In our Top 10 Ramones albums list we are looking at 10 of the best from the band who are widely agreed to be the first true punk band. The New York band’s influence cannot be underestimated. In addition to being an influence on all subgenres of punk from pop punk to hardcore, they have also inspired musicians from other forms of rock music as well. Everyone from Metallica to Green Day has cited them as an influence. The band first emerged in the late ’70s in the New York scene playing the legendary CBGB’s. Their early sets were known for their ferocious energy and often very short length. The fact that most of their songs rarely surpassed the two-minute mark meant they could often cram around 10 songs into a twenty-minute set.
Even though none of the band members were related (which some often assume), they all adopted the name “Ramone” as a stage surname. This was reportedly inspired by Paul McCartney who used to check into hotel rooms under the name “Paul Ramon.” After deciding to disband for good in 1996, all four of the original band members, vocalist Joey, guitarist Johnny, bassist Dee Dee and drummer Tommy have all since died.
The band made a big impact with their initial first few records which were consistently produced within the final few years of the 1970s. Throughout their career they continued to be a very consistent band, managing to stick to their formula (which they did not deviate from too much) whilst managing to stay relevant within most of the following musical movements and scenes that came along. So, let’s see which albums are the best…
10 – Pleasant Dreams
1981’s Pleasant Dreams was an album that fraught with tensions from Joey and Johnny who never get along with each other, making it strange that they were the only two original members left by the time of the band’s split. With this album they were having clashes over the creative direction of where they wanted the music to go. Johnny, who was always seen as a band dictator, felt that The Ramones had a winning formula with their straightforward fast, and short songs and that they should stick to it.
Joey, on the other hand, wanted to expand upon the sound of the previous album End of the Century, and start to embrace more pop sensibilities. As if this was not bad enough, Johnny then started dating Joey’s ex-girlfriend who was reportedly the inspiration for the song “The KKK took my Baby Away,” The “kkk” reportedly refers to Johnny’s right-wing political views, something which Joey also disagreed with! However, some have disputed this, making it unclear as to how true it is.
Despite not being very well received, Pleasant Dreams is an underrated album. The aforementioned “KKK” is a great song as is the opening track “We Want the Airwaves” a plea for the band to have more commercial success, which is something that was a clear goal with this record.
9 – Subterranean Jungle
Next on the list is Subterranean Jungle, the band’s seventh album from 1983. After the previous two albums attempted and failed to make the band more successful by going in a more pop direction. Johnny, who previously was not a fan of this decision anyway, decided to put his foot down and as a result, this album saw the band go in a more hardcore direction. However, the production of this album was also plagued by problems caused by conflicts between band members. Dee Dee was dealing with a heroin addiction which he never recovered from and was ultimately the cause of his death in 2002.
Standout tracks include “Outsider” and “Psychotherapy.” The album was received much more positively by critics and was a welcome return to their roots. Despite this, it was not as successful commercially, reaching only Number 83 on the US Billboard Charts and completely failing to chart anywhere internationally. It was the last album to feature drummer Marky until he returned for 1989’s Brain Drain.
8 – Adios Amigos
Adios Amigos! was The Ramones’ final ever album released in 1995, which explains its title. Whilst they did not save the best till last, there are some songs on here that ensured that the Ramones went out on a high note. Young bassist CJ, who replaced Dee Dee after he left, performs vocals on two tracks “Makin Monsters for my Friends” and “The Crusher.” However, there are several points where Joey gets to truly shine himself as a vocalist with the best example being “She Talks to Rainbows.”
7 – Brain Drain
The album that as previously stated, saw the return of Marky on the drums, 1989’s Brain Drain was a stellar effort from the band largely thanks to brilliant songwriting from Dee Dee who would soon make his departure from The Ramones. Standout cuts include “Don’t Bust My Chops” “UFO” and “Punishment Fits the Crime.” The famous song on the record however is “Pet Cemetery” which was featured on the soundtrack to the film of the same name based on the novel by famous Ramones fan Stephen King.
6 – Animal Boy
Up next is the band’s ninth album from 1986. By this point, conflicts between members had gotten even worse which resulted in both Joey and Johnny writing and even performing less. Dee Dee, who was the main songwriter on this album performs vocals on several songs and drummer Richie even wrote some material, being the first drummer since Tommy to do so. The album did rather well commercially with four of its singles managing to chart in the United Kingdom.
The members’ dislike of each other is a clear and prevalent lyrical theme in many of the songs. However, the standout track is one that saw the normally apolitical Ramones criticize the Reagan administration- “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” something which in itself caused conflict with Johnny voicing his disagreement with the song’s message.
5 – Leave Home
At number 5 is the band’s second album Leave Home. After the release of their debut, The Ramones wasted little time working on the follow-up and there is a definite progression here, not only are they getting better as musicians, but this album also has higher production values.
As far as songs go on this album, there are a lot of classic cuts on offer. It has a mixture of poppy and raw-sounding numbers, the classics that stand out being “Pinhead,” “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.” The album was well received, with many critics remarking that it was similar sounding to its predecessor but sounded better. Despite this, it only peaked at number 148 on the Billboard Charts.
4 – End of the Century
After establishing themselves with the first four albums in the late 70s as the creators of punk, the turn of the 80s saw The Ramones attempting to achieve genuine mainstream success with the 1980s End of the Century album. In order to succeed with this, they enlisted the help of legendary producer Phil Spector.
Despite a reportedly crazy recording experience which was largely caused by Spector’s mad personality (he was many years later charged with murder) the result paid off rather well. It was their highest charting album reaching number 44 on the Billboard charts. Cuts of the album which show the band’s ability to create classic pop hits include “Rock n’Roll High School” and “Do You Remember Rock n’Roll Radio?”
3 – Road to Ruin
Road to Ruin was the band’s fourth album released in 1978 which saw Tommy, who had now been replaced by Marky, handling production duties. Here The Ramones brought what was always their main musical influence to the forefront: classic ’60s pop music. The album’s songs are all very catchy and show that the band was much more about melody than many of their noisy punk contemporaries. Standout Tracks include “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do.”
2 – Rocket to Russia
At the second spot is The Ramones’ third album Rocket to Russia released in 1977. By this point, the band had established themselves within a short period of time. 1977 was the year that the punk movement properly blew up thanks to the antics of The Sex Pistols in England and it was the chance for The Ramones to finally hit the big time.
The album is yet another full of catchy numbers which had the potential to be chart hits. “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” was re-recorded to be included on this album and also included is the Beach Boys-esque “Rockaway Beach.” However, the album did not quite propel the band to the kind of stardom that they were hoping to achieve, which led to Tommy becoming frustrated and leaving the band soon after.
One thing that clearly differentiates The Ramones from their British counterparts in The Sex Pistols and The Clash is that they were not concerned in any way with smashing down the system or starting a revolution. They simply wanted to be famous pop stars and for them, punk was about catchy hooks and making timeless music, which they succeeded in doing, even if they did have as much commercial success as they would have liked.
1 – The Ramones
The Ramones’ debut album blew us all away. Who were these guys? We had never heard anything like it before. The album’s great cover stood out among all the other albums in record stores in 1976. Four hard-looking punks in leather jackets and blue jeans standing up against a wall in New York City printed in black and white with the band’s name hanging above their heads defined so much in one simple shot.
Every single song on the album was breathtaking, especially the album’s first four tracks. Songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop, Beat On The Brat, Judy s A Punk and I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” all became legendary rock and roll songs defining this brilliant band right from the start. The Ramones’ debut album is one of classic rock’s true treasures and a defining moment n both the band’s career and the history of 1970s rock and roll.
Updated June 4, 2023
Top 10 Ramones Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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