Today would have been Joey Ramone’s 62nd birthday. Joey and the rest of the Ramones were one of the most influential bands in rock history. It’s sometimes forgotten, but punk rock proper began at CBGB’s in New York City with the Ramones and other bands. The American bands got there first, and only later did punk spread to England. The Ramones got together in 1974 and released their first album in 1976, while, for example, the seminal English punk bands the Sex Pistols and the Clash each formed in 1976 and released their first albums in 1977.
It’s tragic that the Ramones, in the band’s lifetime, never really got their due. The three core members, Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee all died in the early aughties, just as the band was beginning to accrue some mainstream respect. The Ramones documentary End of the Century, which I strongly recommend, is heartbreaking. It dramatizes the many times when it seemed like the band might finally be on the verge of mainstream success, only to have it cruelly snatched away from them.
But now, at long last, the Ramones are recognized as icons. They’ve been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, at least one of their songs (“Blitzkrieg Bop”) has been used in TV commercials and is played at sporting arenas, and in 2011, they even won a Grammy for lifetime achievement (really!).
Joey was always my favorite Ramone. He was the sweetest Ramone, the one with the deepest love for early rock and roll like the 60s girl groups, and the band’s most politically liberal member (Johnny was the Ramones’ resident conservative).
Here is Joey and the band performing one of my all-time favorite Ramones songs, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”:
And here is extraordinary live footage of the band playing at CBGB’s in 1974, shortly after they got together. Check out the way they argue among themselves before deciding what song to play. They finally agree on “I Don’t Want to Go Down to the Basement,” one of the classic songs on the first Ramones album.
I love this video of a gleeful kindergarten class being led in a raucous sing-along of “Judy is a Punk.” Joey and the other deceased Ramones would have been touched had they lived to see this. Punk rock lives, corrupting the next generation!
I also got a huge kick out of this heartfelt audio tribute to Joey and the Ramones by the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra. It seems to have been recorded at a show shortly after Joey died. Biafra’s description of discovering the Ramones and listening to them for the first time totally nails what that experience was like for me. And yes, that first Ramones album really did, rather hilariously, come with a lyric sheet! Warning: there’s some NSFW language toward the end.
Finally, here’s a lovely tribute to Joey in musical form, by one of my favorite songwriters, Amy Rigby. Tonight in my dreams, I’ll be dancing with Joey Ramone, too. 1-2-3-4!