37 Years Ago: The Ramones’ Debut Album Released
Whether or not ‘Ramones’ was the first punk album is debatable and not really the point. What matters is that in less than 30 minutes, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone redefined pop-based guitar music for misfits all over the world when they released their debut album in 1976. Thirty-seven years later, it still sounds like a liberating blast of rock ‘n’ roll, funneled in from ‘60s garage society and filtered through ‘70s junk culture.
The band was already making a name for itself through its live performances in 1975 when they began recording their debut LP in their hometown of New York City for less than $6,500 in February 1976. Armed with two-minute, three-chord songs that sounded like they took the bus – which was cranking classic ‘60s pop, especially girl-group stuff, the whole ride -- into a city garage straight from the beach, ‘Ramones’ was punk in spirit, but pop in everything else.
The 14 cuts, penned by the various members (plus a cover of Chris Montez’s 1962 hit single ‘Let’s Dance’), cut to an underside of American family life that was far from what people were seeing on ‘The Waltons’ every week. Drugs, dysfunction and male prostitution (a subject bassist Dee Dee knew from his pre-Ramones life) figured into songs like ‘Blitzkrieg Bop,’ ‘Beat on the Brat’ and ‘53rd and 3rd.’ But they also sang love songs like ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ that were kinda sweet underneath all the leather and guitars.
None of the songs got much airplay at the time, but the album climbed to No. 111 – not a bad showing for a debut record by a bunch of bowl-cut-sporting outcasts who knew about four power chords. Within a couple of years, punk turned into a major movement in NYC, and the Ramones were heralded as pioneers. They made three more records in the ‘70s that sound pretty much like the debut. But that initial force still hits hardest today. Without ‘Ramones,’ indie rock would have turned in a completely different direction.
Listen to the Ramones' 'Blitzkrieg Bop'