes the catalyst is not the biggest or the brightest spark but it is still the spark that starts the fire. BTW what were you doing in 1974?? probably not even born yet or at least still crapping your nappies.

  6. Your Opinion is skewed. the DIY Garage sound started in the US. it didn’t have a look, it certainly wasn’t the list of clothes the British Clone machine spewed out in compliance to uniformity.
    The whole article is as you’re lot say SHITE.
    The Ramones were not proficient musicians. the could not get a gig playing Top of pops hits in a bar.
    The Punk rules of music,,,, He’ll there are none.

    The Ramones 4 th L.P. is what you chose to compare to the Monkees of so called Punk ( Pistols)
    our bands are usually chums, youth that have a nice love for music, and with that The Ever present Can as in Ameri can Do do do spirit.

    none of this British Cloning crap that you’re re Lot have copied and may I I add , been copying since great grandad heard an American Army regiment play Swing and Jazz, to counter the awfullt dull british Bands and music.

    The Brits were always a bit stiff for American tastes.

    YOU LEARN, WE TEACH. . GET IT STRAIGHT.

  7. All I can say is that if you had been at The Roundhouse on July 4 1976, you’d likely be singing a different tune.

  8. The Ramones’ influences were The Stooges, Alice Cooper (the band), The New York Dolls and Phil Spector. They never called themselves “punk” or set to tear down the music establishment. When they recorded their first album they thought the same kids going to see Cheap Trick and KISS would be into The Ramones. Like Chuck Berry, The Ramones believed that the best rock and roll songs were observations of teenage life. But as they looked around New York in the mid seventies the teenagers they observed were sniffing glue, beating up their girlfriends and popping pills they had stolen from their parents’ medicine cabinets.

    The radio stations wouldn’t touch their records but a minority of high school and college kids “got” The Ramones. It was fun, catchy music with a wall of sound created by a three piece band. Short songs loaded with hooks and no guitar solos. Other people started calling it punk rock. Today Ramones songs are played at every major sporting event.

  9. Budai was a Chan (Zen) monk in 10th century china. One day, as he was going about his business, giving sweets to children, as was his wont, a monk approached him and asked, “What is the meaning of Chan?” In response, Budai set down his cloth sack. The monk persisted, asking, “How does one achieve Chan?” Budai’s response was to pick up his sack and continue on his way.
    The Ramones are the Chan monks of punk. Anyone looking for deep meaning from them in the form of sociopolitical messages is bound to be frustrated, as is the peevish author of this column. There is no message. They do what they do. Some see it as shallow and aggressively stupid. Others see it as fashion. These miss the point, for there is no point. Their music is not an answer, nor a tool; it is a path.
    I happen to like it.

  10. “Guess I’m going to have to tell’em
    I ain’t got no cerebellum
    Going to get my PhD
    In teenage lobotomy”

    is one of the greatest lyrics in Rock history.

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