My Pop Life #164 : Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones

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.

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My Pop Life #113 : God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

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God Save The Queen   –   The Sex Pistols

we mean it maaan…

God save your mad parade.  The Silver Jubilee, June 7th 1977.  I was living in a flat on Fitzroy Street with one other gentlemen, also an LSE student – a Trinidadian indian chap called Mahmood.  I had befriended the LSE Ents crowd – bands, weed, politics, journalism.  We went to gigs, we got stoned and listened to music, we went on marches and demonstrations, we wrote articles in the student rag.  The hair was reasonably long, but by summer 1977 I’d gone punk (see My Pop Life 52 / The Clash / Complete Control) or had I ?  Musically we all had – The Clash LP was played endlessly and we’d all been to gigs by people like 999 and The Adverts, Slaughter & The Dogs & The Vibrators.  When the hair got cut and dyed I can’t remember, but it was that summer.  In fact – that has sprung my memory – I was 20 years old later that month, and I would have felt that big zero number coming like we all do, so I’m pretty sure that once punk was unearthed and discovered from it’s hidden realms – I was surrounded by it in other words – I would have dived in both barrels because this would be my last teenage gang.   A nineteen-year old punk is almost too old, but there were way WAY older than me back then dontcha know.   Anyway – who cares about the age thing, it’s all bollocks, to use a word we wouldn’t see in day-glo colours until late October.  We couldn’t believe how long it was taking the Sex Pistols to release their first album, they’d changed record companies three times and put out four blindingly good singles.  This is the second one, and, although Anarchy In The UK (released 26 November ’76) was a statement of intent and a major punk manifesto of nihilism, God Save The Queen was a more thrilling record.  It’s not a competition anyway, but by May 1977 The Sex Pistols’ notoriety was at its height.

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Posters with the portrait of The Queen with a safety pin through her mouth started appearing on the streets, and many would be vandalised, torn down or spray-painted.   The cover of the single was in silver and blue, the Jubilee colours, designed by Jamie Reid, but it wasn’t planned as a comment on the Jubilee.  In fact the song was recorded in October & March at Wessex Sound Studios with producer Chris Thomas.

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Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock & Steve Jones in 1976

Johnny Rotten wrote the song over beans on toast for breakfast one morning, and Steve Jones and Glen Matlock (before he left) helped with the music and Jones played guitar and bass – Sid wasn’t up to recording anything too musical, being mainly ‘the gimmick’.  He’d replaced Glen Matlock the original bass player.  In fact manager and svengali Malcolm McLaren had contacted Matlock and asked him to play bass on God Save The Queen, and Glen agreed, if he got paid up front.  The money never appeared so Jones got the gig.

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 The single was pressed on A&M Records, but the label then sacked the band ten days after signing them and withdrew the promotional copies. These have become among the most valuable collector’s items in vinyl history – one A&M copy of God Save The Queen sold for £13,000 in 2006.

So when the single was released on Virgin Records in May 1977 it had been around for a while.  The coincidental hoopla of the Silver Jubilee – the constant bullshit of bunting, nationalism, false history and doffing the cap to our betters had fed an anti-royal fervour which was there to be ignited.

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  The record was banned by the BBC and subsequently went to the number One position in the national charts, although officially it remained at number two, behind Rod Stewart.  We all knew it was number one on sales, it wasn’t even conspiracy theory.  No one had ever dared to question the Royal Family so publicly before in living memory and a thrill ran through public life as the British Establishment responded with threats of arrest and the Tower via Traitor’s Gate.  There were  attacks on the band and other punks on the streets by nationalist youth, skinheads and other offended types.

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Jubilee : On the Thames

And then, when The Sex Pistols hired a boat and played the song on the River Thames across from the Houses Of Parliament, a police boat came alongside, boarded, pulled the plug, shut them down and arrested Malcolm McClaren.  It was perfect publicity of course.  Everyone played their role.

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McClaren arrested June 7th 1977

The other half of the country was cheering them on, revelling in the open defiance of the snotty plebs, two fingers up to her Maj.   No Future….

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On that day June 7th when the single was Number One (Number Two officially!) and the whole nation had a public holiday, people were encouraged to organise street parties and genuflect, the students gathered in flat 4:1 where Andy Cornwell opened his windows onto the street, we rolled joints and smoked them out of the window, and we played The Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” all day, off and on, and then at one point for at least an hour, over and over again.  Don’t forget that when I say we “played” the single, we actually had a few copies and a nice stereo, and the needle would be placed back to the edge of the seven-inch circle.    Those present :  Andy Cornwell, Van Morrison devotee;  Norman Wilson, Thin Lizzy fan;  Lewis MacLeod, Flamin’ Groovies appreciation society;  Anton, Neil Young groover;  Nigel, Todd Rundgren acolyte;  Derek, Joan Armatrading lover;  and me, Ralph, Peter Hammill and Gentle Giant collector.  Not a punk among us – although I suspect I’d started posing as a punk by then due to the imminence of my 20th birthday – but we all LOVED this single (although memory tells me that Barnsley lad Norman hated punk rock) and celebrated its timely arrival at the top of the charts, but off the radio, on Jubilee Day.  We became the radio and made up for all the plays the song wasn’t getting on the BBC.  It was a legendary day.  Actually we were White Punks On Dope.  Stoned out of our boxes listening to the Pistols and dub reggae.

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Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones

Later that year I would get word from Stephen Woolley in the Scala Cinema coffee bar where I worked (see my Pop Life …) that the Pistols were playing in London the following night.  I can’t remember how I snaffled a ticket but I did, and went up to Birkbeck College in Uxbridge to see them.  They opened with God Save The Queen.  Mayhem.

Jubilee river boat trip :

My Pop Life #52 : Complete Control – The Clash

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Complete Control   –   The Clash

…They said we’d be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant let’s make a lotsa mon-ee
An’ worry about it later…

In 1976 I was a cowboy, wandering around Bloomsbury and the LSE  in a poncho and cowboy boots, a Lee Van Cleef hat and jeans.   With a belt.  I was 19 and just back from a 5-month hitch-hike around North America with my best friend Simon Korner.   He was now at Cambridge reading English, where I maybe should or could have been and where my dad would have preferred me to be, but that’s another story.   This is how I became a punk.  It took a while.  In the autumn of 1976 I was all New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Spirit, Wings and Joe Walsh.   Not until 1977 and the release of The Clash LP did the trend really impact on me – and my recollection of this era is blurred.   The Sex Pistols had sworn on telly, we’d heard New Rose by the Damned and Anarchy In The UK  but I never really cared about being trendy.  (Said the dedicated follower of fashion victims).  But the energy around central London that winter and spring of 77 was palpable.

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Various venues, many within walking distance of my Halls of Residence in Fitzroy St W1 were now hosting punk or proto-punk bands.   The Vortex in Soho, the 100 Club on Oxford St, the Roxy in Covent Garden, the Hope & Anchor in Highbury and the Nashville Rooms in Hammersmith became my new stomping grounds.  Songs became shorter, hair became shorter, vocals more shouted, cut-up newspaper lettering, spikes, attitude was everywhere.  I didn’t like the spitting.  Neither did the bands, but they encouraged it.   Anyone could be a punk, but the real ones were working class.  Yeah right.  Like Joe Strummer, leader of The Clash whose dad was a diplomat.  A number of us at LSE embraced the new school and safety pinned our jeans and leathers, I stapled and paperclipped one entire jacket, little badges were back, hair gel and colour.  My first hair bleachout became purple.  God knows when but late ’77 I think. God Save The Queen had been number one during the Queen’s Jubilee in June despite being banned by the BBC.  The whole two fingers up to the establishment was a wonderful burst of energy, a breath of fresh air, and that first LP The Clash was absolutely brilliant.

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It was rock, it was reggae, it was anti-police, anti-racist, anti-dead-end jobs, anti Amerikka, I’m a rebel, what are you against?, well what have you got??  Every band in Britain suddenly cut their hair and their drum solos and it became immediately hard to tell who was who.  It was the New Orthodoxy within a year, hippies were the problem, flares and guitar noodling were out, politics was back.   Of course looking back it was nothing like that – plenty of noodly LPs came out in 77,78,79.   Plenty of longhairs at gigs – including me at the beginning.   But it was a new wave of energy – The Ramones, the quickly-established legend of The Sex Pistols, signing then leaving record labels, upsetting a nation, the DIY ethic of Sniffin’ Glue the fanzine produced by Alternative TV geezer Mark Perry, the startling image of safety pins in faces, shaved and coloured hair, torn clothes – it was a street revolution by the kids.

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Complete Control came out in September 1977 in a picture sleeve – another new trend – and immediately became the Clash’s best song.   It still is.   Probably.   They had a new drummer, Topper Headon, who joined Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and bass player Paul Simenon for the classic line up.  A picture postcard from the front line of rebel-band-meets-music-business, the first line is straight in there :

They Said release Remote Control, we didn’t want it on the label…

THEY SAID fly to Amsterdam, people laughed! the press went mad…”

Remote Control was on the LP and then had been the 2nd Clash single, released by CBS without conferring with the band.  The title of the song comes from a meeting the band had with manager Bernard Rhodes in a pub.  “I want complete control” he’d said and Strummer and Mick Jones fell onto the pavement laughing at his cartoon audacity.

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The song also documents the trouble they’d had on the White Riot Tour of that year, getting their mates in the back door before they were ejected again, and the police showing up to any punk event expecting trouble, thanks to the tabloid coverage of the new youth movement –

“All over the news spread fast – They’re dirty, they’re filthy They ain’t gonna last!”

Complete Control isn’t just an angry blast against The Man though – The Clash were always better than that.  They had the musical chops.  As Mick Jones fingers a deadly riff in the centre of the song, Strummer shouts “You’re my guitar hero!” ironically at him, before asking The Man, as a rough beast that slouches towards bethlehem :

I don’t trust you !  Why should you trust me ??   Huh ?!”

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This is Joe Public speaking.  I’m controlled in the body, I’m controlled in the mind.

It’s astoundingly fantastic, trust me.   Why should you trust me ?  Huh ??  Well you shouldn’t.  Keep an open mind kids, most of what you know is blindingly obvious, just cos it’s not in the papers don’t mean it ain’t true right ??  We knew the Royal Family was a total joke, but never really saw it in the media with such passion and rage before God Save The Queen.  All these songs and gigs captured a frustrated young angry nihilism and bottled it.   Speed fags and beer helped too at gigs.  The singles kept you going between gigs, kept the flame burning.  Walking around looking punk was thrilling, the sense of power and sneer on the streets of London and elsewhere was fun, which is partly why lots of kids did it.  Posing down the King’s Road, Kensington Market or Camden Town.   Later in the 70s tourists would pay money to take your picture.  But that’s another story.  This is how I became a punk.   Actually got the hair cut and fucked myself up and started wearing eyeliner and  Doctor Martens from Kentish Town Road.  What was that shop called ?

I didn’t actually see The Clash until 1978 on Hastings Pier – or was that 1977 too?   That’s another story too.   They were completely brilliant.    But no – I’ve misremembered – I saw them first at Victoria Park Rock Against Racism in spring 1978 with Jimmy Pursey and Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson. What a day that was.

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This song is the cry of the artist against the system.  Within two short years punk had been co-opted into the mainstream and eaten by the culture, mimicked, nullified, de-fanged and major-labelled.  They bottled punk and sold it back to us – and America.  Other groups would come and kick it.   Other youth movements would rise up.  This was mine really.  I was nearly too old be to be a punk, having dedicated the majority of my teen years to glam rock with a hippy fringe, Ben Sherman meets platform shoes meets loons, but I was 19 and happy to go drainpipe, day-glo and angry again.  Although of course I was doing a law degree at the LSE.  Hahaha.   I never called myself Ralph Rebel or Ben Bollocks or anything.  But brother Paul and I had some fun in London Town for a couple of years.   We were both “dragged up on a council estate by a single parent on social security” (only kidding Mum).  We could be punks if we wanted to be.   It was a laugh.  It was a thrill.  It wasn’t exactly Anarchy in the UK, but it felt bloody great.

“This is the Punk Rockers !”