In 1977, The Ramones release two classic albums, tour America, Europe and hope for the elusive radio hit. Sire records fully embraces punk and new wave. English punk develops further as The Sex Pistols become the #1 band in England.
1976 was the year the Ramones released their first album. They toured around the United states and flew to England where They played two sold out shows in London, making a huge splash. They went to California where they would also made a big impact. At the end of the year, the Ramones were in the studio recording their second album, Leave Home. At the same time, in England, The Sex Pistols had created a national frenzy by appearing on TV and using the ”the filthiest language ever heard on British television”. The frenzy continued, as the press ran more and more stories about the shocking behavior of the Sex Pistols. Their record label dropped them under the pressure. But things were just getting started. 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 4 - Englands Dreaming
In 1977, The Ramones record label, Sire records had a just had hit. Not with The Ramones, but with the Climax blues band. You remember the Climax Blues band right? Yeah me neither. But Sire used the money from the hit song to sign all the most interesting bands playing at CBGB’s. They already had the Ramones, and they had missed the opportunity to sign Blondie. They didn’t want to miss another band so picked up The Talking Heads, The Dead Boys, who the Ramones had encouraged to move to NY from Cleveland. And Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the new project from the former Television bass player, Richard Hell. Seymour Stein, the owner of Sire records got it. He said described punk as ”just a return to the fast, immediate, ugly-faced, rock and roll I’d loved in the mid-fifties.” From an energy level Stein was absolutely right. But I would also add that the punk bands also brought in numerous musical and aesthetic innovations. The Dead Boys exemplified these new innovations, as well as the energy of the immediate, ugly faced return to mid-50’s rock . Here’s their song Sonic Reducer of their album Young Loud and Snotty <>
The Ramones, The Dead boys and Richard Hell were clearly punk. But Sire records owner Seymour Stein knew, that to Americans, the word punk was a slur. It wasn’t something that would be on the radio in 1977. Especially not with the news that everyone kept hearing about the Sex Pistols. Stein coined the term New Wave to pitch the Talking Heads to radio people. Where the Ramones and Dead Boys were decidedly aggressive in their musical approach, The Talking Heads were decidedly arty, although, all three bands shared the stripped down simplicity, back to basic rock n roll. Here is Psycho Killer off the Talking Heads Album Talking Heads: 1977 on Sire records <>
The term New Wave, which Seymour Stein borrowed from French Cinema, caught on like wild fire, and soon The Talking Heads, Blondie and even some of the english punk bands were all part of New Wave. New wave was like punk, in that it was fun, back to basics rock n roll, with some great songs. But it lacked the power, realness and guts of punk. All the things that made punk not safe for radio, didn’t exist in New Wave. Sire Record’s owner Seymour Stein was a fan of punk and he got it. He continued championing new wave, but also signing punk bands. Sham 69 from England. The Undertones from Ireland. The Rezillos from Scotland. The Saints and Radio Birdman from Australia. All of these punk bands put out music on Sire records in the 1970’s. All of these bands are considered classics by punk rockers all over the world. But none of these bands would ever have big hits like New Wave groups would. But I digress.
The Ramones second album was released January of 1977. It was called Leave Home and celebrated their new careers as touring musicians. To promote the album, The Ramones had a string of shows booked at CBGB’s. Blue Oyster Cult, who at the time were considered a heavy metal band, were riding high on the hog, with their hit song Don’t Fear the Reaper. They invited the Ramones to open for them at Nassau Coliseum, an arena on Long Island in front of 18,000 fans. This was the biggest audience The Ramones had played for yet. They went over surprisingly well for a metal crowd. It was a hometown show after all. After their set, the Ramones packed up and played another set a CBGB’s the same night. That’s how the Ramones were. They weren’t going to take a night off from CBGB’s just cause they were playing an area to 18,000 people earlier the same night. No way!
After the residency at CBGB’s, the Ramones flew to California to do 5 nights at the legendary rock n roll club the Whisky a Go Go, in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip, fallowed by a west coast tour. The shows at the Whisky were all sold out, and they were great shows. Guitarist Johnny Ramone remembered “We walked onto the stage of the Whiskey to the sound of girls screaming”.
At the same time the Ramones were playing the Whisky, the Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren was also in los Angeles. He was negotiating a new record deal for the Sex Pistols. They had been dropped by EMI records for being too controversial, but the Los Angeles based A&M records was ready to sign them. Since he was in town, McLaren came to one of the Ramones shows at the Whiskey, and made his way backstage. Johnny Ramone was sick of hearing about the Sex Pistols, and was not excited to see their obnoxious manager in his dressing room. He was really not excited to see Mclaren chatting up his girlfriend. Johnny called his girlfriend over and Mclaren responded “Whats his problem”? Big mistake. “Whats my problem” Johnny said, and then he over to McLauren and punched him and the face. McLauren went down and Johnny grabbed his guitar to quote “finish the job”. Luckily for McLauren, people were there to brake up the fight.
Another person who came backstage at the Whisky was Phil Spector. Spector was a legendary record producer, who had produced a string of hit songs in the early 60’s, and then cemented his legend status by producing the final Beatles album, Let It Be, and also for working on solo albums by former Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison.
Spector was a legend, but he had grown eccentric in his legendary status, and he hadn’t had a hit for awhile. He arrived backstage wearing a cape accompanied by two armed bodyguard. Spector loved the Ramones, and was heaping praise on them, especially on lead singer Joey. Spector loved great singers, and Joey Ramone was a great singer. Spector wanted to produce the Ramones, and offered them $50,000 each, $200,000 total, that night, if they would sign to his record label, and let him produce. “Do you want to make a good album or a great album”, Spector asked? He wanted The Ramones to come back to his mansion after the show, and invited the Ramones roadies to spar with his bodyguards. The Ramones didn’t take him up on any of his offers that night, there would be no sparring, no going to his mansion, and no one signed to Spector’s label or took his money. But Phil Spector did not stop pursuing the Ramones.
The Ramones continued touring, but there was a problem with their new album. A song on the album, Carbona Not Glue, was about getting high on Carbona, a name brand cleaning product. The Carbona company did not want their product associated with drug abuse, and threatened legal action. To placate them, and avoid a lawsuit, the song was dropped from future pressings of the album and replaced with their newest single, Sheena is A Punk Rocker. It’s the third installment in the series of songs about girls who are something. First, we had Judy is A Punk on the first album, then we had Suzy Is A Headbanger. Now we have Sheena is a Punk Rocker. Some of the lyrics were,“the kids are all hopped up and ready to go. They’ve got their surfboards, and they’re headed to the discotheque a go go. But she just couldn’t stay. She had to break away… Sheena is a Punk Rocker” The song was a clearly heavily influenced by the Beach Boys and celebrated breaking away and becoming a punk rocker. <>
The Ramones new single, Sheena is a punk rocker only went to #81 in the US. But in England it went to #22. It was a hit. Ok not a big hit, and it was England, not the US but still. Punk rock was having hits in England. And not just the Ramones. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks and other English punk bands were making an impact on the English charts.
Let’s take a moment to explain what charts are, because they’ve come up in every episode and will continue to do so. Music industry publications like Billboard, keep track of record sales and radio play. They rank the most popular albums, and singles every week. So if a band has the #1 album in America, that means it’s the most popular album of that week based on sales and radio play, as ranked by an industry publication like Billboard magazine. And If a group has the number one song, that means that song, in addition to being on an album, was released as a single. Meaning a separate release with just a single song on it, making it easy to play on the radio. If a single of a song is selling more, and getting more radio play than any other song that week, it’s the number one song. So, Sheena is a Punk Rocker was the 22nd most popular song in England for at least a week. Again, not a huge victory but not a failure either.
The Ramones flew to Europe to do a 33 show tour. And with them they brought the Talking Heads with them as openers. The shows on the tour were all great. But the arty Talking Heads, did not get along with the strict disciplinarian, Johnny Ramone. It annoyed Johnny that the Talking Heads would sit in different seats every time they got on the bus. Johnny liked assigned seating. When they got to Paris, the Talking Heads wanted to go to art museums. Johnny and the rest of the Ramones wanted to go to McDonald’s where they could finally get some normal food. Perhaps the biggest blow up was when everyone except, Johnny wanted to see Stone Henge in England. Johnny was outvoted, so they went. Still, he refused to get out of the bus. He recalled “I was upset that we were stopping to look at a bunch of rocks… I didn’t let my girlfriend get out either”. Stone Henge aside, both bands were well received by the audiences, especially in England where they were going crazy.
Punk in England had really developed into its own subculture. The Sex Pistols manger, Malcom McLauren’s shop, the one called Sex, was selling punk clothes designed by his partner, Vivian Westwood. They were crazy outfits that went way beyond what anyone in New York was doing, even Richard Hell. Bondage pants and ripped shirts with shocking images printed on them. Punk fans in England were wearing these clothes, and getting weird haircuts, the weirder the better, and then dying their hair bright colors and putting on crazy makeup. The mohawk, studded jacket clique punk look did not exist yet, and the London Punks making it up as they went. This aesthetic is perhaps best exemplified by Soo Catwoman. Soo Catwoman shaved her head except for on the side that she would style to look like cat ears. And she was just one of hundreds of London Punks who had unique outrageous punk fashions. Contrast that to The Ramones who dressed like Marlon Brando in the 1951 movie the Wild One, only with mop top haircuts.
In addition to the fashion sense, English punks had a new dance, Pogoing. Pogoing started at a Sex Pistols concert, when a fan, named John Simon Richie, starting jumping up and down to their music, like he was on a pogo stick. Maybe he was trying to get a better look at the band, or maybe that was just how the music moved him. Either way, punks all over England were now pogoing to the music of the Ramones and other punk bands. Pogoing would spread to America, although would be later supplanted in the early 80’s by punks in CA, who up’ed the ante by inventing slam dancing and, the circle pit. But that was later. In 1977 pogoing was the new way to dance to this new music.
Around the same time the Ramones were touring Europe, The Sex pistols bass player, Glenn Matlock left the band. Matlock had a hand in writing many of their songs, but he didn’t dress or act like a punk. They replaced him with someone who did. John Simon Richie. The same guy who invented pogo dancing. Now he took on a new name, Sid Vicious. He was already a part of the Sex Pistols entourage, and had made a name for himself by breaking glass at shows, pogoing and hitting a journalist with a bike chain, which of coarse generated more press. Vicious, took the name Sid after Johnny Rotten’s pet hamster, and Vicious after the Lou Reed song of the same name.
With Sid Vicious in the band, the Sex Pistols had a reputation to live up to. And they would. McLauren had secured them a record contract with A&M records in LA, but the Sex Pistols wreaked havoc when they went to A&M’s London office to sign the deal on March 9th.
Sid Vicious and drummer Paul Cook got into a fist fight, with each other on the way to the signing, and were both blooded by the time they arrived. Sid had cut his foot in the melee and for some reason tried to wash it in a toilet at the office. He broke the toilet. Guitar player, Steve Jones was drunk and accidentally went into the women’s bathroom. The ladies using it understandably freaked out at a drunk punk rocker came barging into the women’s bathroom. The Sex Pistols seemed like lunatics.
Still, they had a new recording contract. But not long after the signing, members of the Pistols got into an altercation at a bar, and a member fo their crew threatened to kill someone. It was probably an empty threat, but still. That someone they threatened was friends with people at A&M records. When word got back to A&M about death threats, between that and the scene at the signing a few days earlier, this all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. On March 16, just 7 days after the signing, the Sex Pistols were dropped from their second record contract in a matter of months. A&M records had already pressed 25,000 copies of the new Sex Pistols single, God Save The Queen. They decided to destroy the records. It would be less trouble to just cut their losses, and just be done with it.
Manager Malcom Mclaren went back to work and got the Pistols a 3rd record deal. This time it was with the hip businessman Richard Branson, and his new label, Virgin Records. Virgin records was young and cool, and they could handle the Sex Pistols. Maybe? The month was May, and June would be the Queens Jubilee. Celebrating Queen Elizabeths 25 years on the throne. The new Sex Pistols single was called God Save The Queen. It opened with the Lyrics “God Save the Queen, The Fascist Regime, who made you a Moron.” It went on to say “There’s no Future and England’s Dreaming”. Keep in mind England had fought against fascism in World War II only thirty years before, so calling the Queen of England a Fascist was a huge fuck you.
The Cover had a photo of Queen Elizabeth with the words Sex Pistols written over her mouth in ransom style letter. This was so outrageous, and so offensive that the workers at the manufacturing plant once again, refused to handle on the record. Just like they had on the Sex Pistols previous single Anarchy in The UK, after they had used the filthiest language ever on TV. After much negotiation, they managed to get the record out in times for the Queens Jubilee. England was outraged that the band, who had used the filthiest language ever on television, was now attacking the Queen. The BBC refused to play it. The IBA instructed all radio and tv stations not to broadcast the single as it was “against good taste and decency, likely to encourage or incite crime or lead to disorder.” Many record stores refused to stock the single. Still, the record was a hit. It went to #2 the week it came out. Many speculate, it should have gone to #1 but the industry was afraid to let the Sex Pistols have the number one record in England.<>
People so were outraged, that they were literally attacking the Sex Pistols in the street. Lead singer Johnny Rotten got stabbed.
While the mania around the Sex Pistols was happening in England, The Ramones flew back to America and played 3 nights at CBGB’s with the Cramps. And then, continued their relentless touring including a North East run with Tom Petty opening, he wasn’t well known yet, and a string of shows in the midwest with their hero Iggy Pop.
in August of 1977 The Ramones were back in the Studio making their 3rd album, Rocket to Russia. They had a slightly bigger budget and brought back the same team that worked on Leave Home ten months earlier. Tommy Ramone and, Tony Bongiovi co-producing with Ed Stasium as the engineer. Johnny Ramone brought a copy of the Sex Pistols single, God Save The Queen back from England, it hadn’t been released in the US. Johnny told the team that their album had to sound better than The Sex Pistols. They recorded Rocket to Russia in an Episcopalian church that the guys who put on the Woodstock Festival in 1969 had converted into a recording studio. They mixed the album, at a different studio that was still in the process of being built, and had no outboard gear. Meaning all they had was the recording console. No special effects. They got reverb by sending to vocal track into a stairwell and micing that. Even with these limitations, the album is phenomenal and many consider it to be the Ramones best.
The sound was great they and cranked out more classic songs: Cretin Hop, Teenage Lobotomy, Rockaway Beach. Everybody thought Rockaway beach was going to be a huge hit. It sounded even more punk meets beach boys than Sheena is a Punk Rocker. <>
The only problem was it came out in November. A song about a sunny beach trip came out in the dead of Winter. Born to Loose indeed. The song went to #66 on the US charts. Hardly a smash, but it would be the biggest hit the Ramones ever had in America. Teenage Lobotomy returns to the chant style song of Blitzkrieg Bop with lyrics celebrating being lobotomized. Joey sings in the first verse “Guess I’ll have to brake the news I aint got no mind to loose”. And in the second verst “Now I guess I’ll have to tell em I aint got cerebellum.” <>
Rocket to Russia also has two 60’s covers Surfin Bird which had been a hit for the Trashmen in 1963 and Do You Want to Dance. The story of Surfing Bird starts with a Doo-Wop group called the Rivingtons who recorded a song called Papa-oom-mow-mow in 1962. <>
The fallowing year in 1963 the Rivingtons recorded a similar song called The Bird is The Word. <>
Later that same year The Trashmen took elements of both of those songs and fused them into a new song and called it Surfing Bird<> About half-way through the song it breaks and goes into Papa-oom-mow-mow.
That was 1963, here’s the Ramones in 1977<>
Do you Want to Dance to Dance had originally done by Bobby Freeman in 1958 <> The Beach Boys covered it and added a chorus that the original version didn’t have. And also changed Want To to Wanna. Which suited the Ramones Here’s the Beach Boys in 1965.<> Now here is the Ramones in 1977. <>
Rocket to Russia’s album cover was a repeat of the debut album; 4 Ramones standing by a brick-wall looking tough. But the back of the album had artwork by Punk Magazines, John Holmstrom who was deeply steeped in the American art-form or cartooning. Holstrom drew a pinhead wearing a Ramones T-shirt, riding a rocketship, presumably to Russia. Holmstom also Illustrated with albums sleeve with a cartoon for each song.
At almost the same time the Ramones released their 3rd album, Rocket to Russia November of 1977, The Sex Pistols released their debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols. It was an incredible record, and everyone knew it. Here’s the song No Feelings off the album <>
In England, it went to #1. The most hated band in British history, was also its number one band. In America, Never mind the Bollocks went to #106. Hardly a hit. Malcom Mclaren observed of The Sex Pistols “They were the biggest group in England, and an incredible enigma in the US. They perplexed everybody in the record industry to the extent that every door was shut.” The door wasn’t just shut for The Sex Pistols, but also for the Ramones and every other punk band that wanted to have commercial success in America.
Johnny Ramone explained “In England they promoted punk and everybody had hits. That promotion is what it took and that never happened in the US. When there was press about punk, we’d get left out when it was positive, and then included when it was negative.” What Johnny is getting at is when it was decided not to play punk on the radio, the Ramones were considered a punk band. But when television news shows ran stories about punk, they talked about England and the Ramones weren’t considered a punk band. Really they weren’t considered anything, they just got ignored. But the show must go on.
On Nov 19th 77 The Ramones, The Talking Heads and Eddie and the Hotrods were playing a show in New Jersey. At the show, Joey Ramone had set up a tea kettle, boiling water, with the spigot removed and tin foil wrapped around the spout with holes poked for steam to come out. He was leaning over it to breathe in the steam. The idea was that he could breath in steam before the show and have a clearer singing voice. But the tinfoil popped and boiling water exploded out. Joey got scalded all over his face and neck. He went to the ER but came back an hour later, but he came back an hour later and did the show. It got worse the next day, so he went to the hospital and had to stay. While there, he wrote a song about how he was feeling being stuck in the hospital bed. I wanna be sedated.
The Sex pistols made the news again in dec 77. They were coming to America, but their visas got held up. They all had criminal records. Theft, breaking and entering, drug possession. They could’t make their scheduled Saturday Night Live performance. Saturday night live asked the Ramones if they would substitute for them. The Ramones responded that “We don’t substitute for anybody”. Cool line but bad career move. Instead, SNL got the new wave artist Elvis Costello. The Ramones were never asked again.
A punk band finally would be on Saturday night live four years later in 1981. The band was Fear from Los Angeles. They were invited by John Bulishi, to be the musical guests for the Halloween show. Fear invited every punk rocker on the streets to slam dance during their performance, and it quickly turned into pandemonium. Fear goaded the New York audience saying “it’s great to be here in New Jersey” and played their song New Yorks Alright if you like Saxophones. The lyrics are “New York’s alright if you wanna get pushed in front of a subway, New York’s alright if you wanna freeze to death. New York’s alright if you wanna get mugged or murdered. New York’s alright if you like Saxophones”. <>
At the performance, punks were stage diving and slam dancing. Nobody had ever seen anything like it on TV. SNL had never seen anything like that before or since. One of the punks in the audience, Ian Macaye from Washington DC, grabbed the mic and yelled “Fuck New York” live on the air. The producers didn’t know how to handle it, so they cut off the cameras and went to a commercial break. The next day, The New York Post called Fear’s lead singer Lee Ving and asked if it was true that they had caused $20,000 worth of damages to NBC studios. Ving responded. “Don’t insult me, I’m a professional, we caused a $200,000 worth of damages”. The NY Post printed the story, even though there may not really have been any damages at all. And there certainly were not $200,000 of damages. Events like this confirmed what the establishment feared. Punk was trouble, don’t put it on the radio, and don’t put it on TV. And with bands like FEAR, they may have been right.
That was 1981, we’re still December of 1977. The Sex Pistols were on their way to America. The number one record in America was, Saturday Night Fever, Sayin alive by the Bee Gees. The Ramones were back in England, a place that would play them, and other punk groups on the radio. They were there for an 11 show UK tour. On December 31st New years Eve, they did a sold out show to 3,000 fans at the Rainbow Theater in London. The Rizzillos and Generation X, with singer Billy Idol, were the opening bands. Elton John was hanging out backstage and everyone did lines of cocaine with Elton. The show was recorded and released as a live album called Its Alive. The Ramones had 3 classic albums in 2 years and were at the top of their game that night. Here’s Commando Live at the Rainbow theatre news years eve 1977. You can hear how powerful they were. <>
1978 would be another big year for the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. New band mates, a new album, more touring and murder. See you in the next episode Road To Ruin.