If I had time to just write and write and write and write I would be writing about the Ramones, and I would try, but fail, to write what Beatle Bob did last night.
The Ramones were, in their own way, everything. Like Bob, I also remember the first time I heard the first song…it was the same day I heard Patti Smith for the first time.
I was 15 years old, and the music cut me like a sharp wind, and I felt awake in a way that I barely understood, something inside me jumping like the heart of the sun. There isn’t any way I could communicate what hearing this clean, pure sound meant to me, so thankfully Bob did it for me.
I’m just going to reprint this in mostly full, because Bob.
R.I.P. Tommy Ramone: King of the Blitzkrieg Bop
Tom Erdelyi, far right, better known as Tommy Ramone, with the Ramones (from left, Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee) in 1978.
And that’s it; they’re all gone. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and now Tommy. Even “the fifth Ramone”, Arturo Vega, is no longer with us. It seems so unfair: not only did the Ramones never achieve the commercial rewards to match their staggering influence upon the trajectory of rock’n’roll, none of their principals was even granted a long life – at 62, Tommy was the Ramone who reached the greatest age.
He played drums on just three Ramones studio albums. The ones everyone, but everyone, knows are the three best: Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. He’s on the first live album, too, It’s Alive, and between those four records you get the complete summation of why the Ramones mattered, and why they continue to matter. Over the 42 tracks on the three studio albums, lasting barely an hour and half, rock’n’roll is reduced to its undiluted essence: a count-in, a riff, a verse, a chorus. Very occasionally there’s a middle eight. But anything unnecessary – anything that distracts from the rush of excitement – is excised. The aim of a Ramones song is not to make you admire the musicianship or the arrangement. It’s to take you from a standing start to fever pitch in 120 seconds or less. And at the back of it all, playing the unfussiest drum patterns you’ll ever hear – he made AC/DC’s Phil Rudd sound like Keith Moon – was Tommy Ramone.
Punk exists because of the false assumption that the Ramones can be imitated. “1-2-3-4!” Three chords. “Second verse, same as the first.” Technically speaking, it’s simple. Legend has it that in every city where the Ramones played in support of their 1976 debut, a handful of punk kids started up bands, thinking that they could do it, too. But the Ramones’ loud, fast style masked a pop genius. Slow their tempos, and you have got Beach Boys melodies. Replace lyrics about sniffing glue and eating refried beans, and you have got the Ronettes. Give everyone matching leather jackets, and you have got the punk rock Beatles. Just four lads from Queens who birthed thousands of bands, then blew each one away. Like sharks, they didn’t evolve. They didn’t need to.
They got better. Of course they got better. They got so much better that for rock & roll fans ( not lots of other) sthe Ramones were the best group rock’n’roll ever produced. Not the most inventive, or the most versatile, or the most skilful, or the most emotionally resonant, or the most lyrical – but the best, because every time I put on one of the Ramones’ best records, I was reminded of how I felt the first time I heard it. And the first time I heard it, I felt: this is the sound I’ve been hearing in my head and here it is on 12 inches of black vinyl; this is what I have been waiting for since the first single I ever bought. The Ramones were the sound of juvenile excitement, expressed with such breathtaking singlemindedness that nothing could kill the excitement.
And Tommy was an enormous part of that influence. Who would have guessed, in the late 70’s, that Blitzkrieg Bop would be chanted at sporting events decades later? He left behind the ultimate back beat of angst and rebellion and freedom.
And they were never as exciting without Tommy. Partly that was because those first three albums were such perfect statements of intent that there was very little left for the Ramones to say, and so each new album became another turn around the circuit rather than a manifesto. But partly because it was Tommy, as much as Joey, Johnny or Dee Dee, who made the band truly Ramonic. Marky, his replacement, was a more skilled drummer, perhaps, but the slight increase in sophistication meant the purity of the message – and the medium was the message, in the case of the Ramones – was compromised. Marky’s successor, Richie, was simply too fast: in the tragic Ramones documentary End of the Century, he boasts about shaving several minutes off the set by playing everything with such velocity. With Richie on drums, Ramones shows were a blur of noise – you’d be recognising the song, finally, as it came to an end. When what you wanted was to wallow in those glorious harmonics.
But now that’s it; they’re all gone. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and now Tommy. The band that unlocked the door for me. Thanks for saving rock and roll guys. Thanks for the brilliant simplicity, stamina and sacrifice.
You’ll live forever.