Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio? “The Ramones Heard Them Here First” Arrives
Ace Records is cheering “Gabba gabba hey!” with the recent release of The Ramones Heard Them Here First, an overview charting the influences behind New York’s seminal punk pioneers. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy didn’t exactly try to hide their inspirations when they included a cover of Chris Montez’ 1962 hit “Let’s Dance” on their debut long-player Ramones in 1976 and over the years, they continued to tip the hat to rock and roll heroes from The Ronettes to The Beach Boys. The new compilation includes the original versions of twenty-four songs covered by Ramones between 1976 and 1995’s Adios Amigos, and as such, is a rollicking stew of pop, rock, bubblegum, and psychedelic sounds absorbed by the Forest Hills foursome (plus later members Marky, C.J. and Richie).
When Ramones arrived on Sire Records, it signaled a return to, and a celebration of, primal rock and roll after the excess of progressive rock and the glitz of disco. Primitive in its execution but colossal in its ambition, Ramones distilled the previous, pre-Woodstock era of pop-rock into fast and ferocious two-minute nuggets. Though their productions weren’t as polished or immaculate as those they worshipped, they captured the same energy that turned teenagers onto the rebellious art form two decades earlier. A classic example of a band whose influence far outweighed its sales, the group continued to recognize the past even as it flirted with subjects like Nazism, violence, drug use and prostitution. (No hippy-dippy peace-and-love for these boys!) And even though the surname “Ramone” was adopted by all members, they shared a common “less is more” sensibility that made them a true, if dysfunctional, band of brudders.
Many Ramones albums, including their first five, featured amped-up AM radio-style “cover” songs, many of which appear here. Compilation producer Mick Patrick has arranged the tracks chronologically in the order that the songs appeared on a Ramones set. So “Let’s Dance” is followed by The Rivieras’ “California Sun,” covered on 1977’s sophomore effort Leave Home, then by The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and The Beach Boys’ “Do You Wanna Dance,” both aired on Rocket to Russia. (“Do You Wanna Dance,” of course, was originally written and recorded by Bobby Freeman, but it’s likely that the immaculate, Brian Wilson-produced, Dennis Wilson-sung version was The Ramones’ go-to choice.) 1978’s Road to Ruin featured a take on Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono’s “Needles and Pins,” which is also reprised here in its hit version by The Searchers. But the band’s biggest success on 45 in the U.K. came from 1980’s controversial End of the Century, in which Phil Spector took the production reins. That hit single was a recording of Spector’s own “Baby, I Love You,” which he originally produced for The Ronettes, and the album itself also became the band’s highest-charting stateside. The immortal, Ronnie Spector-led track (arranged by the aforementioned Nitzsche) represents the band’s brief association with Phil Spector. Following End of the Century, a number of albums were recorded of entirely original Ramones compositions, among them Pleasant Dreams (1981), Too Tough to Die (1984), and Animal Boy (1986).
There’s lots more Ramones-mania after the jump, including an order link and complete track listing with discographical annotation!
A full eight tracks on The Ramones Heard Them Here First are songs performed on Acid Eaters, Ramones’ 1993 all-covers set. Though Acid Eaters was primarily dedicated to the psychedelic /acid rock era (Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” The Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” Love’s “7 and 7 Is”), the band also found room for their beloved oldies like Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” and, on international editions, The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.” Among the compilation’s most interesting tracks are two performed on Adios Amigos, the Ramones’ 1995 farewell. “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” was British rock band Motorhead’s 1991 tribute to their Noo Yawk compatriots, cheekily covered much in the same manner that Brian Wilson performed the Barenaked Ladies’ “Brian Wilson.” This track only appeared on the Japanese CD of Adios Amigos, but all editions featured Tom Waits’ song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” growled by the singular troubadour on his LP Bone Machine and reinvented in pop/punk fashion by the Ramones.
Other unusual sources give us a few songs. Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go” was featured on a 1978 Paley Brothers/Ramones single, while Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” was tackled by Joey Ramone and Holly Beth Vincent in 1982. The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s pop confection “Indian Giver” was heard on a 1987 Ramones B-side only. The compilation’s final two songs hail from Joey Ramone’s posthumous 2002 Don’t Worry About Me, and they encompass the range of the singer’s diversity of influences: The Stooges’ “1969” (as radical a record upon its original release as “Blitzkrieg Bop” or “I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” a few years later) and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
If you’re interested in a glimpse at the musical glue that bonded the Ramones together, or are just looking for an eclectic, wide-ranging “mix CD” based on the record collection of a band with great taste, The Ramones Heard Them Here First (the latest in a series that also includes Elvis Heard Them Here First) just might be for you. If you’re ready to shout, “Hey, ho, let’s go,” you can order just below!
Various Artists, The Ramones Heard Them Here First (Ace CDCHD 1344, 2012)
- Let’s Dance – Chris Montez (Monogram 505, 1962)
- California Sun – The Rivieras (Riviera 1401, 1963)
- Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen (Garrett 4002, 1963)
- Do You Wanna Dance – The Beach Boys (Capitol 5372, 1965)
- Needles and Pins – The Searchers (Pye 7N 15594, 1964)
- Come On, Let’s Go – Ritchie Valens (Del-Fi 4106, 1958)
- Baby, I Love You – The Ronettes (Philles 118, 1963)
- I Got You, Babe – Sonny and Cher (Atco 6359, 1965)
- Little Bit o’ Soul – The Music Explosion (Laurie 3380, 1967)
- Time Has Come Today – The Chambers Brothers (Columbia 44414, 1967)
- Indian Giver – 1910 Fruitgum Co. (Buddha 91, 1969)
- Surf City – Jan and Dean (Liberty 55580, 1963)
- I Can’t Control Myself – The Troggs (Page One POF 001, 1966)
- My Back Pages – The Byrds (Columbia 44054, 1967)
- Surfin’ Safari – The Beach Boys (Capitol 4777, 1962)
- Can’t Seem to Make You Mine – The Seeds (GNP Crescendo 354, 1965)
- Shape of Things to Come – Max Frost & the Troopers (Tower 419, 1968)
- Journey to the Center of the Mind – The Amboy Dukes (Mainstream 684, 1968)
- Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane (RCA 9140, 1967)
- 7 and 7 Is – Love (Elektra 45605, 1966)
- I Don’t Wanna Grow Up – Tom Waits (Island 512580, 1992)
- R.A.M.O.N.E.S. – Motorhead (Epic 467481-0, 1991)
- 1969 – The Stooges (Elektra 45664, 1969)
- What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong (ABC 10982, 1967)