10 Best Ramones Songs
The Ramones never really considered themselves a punk band. The way they saw it, they were a pop group, playing basement-dwelling misfits' versions of the '60s beach and girl-group songs they loved. But somehow the NYC quartet's own songs didn't come out that way. Often spurred by bassist Dee Dee Ramone's “1-2-3-4!” shout at the beginning of each song and propelled forward by Johnny's limited but influential guitar chords, the Ramones made two-minute pop tunes for disheartened '70s Watergate kids raised in dysfunctional families. The punk elements, it seemed, were only natural. The Ramones released more than 150 songs during their 20-year career. These are the 10 best.
'Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)'
By the mid '80s the Ramones were stuck in a rut. Playing the same three chords and singing the same-sounding songs about being society's weirdos were starting to take their toll. So they mixed things up on their eighth album, working with a new drummer (Richie) and letting bassist Dee Dee write the majority of the songs. They even incorporated some keyboards in a few songs, like this New Wave-style single, a highlight from the second half of their career.
'Rock 'n' Roll High School'
In 1979, the Ramones figured into the plot of a low-budget movie about a determined high-school student and her quest to see the band. The Ramones show up in the film, singing a couple of songs. They even wrote the title track, injecting 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' with the same three-chord mayhem that made them so popular with school-hating kids.
'The KKK Took My Baby Away'
After working with Phil Spector on the messy and turbulent 'End of the Century' (see No. 6 on our list of the 10 Best Ramones Songs), the band stayed in the same pop direction for their sixth album. The group's four members were divided on it, but more than that, the relationship between Johnny and singer Joey became even more fractured after the former stole the latter's girlfriend. This song, written by Joey, makes a pointed reference to the incident.
'Beat on the Brat'
The Ramones' sense of humor was twisted, to say the least. Did they really spend as much time sniffing glue as they claimed? And did they really advocate beating "on the brat with a baseball bat," like they sing in this classic from their debut album? Either way, the band's first LP unravels like an American horror story for messed-up kids falling way short of their parents' expectations.
'Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?'
After making four classic albums in roughly the same style and under the same circumstances since 1976, the Ramones wanted to expand a little in 1980. So they teamed up with legendary producer Phil Spector (who had worked on timeless records by '60s girl groups, the Beatles and John Lennon) for 'End of the Century.' It wasn't exactly a match made in heaven. The band and the producer repeatedly clashed during the recording sessions -- to the point where Spector reportedly pulled a gun on them. This great single (complete with saxophone and a scaled-down version of Spector's famed Wall of Sound) looks back on one of the few things they could agree on.
Only three Ramones songs managed to reach the Top 100. 'Rockaway Beach' was the highest-charting, climbing to No. 66 in 1977. Written by Dee Dee as a tribute to the '60s surf music he and the rest of the band loved, 'Rockaway Beach' was New York, California and America rolled and distilled into two glorious guitar-powered minutes.
'Bonzo Goes to Bitburg'
'Bonzo Goes to Bitburg' has a complicated history. The single -- a slam on President Reagan's visit to a German cemetery where Nazis were buried -- was released only in England. It turned up the following year on the 'Animal Boy' album, retitled 'My Head Is Hanging Upside Down.' It's one of the very few political tracks recorded by the Ramones, who typically stayed away from such subjects, probably because members had such varying views.
'Sheena Is a Punk Rocker'
The Ramones were committed music junkies, as the terrific 'Sheena Is a Punk Rocker' proves. Nodding to their main audience at the time, the song acknowledges the punks who packed their shows and bought their records. But the playful tune and full production recall the 1960s pop-radio hits they grew up on and still cherished.
'I Wanna Be Sedated'
'Road to Ruin,' the band's fourth album, is their most accessible. They slowly sharpened and unveiled their pop instincts with each passing record, and, until they worked with legendary producer Phil Spector (see No. 6 on our list of the 10 Best Ramones Songs), 'Road to Ruin' was the pinnacle of their poppiness. 'I Wanna Be Sedated,' one of their most popular songs, is the album's hook-stuffed centerpiece.
The very first song on the very first Ramones album (it's also their debut single) pretty much set in place the template they'd use for the next 20 years -- from Joey's battle-ready "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" chant to Johnny's three-chord guitar assault to the simple but tightly packed two-minute running length. All that's missing is Dee Dee familiar '1-2-3-4!" opening rallying cry (see No. 5 on our list of the 10 Best Ramones Songs). This is the Ramones at their purest and very best.