In the beginning, both groups had strong, scarcely hidden links to bubblegum pop. But the Talking Heads grew, bringing in session players, adding Eastern percussion, refining their technique until they were so unlike their earlier selves that they had hits.

In the studio, the Ramones' producers also dabbled in new, cleaner sounds, but it didn't boost sales. Critics clamored for a return to the band's cruddy metal essence, like an audience that wants to hear the same joke.

Concerts were something else--onstage the Ramones stayed true to their original sound. What choice did they have? It was all they'd ever known, and it was a whale of a show.

Where the Heads were ironic, the Ramones were theatrical, dependable and precise. They looked more or less alike. They took to starting every show with a recording of Ennio Morricone's lazy "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" theme, broken by their live, fast "One, two, three, four!" kickoff. They could play a full 17-song set in a legendary 30 minutes. They rarely had a bad night.

"I always felt everything was important," Johnny says. "Just walking on stage was important. It had to be done right. I thought it was important not to lose that excitement that's in the air right before you start playing. . . .

"The set is very structured, the music's very structured, there's no room for improvising or variation. We're very consistent."

7: She Talks to Rainbows
A decade after the Ramones escaped from New York, the next wave rolled out of another downtown Manhattan club, Wetlands. It was the incubator for Phish, Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler--neohippie jam bands with a nod to the Grateful Dead. There's patchouli in the air at Blues Traveler concerts, and members of the young audience sway in place as front man John Popper plays long, meandering harmonica solos.

"Hey, Canned Heat did this crap, right?" Johnny says of Popper's act. "I hate that shit. I hate solos. I mean, Ginger Baker did a drum solo and nobody's going to be able to top him. So then you just have a bunch of second- and third-rate drum solos.

"It's lame, this whole 'My drumming's so good I've just got to stop the show and play for 20 minutes to show everybody' thing. I hope it's not a trend of the future. It's weird."

8: Baby I Love You
Maybe it is time for the Ramones to quit. They're hemmed into their historic moment anyway, bookended by music they despise.

The Ramones returned from a European tour two weeks ago. The Rolling Stones were touring the Continent at the same time and, while the bands didn't cross paths, Johnny had strong feelings about his forerunners, as well.

"The last time I saw them was that pay-per-view thing last summer. It was torturous to watch. They're like old men posing, and it's excruciating. They can't even play the same guitar parts. I really like Keith Richards, I think this guy is one of the coolest guys in rock since rock 'n' roll's been around. But to just stand there, and he can't play the Chuck Berry stuff? They opened up with 'Not Fade Away' on the show and it sounded exactly like the Grateful Dead's version. What is that?

"It just confirmed what I felt," Johnny continues, still speaking of the Stones. "I want people to have fond memories of us, whoever does now. And you know, $100 million--I'm sure Mick's got about that amount and Keith does, too. But they have nothing else to do.

"It's like, I was out one night and I see Angus [Young] from AC/DC, and I say, 'Angus, when are you guys gonna stop?' And he says, 'What am I gonna quit for, what am I gonna do with my life?' And I thought, 'Yup, another reason why I gotta stop.'

"Those are exactly my reasons: What am I gonna do with my life? Am I still doing this because I don't know what to do with my life? Then I got a problem, and I better learn to deal with it."

So--what is he going to do with his life?
"Nothing," he says. "That's it, nothing. That's what I'm trying to tell you: Nothing in music. I could never do anything as good as the Ramones.

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