I need to check my Rock 'n' Roll Calendar more often. I'd completely forgotten that Joey Ramone passed away 10 years ago this past April 15. For this, I apologize to Miss Sandy Lieb.
In my defense, it doesn't feel like 10 years ago. And for those looking for a happier note, Joey Ramone will turn 60 on May 19, something he can do because his music still lives. All Ramones fans should pick up I Slept With Joey Ramone (A Family Memoir) by his brother, the great Mickey Leigh, whose talents as a storyteller are every bit as fascinating as the songs listed below.
Picking the 25 best Ramones songs is a task not to be envied; believe me. Putting them in any kind of order is like alphabetizing the Bible. There's no real point, except for the fun of it. The list of songs that didn't make the cut is just as long and just as good. Simply no room for "I'm Affected," "Mama's Boy," "Somebody Put Something In My Drink," "53rd and 3rd," "I Wanna Live," "Outsider," "She's a Sensation," "Psychotherapy," "In the Park," "My My Kind of Girl," "The KKK Took My Baby Away," "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," "Everytime I Eat Vegetables It Makes Me Think of You," "Time Bomb," "Don't Come Close," "Go Mental," "You're Gonna Kill That Girl" "I Wanna Be Well" and "I Don't Care." For starters.
25) Sheena Is Punk Rocker: One of their most famous tunes and put on two consecutive studio albums, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia (pronounced Roo-Sigh-Ah), "Sheena" should've been put on all the Ramones (pronounced RAM-Ones) albums just to mess with people! (And, yes, I'm aware that "Sheena" was added to Leave Home. We'll get to that. See entry #14)
24) Swallow My Pride: The beautiful trick to the Ramones is that they could sing sweet and poppy without losing the thread. Credit Joey and his love for girl-groups and Brill Building pop. He understood the importance of dynamics. He was like a music scientist who never had to go to school to learn it.
23) The Return of Jackie and Judy: Because I was a kid who came of age as End of The Century (the album, not the fine documentary) was released, I discovered the joys of this follow-up tune before I heard the song it was referencing (see Entry #19). As a result, I probably like End of the Century more than most Ramones fans. Music is far more flexible than most critics wish to admit.
22) Teenage Lobotomy: I almost didn't list this song because it's so familiar to me that I no longer "hear" it. Rocket to Russia was my favorite Ramones album growing up and, therefore, has become the one I have the most trouble listening to with fresh ears. In truth, I'm more likely to listen to their cover of "Do You Wanna Dance?"
21) I Wanted Everything: Road to Ruin was the first Ramones album I found in the record store. I can still remember leaving the Union Marketplace in my mother's car unwrapping the cellophane and staring at that yellow inner sleeve with all the words printed on it. I stared at the yellow Sire Records logo and got so excited because I had a new band to obsess over.
20) Rock 'n' Roll High School: This was the first Ramones song I ever consciously heard. The band appeared on Sha Na Na when I was twelve and within seconds of the first few chords I was hooked. I told my friends that I'd heard the greatest group in the world and they responded by telling me that it wasn't possible since they'd never heard of them. Oh, how some things never change.
19) Judy Is A Punk: I admit in a moment of temporary insanity, I traded away the first Ramones LP for a cassette of Wings' Venus and Mars. This was back when if you wanted to hear more music, you had to trade with your friends. I once traded all my Led Zeppelin records for Ted Nugent albums. In that case, I was lucky that the kid let me trade them back. Ted Nugent gave me the opposite feeling of the Ramones. Where the first few chords of the Ramones made me excited, endless repeat listens of Ted Nugent made me bored and depressed.
18) We Want The Airwaves: Pleasant Dreams is a great record. Sure, it doesn't have the discipline of the group's earlier work. It attempts to break the band out beyond their cult status. This song is one so immediately catchy and lovable that the fact that it never became a huge hit made me begin to realize that people who liked Boston, Styx and Reo Speedwagon were wrong! While I'm more accommodating these days, I still, in the back of my head, think people who don't like the Ramones are idiots.
17) We're A Happy Family: I remember reading the lyrics to this song and staring at John Holmstrom's cartoons and thinking what could be better than this? The line "Daddy Likes Men" just floored me. And I sure wanted to know what Thorazines were and why this family was gulping them down!
16) Ramona: I've always been a sucker for ballads and slow songs. Like Jonathan Richman sang, "I go to bakeries all day long / there's a lack of sweetness in my life." With the Ramones, unlike so many other punk bands, you get the feeling they wanted girls to like their group. Which, if you're a guy, should be preferable to a hardcore show where it's nothing but a sea of teenaged dudes.
15) Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Is this the Ramones' first ballad? The great dilettante Tom Carson once wrote an exemplary essay on the album Rocket to Russia in a book called Stranded. He was the only one to pick what was then a current album that has stood the test of time. The guy who picked the Linda Ronstadt album was wrong then and even wronger now!
14) Carbona Not Glue: This track was removed from the album Leave Home because the Carbona people didn't like having a song that gave instructions for their product's off-label usage. I just looked it up on a popular retail site and they have the song listed as "Carbonara Not Glue." Which sounds to me like someone's defending a popular Italian Restaurant chain! (I think it's really glue.) Apparently, before using "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" in its place, the label put the B-side "Babysitter," creating at least two collectable records.
13) Suzy Is A Headbanger: I admit when it comes to the "(Girl's Name Here) Is A (Cool Stereotype Here)," "Suzy" is my favorite. By today's musical standards, this era of the Ramones is hardly "headbanging" music. To be technical, it's music that makes you bounce up and down!
12) Pinhead: Certain Ramones tunes spell out life as we live it. Who hasn't thought to themselves, "I don't wanna be a pinhead no more / I just found a nurse that I could go for"?
11) I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement: I think it's funny when people like Bono pay tribute to Joey Ramone. Have U2 ever recorded a song as profound as this one? I think not. Bono can scale all the walls and run through the fields as many times as he likes, but everything he's looking for is right there in this god-forsaken basement that he wouldn't visit without having his people clear the path.
10) Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?: I'm showing my cards here. I told you End of the Century was a big album for me growing up. A lot of people thought Phil Spector's production was weird. But you can't destroy great, simple songs! Besides, I love any song recorded in 1980 that's already complaining about how bad music has gotten! Oh, radio in 1980 sounds positively inspirational compared to what's on those airwaves today. No wonder everyone uses the Internet instead!
9) Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment: The Ramones' use of "Gimme" and "Wanna" made them pioneers of the mutating English set. Just imagine Judy Collins covering this material and correcting it. Why hasn't she done an album of Ramones covers? Someone put me in charge of the music business.
8) Danny Says: Written for Danny Fields, and the Fabulous Liker Danny Sage, "Danny Says" is a ballad that could only have made sense on an album produced by Phil Spector. Only Spector's legend could justify this outpouring of gentleness on a Ramones track. It's also so true, "We can't go surfing 'cause it's twenty below." No, we can't!
7) I Wanna Be Sedated: As one of the band's most famous and most enduring songs, I can't argue with it. It's simply that good. I've never grown tired of it. But that may be because I love anything to do with excessive sleeping.
6) Beat On the Brat: I remember watching the Phil Donahue show because it was a show about Hardcore and suddenly the Ramones were being taken to task for this song. "Beat on the brat with a baseball bat." What is this world coming to? Well, a lot worse than this, buddy. I remember seeing Joey Ramone's mom get up and recite it. She was cool. The host and audience were horrified. Mainstream people really were this lame!
5) Rockaway Beach: "Chewing out the rhythm on my bubblegum." Never a better opening line. (OK, technically it's "One Two Three Four!") Hating this song is like hating ice cream. You can't be serious.
4) Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue: Why did God invent glue if he didn't want people to sniff it? I admit, I never tried. I saw kids do it and they turned purple. If you need to gather more information before trying something, you're a heartier soul than I.
3) Blitzkrieg Bop: Sure, we've all heard it now in commercials, at sporting events, at the senior home. To think there was a time when this song made hard rock fans angry seems odd now. I know, I know, these guys weren't taking it seriously! The nerve of them!
2) I Just Want to Have Something To Do: While I'm clearly disturbed by the use of "Want To" instead of "Wanna" (sell out?), I do love the extra guitar that hangs over this mini-drama to boredom. I asked my mom what was Chicken Vindaloo and she didn't know. We ate hamburgers and Shake-n-Bake chicken in my house. It's amazing I'm still alive. For those who may still be in the dark, Vindaloo is a hot, spicy Indian dish that is quite amazing when done right.
1) Bonzo Goes to Bitburg (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down): Perhaps I am surprising you with this one. The great David Orbach opened his radio show with this track every time and since I was on before him I heard it every week and I never grew tired of it. This was back when the song was not yet on an official Ramones album but on some import compilation record. It was proof that the almighty Ramones could still write a great song when the moment called. That Johnny Ramone had to put up with it makes it even funnier to me. Proof positive that you never bet against Joey Ramone.