They say that the sun may shine on a dog’s hindquarters some days; well, mine certainly turned dark when I got the opportunity to review what is probably my favorite album of all-time, the self-titled debut masterpiece by the Ramones. Forty years have passed since it arrived, and there’s still nothing cooler. At the time, nothing sounded like it; nothing carried that attitude and head-down locomotion of Johnny Ramone’s power chords, backed by the scuzzy backbeat of Dee Dee Ramone’s bass guitar and Tommy Ramone’s tub-thumping. Throw in the odd-ball inflections of Joey’s vocals and history was written, or at least laid to tape. Now, four decades later, and even from their graves, the Ramones’ timing remains impeccable. In 1976, disco and its constituents needed a swift kick in the ass, and these four mop-topped and punk-dressed rabble-rousers from Queens made a statement of generous proportions. It was a sound that would blow the stickers off the walls at CBGB in NYC’s Bowery and go on to spawn millions of fans, and it deserves the limited edition treatment (with all the bells and whistles) in 2016.
Lifelong Cretins and newcomers alike need to scour the album and its presentation; for hardcore fans, it’s nothing less than a religious experience. It comes with a beautiful hardcover of the original album art, with the photo taken by Roberta Bayley for Punk Magazine—the boys about face on that brick wall with scant, primitive graffito along the chipping plaster coat just around the corner from what is now John Varavatos’ storefront and former footprint of CBGB—adjourned inside the cover as well as its posterior (next to the bald eagle belt buckle that eventually became the famous Arturo Vega designed Ramones logo, with the eagle gripping an apple branch and baseball bat wrapped in the names of the original four members’ pseudonyms). In general, the wax graces you with the full album in both mono and stereo format, and sharing its pouch is the cherry on top, a book boasting a myriad of pictures and updated liner notes from front liners, producer Craig Leon and author Mitchell Cohen. It’s an endearing read on both counts by two heads of state, in a matter of speaking.
You’re presented with three CDs and one vinyl record. The first disc includes the stereo and mono versions of the album; while that may sound impressive, the second and third discs are the real holy grail. Disc two beats your head in with the first two singles, “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend”, in stereo and then mono, complete with the original, unedited fascist lyrics of “Today, your love / Tomorrow, the world”, and the scrumptious main course of demos. They’re thick, juicy morsels of the band finding their sound and Joey perfecting his custom Queens-meets-Londontown lyrical permutations. As for the third disc, it showcases two live sets at the Roxy, Hollywood on 8/12/76 (the second set was previously unreleased). Here, you have over three hours of pure perfection and boundless energy; you know, the stuff that makes dreams.
The Ramones will remain a launching pad for artists and bands around the globe, as a sense of “Hey, I can do that, too!” is born upon your first listen. It either grabs you for life or scares the shit out of you. Either way, the simplicity is the genius, as no song goes over three minutes and consists of more than a few chords, a couple of bass notes, machines gun drum beats, and bubble gum lyrics (mostly about dark matters). They created a look, a sound, and a lifestyle that served as the main jewel in the punk rock figurehead for ages. Infamous, famous, nerdy, and ultra-cool, they were simply living oxymorons without a care in the world for earthly possessions sans instruments (and sometimes not even that). Check it out ASAP and then go out and start your own band.
Originally published at PopMatters 12/9/16