The Ramones provided an audience with music that was both angry and celebratory at the same time. We couldn’t understand the lyrics, but we could feel them. We weren’t sure what they were doing, but we knew it was real. These four guys would take the stage and play with an incredible fast intensity that never let up until Joey dropped the microphone at the end of the set. We asked ourselves how could a band play guitar bass and drums as fast as they did for such a long period of time? The only break would come from Dee Dee Ramones legendary 1234 countdown at the start of each song.
Going to a Ramones show was not for the weak. You didn’t have to dance, you just had to jump up and down non-stop for two hours. You were not judged, you were accepted. All you had to do was show up and rock. That’s what The Ramones were all about; showing up and rocking. And then many years later with their sadly titled last album Adios Amigos, it was all over.
Our 11 Essential Ramones songs list is simply a tribute. Every song the band composed and recorded could easily be placed on this list. However, website load times limit us to placing only a certain amount of video links on one page. So we have picked 11 that we think represent various time periods of the band’s career. Of course, there may be some young people reading this who did not know much about the band. And for those young rock fans we have made sure to include some of the band’s biggest hits and most important contributions to the story of classic rock and popular culture.
# 11 – I Don’t Want To Grow Up
If we had to choose two of the most original artists of all time in popular music it would be the Ramones and Tom Waits. So this Ramones cover of the brilliant Tom Waits Song “I Don’t Want To Grow Up,” makes perfect sense to start out our 11 Essential Ramones Songs List. If there ever was a song that defined the youthful rebellious spirit of the rock and roll heart, it was this iconic Tom Waits’ songs. It was the perfect song for the Ramones to cover. The songs opened up the final Ramones album, Adiós Amigos! It was the band’s fourteenth album. The record was released on July 15, 1995. Its hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since the band recorded their final record.
# 10 – My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)
No rock band ever escapes the temptation to put in their two cents about politics. The Ramones were no exception. The Ramones song “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” was a protest against President Reagan’s visit to the Bitburg cemetery in West Germany. The song appeared as the opening track to their 1986 album Animal Boys. It was an album produced by Jean Beauvoir who had originally played bass in Wendy Williams band The Plasmatics.
# 9 – Psycho Therapy
The Ramones’ song “Psycho Therapy,” was released on their 1983 album, Subterranean Jungle. The song opened up side two of the record. At the time the band had been going through personal issues regarding drug and alcohol use. During the recording sessions, drummer Marky Ramones was allegedly fired from the band for alcohol abuse issues. Other members of the band were also allegedly dealing with substance abuse issues. The song “Psycho Therapy,” seemed to be a fitting response to the recording sessions and time period of the Subterranean Jungle LP release. The song was also a return to the early Ramones sound of the mid to late nineteen seventies. It was heavy, dark, angry, and funny all at the same time. It was the Ramones.
# 8 – The KKK Took My Baby Away
The Ramones had some great song titles, but come on, this one had to be their best. There are many stories circulating about the origins and meaning of the song’s lyrics. Various band members have been interviewed over the years and all of them came up with completely different stories about the song. So in the end, we will just leave it to folklore. However, we will mention that Johnny Ramone said the guitar riffs to the song were inspired by the music of Cheap Trick. The song “The KKK took My Baby Away,” was released on the Ramones’ album Pleasant Dreams. The record was originally released in 1981.
# 7 – I Want You Around
The great song “I Want You Around,” was first released on the band’s 1978 album Road To Ruin. The song was also issued on the soundtrack to the Motion Picture Rock and Roll High School. The version that appears in the video below is from the soundtrack and as one may tell, depicts a dream scene in the movie. While both versions are amazing, we have always preferred the version from the film. Maybe P.J. Soles had something to do with our choice. Just saying!
# 6 – Rockaway Beach
We hate to bring up The Beach Boys comparison because the song is written about a beach but listen to the chord changes, melody, and lyrical ideas and one can easily hear The Beach Boys musical inspirations in this song. No two bands could ever look as completely opposite to each other as The Beach Boys and The Ramones. Their clothes, attitudes and persona completely contrasted with each other.
The Beach Boys were pro-culture, The Ramones were anti-culture. However, both bands wrote and recorded songs around two minutes in length and most were uptempo numbers that celebrated the youth culture of their own generations, and both bands used simple chord progressions underneath powerful thematic anthems. I am not sure if anyone has ever compared The Beach Boys to The Ramones, but there is a connection musically.
# 5 – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
The Ramones’ album Rocket To Russia was the band’s third record release. It has always scored high on the list of critics’ and fans’ favorite Ramones albums. The record Rocket To Russia was released on November 4, 1977. The album’s first single “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” was the first of three singles that seemed to be aimed at garnishing more radio airplay. The following two singles, “Rockaway Beach,” and “Do You Wanna Dance,” both exhibited the friendly major key chord changes and upfront vocals that the band had hoped would gain them more national attention and higher record sales. The album Rocket To Russia was an attempt by the band to release an album utilizing high production values and a slicker cleaner sound.
# 4 – Blitzkrieg Bop
For those of us growing up in the 1970s, the song “Blitzkrieg Bop,” was the first Ramones track that we ever heard from the band. The song served as the opening song on their debut album, The Ramones. Released in 1976, the album and song introduced the world to the sound and persona of the Ramones. In 2022, the song still sounds fresh and clearly defines why we were so blown away by the arrival of one of the most important bands in rock and roll history.
# 3 – Rock And Roll High School
In 1979, I went to see a midnight screening of the Ramones’ film, Rock and Roll High School. I was a high school senior at the time. The movie and the song defined the frustrations of teen culture in the 1970s. However, it did it with a sarcastic sense of humor. The same sarcasm and spit-in-your-face attitude towards the norm that was found in so much of the Ramones musical catalog fueled the plot of the very underrated film Rock and Roll High School. Perhaps it was because the name Roger Corman was attached to the film. Critics did not take the movie seriously. That’s unfortunate because if you want to get a feel for real 1970s punk rock teenage culture, with a sense of humor, then check out Rock and Roll High School. If you can find it.
# 2 – I Wanna Be Sedated
Well if we had to choose the most popular Ramones song of all time, it would easily turn out to be the Ramones classic “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The song was released on our favorite Ramones album Road To Ruin. It was the band’s fourth album. Road to Ruin was released in September of 1978. There are rock and roll songs that become ordained over time as classics that become almost bigger than the band that recorded the track.
In 2016, a large portion of youth culture has never heard of the Ramones, yet, they have heard the song “I Wanna Be Sedated.” For those of us who understand the greatness of the Ramones, it can be very frustrating to realize that so many youths in the 21st century do not know the band. It’s one of the main reasons for writing this article. It’s also one of the driving factors behind the concept of this website.
# 1 – I Just Want To Have Something To Do
There is a great scene in the movie Rock and Roll High School when all the Ramones fans are lined up to buy tickets for a Ramones concert and many of them are fighting with each other in line. Suddenly, the Ramones appear driving in a convertible cruising down the road head first into the camera lens. The band is playing the song, “I Just Want To Have Something To Do.” Joey Ramone is singing into a large chicken wing, It is such an effective shot that is the most memorable scene in the film. If you have seen the film and heard this song, then you will understand why we have chosen “I Just Want To Have Something To Do,” as our number one choice on our list.
11 Essential Ramones Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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The only thing wrong with this is DeeDee did the 1234 before their songs?