Ever since their first appearance, the Ramones have been called revolutionary, wild and an authentic sui generis band. Many of the new kids on the scene strive to these qualities, but the Ramones have somehow managed to stay one of a kind and remain a hot topic for over a decade after they disbanded.
The title of being the first punk rock band definitely belongs to the Ramones. Although bands like the Stooges and the New York Dolls came before them and introduced the new punk aesthetic and bands that immediately followed, such as the Sex Pistols, unveiled the latent violence of the music and made it more explicit, contribution of the Ramones was somewhat different. They managed to crystallize the musical ideals of the genre by dissolving rock & roll down to its bare essentials - four chords, catchy melody endorsed by seductively fatuous lyrics. While relying on the sound rooted deeply in the early ‘60s that belonged to pre-Beatles mixture of rock & roll and pop, the Ramones considerably speeded up the tempo and thus created a revolutionary sound.
Their breakthrough that was both theoretical and musical quickly put them on the map of the emerging New York punk rock scene. Despite their peers such as Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, and Richard Hell were more intellectual and self-consciously artistic than the Ramones, it never endangered their position of scene leaders because they appealed to different mentality. They shamelessly turned rock conventions inside out and celebrated bathetic pop culture with stylized stupidity. Their first four albums established a new pattern for American punk and hardcore for the following twenty years.
And for the next two decades the Ramones themselves were major figures, playing basically the same music without significantly changing their style much. There were some punk diehards, including several of their colleagues, that claimed the band's lasting career wound up overthrowing the ideals the band originally stood for. However, the Ramones always celebrated not just the punk aesthetic, but the music itself.
The Ramones’ intriguing story began in the Forest Hills section of Queens, New York back in 1974. The band was originally a trio consisting of Joey Ramone (vocals, drums; born Jeffrey Hyman, May 19, 1951), Johnny Ramone (guitar; born John Cummings, Oct. 8, 1951), and Dee Dee Ramone (bass; born Douglas Colvin, Sept. 18, 1952). Tommy Ramone (born Tom Erdelyi, Jan. 29, 1952) was also there from the start, acting as the group's manager. All of the band members adopted the last name "Ramone" and dressed in torn blue jeans and leather jackets, which was their homage to '50s greaser rockers. Band made their first appearance on March 30, 1974, at New York's Performance Studio. Two months later, Tommy became the band's drummer and Joey switched to vocals. By the end of that summer, the Ramones were residents at CBGB's. For the next year, they had regular shows at the nightclub, which attracted many fans that will later turn to dedicated cult and inspired other artists to form bands with similar ideals. Although their sets lasted no more than approximately 20 minutes, they featured a brutal barrage of short, barely two-minute songs that made them legendary. Their uncompromising style secured them a recording contract with Sire by the end of 1975. Discounting Patti Smith, the Ramones were the first NY punk band to sign a contract.
The debut album simply named "Ramones" was released early in 1976 on a limited budget of 6,000 dollars. Resulting material was released in the spring and apart from gaining some critical attention, it also managed to climb to 111 on the U.S. album charts. On July 4, the Ramones made their debut appearance in Britain, where their popularity was rapidly increasing. Their powerful records made significant influence on a new generation of bands. All throughout 1976, the Ramones toured constantly in search for new followers, inaugurating nearly 20 years of relentless touring. As the year ended, the band released their second album, again with a simplified title "Ramones Leave Home". Even though the album itself just scraped the U.S. charts, it became a genuine hit in England in the spring of 1977, peaking at number 48. By the summer of 1977, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones were seen as the two key bands in the punk rock (r)evolution. The difference was that at one point Pistols imploded and the Ramones kept on rolling. After the great success of hit "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker that climbed to U.K. Top 40, the band released their third album “Rocket to Russia” in the fall of 1977.
Despite leaving the band in the spring of 1977, Tommy Ramone produced the group's subsequent album. Former Voidoid’s Marc Bee took his place and immediately changed his name to Marky Ramone. With the new drummer in place, the Ramones recorded their fourth album “Road to Ruin” and released it in the fall. It marked the band's first attempt to soften their sound by pursuing bubblegum, girl group, surf, and '60s pop influences. Besides, it was the first of their albums to run over half an hour. The sound was more accessible, but it didn't gain the band a noticeably larger following. Same goes to “Rock N' Roll High School”, a film from 1977 directed by Roger Corman in which the Ramones had a pivotal part. It caused a noticeable creative intermission, thus the soundtrack to “Rock N' Roll High School” and the U.K.-only live album “It's Alive” were the band's only releases of 1979. They spent most of the year in the studio recording their fifth album with legendary '60s pop producer Phil Spector. He remixed a number of older Ramones songs and was also responsible for the title song to Corman’s movie, which was the first track released from their joint sessions. The final result of their collaboration saw light in January of 1980 under the name of “End of the Century” and earned assorted reviews. The reception of the album was rather lukewarm, since the record's cover of the Ronettes' "Baby I Love You" became the only Top Ten British hit and in America none of the singles made an impact. However, the record ironically became their biggest hit, peaking at number 44.
Their attempts at crossover success continued with their sixth album called “Pleasant Dreams”, which was released in 1981. Former Hollies and 10cc member Graham Gouldman was responsible for the production, still the record was a commercial disappointment in both America and England. During 1982 the Ramones were relatively quiet, spending most of their time on tour. The band’s alleged great return was planned with the album called “Subterranean Jungle”, which was released in the spring of 1983. This time the production was entrusted to Ritchie Cordell and Glen Koltkin, who were heads of the American indie label Beserkley Records. However, the results were disappointing again. Not only did “Subterranean Jungle” fail to gain the larger audience the band desired, it continued the decline of their diehard fan base, as well as their downfall in the eyes of many rock critics. Not long after the album's release, Marky Ramone left the band and was replaced by Richard Beau, who was a former member of the Velveteens. According to the custom of the band, he changed his name to Richie Ramone.
After the line-up refreshment, the Ramones released “Too Tough to Die” in 1984. It was their belated response to America's sprouting hardcore punk scene that was produced by Tommy Erdelyi to a large extent. Along with restoring their artistic reputation, the album provided a hit single "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," which was a cynical critic of President Ronald Reagan's 1985 visit to Germany. Although the sound of “Too Tough to Die” was widely accepted, the Ramones introduced a more simplified, stylized and conventional approach to their songwriting formula with their 1986's “Animal Boy”. It set a blueprint that group followed for the remaining ten years of their career. Following the release of 1987's “Halfway to Sanity”, Richie Ramone left the band and Marky Ramone re-joined the group. One year later, the band released “Ramones Mania”, a certain career retrospective. In 1989, the Ramones wrote the theme song for the Stephen King’s movie Pet Semetary. The track was also included on “Brain Drain”, released in the summer of the same year. After its release, the group's bassist Dee Dee Ramone left the band to pursue a career as a rapper called Dee Dee King. His debut rap recording failed miserably however, so he formed the band Chinese Dragons. Dee Dee was replaced by Christopher John Ward who took the name C.J. Ramone.
In the early '90s, the Ramones decided it’s time to sober up, with both Joey and Marky undergoing alcoholism treatment. The band returned to studio in 1992, first releasing the “Loco Live” and then “Mondo Bizarro”, which was their first studio album in three years. The latter turned out to be a commercial failure, as did their 1994 covers album, “Acid Eaters”.
On the other hand, the release of “Acid Eaters” earned them respect of the mainstream guitar rock audience in America who finally embraced punk rock in the form of young bands like Green Day and the Offspring. Since they felt the climate wasn’t quite right for the crossover success they had longed for over decades, the Ramones quickly composed and released “Adios Amigos”, claiming that unless the new album sold in substantial figures, they will disband after a final farewell tour. Although the album spent only two weeks in the charts,the Ramones embarked on a long farewell tour that was set throughout the rest of 1995. Just when they reached the verge of splitting, they got an offer to play at the sixth Lollapalooza. They accepted and toured with the festival that summer. As the tour drew to its end, the Ramones parted ways, two decades after the release of their first album. Only a few years later, Joey Ramone passed away at age 49 on April 15, 2001, as the victim of lymphoma. No longer than a year after Joey's death, Dee Dee Ramone was found dead in his home in Los Angeles on June 5, 2002. A for Johnny Ramone, he passed away two years later on September 15, 2004 after a long battle with cancer.