Posted by
Dec 122010

So, I’ve never been the hugest Ramones fan. I found their brand of 3-chord rock to be kind of timid. Well, I picked up their greatest hits CD at a flea market Saturday, thinking “OK, now I’ll have a chance to hear their best, hand-picked by folks who know much better than me.”

Well, I’m hear to report that after the first 3 songs that covered most of their biggies, ie, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy’s a Punk,” “Beat on the Brat,” the CD–with another 20 songs and bonus–simply sounded like it was on skip. EVERY song was EXACTLY the same–wow, they go G to A to E. Then G to E to A. Or, wow, the more adventurous E to A to F. All played with the SAME lackluster drum sound, the same doo-woopy vocal hooks, and the same guitar wash. It really started to give me a headache. I was almost embarrassed for them.

I know people say that the Ramones are the god fathers of punk–and that the Pistols would be nothing without them–but damnit, the Pistols, the Undertones and every Minor Threat wannabe band has done more with the formula than these so-called pioneers.

So, are they the most overrated band in the history of music? Can’t believe they played at the same time as Television, Richard Hell, etc… and never picked up on the spikey, loudness of it all.

Anyone want a free Best of Ramones CD?


  32 Responses to “Ra-moaning”

  1. shawnkilroy

    i love them.
    i enjoy their first 5 albums tremendously.
    after that, there are a few tunes here and there i dig, but no whole albums.
    yes, their songs are almost all the same, but they are infinitely more interesting than:

  2. All the best Ramones songs have their own hooks, jokes, all the little lifts that make good songs great. It doesn’t matter that they all sound the same. There are tons of Ramones songs I might want to listen to on any given day. I have no need for the Undertones other than “Teenage Kicks.” And I’m pretty sure I don’t need to listen a single Sex Pistols song for the rest of my life.

  3. I thank you, machinery, for picking up this always-unpopular argument. How many times have I been through this with people, last facing a live pounding from outraged Townspeople at last year’s informal holiday get-together of the Philadelphia chapter of RTH? To me the concept of the Ramones is pretty great, but I don’t seem to need more than about 6 songs off the “hits” collection and other albums I’ve tried over the years. Maybe they’re like Bo Diddley: great schtick, but does anyone need more than 1 Bo Diddley album? I guess some do, but I’m content with the 6 necessary Bo Diddley songs. If fact, I’d be almost as satisfied hearing any one of his best songs play 6 times as long.

  4. No. Besides, most rock bands use the same chord progressions and guitar sound over and over again. It’s just that the Ramones made no effort to hide this fact. They concentrated more on writing killer hooks, which they did constantly. If anything, they’re underrated.

  5. You know why it’s so easy to get around these days? Somebody has already paved the roads. Things always seem simple and obvious in hindsight.

    I think the Ramones tend to get extra points for being the first ones there, for having such an indelible image and for having such great branding, but putting all of that aside and just considering their music, I still think that they are essential.

    I’m not the biggest Ramones fan and I can probably get by with about 10-12 of their songs, but I like those 10-12 a lot, and several of them are crucial. There is a certain beauty to their lunk-headed simplicity, and they somehow managed to find a new facet to the well worn and restrictive formula that is rock and roll.

    Mod, your Bo Diddley comparison is interesting (although I think he’s a bit more nuanced than you are giving him credit for). But aren’t those 6 songs something special? Personally, I don’t need artists to have a career full of spectacular deep album cuts. Sometimes, one fantastic 2 minute single is enough for me. I suspect this anti-Ramones sentiment is, at least in part, a contrarian reaction to the general over-hyping of them. If that’s the case, I understand it because I’ve gone through the same thing myself, most notably with the Beatles.

  6. I love just about everything they have ever done, but I can see the 1st 2 records are not for everyone (too much of the same song over and over). I’d skip into the middle of the CD (or middle era of the band)and work your way out.

    Psycho Threapy
    We Want The Airwaves
    Danny Says
    Sitting In My Room
    We’re A Happy Family
    Today Your Love Tomorrow The World
    I Just Wanna Have Something To Do
    Chinese Rock

    Pleasant Dreams (1981)is my favorite (with Rocket to Russia as a close second…and a place in my heart for Brain Drain, which was the blueprint for my 1989-1991 band The Stonesouls)

    I think that when the Ramones discovered a 4th chord the songs held up better. I did not have issue with the slicker production in most cases (but I like the pop/rock side of punk rather than the DIY thrashy stuff)

    Of course the mid 80’s were not great for The Ramones and they jumped onto the flavor of the month, trying to have a hit record (something that they never did)

  7. We’re close to being on the same page, cdm. I agree that the fact that they “paved the roads” is significant. I simply wish they delivered more: my hooks I cared about, more lyrics I cared about, more musical firepower, etc. In terms of their hype, it bugs me that so many folks have been content, as I see it, to continue driving Rte. 1 long after musical super highways, as I hear it, were built on their work. Obviously this gets into matters of taste and all that. Let’s just say that I think one’s preference for The Ramones over many other bands that followed in their immediate wake says a lot about us.

  8. Mod, can you name a band that followed in the Ramones’ wake that was, arguably, better than the Ramones?

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    The Ramones are proof that you can be iconic and also suck a lot of the time. Not that we needed more proof of that!

    For the record (no pun intended), my fave album of theirs — which I will go to the mat for, and on which I think there are almost no weak tracks to be found, is “Road to Ruin.” Not that the rest of their output sucks — but for me, that’s the album that managed to harness the band’s energy properly. It sounds *awesome*, the hooks are plentiful, it’s not one-dimensional (“onetwothreefour!”) — but it’s still the Ramones. “Pleasant Dreams” tries to measure up, but in my book is too far down the slick continuum.

  10. Let’s start with three obvious ones: The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks. I won’t bother with the second-generation NYC punk bands, like Talking Heads and Blondie, who would only have followed in their wake in a broad sense.

    I don’t know exactly which NYC punk band came first, at a certain point, but I’ll take Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ first album over the best of the Ramones. I’m pretty sure Television predates them, but if they can be considered to have followed in the wake of “da bruddahs,” then I’d say the collected works of the Ramones can’t touch any one song on side 1 of Marquee Moon.

    Where to we draw the line? Similarly, I won’t include all the “new wave”/pub rock-influenced bands I love, like Costello. I won’t include the fabulously spotty The Jam, which hits me harder than all but two Ramones songs when they work. I won’t include Pere Ubu and other bands that seemed to do their own thing. I won’t get into post-punk bands.

    There’s at least one band a lot of you don’t care for like I do, but one day I will objectively “prove” are “better” than the Ramones: The Undertones. One probably a dozen levels The Undertones have more going for them. The calculations necessary to prove this still require a little work, though.

    As ashamed as I am to admit this (maybe the most shameful admission I’ve ever made on Rock Town Hall), I would rather listen to Generation X’s first album over any 10-12 song collection you could put together by the Ramones.

    Some bands I’ll grant the Ramones are much better than, even though I love a couple of songs by each, include The Dammed, Stiff Little Fingers, The Saints, and The Heartbreakers.

  11. misterioso

    Are the Ramones the most overrated band in the history of music? If they aren’t, then they might want to send the Sex Pistols a thank you note.

    That said, the notion of “paving the way” is not to be dismissed out of hand (and this is as true of the Sex Pistols as of the Ramones). For anyone who is interested in rock from a historical perspective, such contributions must be acknowledged. And, as such a person, I do acknowledge them. But that does not translate into much interest in listening to them.

  12. The Clash: some of their 1st record, but after that, they’re no longer using the Ramones template. The Sex Pistols: some of their tracks out-muscle the Ramones, but they’re even more repetitive and the record contains filler, which the Ramones would be against. The Buzzcocks: yes–does that mean they’re the most underrated band in music? The Undertones: rather lightweight, so you’re going to have your work cut out for you (maybe differential calculus will help).

    But Generation X? No way. I don’t get why so many people speak highly of this band. That regressive schtick they do gets real tired, real fast.

  13. Hey machinery,

    Which Ramones best-of was this, btw?

  14. dr john wrote:

    The Clash: some of their 1st record, but after that, they’re no longer using the Ramones template…

    OF COURSE, what band in their right mind wouldn’t have veered from that “template?” I didn’t realize you were being that specific. If you meant which band that continued to run the same approach into the ground is better than the Ramones, then perhaps my answer would have been, “No band was better at doing that one thing they did best!”

    That’s the root of the “problem” for me: the Ramones stuck to that template way beyond its shelf life. I’ve got scads of psychological problems, myself, but OCD is not one of them.

  15. BTW, my OCD cut was not meant as an insult to Joey Ramone, who may have suffered from that. (That book his brother did on him was excellent and touching.) What I meant was, I would imagine being able to listen to a few of their albums in a row would require ME to have OCD. I’ve got plenty of other issues that enable me to enjoy some bands for long stretches of time that understandably leaves some of you scratching your heads.

  16. pudman13

    If you don’t get it, you don’t get it, but not liking the Ramones is like not liking Chuck Berry; it’s not liking rock and roll at its most elemental. What makes the Ramones the best punk band is simply that they had the best melodies. The minimalist arrangements highlighted the melodies and hooks in a way that hadn’t been done since the advent of the Wall of Sound. The first four albums comprise everything that made punk great. It’s arguable that the rest of their career (other than the movie) was a monumental failure, but as of mid-1978 they were the best pop band in the world.

    You’re wrong about the chord progressions, by the way. They used as much of a variety of chord progressions as most glam or hard rock bands. The “three chord” thing is a complete myth when it comes to the Ramones, as anyone who can play guitar knows.

  17. mockcarr

    When you have the benefit of hindsight, what’s overrated always depends on expectations and taste. I don’t feel like it was inevitable there could be a viable Clash without the Ramones and Sex Pistols. After that, it’s just a matter of whether you like songs or just need constant agitation, because the Ramones came up with quite a few melodies for that sound/framework they enjoyed. You know, here comes another dumb guitar song like the Beach Boys withe louder guitars and goofier lyrics that sounds like Chuck Berry without the guitar licks. Well, I think writing tunes like Chuck Berry is good! He certainly wasn’t doing it anymore.

  18. So the Ramones are being credited for simplifying the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and Phil Spector, removing the cool guitar parts, and writing goofy lyrics. Was life really that complicated when they hit?

  19. Oats asked which Greatest Hits collect you have and I think that is important. I know there is one compiled by Johnny Ramone which downplays Joey’s sensitive, pop side. That one must be a slog to listen to. OK, the Ramones were limited but they took their one idea to the bank where everybody drew upon it from then until now. I prefer them for 1 to 4/5 tracks at a time but I wouldn’t trade those tracks for anything else.

  20. 2000 Man

    I only own one GH album by The Ramones, because it’s all I need. That’s all I have by The Damned, too and I listen to that a lot more. But I have that Ramones Mania album, which collected everything I really liked, and as a double lp chunk of Real Deal Punk, I think it’s pretty amazing. It’s hard to stay so true to your original vision and not alienate everyone. The only other band that I can think of that’s nearly as cool and sticks so close to their formula is Motorhead.

    Then again, I love Never Mind the Bollocks, and I do listen to it, and there isn’t any filler on there at all. Every other release is pure filler, but that fist album is great and one of the big game changers for me. The Ramones weren’t the big deal for me, partly because I could never find anyone else to listen to them except my brother and his friends and they were too young to hang with. I think the big bitch was they were “too fifties” or something like that.

    But I think if every band could come up with a double lp as good as Ramones Mania, I’d have a LOT more records,

  21. 2000 Man

    If you don’t get it, you don’t get it, but not liking the Ramones is like not liking Chuck Berry

    Hell yeah!

  22. machinery

    2000 man, you complete me. The Ramones must have been cursing themselves after hearing Pistol’s production and lyrics that were actually about something going on in the world at the time. Hmmm. Songs about political upheaval vs. a song about sniffing glue? And a bad one at that. Give me a break.

    But I digress. I didn’t by the Best of to make fun of the Ramones. I really was excited to get 20-plus of their songs for 5 bucks. But I swear, it literally gave me a headache — like my cd player was broken.

    I agree with Mr. Mod 100%. The Undertones brought more energy and FUN and hooks and FUN and harmonies and bridges and breaks in one song than the Ramones did in their whole catalogue. And Generation X has one of the finest bass and drum tandems in modern music — to rival the Thomas brothers.

    Being first doesn’t mean being best.

  23. I’ve got Ramones Mania, and I was sorely disappointed by the album’s ability to shed any new light on the band – to my ears, my tastes, and all that humble stuff. I don’t like the really cartoonish songs – all those ones about pinheads and sniffing glue. The music to those songs is usually too constricted for me to get into, like proto-hardcore.

    Although I don’t object to the music and girl group-turned-upside-down concept feuling them, I don’t really like the sappy ones, in which Joey wants to be the boyfriend of some cute, punk librarian type. Musically, a stripped down Wall of Sound seems to take away a lot of the best things of Phil Spector’s music, and lyrically/vocally those songs sound a little creepy.

    Because the Ramones don’t interest me musically (ie, no cool drum and bass parts, no cool guitar parts, monochromatic vocals) everything needs to go just right for me to LOVE one of their songs, which gets me back to the half dozen or so songs I really like. I wholly acknowledge that this is a matter of taste. I don’t think the band “wanted” to be less than great or had shortcomings in their Rock Musical Values, if you know what I mean (say, like, Journey or The Fall).

  24. “New York” and “EMI” sound like filler to me. And, I’ll take anything goofy Ramones song over the sturm und drung of “Bodies.”

    Really, after the three singles (“Anarchy,” “God Save the Queen,” and “Pretty Vacant”) and “Seventeen”, is there anything else worth listening to on the record?

    The Ramones were still making killer songs, with political content, even, relatively late in their careers: “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.”

    For a supposedly lightweight, goofy, repetitive band, the Ramones had an awful lot of staying power.

  25. 2000 Man

    I don’t think you bought Ramones Mania for the right reasons. How can a hits compilation shine new light on a band? Maybe a boxed set full of outtakes could (god, could you imagine five takes of Sheena is A Punk Rocker?, but I bought Ramones Mania knowing every song on it like the back of my hand. I don’t have the inner sleeves with the rest of the long, long text from the back cover because I got it at Hot Topic in the mall for six bucks, new. I think it’s a pretty awesome six dollar record!

  26. mockcarr

    Eh, whatever, I don’t need to defend them, but I guess I will a little. 2000 man is right about their popularity or lack thereof, so granting them some kind of iconic critical status at this point seems really weird. The Undertones might be better, but what does that matter? I’m guessing effect the Ramones had was motivating kids to actually be in bands, since they crafted “simpler” music played loud and sloppy that was within reach of the rudimentary skills of more would be musicians, rather than reflecting a particular sound or content. Maybe wearing leather, but the Fonz also did that, and it fits their throwback template. Besides Joe Strummer getting very excited by a new Ramones album, I don’t know where they stand among their punk peers nor does it matter at this point. I like more Ramones songs than a greatest hit smattering would provide, since I can listen to the first four albums full on – although I realize not skipping songs is frowned upon by most here. But even their cover of the stupidass Surfin’ Bird is a lot better than listening to the original. Personally, I’d be more likely to skip EMI from that Pistols album than any Ramones song from the same year. You are not going to get the communist manifesto when the song title is I Wanna Be Sedated, Teenage Lobotomy, Cretin Hop, etc. and I always figured their core lyrics were a sophomoric twist on early 60s pop music with a stoner teenage NYC sensibility. And what else should it be?

  27. mockcarr

    Yeah, it’s like wondering where all the great harmonies on Chuck Berry songs were, since the Beach Boys did that with similarly structured songs.

  28. misterioso

    “I always figured their core lyrics were a sophomoric twist on early 60s pop music with a stoner teenage NYC sensibility. And what else should it be?”

    I think you are correct. But for me, basically, that limits my interest level to “ok, fun to hear a song or two once in a while.” That’s where it begins and ends for me.

  29. Mockcarr is dead on, especially about the Beach Boys harmonies comment.

    But one thing that has been mentioned a few times that I don’t agree with is the Ramones sloppiness. Their music is rudimentary for sure, and I never saw them live so I can’t speak to that, but their records are tighter than a nun’s whatchamacallit.

    A little while back, my band started playing Rockaway Beach and the middle part switches to a weird time signature that we couldn’t really figure out so we had to dumb it down. You heard me right, we had to dumb down a Ramones song. (To be fair, that might not mean they’re more complex than people give them credit for, it might just mean my guitar playing skills are even more modest that theirs, but in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king and all that.)

  30. mockcarr

    Yeah, sloppy is probably an inappropriate adjective for the tunes, but they LOOK sloppy.

  31. mockcarr

    I understand that position, but I’d rather have silly than banal lyrics.

  32. jeangray


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