Monday, December 14, 2009

Road to Ruin

I must state for the record, that I'm a huge Ramones fan. I'm a rock fan for sure and like a fair amount of bands, but the Ramones are at the top of my list - by far. After 25+ years, I still listen to the Ramones almost daily or at least a few times a week. The speed, stripped down sound, insane, yet funny - yet not so funny lyrics, the look, the east coast roots, the dysfunction of the band chemistry - and being trapped in a sense - in the band to make a living. It somehow pushes all the right buttons for me musically. I'm not big on celebrity worship and can't admit to being a full-on fan of many things. I am a Ramones fan however.

Even though I was old enough, a teenager anyway, to be around during the Ramones late '70s heyday - I barely knew they existed. There was no Internet, little radio airplay of the Ramones, and my suburban New Jersey home was a universe away from New York City, though only 40 miles in distance. Besides Rock and Roll High School hitting the airwaves in '79 or '80, and I Wanna Be Sedated a little earlier, I knew little about the Ramones. At the time, I more into guitar lead oriented music of that era - Ted Nugent, Rush, Aerosmith, and the like.

During the early '80s, some friends of mine were into the Ramones a bit, and I remember listening while driving around in their cars. This was the Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle era - not exactly their best work, nor indicative of what they really sounded like live (though later, I loved those albums as well). I thought the songs were poppy and fun, but not exactly what I was into. At the time, I thought all songs should basically exist to house a guitar solo in the middle. Still, something stuck in the back of my mind about the Ramones.

Around 1984 - and I have no memory why, I specifically headed to the record store one afternoon to buy a Ramones album. I had no idea which album, but I was going to buy a Ramones album. The record shop was located in the Rockaway Townsquare Mall, located in Rockaway, New Jersey. On top of that, as I was cruising through the Ramones albums deciding which one to pick up - the hipster employees were playing the Ramones. Yes, the fate of Rock was shining brightly - like a sun of no frills punk rock. Hey ho, let's go.

I selected Road to Ruin out of the Ramones bin, paid for it and headed home. This was back in the day of records (man, I miss the large artwork on covers) and Road to Ruin sported the cool cartoon drawn cover of the band (by John Holmstrom). The back cover photo, in black and white, of the band sitting on a step - in full Ramones look - ripped jeans, sneakers and leather jackets.

I popped the record onto the turntable (remember those?) and I Just Want To Have Something To Do roared to life, first song on side one. I listened to the whole album and thought it was the greatest thing ever. The guitar sound of Johnny, Joey's voice, Dee Dee's bass, Marky on drums - the poppy rock sound, the wacked lyrics - I was done, this is all I need. To this day, I Wanted Everything, Go Mental, Bad Brain and a few other tracks on this album remain as some of my favorites.

After another trip or two to Rock-Rock-Rockaway, I picked up the other three classic albums - the original Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. Now I was officially hooked and obsessed with the Ramones. It's all I listened to, over and over. All remaining Ramones albums up to that point were added to the mix. Sounds insane, but for many years afterwards, probably 90% of what I listened to were the Ramones. Most other bands for me were now obsolete.

I saw them live in '84 as well, and maybe 10 times total through out the years - including my bachelor party in 1986. The Ramones live were nothing like their poppy-ish studio albums. Nope, everything was done in the Ramones and Rocket to Russia style. Insanely fast, no breaks, wall of noise fun. It was punk rock, but fun punk rock - NYC, all American punk rock. Gabba Gabba, We accept You, We Accept You, One of Us. I'll save these stories for another time.

It's safe to say, it all started with Road to Ruin, one of the classic Ramones albums of all time.

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