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As the classic era of the 70s ended, a new revolution was starting in the underground scene. The Ramones, an unlikely group of teenagers, were the pioneers of a wilder, faster, and chaotic rock genre. The Ramones band history, as you’ll learn, is also the history of Punk rock and the shaky relationship between complex individuals.
The now familiar Punk rock we hear on the radio is The Ramones’ legacy. It’s not exaggerating to say they were the first Punk band that embodied all the genre stands for. The rebellious spirit, simple songs, and frantic stage presence were what turned me and countless others onto The Ramones years after they had disbanded.
When I decided to listen to the Ramones as an adult, I was not expecting to like them as I did as a teenager. Luckily for me, the opposite happened, and I truly understood that there’s much hidden beneath the surface of what is one of the most important, yet at the time underrated, rock n’ roll acts of the last century.
The Ramones Quick Facts
|Band Members||Original: Joey Ramone; Johnny Ramone; Dee Dee Ramone; Tommy Ramone
Replacement: Marky Ramone; Richie Ramone; Elvis Ramone; C. J. Ramone
|Genres||Punk Rock; Pop Punk|
|Origin||New York City|
|Most Successful Album/Single||The biggest album is “Ramones”; The biggest single is “Rockaway Beach.”|
|Social Media||Facebook, Instagram|
|Awards||Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards & Hall of Fame award; Kerrang! Icon Award. Inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.|
|Last Updated||June 2022|
The Ramones Founding Members
All the original Ramones members were distinct characters, all worthy of being charismatic frontmen of any rock band. Unlike most rock bands with a distinct leader, I can’t name a Ramone member who stood out the most, either for better or worse.
Unfortunately, all the original members have passed away.
Jeffrey Ross Hyman (May 19, 1951 – April 15, 2001) was the main vocalist, frontman, and unconventional showman of the Ramones. Joey was the main image and attraction of the band, especially on live shows.
First starting as the drummer for the band, he switched to vocals as Dee Dee’s voice could not handle the stress of a busy performing schedule. His deep voice blended with the almost careless screams and hiccups, creating the first true Punk singer. Even though the songs were at times fast and heavy, Joey kept his classic rock composure and gradually helped evolve the band’s sound over the years.
Joey Ramone was a peculiar rockstar. He was an introvert who suffered from schizophrenia and OCD and adored classic rock bands most punk rockers would neglect. He died on April 15, 2001, at 49 years old in New York after suffering from Lymphoma.
Dee Dee Ramone
Douglas Glenn Colvin (September 18, 1951 – June 5, 2002) was the band’s bass player, main songwriter, and original vocalist.
Dee Dee’s childhood was similar to the other band members, an outcast with family issues who liked spending time alone. After moving back to New York from Germany, he founded the Ramones and soon switched from vocals to only playing the bass.
Dee Dee’s merits as a composer and his stage presence stand at the core of The Ramones. He’s the one behind their biggest hits, the epic voice that counts off songs on stage, and even the band’s name. He continued a brief career in Hip Hop after The Ramones and also published a few interesting books on his life as a rock star.
Dee Dee’s life was troubled by mental illness and continuous drug abuse that ultimately killed him on June 5, 2002.
John William Cummings (October 8, 1948 – September 15, 2004) was the guitarist of the band and one of the primary songwriters. He contributed with the heavy, aggressive rhythm guitar that earned him a spot on every list of legendary guitarists.
Johnny Ramone’s childhood and teenage years were troubled by a strict father and years of delinquency he only abandoned in his 20s. If Joey was the band’s liberal hippie, Johnny was the conservative. He openly expressed his political views so much as to cause issues within the band. His rigid character showed in his music as much as in his interviews while in the band.
Even though not technically advanced or refined, Johnny’s guitar playing impacted all rock music of the 80s and 90s. His riffs are legendary, simple yet effective. The aggressive down-picking and stage presence were the coolest things to watch and imitate when I was a teenager. Even though the plays look simple, it’s hard to do, especially for hours without end.
Johnny Ramone did a lot of acting and appeared as a guest in many films and shows.
He passed away on September 15, 2004, after losing his battle to prostate cancer.
Thomas Erdelyi (born Tamás Erdélyi; January 29, 1949 – July 11, 2014) was the band’s original drummer who would play a crucial role in co-producing and writing many of the band’s albums.
Born in a Jewish family in Hungary, he moved to America after having suffered the devastation of the Holocaust. He was the only Ramone with previous musical experience, having worked as an assistant engineer on records and knowing his way around the studio.
Tommy was originally meant to be a manager and producer and only filled the drummer’s role when Joey switched to vocals. The years of intensive touring, the fast song tempos, and rocky relationship with band mates had him quit the band in 1978 and work only on the writing and production aspects of the albums.
He was the last surviving original band member, passing away at 64 years old from bile duct cancer.
The Ramones Early Years
The Ramones were founded at a time when American rock was not as relatable to young people as it used to be. Jazz Rock, Country Rock, and Prog Rock were commercially successful yet had become the standard of musicians’ expectations.
Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee Ramone all lived in the same area in Forest Hills, New York. They started the band together in 1974 and ended up having the original lineup with Tommy as the drummer after some lineup switches and exchanging roles. Joey became the main vocalist, and Tommy settled on drums, even though he was still a beginner.
The name “Ramone” comes from Paul McCartney’s story of checking in at hotels under the fake name “Paul Ramon.” Adopting the stage name “Ramone” became a custom for every new upcoming member of the band.
None were professional or proficient players, turning that disadvantage into a signature sound at their first shows. While playing clubs, especially the famous CBGB, they would create a similar fast-paced, chaotic show as in the later years. As Johnny Ramone said in an interview, there was not much happening in New York’s rock scene at the time, which helped them make a name quickly.
Linda Ramone said about first seeing the band at CBGBs, “They played 15 minutes; if you blinked, it was over.”
The leather jacket look, almost rushed, visceral aspect of their performances, and Joey’s stage presence was unique in the rock scene – a counter-culture alternative to the hippie scene. The sound was there, and the band’s continuous cycle that would always be left out of the mainstream spotlight started.
Over their 22 years, they released 14 studio records, all of which are important for Punk music. I will go through the most historically important and the ones I believe better represent the band over the years. New members and collaborators brought different elements from the debut to the last album, yet The Ramones’ youthful rebellious sound never changed.
The band’s first album would come two years after the regular club performances that led to a real record with Sire Records. It’s a groundbreaking album for Punk and Rock, yet it didn’t get the attention it deserved and did not sell massively in the 70s.
The album’s two singles, “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” are now iconic tracks most rock radios will play. I have the same opinion as some artist of the time. The album is innovative, yet it needs to be heard many times before it’s understood.
Today we all can hear the songs and say, “ah, it’s a classic.” In the mid-70s, not so much. Giving an audience used to 7-minute long solo packed songs a 2-minute long straight grooves was what gave the Ramones their success, but that would take some more time.
While I love the style the band brings, I dislike the production and engineering, which does not do justice to the songwriting.
Widely considered the first real Punk album, the public caught on to its brilliance over the years, and it eventually became the most-sold album from the band.
Leave Home (1977)
The second Ramones album continues where the debut left off in the same style, yet with a more refined production and better arrangement. The whole record feels more confined, yet it’s not their best.
Despite the first album being fast, this one was even faster, going more for a hard rock style than British rock. “Carbona Not Glue” is the most successful song that better defines the record. Short, fast, and straight to the point, hard punk.
The less known track, which happens to be my favorite, is the British sounding “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl.” The intro with the clean guitar and Joey’s vocal track is my favorite moment from the album.
No commercial success came, though, as would be the case with almost all their records.
Rocket to Russia (1977)
Rocket to Russia is the first musically dynamic Ramones record. The hard punk sound is balanced with a touch of surf rock and pop. It’s one of my favorite albums from the band, as I find the best Joey Ramone performances are the ones with a pop-infused vibe.
The album was recorded at in same time that The Sex Pistols released “God Save The Queen.” The rivalry and especially Johnny Ramones’ hard feeling toward the band that ‘ripped them off” inspired them to create their best-sounding record to date. The album does sound very good compared to the previous two.
“Rockaway Beach” was to become the highest ever charting single of the band, reaching No. 6. This is proof that the catchy side of The Ramones would bring them the most commercial success, even though the band didn’t go in that direction often.
Road To Ruin (1978)
The first lineup shift happened right before the recording of this album. Drummer Tommy Ramone left to focus on his production work and only decided to assist the band by writing and producing the material.
Marc Bell, who went by the name Marky Ramone took up Tommy’s place and started work on what was a heavy and classic rock-influenced album. It’s the first Ramones record with acoustic guitars and guitar solos, which were not their strongest point.
The track “Don’t Come Close” is the best sounding and best ‘soft’ song on the record. The pop, catchy vocal, and guitar work are splendid, much better than any attempt at this genre.
Ramones – Don’t Come Close (Official Music Video)
The album has a solid song and the hist “I Wanna Be Sedated, “ but overall, I find it an attempt too far off the mark. I don’t think the band did find commercial success, as it’s not something that would have gone easily with some of the members.
It’s Alive (1979)
The album list would not be complete without arguably one of the top rock live records of all time. Nothing similar had ever been recorded live before this album.
The band was in its best form ever, with Marky Ramone doing the drums more justice live than Tommy ever did. After all, Tommy was never originally a drummer, and Marky was a pro. The live version of the classic songs from the Ramone record sounds much better on this live record than the album version.
If you want a good introduction to the essence of the Ramones, this 30 min long live show is the right one to watch.
End of The Century (1980)
“End of The Century” is an album that did as much damage as it produced good songs. The new producer, Joey’s idol, legendary producer Phil Specter proved to be a tough character.
This album aimed to make the Ramones go big, Bigger than they had ever thought to become. Much focus and work were put into Joey’s vocals from Specter, while the rest of the band was unhappy during most of the recording.
Johnny Ramone tells stories of taking multiple takes of one chord, which Specter would listen to a hundred times and scream for hours to the band and staff. The situation escalated to the point that he held the band hostage at his place at gunpoint.
The album’s theme was pop punk, with only some heavy fast tracks. Neither Joey nor Johnny were satisfied with the contribution, calling it their worst creative time. The record that was expected to be massive did better than all the other records, yet was not the expected big breakthrough.
I always take Rock n’ Roll High School as the best example from this album. It’s groovy, decently produced, and catchy, but the context is too poppy. It lacks the raw power of low-budget records, even though it cost far more than any previous one.
Ramones – Rock N’ Roll High School (Official Music Video)
“The Return of Jackie and Judy” is my favorite track from the album. I find it a good middle point between punk and pop. The guitar riff is catchy, and the vocal layers of Joey Ramone lay beautifully together.
Subterranean Jungle (1983)
Ramones returned to hard rock-infused punk after two mostly pop albums. The older and musically mature band attempted to produce the classic style Ramones records that got them started.
At this point, members’ struggles and rifts were at their peak. The Joey vs. Johnny situation was joined by the drug and alcohol addiction of the other members. Marky even got fired from the band due to his alcohol problems.
They delivered most of what was promised with Dee Dee’s writing contribution. “Time Bomb” is a solid heavy punk track he sings that often gets ignored.
Dee Dee Ramone – Time Bomb
It’s not a complete return to the roots, but very close. With the years passing by, it seemed like the unedited first version of the band was hard to recreate. The best attempt at that was the “Too Tough To Die” record
Animal Boy (1986)
By the time “Animal Boy” was recorded, Joey and Johnny didn’t communicate at all apart from the stage. Touring from city to city and never sharing the same car or hotel room slowly took a huge toll on creativity.
According to the other members, Joey would present song ideas, and Johnny would never accept to work on them. The guitar work on this album, I feel, is the weakest of his career. It sounds like him, yet there are no new elements or surprises. The solo on “Freak of Nature” is probably his best 4 bars of the album.
Dee Dee was again the savior of this album, as he wrote most of the material independently and a few tracks with Johnny and Joey. RC Ramone, who had just joined the band, contributed my favorite song of the album, ” Somebody Put Something in My Drink.” It’s a polarizing song to like, as most fans didn’t like the synth-heavy modern track.
WIth tiny Johnny Ramone in the album, the sound drifted much from pure hard punk. I don’t consider this album among their best, but it’s certainly not a sell-out of their style.
Mondo Bizarro (1992)
While recording Mondo Bizarro, it was Dee Dee’s turn not to contribute much to the writing after retiring from the band in 1989. I find the songwriting from Joey on the album great, even though there’s somehow a feeling of disconnection between members.
Johnny is often accused of not offering anything special on this album, yet as a guitarist, I think he’s there doing what he does best. Considering the simple power chords, songs would start to sound similar after 11 albums. The criticism is somehow justified.
My favorite song is another Dee Dee one. It’s more of alternative rock than a punk song, but it brings some air to the album and more dynamics than the heavy punk they recorded in the 80s.
Ramones – Poison Heart (Official Video)
¡Adios Amigos! (1996)
The Ramones ended it with a banger. After an album of only covers, it seemed like they put all they had left in this final effort of working together.
The sound quality of the mid-90s makes this one of the best-sounding records of the Ramones. It’s a fast punk-pop album with hardcore elements on almost every song. It’s all you would expect from an early 80s Ramones with a glimpse of the late 70s.
Joey did most of the writing, and Dee Dee still contributed with three tracks. At this point, it looked like they wanted to play together but couldn’t stay close to each other for long.
Ramones – Have A Nice Day + Lyrics
- The early days at the CBGB.
Judy Is A Punk – The Ramones CBGB 1974
- A show that pairs in quality with the ‘It’s Alive’ record. The energy they put into playing almost one hour of non-stop fast punk rock is unbelievable.
- The band’s last ever performance was on August 6, 1996. Guest from the rock and grunge scene joined the band in an epic show to celebrate their legacy.
The Ramones Scandals and Conflicts
The Ramones were not always on good terms since the first days. Different characters, mental illness, the pressure of touring, and drug abuse were always present. The main conflict would always lie between Joey and Johnny.
As his bandmates and friends describe him, Joey was not the typical rock star. His mental health and closed personality frequently put him in a passive role in the band.
On the other hand, Johnny was the opposite regarding world views or what he thought Ramones’ direction should be. He often acted as the leader behind the scenes trying to dominate the band.
The liberal Joey against the Conservative Johnny caused many clashes, especially when the latter started dating Joey’s girlfriend. They arguably didn’t speak for years.
Dee Dee was another member with a clinical mental problem with a long history of drug abuse. His and Johnny’s relationship with Tommy escalated, and he eventually quit the band partly because of their toxic behavior towards him. Before the recording of “Mondo Bizarro,” he was arrested and forced to sell the rights to three of the album songs to pay for his bail.
He declared he was disappointed and frustrated that none of the Ramones would lend him the money, even though they needed him in the band.
The formation changes, I believe, often were needed to keep a balance between characters.
Why Weren’t the Ramones Commercially Successful?
The short, I think, is that the audience needed them, but the industry was not ready yet.
The US market only promoted the laid-back rockstars heavily during the 90s when grunge hit the scene. Before that, it was either the glam rock era or the pop diva.
They are among the lowest-selling artists ever inducted into the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame, yet this doesn’t hinder their legacy.
The Ramones vs The Rest of Punk Rock
The Ramones were the band that gave shape to punk and made it popular. They were not in line with other punk bands’ styles, especially the UK’s “Sex Pistols.”
The Sex Pistols had an anti-everything Punk attitude that blossomed in the UK punk scene. Even though they had a more rebellious attitude, they managed to have wider commercial success. The same can be said about many other Punk bands who have sold more albums than the Ramones.
When the Ramones visited the UK, they started a Punk revolution, which other bands later followed up. The audience, though, almost totally ignored the Ramones.
The Ramones would not always write about counter-culture and uprising and had a bit of everything mixed up in their records. I find this to place them a step ahead of many Punk bands. The Clash is a good example of another Punk band experimenting with different styles and genres.
The Ramones Legacy
There isn’t a punk band that doesn’t cite The Ramones as an influence. Beyond the world of punk, alternative rock, pop, thrash, and heavy metal legends cite the Ramones as inspiration. They showed that rock could be different and that no one standard applied to all.
What some call the basic three-chord rock n’ roll inspired countless kids to pick up a guitar and form a band. The concept of garage band changed from the 80s on due to their influence. Nowadays, for kids, it might just be the cool t-shirt and retro punk look; however, it was not like that for the generation that wanted to be a rock star.
On a personal level, being able to play the easy four-chord songs of Johnny Ramone is one of my best guitar memories. The energy and excitement of playing an entire song in my first years of guitar beat almost every other career achievement.
Answer: Johnny and Joey Ramone were the two most popular members of the band. Johnny Ramone’s net worth is the highest of the band at $10 Million.
Answer: All Punk rock bands such as Greenday, the thrash metal scene with bands such as Metallica and Megadeth, the grunge movement with Nirvana at the front, and modern indie and alternative rock were all influenced by The Ramones.
Answer: The Ramones have played 2263 concerts in their career.
- The Curse of the Ramones – Rolling Stone
- Ramones Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More | AllMusic
- Ramones – Wikipedia
- Ramones | Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
- the Ramones | Members, Songs, & Facts | Britannica
- Ramones Albums on CD, Vinyl & Cassette – Amoeba Music
- The Curse of the Ramones – Rolling Stone
- Forty years of the Ramones: ‘They were the smartest dumb band you ever heard.’
- How the Ramones became punk pioneers | British GQ
- The Ramones documentary