The Ramones[a] were an American punk rock band that formed in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, in 1974. They are often cited as the first true punk rock group. Despite achieving only limited commercial success initially, the band was highly influential in the United States, Argentina, Brazil and most of South America, as well as Europe, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Belgium.
All of the band members adopted pseudonyms ending with the surname “Ramone”, although none of them were biologically related; they were inspired by Paul McCartney of The Beatles, who would check into hotels as “Paul Ramon”. The Ramones performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after a tour with the Lollapalooza music festival, they played a farewell concert in Los Angeles and disbanded. By 2014, all four of the band’s original members had died – lead singer Joey Ramone (1951–2001), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (1951–2002), guitarist Johnny Ramone (1948–2004) and drummer Tommy Ramone (1949–2014). The remaining surviving members of the Ramones—bassist C. J. Ramone (who replaced Dee Dee in 1989 and stayed with the band until its dissolution) and drummers Marky Ramone, Richie Ramone and Elvis Ramone—are still musically active.
Recognition of the band’s importance built over the years. The Ramones ranked number 26 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and number 17 in VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock”. In 2002, the Ramones were ranked the second-greatest band of all time by Spin, trailing only The Beatles. On March 18, 2002, the original four members and Tommy’s replacement on drums, Marky Ramone, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, though Joey had died by then. In 2011, the group was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The original members of the band met in and around the middle-class neighborhood of Forest Hills in the New York City borough of Queens. John Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi had both been in a high-school garage band from 1965 to 1967 known as the Tangerine Puppets. They became friends with Douglas Colvin, who had recently moved to the area from Germany, and Jeffrey Hyman, who was the singer for the glam rock band Sniper, founded in 1972.
The Ramones began taking shape in early 1974 when Cummings and Colvin invited Hyman to join them in a band. Colvin wanted to play guitar and sing, Cummings would also play guitar and Hyman would play drums. The lineup was to be completed with their friend Richie Stern on bass. However, after only a few rehearsals it became clear that Richie Stern could not play bass, so in addition to singing, Colvin switched from guitar to bass and Cummings became the only guitarist. Colvin was the first to adopt the name “Ramone”, calling himself Dee Dee Ramone. He was inspired by Paul McCartney’s use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon during his Silver Beetles days. Dee Dee convinced the other members to take on the name and came up with the idea of calling the band the Ramones. Hyman and Cummings became Joey and Johnny Ramone, respectively.
A friend of the band, Monte A. Melnick (later their tour manager), helped to arrange rehearsal time for them at Manhattan’s Performance Studios, where he worked. Johnny’s former bandmate Erdelyi was set to become their manager. Soon after the band was formed, Dee Dee realized that he could not sing and play his bass guitar simultaneously; with Erdelyi’s encouragement, Joey became the band’s new lead singer. Dee Dee would continue, however, to count off each song’s tempo with his signature rapid-fire shout of “1-2-3-4!” Joey soon similarly realized that he could not sing and play drums simultaneously and left the position of drummer. While auditioning prospective replacements, Erdelyi would often take to the drums and demonstrate how to play the songs. It became apparent that he was able to perform the group’s music better than anyone else, and he joined the band as Tommy Ramone.
The Ramones played before an audience for the first time on March 30, 1974, at Performance Studios. The songs they played were very fast and very short; most clocked in at under two minutes. Around this time, a new music scene was emerging in New York centered on two clubs in downtown Manhattan—Max’s Kansas City and, more famously, CBGB (usually referred to as CBGB’s). The Ramones made their CBGB debut on August 16, 1974. Legs McNeil, who cofounded Punk magazine the following year, later described the impact of that performance: “They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song … and it was just this wall of noise … They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.”
The band swiftly became regulars at the club, playing there seventy-four times by the end of the year. After garnering considerable attention for their performances—which averaged about seventeen minutes from beginning to end—the group was signed to a recording contract in late 1975 by Seymour Stein of Sire Records. Sire A&R man Craig Leon saw the band and brought them to the attention of the label. Stein’s wife, Linda Stein, saw the band play at Mothers; she would later co-manage them along with Danny Fields. By this time, the Ramones were recognized as leaders of the new scene that was increasingly being referred to as “punk”. The group’s unusual frontman had a lot to do with their impact. As Dee Dee explained, “All the other singers [in New York] were copying David Johansen [of the New York Dolls], who was copying Mick Jagger … But Joey was unique, totally unique.”
Spearheading punk (1976–1977)
The Ramones recorded their debut album, Ramones, in February 1976. Of the fourteen songs on the album, the longest, “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement”, barely surpassed two and a half minutes. While the songwriting credits were shared by the entire band, and each member did contribute some writing, much of the writing was done by Dee Dee. The Ramones album was produced by Sire’s Craig Leon, with Tommy as associate producer, on an extremely low budget of about $6,400 and released in April. The now iconic front cover photograph of the band was taken by Roberta Bayley, a photographer for Punk magazine. Punk, which was largely responsible for codifying the term for the scene emerging around CBGB, ran a cover story on the Ramones in its third issue, the same month as the record’s release.
The Ramones’ debut album was greeted by rock critics with glowing reviews. The Village Voice‘s Robert Christgau wrote, “I love this record—love it—even though I know these boys flirt with images of brutality (Nazi especially) … For me, it blows everything else off the radio”. In Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson described it as “constructed almost entirely of rhythm tracks of an exhilarating intensity rock & roll has not experienced since its earliest days.” Characterizing the band as “authentic American primitives whose work has to be heard to be understood”, he declared, “It is time popular music followed the other arts in honoring its primitives.” Newsday‘s Wayne Robbins simply anointed the Ramones as “the best young rock ‘n’ roll band in the known universe.”
Despite Sire’s high hopes for it, Ramones was not a commercial success, reaching only number 111 on the Billboard album chart. The two singles issued from the album, “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”, failed to chart. At the band’s first major performance outside of New York, a June date in Youngstown, Ohio, members of Cleveland punk legends Frankenstein aka the Dead Boys were present and struck up a friendship with the band. It was not until they made a brief tour of England that they began to see the fruits of their labor; a performance at the Roundhouse in London on July 4, 1976, second-billed to the Flamin’ Groovies, organized by Linda Stein, was a resounding success. T-Rex leader Marc Bolan was in attendance at the Roundhouse show and was invited on stage. Their Roundhouse appearance and a club date the following night—where the band met members of the Sex Pistols and the Clash—helped galvanize the burgeoning UK punk rock scene. The Flamin’ Groovies/Ramones double bill was successfully reprised at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles the following month, fueling the punk scene there as well. The Ramones were becoming an increasingly popular live act—a Toronto performance in September energized yet another growing punk scene.
Their next two albums, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, were released in 1977. Both were produced by Tommy and Tony Bongiovi, the second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi. Leave Home met with even less chart success than Ramones, though it did include “Pinhead”, which became one of the band’s signature songs with its chanted refrain of “Gabba gabba hey!” Leave Home also included a fast-paced cover of the oldie “California Sun”, written by Henry Glover & Morris Levy, and originally recorded by Joe Jones, though the Ramones based their version on the remake by the Rivieras. Rocket to Russia was the band’s highest-charting album to date, reaching number 49 on the Billboard 200. In Rolling Stone, critic Dave Marsh called it “the best American rock & roll of the year”. The album also featured the first Ramones single to enter the Billboard charts (albeit only as high as number 81): “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”. The follow-up single, “Rockaway Beach”, reached number 66—the highest any Ramones single would ever reach in America. On December 31, 1977, the Ramones recorded It’s Alive, a live concert double album, at the Rainbow Theatre, London, which was released in April 1979 (the title is a reference to the 1974 horror film of the same name).
Transitional period (1978–1983)
Tommy, tired of touring, left the band in early 1978. He continued as the Ramones’ record producer under his birth name of Erdelyi. His position as drummer was filled by Marc Bell, who had been a member of the early 1970s hard rock band Dust, Wayne County, and the pioneering punk group Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Bell adopted the name Marky Ramone. Later that year, the band released their fourth studio album, and first with Marky, Road to Ruin. The album, co-produced by Tommy with Ed Stasium, included some new sounds such as acoustic guitar, several ballads, and the band’s first two recorded songs longer than three minutes. It failed to reach the Billboard Top 100. However, “I Wanna Be Sedated”, which appeared both on the album and as a single, would become one of the band’s best-known songs. The artwork on the album’s cover was done by Punk magazine cofounder John Holmstrom.
After the band’s movie debut in Roger Corman’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), renowned producer Phil Spector became interested in the Ramones and produced their 1980 album End of the Century. There is a long-disputed rumor that during the recording sessions in Los Angeles, Spector held Johnny at gunpoint, forcing him to repeatedly play a riff. Though it was to be the highest-charting album in the band’s history—reaching number 44 in the United States and number 14 in Great Britain—Johnny made clear that he favored the band’s more aggressive punk material: “End of the Century was just watered-down Ramones. It’s not the real Ramones.” This stance was also conveyed by the title and track selection of the compilation album Johnny later oversaw, Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits. Despite these reservations, Johnny did concede that some of Spector’s work with the band had merit, saying “It really worked when he got to a slower song like ‘Danny Says’—the production really worked tremendously. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio’ is really good. For the harder stuff, it didn’t work as well.” The string-laden Ronettes cover “Baby, I Love You” released as a single, became the band’s biggest hit in Great Britain, reaching number 8 on the charts.
Pleasant Dreams, the band’s sixth album, was released in 1981. It continued the trend established by End of the Century, taking the band further from the raw punk sound of its early records. As described by Trouser Press, the album, produced by Graham Gouldman of UK pop act 10cc, moved the Ramones “away from their pioneering minimalism into heavy metal territory”. Johnny would contend in retrospect that this direction was a record company decision, a continued futile attempt to get airplay on American radio. While Pleasant Dreams reached number 58 on the U.S. chart, its two singles failed to register at all.
Subterranean Jungle, produced by Ritchie Cordell and Glen Kolotkin, was released in 1983. According to Trouser Press, it brought the band “back to where they once belonged: junky ’60s pop adjusted for current tastes”, which among other things meant “easing off the breakneck rhythm that was once Ramones dogma.” Billy Rogers, who had performed with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, played drums on the album’s second single, a cover of the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today”, becoming the only song showing three different drummers: Rogers on recording, Marky on album credits and Richie on video clip. Subterranean Jungle peaked at number 83 in the United States—it would be the last album by the band to crack the Billboard Top 100. In 2002, Rhino Records released a new version of it with seven bonus tracks.
Shuffling members (1983–1989)
After the release of Subterranean Jungle, Marky was fired from the band due to his alcoholism. He was replaced by Richard Reinhardt, who adopted the name Richie Ramone. Joey Ramone remarked that “[Richie] saved the band as far as I’m concerned. He’s the greatest thing to happen to the Ramones. He put the spirit back in the band.” Richie is the only Ramones drummer to sing lead vocals on Ramones songs, including “(You) Can’t Say Anything Nice” as well as the unreleased “Elevator Operator”. Joey Ramone commented, “Richie’s very talented and he’s very diverse … He really strengthened the band a hundred percent because he sings backing tracks, he sings lead, and he sings with Dee Dee’s stuff. In the past, it was always just me singing for the most part.” Richie was also the only drummer to be the sole composer of Ramones songs including their hit “Somebody Put Something in My Drink” as well as “Smash You”, “Humankind”, “I’m Not Jesus”, “I Know Better Now” and “(You) Can’t Say Anything Nice”. Joey Ramone supported Richie’s songwriting contributions: “I encouraged Richie to write songs. I figured it would make him feel more a part of the group, because we never let anybody else write our songs.” Richie’s composition, “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”, remained a staple in the Ramones set list until their last show in 1996 and was included in the album Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits. The eight-song bonus disc, The Ramones Smash You: Live ’85, is also named after Richie’s composition “Smash You”.
The first album the Ramones recorded with Richie was Too Tough to Die in 1984, with Tommy Erdelyi and Ed Stasium returning as producers. The album marked a shift to something like the band’s original sound. In the description of Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the “rhythms are back up to jackhammer speed and the songs are down to short, terse statements.”
The band’s main release of 1985 was the British single “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”; though it was available in the United States only as an import, it was played widely on American college radio. The song was written, primarily by Joey, in protest of Ronald Reagan’s visit to a German military cemetery, which included graves of Waffen SS soldiers. Retitled “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)”, the song appeared on the band’s ninth studio album, Animal Boy (1986). Produced by Jean Beauvoir, formerly a member of the Plasmatics, the album was characterized by a Rolling Stone reviewer as “nonstop primal fuzz pop”. Making it his pick for “album of the week”, New York Times critic Jon Pareles wrote that the Ramones “speak up for outcasts and disturbed individuals”.
The following year the band recorded their last album with Richie, Halfway to Sanity. Richie left in August 1987, upset that after being in the band for five years, the other members would still not give him a share of the merchandising money. Richie was replaced by Clem Burke from Blondie, which was disbanded at the time. According to Johnny, the performances with Burke—who adopted the name Elvis Ramone—were a disaster. He was fired after two performances (August 28 & 29, 1987) because his drumming could not keep up with the rest of the band. In September, Marky, now clean and sober, returned to the band.
In December 1988, the Ramones recorded material for their eleventh studio album, and what was supposed to be a “comeback” for the band, Brain Drain; co-produced by Beauvoir, Rey, and Bill Laswell. However, the bass parts were done by Daniel Rey and the Dictators’ Andy Shernoff. Dee Dee Ramone would only record the additional vocals on the album citing that members of the band (including himself) were going through personal troubles and changes to the point where he did not want to be in the band anymore. Although it received mixed reviews upon its release in early 1989, the album included the band’s highest-charting hit in America, “Pet Sematary”.
Despite not wanting to be in the band anymore, Dee Dee (who was sober by this point) was present for the world tour for Brain Drain and played his last show with the Ramones on July 5, 1989, at One Step Beyond in Santa Clara. He was replaced by Christopher Joseph Ward (C. J. Ramone), who performed with the band until they disbanded. Dee Dee initially pursued a brief career as a rapper under the name Dee Dee King. He quickly returned to punk rock and formed several bands, in much the same vein as the Ramones, for whom he also continued to write songs despite never rejoining the band.
Final years (1990–1996)
After more than a decade and a half at Sire Records, the Ramones moved to a new label, Radioactive Records. Their first album for the label was 1992’s Mondo Bizarro, which reunited them with producer Ed Stasium. Anticipated as a “comeback” for the Ramones after years of decline in popularity, the album was certified Gold in Brazil after selling 100,000 copies, being the first Gold certification The Ramones were ever awarded, while its lead single “Poison Heart” was another top ten hit in the US for the band.
Acid Eaters, consisting entirely of cover songs, came out in 1993. That same year, the Ramones were featured in the animated television series The Simpsons, providing music and voices for animated versions of themselves in the episode “Rosebud”. Executive producer David Mirkin described the Ramones as “gigantic, obsessive Simpsons fans.”
In 1995, the Ramones released their fourteenth and final studio album ¡Adios Amigos!, and announced that they would be disbanding the following year. Its sales were unremarkable, garnering it just two weeks on the lower end of the Billboard chart. The band spent late 1995 on what was promoted as a farewell tour. However, they accepted an offer to appear in the sixth Lollapalooza festival, which toured around the United States during the following summer. After the Lollapalooza tour’s conclusion, the Ramones played their final show on August 6, 1996, at the Palace in Hollywood. A recording of the concert was later released on video and CD as We’re Outta Here!. In addition to a reappearance by Dee Dee, the show featured several guests including Motörhead’s Lemmy, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Ben Shepherd, and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen.
Aftermath and deaths
On July 20, 1999, Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey, Tommy, Marky, and C. J. appeared together at the Virgin Megastore in New York City for an autograph signing. This was the last occasion on which the original four members of the group appeared together. Joey, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 1995, died of the illness on April 15, 2001, in New York. Joey and Marky, who had been involved in a feud, buried the hatchet and made up on live radio on the Howard Stern Show in 1999.
On March 18, 2002, the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which specifically named Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey, Tommy, and Marky. At the ceremony, the surviving inductees spoke on behalf of the band. Johnny spoke first, thanking the band’s fans and blessing George W. Bush and his presidency, and America. Tommy spoke next, saying how honored the band felt, but how much it would have meant for Joey. Dee Dee humorously congratulated and thanked himself, while Marky thanked Tommy for influencing his drum style. Green Day played “Teenage Lobotomy”, “Rockaway Beach”, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” as a tribute, demonstrating the Ramones’ continuing influence on later rock musicians. The ceremony was one of Dee Dee’s last public appearances, as he was found dead on June 5, 2002, from a heroin overdose.
On November 30, 2003, New York City unveiled a sign designating East 2nd Street at the corner of Bowery as Joey Ramone Place. The singer lived on East 2nd for a time, and the sign is near the former Bowery site of CBGB. The documentary film End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones came out in 2004. Johnny, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, died on September 15, 2004, in Los Angeles, shortly after the film’s release. On the same day as Johnny’s death, the world’s first Ramones Museum opened its doors to the public. Located in Berlin, Germany, the museum features more than 300 items of memorabilia, including a pair of stage-worn jeans from Johnny, a stage-worn glove from Joey, Marky’s sneakers, and C. J.’s stage-worn bass strap. On October 8, 2004, Tommy Ramone, C. J. Ramone, Clem Burke, and Daniel Rey performed in the “Ramones Beat on Cancer” concert.
The Ramones were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007. That October saw the release of a DVD set containing concert footage of the band: It’s Alive 1974–1996 includes 118 songs from 33 performances over the span of the group’s career. In February 2011 the group was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Drummers Tommy, Marky, and Richie attended the ceremony. Marky declared, “This is amazing. I never expected this. I’m sure Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee would never have expected this.” Richie noted that it was the first time ever that all three drummers were under the same roof, and mused that he couldn’t “help thinking that [Joey] is watching us right now with a little smile on his face behind his rose-colored glasses.”
On April 30, 2014, their debut album, Ramones, became certified Gold by the Recording Industry of America after selling 500,000 copies, 38 years after its release.
Arturo Vega, creative director from their formation in 1974 until their disbanding in 1996 and often considered the fifth Ramone, died of cancer on June 8, 2013, at the age of 65. The final original member, Tommy Ramone, died on July 11, 2014, after a battle with bile duct cancer.
On October 30, 2016, the band had a street in Queens, New York named for them. As of that date, the intersection of 67th Avenue and 110th Street in front of the main entrance of Forest Hills High School was officially named The Ramones Way.
On April 15, 2021, the 20th anniversary of Joey Ramone’s death, it was announced that Pete Davidson would portray Ramone in the upcoming Netflix biopic I Slept with Joey Ramone which is based on the 2009 memoir of the same name written by Ramone’s brother Mickey Leigh. Leigh will serve as an executive producer with a script written by Davidson and director Jason Orley.
Conflicts between members
Tension between Joey and Johnny colored much of the Ramones’ career. The pair were politically antagonistic, Joey being a liberal and Johnny a conservative. Their personalities also clashed: Johnny, who spent two years in military school, lived by a strict code of self-discipline, while Joey struggled with obsessive–compulsive disorder and alcoholism. In the early 1980s, Linda Danielle began a relationship with Johnny after having already been romantically involved with Joey, who had reportedly accused Johnny of “stealing” his girlfriend; this incident is believed to have been the inspiration behind “The KKK Took My Baby Away”. Consequently, despite their continued professional relationship, Joey and Johnny had become aloof from each other. Johnny did not contact Joey before the latter’s death, although he said that he was depressed for “the whole week” after his death.
Dee Dee’s bipolar disorder and repeated relapses into drug addiction also caused significant strains. Tommy would also leave the band after being “physically threatened by Johnny, treated with contempt by Dee Dee, and all but ignored by Joey”. As new members joined over the years, disbursement and the band’s image frequently became matters of serious dispute. The tensions among the group members were not kept secret from the public as was heard on the Howard Stern radio show in 1997, where during the interview Marky and Joey got into a fight about their respective drinking habits.
A year after the Ramones’ breakup, Marky Ramone made disparaging remarks against C. J. in the press, calling him a “bigot,” a statement he would reiterate a decade later. C. J. would later respond that he was unsure as to why he would make negative comments against him in the press though he denied that it had anything to do with his marrying Marky’s niece. He also denied being a bigot. Many years later, C. J. lamented that despite being the two surviving members of arguably the Ramones’ most commercially successful era, and despite reaching out a few times to join him on stage, he and Marky were no longer in contact.
The Ramones’ loud, fast, straightforward musical style was influenced by pop music that the band members grew up listening to in the 1950s and 1960s, including classic rock groups such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Beach Boys, the Who, The Beatles, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, the Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival; bubblegum acts like the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Ohio Express; and girl groups such as the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las. They also drew on the harder rock sound of the MC5, Black Sabbath, the Stooges and the New York Dolls, now known as seminal protopunk bands. The Ramones’ style was in part a reaction against the heavily produced, often bombastic music that dominated the pop charts in the 1970s. “We decided to start our own group because we were bored with everything we heard,” Joey once explained. “In 1974 everything was tenth-generation Elton John, or overproduced, or just junk. Everything was long jams, long guitar solos … . We missed music like it used to be.” Ira Robbins and Scott Isler of Trouser Press describe the result:
With just four chords and one manic tempo, New York’s Ramones blasted open the clogged arteries of mid-’70s rock, reanimating the music. Their genius was to recapture the short/simple aesthetic from which pop had strayed, adding a caustic sense of trash-culture humor and minimalist rhythm guitar sound.
As leaders in the punk rock scene, the Ramones’ music has usually been identified with that label, while some have categorized their style as pop punk or power pop. In the 1980s, the band sometimes veered into hardcore punk territory, as can be heard on Too Tough to Die.
On stage, the band adopted a focused approach directly intended to increase the audience’s concert experience. Johnny’s instructions to C. J. when preparing for his first live performances with the group were to play facing the audience, to stand with the bass slung low between spread legs, and to walk forward to the front of stage at the same time as he did. Johnny was not a fan of guitarists who performed facing their drummer, amplifier, or other band members.
The Ramones’ art and visual imagery complemented the themes of their music and performance. The members adopted a uniform look of long hair, leather jackets, T-shirts, torn jeans, and sneakers. This fashion emphasized minimalism—a powerful influence on the New York punk scene of the 1970s—and reflected the band’s short, simple songs. Tommy Ramone recalled that, musically and visually, “We were influenced by comic books, movies, the Andy Warhol scene, and avant-garde films. I was a big Mad magazine fan myself.”
The band’s logo was created by New York City artist Arturo Vega, with the Ramones. Vega, a longtime friend, had allowed Joey and Dee Dee to move into his loft. He produced the band’s T-shirts—their main source of income—basing most of the images on a black-and-white self-portrait photograph he had taken of his American bald eagle belt buckle, which appeared on the back sleeve of the Ramones’ first album. He was inspired to create the band’s logo after a trip to Washington, D.C.:
I saw them as the ultimate all-American band. To me, they reflected the American character in general—an almost childish innocent aggression … . I thought, ‘The Great Seal of the President of the United States’ would be perfect for the Ramones, with the eagle holding arrows—to symbolize strength and the aggression that would be used against whomever dares to attack us—and an olive branch, offered to those who want to be friendly. But we decided to change it a little bit. Instead of the olive branch, we had an apple tree branch, since the Ramones were American as apple pie. And since Johnny was such a baseball fanatic, we had the eagle hold a baseball bat instead of the [Great Seal]’s arrows.
The scroll in the eagle’s beak originally read “Look out below”, but this was soon changed to “Hey ho let’s go” after the opening lyrics of the band’s first single, “Blitzkrieg Bop”. The arrowheads on the shield came from a design on a polyester shirt Vega had bought. “Ramones” was spelled out in block capitals above the logo using plastic stick-on letters. Where the presidential emblem read “Seal of the President of the United States” clockwise in the border around the eagle, Vega placed the pseudonyms of the band members: Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy. Over the years the names in the border would change as the band’s line-up fluctuated.
“It’s the American presidential seal—anyone can use it,” said Marky Ramone of the logo’s ubiquity. “We share the royalties on the t-shirt and on the merchandise. A lot of the kids wearing that shirt might not even have heard of the Ramones’ music. I guess if you have the shirt, your curiosity might bring you to buy the music. Whatever, it is a strange phenomenon.”
Legacy and influence
The Ramones had a broad and lasting influence on the development of popular music. Music historian Jon Savage writes of their debut album that “it remains one of the few records that changed pop forever.” As described by AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “The band’s first four albums set the blueprint for punk, especially American punk and hardcore, for the next two decades.” Trouser Press‘s Robbins and Isler similarly wrote that the Ramones “not only spearheaded the original new wave/punk movement, but also drew the blueprint for subsequent hardcore punk bands”. Punk journalist Phil Strongman writes, “In purely musical terms, the Ramones, in attempting to re-create the excitement of pre-Dolby rock, were to cast a huge shadow—they had fused a blueprint for much of the indie future.” Writing for Slate in 2001, Douglas Wolk described the Ramones as “easily the most influential group of the last 30 years.”
The Ramones’ debut album had an outsized effect relative to its modest sales. According to Generation X bassist Tony James, “Everybody went up three gears the day they got that first Ramones album. Punk rock—that rama-lama super fast stuff—is totally down to the Ramones. Bands were just playing in an MC5 groove until then.” The Ramones’ two July 1976 shows, like their debut album, are seen as having a significant impact on the style of many of the newly formed British punk acts—as one observer put it, “instantly nearly every band speeded up”. The Ramones’ first British concert, at London’s Roundhouse concert hall, was held on July 4, 1976, the United States Bicentennial. The Sex Pistols were playing in Sheffield that evening, supported by the Clash, making their public debut. The next night, members of both bands attended the Ramones’ gig at the Dingwall’s club. Ramones manager Danny Fields recalls a conversation between Johnny Ramone and Clash bassist Paul Simonon (which he mislocates at the Roundhouse): “Johnny asked him, ‘What do you do? Are you in a band?’ Paul said, ‘Well, we just rehearse. We call ourselves the Clash but we’re not good enough.’ Johnny said, ‘Wait till you see us—we stink, we’re lousy, we can’t play. Just get out there and do it.'” Another band whose members saw the Ramones perform, the Damned, played their first show two days later. Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 has said that he considers the Ramones his band’s “only blueprint”. The central fanzine of the early UK punk scene, Sniffin’ Glue, was named after the song “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”, which appeared on the debut LP.
Ramones concerts and recordings influenced many musicians central to the development of California punk, including Greg Ginn of Black Flag, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Al Jourgensen of Ministry, Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, and members of the Descendents. Canada’s first major punk scenes—in Toronto and in British Columbia’s Victoria and Vancouver—were also heavily influenced by the Ramones. In the late 1970s, many bands emerged with musical styles deeply indebted to the band’s. There were the Lurkers from England, the Undertones from Ireland, Teenage Head from Canada, and the Zeros and the Dickies from southern California. The seminal hardcore band Bad Brains took its name from a Ramones song. The Riverdales emulated the sound of the Ramones throughout their career. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong named his son Joey in homage to Joey Ramone, and drummer Tré Cool named his daughter Ramona.
New Jersey’s horror punk/hardcore punk band the Misfits (whose bassist Jerry Only was a longtime friend of the band) were influenced by the “Blitzkrieg” tempo of the Ramones, infusing it into their already medium-fast tempo, R&B style of punk rock.
The Ramones also influenced musicians associated with other genres, such as heavy metal. Their influence on metal gave birth to the punk-metal “fusion” genre of thrash. Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, one of the originators of thrash guitar, has described the importance of Johnny’s rapid-fire guitar playing style to his own musical development. Motörhead lead singer Lemmy, a friend of the Ramones since the late 1970s, mixed the band’s “Go Home Ann” in 1985. The members of Motörhead later composed the song “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” as a tribute, and Lemmy performed at the final Ramones concert in 1996. Paul Dianno, who sang on Iron Maiden’s first two albums has called the Ramones his “favorite band,” and often performs Ramones material in his live shows. In the realm of alternative rock, the song “53rd & 3rd” lent its name to a British indie pop label cofounded by Stephen Pastel of the Scottish band the Pastels. Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam (who introduced the band members at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction) and the Strokes are among the many alternative rock and metal musicians who have credited the Ramones with inspiring them.
The band members were also individually influential. Johnny Ramone was named one of Time‘s “10 Greatest Electric-Guitar Players” in 2003. That same year, he was number 16 on the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list in Rolling Stone.
“We think of the Ramones as a classic, iconic band,” observed Gene Simmons. “They have one gold record to their name. They never played arenas; couldn’t sell them out. It was a failed band. It doesn’t mean they weren’t great. It means the masses didn’t care.”
Kevin Morby’s fourth album City Music features the track “1234” inspired by the singer’s childhood love of Ramones. It features the lyrics “Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy/ They were all my friends, but they died.”
In April 2009, Spin writer Mark Prindle observed that the Ramones had to date “inspired a jaw-dropping 48 (at least!) full-length tribute records.” The first Ramones tribute album featuring multiple performers was released in 1991: Gabba Gabba Hey: A Tribute to the Ramones includes tracks by such acts as the Flesh Eaters, L7, Mojo Nixon, and Bad Religion. In 2001, Dee Dee made a guest appearance on one track of Ramones Maniacs, a multi-artist cover of the entire Ramones Mania compilation album. The Song Ramones the Same, which came out the following year, includes performances by the Dictators, who were part of the early New York punk scene, and Wayne Kramer, guitarist for the influential protopunk band MC5. We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones, released in 2003, features performers such as Rancid, Green Day, Metallica, KISS, the Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and Rob Zombie (who also did the album cover artwork). Also some other famous bands recorded tribute songs. Motörhead’s Phil Campbell tells in Jari-Pekka Laitio-Ramone’s book Ramones: Soundtrack Of Our Lives: “We did a cover of Rockaway Beach with me on backing vocals, which was quite enjoyable. When Johnny Ramone heard it, he refused to put it on the tribute album. Lemmy and I thought we did a good version.”
Punk bands such as Screeching Weasel, the Vindictives, the Queers, Parasites, the Mr. T Experience, Boris the Sprinkler, Beatnik Termites, Tip Toppers, Jon Cougar Concentration Camp, and McRackins have recorded cover versions of entire Ramones albums—Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, It’s Alive, Road to Ruin, End of the Century, Pleasant Dreams, Subterranean Jungle, two versions of Too Tough to Die, and Halfway To Sanity, respectively. The Huntingtons’ File Under Ramones consists of Ramones covers from across the band’s history. Aaron Stingray of the Anderson Stingrays released Songs in the Key of Joey in 2018 with his side project The Brooklyn Apostles. The ep also features Richie Ramone as guest drummer on SLUG.
Shonen Knife, an all-female trio from Osaka, Japan, was formed in 1981 as a direct result of founder-lead singer-guitarist Naoko Yamano’s instant infatuation with the music of the Ramones. In 2012, to observe the band’s 30th anniversary, Shonen Knife released Osaka Ramones, which featured thirteen Ramones songs covered by the band. There are also many other tribute albums listed on Jari-Pekka Laitio-Ramone’s site. Pearl Jam have covered the song “I Believe in Miracles” off the album Brain Drain on several occasions during live performances.
- Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman) – lead vocals (1974–1996), drums (1974); died 2001
- Johnny Ramone (John Cummings) – guitars (1974–1996); died 2004
- Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin) – bass, backing and co-lead vocals (1974–1989); died 2002
- Tommy Ramone (Thomas Erdelyi) – drums (1974–1978); died 2014
- Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) – drums (1978–1983, 1987–1996)
- Richie Ramone (Richard Reinhardt) – drums, backing vocals (1983–1987)
- Elvis Ramone (Clem Burke) – drums (1987)
- C. J. Ramone (Christopher Ward) – bass, backing and co-lead vocals (1989–1996)
- Ramones (1976)
- Leave Home (1977)
- Rocket to Russia (1977)
- Road to Ruin (1978)
- End of the Century (1980)
- Pleasant Dreams (1981)
- Subterranean Jungle (1983)
- Too Tough to Die (1984)
- Animal Boy (1986)
- Halfway to Sanity (1987)
- Brain Drain (1989)
- Mondo Bizarro (1992)
- Acid Eaters (1993)
- ¡Adios Amigos! (1995)
- New York City portal
- 1980s portal
- 1990s portal
- List of Ramones concerts
- Gabba Gabba Hey
- Danny Says (film)
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- Ramones at Curlie
- 1985 Article and Photos, V.O.M zine