End Of The 70's S1-E6

Ramones with director Allan Arkush on the set of Rock N Roll High School
Ramones with director Allan Arkush on the set of Rock N Roll High School

The Ramones make the movie Rock & Roll High School but it's not without incident.  They tour America and play shows opening for bigger bands ranging from Aerosmith to The Police.  They finally agree to record with Phil Spector  - the Ramones make it to the 1980's.  


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Transcript (unedited):

Episode 6

In December of 1978 The Ramones made their way to Hollywood CA, to film the movie Rock N Roll High school. In just 4 years, they had started the punk movement, made four classic albums, played hundreds and hundreds of shows, outlived the Sex Pistols, opened fo Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Blue Oyster Cult and Foreigner. But still they had yet to sell a lot of albums and were desperately trying to breakthrough and finally have a hit song.

My Name is Harley Isaac Rother, I’m a musician, rock n roller and now podcaster. Welcome to Guitars and Stolen Cars - Season 1 The Ramones Episode 5 - End of The 70’s

The story of Rock N Roll High School. Starts with Roger Corman. Roger Corman grew up in Los Angeles and after high school he joined the Navy and then studied industrial engineering at Stanford University. Turns out he didn’t like engineering, and so he started working various low level jobs in the film industry. In 1954 he was able raise enough funds to produce a movie, The Monster From The Ocean Floor. This would launch one of the most prolific producers in movie history. Corman’s trademark would be producing low budget movies that would have some sort of niche appeal. Most often horror movies Including Attack of the Crab Monsters, X: The Man with The X-ray Eyes, and of coarse Death Race 2000. Corman also produced biker movies, psychedelic, hippie, drug freakout movies, Black-splotation, Sexploitation. Anything where you could make a weird, interesting movie for a low budget was up Corman’s alley. Corman was also famous because he would give people just starting out in the film industry a chance. Many of those people would go on to become great filmmakers and actors. People like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Robert De Niro. And Allan Arkush the Director of Rock n Roll High school. When Arkush was in high school, he dreamed about a band like The Who or the Yardbirds taking over his school, and blowing it. Arkush wanted to turn his dream into a movie. He went to film school, and after graduation got a job as an editor with Roger Corman. Arkush knew that if anyone could get his movie made, it was Corman. He worked out a treatment for his movie and called it Heavy Metal Kids after a Todd Rungren song. But Rungren was not interested. Corman suggested they change it to disco and call it Disco High. But Arkush was a committed rocker, plus you couldn’t blow up a high school to disco music. Arkush and Corman approached Warner Brothers records with the idea, and Warner first suggested Van Halen. But that wasn’t going to happen. Warner had just bought Sire records, so next Warner suggested, what about a band from Sire records. What about a band like the Ramones? Arkush knew about the Ramones because Rodney Bingenhiemer played them on his radio show, and he loved the idea!

Punk magazine had done a comic book style spread of the Ramones called, Mutant Monster Beach party inspired by low budget horror movies. Arkush showed the spread to the Corman, and Corman was in. Plus the Ramones were cheep, which Corman also liked. The movies budget was $200,000 and of that 200,000 the Ramones got $5,000. Roger Corman was the ultimate cult movie producer, and the Ramones were the ultimate cult band. After The Ramones nailed the audition, it was on.

As we discussed in episode 5, The Ramones booked a tour to get to Hollywood instead of flying. That way they could make money as they traveled. Once in Hollywood, they stayed at the Tropicana Hotel. The big bands like Led Zeppelin stayed at the Hyatt. The Tropicana still had a reputation for having rock bands stay there, but it was cheeper and sleazier than the Hyatt. Perfect for the Ramones.

Rock n Roll high school is an awesome movie. The plot goes that a high school gets a new principal, the strict Miss Togar, who hates Rock n Roll and immediately butts heads with Riff Randal, Rock N Roller and #1 Ramones fan. Riff has written a song, Rock n Roll High School, which in real life was written by Joey and Dee Dee, but in the movie it’s written by Riff. Riff wants to get her song into the hands of her favorite band, The Ramones. When the Ramones come to town, Riff is first in line to get ticket. She plans to give the band her song at the show. But principal Togar tares up her ticket to the concert. Luckily, Riff wins tickets on the radio, rocks out at the concert and makes her way backstage to meet the Ramones. They love the song, and show up the next day help Riff take over the school and blow it up. The movie is filled with campy gags, and memorable one liners like “Do your Parents know youre Ramones”.

Riff Randal was played by Pamela Jayne Soles, who had already achieved some cult movie status by appearing in horror films, Carrie and Halloween. She was not really a rock n roll fan, but she did a great job in the movie playing one. She liked how on the set, The Ramones were always standing around, or leaning against a wall. They didn’t act like rock stars. She had to invite them into the trailer, “Uh you guys are the stars of this movie, you can be in here”. They filed in and sat down on the floor.

The movie features live footage of the Ramones shot at Roxy on the Sunset strip with real Ramones fans in the audience. The footage is awesome. One fan who can be seen in the movie, pogoing right up front, is Darby Crash, notorious lead singer of the LA punk band the Germs. Other Cameos include the DJ Rodney Bingenhiemer, and Ramones tour manager Monte Melnic.

The Ramones were a great band, but they were not great actors. Deedee had one line, “ All right Pizza. Let’s dig in.” He couldn’t get it right. They had to do 40 takes. Joey wasn’t much better. One line was giving him trouble. He was supposed to say, “we’ll come and pay you and Mr McGree a Visit.” When they did the first take Joey said, “We’ll come and pay you and mr McGloop a visit.” Cut. Who is Mr McGloop? the Characters name is Mr McCree. Try again. Rolling. Action. “We’ll come and pay you and mr McGloop a visit” Cut. Joey couldn’t say mr Mcree, he said Mr. McGloop every time. Finally they just left it in the movie.

The Ramones staying at the Tropicana hotel was also not without incident. Marky and Dee Dee were partying hard, hanging out with Stiv Bators from the Dead Boys, who was also staying there, and Phil Spector who was working on the movie soundtrack. One night, DeeDee got arrested for disorderly conduct, and he OD’d in the police car on the way to jail. He woke up in the hospital. Phil Spector observed the arrest and asked “What the fuck is wrong with that guy?” Marc remembered “Most of that movie, me and DEE DEE were hung over and high on Quaaludes” Dee dee agreed “Marc and I were drinking ourselves into oblivion, twenty double martinis a night. Booze, pills and cocaine. We were sick.” Johnny, of coarse, had stopped partying years before the band started and wasn’t involved in those shanagans. He once commented “You get so wound up playing a show, that a lot of people need something to bring them down. People who don’t know how to handle the situation, take drugs. I didn’t. I went back to my room with milk and cookies”.

Joey Ramone was busy with a new girlfriend he met at the Tropicana, Linda. Linda was visiting LA but she also, was a New Yorker. Ramones traveled with their girlfriends in the van. When Linda got in The Ramones van, she didn’t know about the assigned seating so she sat up front. Johnny told her, you’re with Joey so you sit in the back, Linda responded not for long.

Filming wrapped and the Ramones left the same way the came in, playing shows. Starting with a string opening for bigger acts, Reno with Eddie Money. Santa Cruz with Rick Derringer and New years eve in Santa Jose with The Tubes. Welcome to 1979. The Ramones would stay on tour until March, headlining shows around America, finally arriving back home doing the NY palladium. While they were on tour, The Sex Pistols would made the news one last time. Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose on February 2nd 1979. He was 21 years old. RIP Sid. As far as the mainstream was concerned, punk was a weird short lived fad. It started and ended with the Sex Pistols, and its biggest star was murderer, who was now also dead.

As for the Ramones, they finished their 3 month US tour. And Back home in NY, Joey Ramone moved out of Arturos loft. Arturo’s loft was right next to CBGS’s and was owned by Arturo Vega, the Ramones Art and lighting director. Joey and at times Dee Dee were informal roommates of Arturo. But now Joey got his own apartment with his new girlfriend Linda. Rock and roll High school came out it April. It wasn’t a huge hit, but peopled loved it, and it’s one of Roger Cormans most remembered films. Still the Ramones were frustrated. They had 4 great albums and now a movie, but zero hit songs. Desperate times call for desperate measures. They finally agreed to work with Phil Spector. Phil had been after the Ramones since he saw them at the whiskey in 1977. He mixed a couple songs on the Rock n Roll High School Sound track, but now he was going to be producing an album. The Ramones went back to LA in May, this time they flew, to work on a new album, with a new producer. Tommy Ramone had produced the first four albums and Phil Spector would produce the 5th. Maybe a famous producer was the thing the Ramones needed to finally break through.

Phil Spector was grew up in the Bronx but went to high school in Los Angles. He formed a doo wop group called the Teddy Bears that had a number one hit song in 1958, To know him is to love Him. <> The song was recorded at Gold Star studios in Los Angles. Spector would always record at Gold Star from then on. Spector began to use his time in the recording studio to learn production. The song writing, production team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller took Spector under their wing. Lieber and Stoller wrote lots of hit early rock songs, Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock and Yackety Yak and they also did production work. They taught Spector how to do it. So Spector started producing and having hits. His first number one hit was He’s a Rebel by the Crystals. Spector’s production signature was The Wall Of Sound. He would have multiple musicians playing the same part. Where a normal producer would have one guitar player, Phil might have 3 playing the same part to give it a bigger sound. Here’s he’s a rebel. See if you can notice the wall of sound production style. <>

Phil may be best remembered for his work the The Ronnetts. A girl group featuring the lead vocalist Ronnie Bennett. They had a string of hits the most remembered being Be My Baby. Another aspect of Spector’s sound was using orchestral instruments in pop songs. You can hear it in be my Baby <>

Phil and Ronnie started having an affair. This was somewhat unique given that this was the early 1960’s and Ronnie was African American and Phil was white. They would later get married. By the mid 60’s the type of pop music Spector specialized in was passé and the hits dried up. The era of pop singers, and girl groups was over. Self contained rock bands took over. Bands like the Beatles. in 1970 Spector teamed up with the Beatles, John Lennon and had a hit song with the solo Lennon track Instant Karma. That led to Spector producing the final Beatles album, Let It Be. He then produced Beatles guitar player George Harrisons first solo album All things must pass. It went to #1 and sold millions of copies. He worked with John Lennon again on the Plastic Ono Band album. Phil Sectors legacy had been cemented. He had as many hits as anyone in the early 60’s pop rock era, and then worked with the biggest rock band of all time, The Beatles. His marriage to Ronnie had ended. Phil was paranoid and jealous and would lock her in his mansion against her will, until she finally escaped.

By 1979, Phil Spector hadn’t had a hit since he last worked with John Lennon five years earlier. He wore a cape, and sun glasses everywhere he went, carried a gun and always had armed bodyguards with him. Rumor has it the bodyguards were also black belts in karate. But Phil was determined. He wanted to make the best album of all time. Not the best Ramones album, Not the best Phil Spector album, but the best album of all time.

After arriving in LA, the Ramones went to Spector’s house for a meeting. It was more like a fortified mansion. A bodyguard took them to the living room where Spector is sitting at a piano. “Ramones, are you ready to make the best album of your lives”, He yelled at them. Almost as interesting as Spector, was Al Lewis who was sitting on the couch. Al Lewis played Grandpa Munster on the TV show the Munsters, and the Ramones were fans. Al Lewis started telling the Ramones about how Charles Manson once babysat his children. Dee Dee started telling Lewis about his own children and his time fighting in the Vietnam war. Dee Dee didn’t have children, and had never fought in the war. But that was Dee Dee. Phil took Joey upstairs, and they disappeared for hours. Dee Dee went to look for them. Phil appeared at the top of a stairwell with his gun drawn “where do you think you’re going Dee Dee”. “Uh we wanted to leave”. “You’re not going anywhere”. Phil came back down stairs with Joey and played them Baby I love You, a hit song he wrote for the Ronnets in the 60’s, over and over at the piano. He wanted the Ramones to cover it. They didn’t get out of Spector’s house until 4:30 in the morning.

Recording started May 1st 1979 at Gold Star studios in LA. The same Gold Star where Phil had recorded his first hit in 1958. Engineering the album would be Larry Levine, the same engineer Phil had been using since the 60’s. The Ramones brought Ed Stasium with them, who had engineered their last 3 albums. Stasium would serve as, Musical Director. Marky Ramone showed up to the studio wearing a Ronnets t shirt. Spector demanded he take it off “I’m not spending the day looking at my ex wife”. All-right off to a good start… Phil was drinking Manchevets wine in dixie cups but the first 4 days of recording went well. On day 5 they were re-recording the song Rock N Roll High School. They had done a version of it for the movie soundtrack, but now they wanted a new version for the album. Spector wanted to open the song with a big guitar chord, just like the Beatles did on Hard Days Night. He had Johnny play the chord A?<> Over and over and over. Spector start curing, Shit Piss Fuck and stomping around in the control room while Johnny was doing takes. At one point Spector took out his gun, and set on a table. Maybe he just wanted to make sure everyone knew he was packin’. They lost count on how many times they had recorded the same single chord. 40? 50? Spector called for a break. One of his body guards arrived with two call girls. They disappeared for a half an hour. Spector came back, and had his engineer re adjust the guitar mic, and they finally got the take done. Spector was back in a normal mood.

But just as they were getting back on track, Ramones tour manager Monte Melnic, showed up at the studio. Spector was livid. Nobody was allowed in the studio except for Phil Spector, the engineers and the band. That was it. Well except for bodyguards and call girls apparently. But Spector was pissed. Melnic insisted he had to talk to Johnny Ramone as he had news that could not wait. Johnnys father had passed away. They called the session. Johnny flew back east to tend to the funeral, and related family matters.

The Ramones traveled with their girlfriends, and this trip was no exception. But it was weird that Joeys girlfriend, Linda wanted to drive with Johnny to the airport. It was also weird when Linda, along with Joey, picked up Johnny from the airport after the funeral. Joey and Johnny had not gotten along since 1977, so it was strange that Joey and Linda went along to pick up Johnny from the airport.

Anyway, it was back to work. Spector had mixed Rock and Roll High School while Johnny was away, and now that Johnny was back, so Spector invited everyone, including girlfriends and crew, to the studio to hear the mix. The engineer Larry Levine hit play, It sounded good until Spector yelled, Stop! rewind. He wanted to hear the guitar intro again. and again. and again. This was insane. Monte Melnic whispered to another crew member “well you don’t need me here”. Somehow Spector heard him. “What the fuck did you just say”. “I just said you don’t need me here”. “You’re damn right we don’t need you here. Give me your keys.” Phil said if Melnic wanted to leave he would have to take a cab, and not the Ramones van, as some sort of punishment. Melnic left in the van, but Spector was unhinged. A call was made to Seymour Stein at Sire records. Stein was funding the album, and the album was not going well. Maybe Stein could talk some sense into Spector. After the phone call with Stein, Spector called a meeting with the band. He apologized and said he would stop with the crazy behavior. Still, Spector was nuts. He would scream abuse at his engineer Larry Levine, and he had 3 different studios booked. Every day he would would tell the Ramones, call tomorrow and I’ll let you know what studio we will be at. It was Gold Star every time.

Phil didn’t pay much mind to the musicians in the Ramones, but he treated singer Joey like a star. When it came time to record, Baby I Love You, the song that Spector had written, and had been hit for the Ronnettes, Spector didn’t want the other Ramones on the track. Only Joey. He called in his crack team of session players. Jim Keltner on Drums, and The Kessel brothers on guitar and bass. The Kessel brothers were the sons of legendary jazz guitar player and session wizard Barney Kessel. One of them is quoted as saying “My kids are not going to believe I’m on a Ramones record. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, whatever dad”. Of coarse the album, like all the other Ramones albums was just credited the Ramones. This was show business after all. The album got finished, but not before Spector’s engineer, Larry Levine suffered a heart attack. End of The Century would come out next year, in 1980.

For the rest of 1979, The Ramones went back to their bread and butter, touring. They did the east coast, the mid-west, Canada, the south and the west coast. Another year of about 150 shows. One interesting gig they did was the Canadian World Music Festival, in Toronto Canada with Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and ACDC. This was a huge festival. By the 6th song, the crowd was pelting the Ramones with beer cans and other trash. The general public hated punk rock. The Ramones knew how to handle this situation from doing the shows with Black Sabbath. They flipped off the crowd, and walked off stage. Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, wanted to meet the Ramones. Aerosmith was headlining the festival and were on the of biggest bands in the world at the time. Tyler told them he was sorry the way the crowd treated them. He said he loved the Ramones, and they were way ahead of their time. The same people booing them now, would later be bragging to their kids that they saw the Ramones. He was probably right.

Another interesting show was in Ohio opening for Sting and the Police, who were having huge hits with songs like Roxanne. Since the Police were new wave, their audience would be friendlier than hard rock band Aerosmith’s, but Sting would not be friendly. Marky and Johnny went to his dressing room to say hi. He offered them a weak handshake and said “hmm where did you get those US Pins on your jackets, Wolworths?”. The Ramones wore pins that said US on their jackets. The English catty comment was met with some New York attitude “Ya know what, fuck you”. Yeah fuck the police.

1979 ended the same way 1978 did for the Ramones headling a sold out New Years at the NY Palladium. Its the end, the end of the 70’s. The Ramones had made it to the 1980’s. Catch you in the next episode Not so Pleasant Dreams