Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones
Hey ho, let’s go
Shoot’em in the back now
What they want, I don’t know
They’re all revved up and ready to go
December 31st 1977. My brother Paul and I, punked up on speed, chains, eyeliner and nail varnish are buzzing around outside The Rainbow in Finsbury Park, a large seated venue which is going punk rock for the night. Our seats are central, about 12 rows from the front. Ace. We missed opening act The Rezillos, and caught the end of Generation X whom we didn’t like. We were there for The Ramones.
I’d gone from hippy long-hair walking around the LSE in a poncho, cowboy boots and stetson to clean-chinned spiky-haired punk overnight, flares were OUT, brothel -creepers were IN, and I’d created a punk garment out of an old dinner jacket I’d found in a flea market, putting paperclips around all the edges, lapels and pockets. It either looked a) brilliant or b) shit. Can’t remember. It was a fantastic time to be in London, there was a visceral thrill rippling through the scene and as a dedicated follower of fashion I dived right in. Let’s see : I’d already been a wannabe hippie about a decade late, a glam-rocker, skinhead, suedehead, and back to country-rock groover again. Now I Was A Punk. A new orthodoxy. Dyed the hair – purple initially. Took speed – amphetamine sulphate – in pill form, “blues” which were 4 for a pound. Read the fanzines such as Mark Perry’s Sniffin’Glue. Didn’t actually sniff glue – not that stupid. Went to punk gigs in the correct clothes. All the time I was a law student. Having a laugh. Enjoying myself. It was a musical and fashion revolution, and like all revolutions there was a pretty regimented code to follow – of music, of clothes, of haircuts. Some things were OUT and some things were IN. Us 19-year-olds weren’t about to throw away our record collections because they contained songs that were over 3 minutes long and featured drum solos. And most of my mates didn’t cut their hair like lil’ old fashion-victim me. But I’ve always enjoyed dressing up, the more flamboyant and outrageous the better, and I embraced the punk fashion like a born-again Leninist. Paul and I went gigging, to The Roxy, The Vortex, The Hope, the Nashville Rooms. Exciting times. God Save The Queen had been number 1 in the hit parade in June (see My Pop Life #113) then the top singles Pretty Vacant and Holidays In The Sun had graced Top Of The Pops before the mighty LP Never Mind The Bollocks was finally released in late October. I’d managed to get to see The Sex Pistols at Brunel University in December ’77 on the Never Mind The Bans tour before they left for the States and split up forever. The publicity and notoriety the band had generated in their short lifetime was quite extraordinary, mainly the result of manager Malcolm McLaren‘s media hijinks and a realisation that controversy sells records. The Anarchy tour in 1976 had been cancelled apart from a handful of gigs – Manchester, Plymouth, Caerphilly, Leeds, and as such they were a media phenomenon rather than a genuinely popular live band. But the singles were brilliant.
The reason why I mention all of this is because the Pistols owed a huge debt to The Ramones. As did The Clash (see My Pop Life #52) who I eventually got to see on Hastings Pier in 1978. Both young punk bands had gone to see The Ramones play at The Roundhouse on July 5th 1976, while I was hitch-hiking around the USA listening to Pure Prairie League and Wings and buying my cowboy boots. The previous night The Ramones had supported The Flamin’ Groovies there and word had spread. I think The Stranglers may have been on this gig too. It ignited the nascent UK punk scene. And yes I know that the first punk single was New Rose by The Damned (Oct 28th 1976) a band that I never saw live.
The Ramones first single was Blitzkrieg Bop 8 months earlier. They were from Forest Hills, Queens, New York City and played their first gigs in 1974, then built a gigging following at Manhattan dives Max’s Kansas City and CBGB over the following years. John Cummings (Johnny Ramone), Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone), Jeffrey Hyman (Joey Ramone) and Thomas Erdelyi (Tommy Ramone). They had a PLAN. A concept. Short, simple songs with a buzzing guitar and a nasal lead vocal from Joey. All the band changed their surname to Ramone. This was Dee Dee’s idea, based on the Paul McCartney pseudonym Paul Ramon, used when they toured Scotland as The Silver Beetles. True dat. The Ramones all wore white Ts, ripped blue jeans and cut their hair in a bowl cut. Almost Rubber Soul but more attitude. They all appeared permanently bored and sullen. The effect was instant gang.
Johnny, Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee on the cover of the 1st LP
Taking bits from The MC5, The New York Dolls and The Stooges, The Ramones were and are the first punk band, and released Blitzkrieg Bop in February 1976, the first single off the first punk LP called simply Ramones in April 1976. The cover is iconic, a photograph by Roberta Bayley.
The song is fast and short like all their songs, and opens with a chant A-O-Let’s Go. Like a terrace anthem, apparently inspired by R’n’B singer Rufus Thomas, but see below (!) the song clocks in at 2 minutes 14 seconds. Like a statement of intent, no guitar solos, no drum solos, just bang and finish, the song describes the feeling of being at a punk gig, the kids are losing their minds…the blitzkrieg bop we sang along as we all jumped up and down like good pogoing punks the pulsating back beat, generating steam heat, and the odd but effective line “shoot ’em in the back now” rewritten by Dee Dee from the original “shouting in the back now“. There are hints of Nazism in their work, hints of stupid, hints of violence, prostitution, murder. Otherwise it would be pop. It didn’t sell at all, and neither did the LP. In fact it’s probably true that The Ramones had more effect in the UK than they did in America. At least initially.
Their 2nd LP Leave Home – marvellous ! – was released in January 1977 and their third LP Rocket To Russia in November 1977. Rocket to Russia clocks in at around 33 minutes long, and no song is longer than 2 minutes 49 seconds (Sheena Is A Punk Rocker). And what fantastic records they are. Hard to describe perfect music.
But Blitzkrieg Bop does tip a wink to two unlikely 1970s British acts – The Bay City Rollers and The Sweet. Not the first time The Rollers have appeared in this blog – see My Pop Life #11 – but here they are again under controversial circumstances – the übercool leaders of punk in the same sentence as the flimsy teenypop nonsense of The Bay City Rollers ??? Well, bear with me pop fans : The bubblegum influence is there in the chords and shapes of the music and the chant which opens the song Blitzkrieg Bop is perhaps an imaginative leap from the Roller’s ‘Saturday Night‘. Less controversially of course The Sweet had a mighty hit single with Ballroom Blitz. These things aren’t all in opposition you know.
Paul and I had popped a few blues each, the trick was that every few hours you topped yourself up otherwise the crashing comedown would spoil the party. Of course you had to comedown sometime, and weed would be the cushion, joint-rolling sessions to puff away and soften the teeth-grindingly edgy experience of the amphetamines leaving the body. But the ascent – coming up – was a surge, the veins throbbing with juice, the mouth needing to chew, light cigarettes, inhale constant smoke, the fingers twitching. All revved up and ready to go COME ON ! As the lights went down and the iconic four Ramones took the stage under their All-American Presidential Seal eagle logo the whole place erupted and we all surged to the front. Down the aisles at first, then the front fifteen rows of seats simply collapsed, security melted away and punks ruled.
Paul and I ended up on top of a broken seat or two along with hundreds of other punks as the first eye-popping shout “1,2,3,4” from Dee Dee took us into opening song Rockaway Beach. We bounced we sweated we punched the air. People spat, threw beer. Blitzkrieg Bop was the 3rd number. Our heroes were better and bigger and faster and funnier than we could have dreamed. WOW. Tommy Ramone on the drums drove the band, with Johnny Ramone (the Republican!) on motorik rhythm guitar, only playing barre chords, only playing down just like Paul Cook and Steve Jones drove the Sex Pistols. Dee Dee on bass wrote many of the songs but only played root notes, and Joey was the gimmick : tall, gangling, hidden by hair and shades and affecting a bored stupid glazed persona. If the album tracks and singles were short, live they were even shorter, they just played FASTER. It was thrilling. I just remember bouncing and holding onto Paul to stop us from falling down. Chewing gum was chewed. Lager was drunk. Pills were popped. Definitely one of the top gigs of my life.
It was brought to my attention recently that the whole gig was released as a live album called It’s Alive in 1979. How I missed this is inexplicable to me, but I did. It’s the whole gig, almost, that we were at. There is also a concert DVD in which Paul and I undoubtedly appear, but I haven’t seen us yet, or have I ?
In common with all live albums after a certain date (WHAT IS THAT DATE? – Ed) the guitars, vocals and bass were all dubbed on again in the studio so er….it’s not live is it?
It was then though. They wished us Happy New Year, showered us with glitter and we spat at them. At the end of the show, after three encores – the last song was We’re A Happy Family :
Sitting here in Queens
Eating refried beans
We’re in all the magazines
Gulpin’ down thorazines
We ain’t got no friends
Our troubles never end
No Christmas cards to send
Daddy likes men
and off they went whereupon everyone threw their broken seats – the ones they’d been standing on – onto the stage. It had been, we all agreed, a legendary gig. They’re all dead now – Joey, Tommy and Johnny from cancer, Dee Dee from a heroin overdose. They live on in a thousand T-shirts across the world, a logo instantly recognisable and still worn by teenagers and old punks. They also left behind a permanent legacy. Whatever anyone says – they started punk.