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And Johnny? "I go into the studio and I say, 'Just write the chords on a piece of paper,'" he says. "I recorded 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up,' and I'd never played the song before. I went in, they put on [the Tom Waits original], and I said, 'Yeah, that's a good song, let's play it.' We were done with the song in, like, a half-hour after we'd listened to the original version. And it sounds the same, it don't make no difference to me. I ain't gonna play it any better."
4: Beat on the Brat
"Punks should have no politics or be right wing," Johnny told Musician magazine in 1983. "Otherwise, they're just hippies dressed as punks. . . . Punks should stand on the corner and do nothing, like Marlon Brando in The Wild One."
That same year, the Ramones played a New York show billed as "A Tribute to the Unemployed." Not a benefit--a tribute. The show was underwritten by Miller Beer.
If the Ramones were the heart of rock for a while, critic Dave Marsh wanted to be its higher organ. Ripping bands for taking beer sponsorships, he singled out Johnny.
"In a way, Johnny Ramone does us a favor," Marsh wrote in his newsletter Rock 'n' Roll Confidential. "Now that his position is so clear, we can make ours: Those who would exploit workers, no matter what their rhetoric or their clothing or their hair styles, define themselves as enemies of rock and where it came from."
The Ramones subsequently licensed their song "Blitzkrieg Bop" for a Bud commercial, then topped themselves by recording an original song for Steel Reserve beer.
"I don't see nothing wrong with beer sponsorships," Johnny says. "It's American. I drink beer. It's the easiest money I ever made. And the commercial sounds better. . . . Anyone who criticizes us doing a beer commercial has got to be a leftist.
"I go to a ball game and see the Milwaukee Brewers and I don't have no problem with that, either. Rock 'n' roll is meant to entertain. Hippie folk singers are supposed to be singing about leftist views, but I don't think rock 'n' roll was ever that way. I don't remember the early rock 'n' rollers ever expressing any political views."
5: Cretin Hop
The essence of rock endures in barbaric 4/4 three-chord yawps like "Louie, Louie," "Stepping Stone" and "96 Tears." But where are the Kingsmen, the Monkees and the Mysterians today? Jokes, vanished.
The Ramones endured for two reasons. First, they never had a hit, so they didn't have the limelight and pressure, just sales steady enough to keep them working.
Just now, the Adios single "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" is bidding fair to be the band's biggest seller, propelled in part by the buzz that it's calling it quits. It's a great cover, but coming this late in the day it won't have the punch and significance that "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" had in '77, when the Ramones launched 1,000 bands.
Second, the bulk of the band's early album tracks (collected on the two-volume All the Good Stuff and More) had a thick consistency. Tommy Erdelyi, the band's first drummer and the co-producer of its first four albums, explained it to journalist Timothy White this way:
"We used block chording as a melodic device, and the harmonies resulting from the distortion of the amplifiers created countermelodies. We used the wall of sound as a melodic rather than a riff form; it was like a song within a song--created by a block of chords droning."
Hence the feeling of jumping up and down on the bed and thinking you can fly.
Here's Erdelyi again: "The hypnotic effect of strict repetition, the effect of lyrics that repeat, and vocals that dart out at you, and the percussive effect of driving the music like a sonic machine made the music distinctive. It's very sensual. You can put headphones on and just swim with it. It's not background music."
Okay. But before you get the idea this is a wholly intellectual exercise, let's look at the lyrics. Here's 1977's "Commando" in its entirety:
First rule is: The laws of Germany
Second rule is: Be nice to mommy
Third rule is: Don't talk to commies
Fourth rule is: Eat kosher salamis.
What's not to like?
6: Teenage Lobotomy
Why did the Ramones title their second album Leave Home? Because getting out of their parents' houses was such a significant event they had to find a way to commemorate it. They were the Bowery Boys with guitars.
In 1977, the band toured England with the Talking Heads. Both acts were graduates of the scene at CBGB, the downtown New York club where punk was born. They were yoked together as America's oddest new export, but Johnny wasn't buying it. The Heads made him suspicious. "They were always a bunch of intellectuals," he told an interviewer. They read books.
He laughs about it now, but hasn't reconsidered. "They were smart guys, but they were a little annoying at the time, you know? You'd say one word to Jerry Harrison and he'd give you an hour speech on the subject--I mean, geez. They were so unlike us."