In this episode, The Ramones play London, tour America, meet the Dead Boys, and record their second album. At the same time, Punk starts in England spearheaded by the Sex Pistols.
In 1976, when the Ramones released their debut album. There had never been anything like it before. it was too weird for radio which at the time was dominated by soft rock. Singer Joey Ramone’s summery of radio at this time is apt “In 1976 it was the height of disco in America with Donna Summer, and corporate rock like Boston and Journey and Foreigner. And the southern thing, The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. Also you had bands like Styx and Pink Floyd that weren’t playing exciting music.” That is what was on the radio, and The Ramones didn’t fit in with any of that.
They were amazing live, but how would they get an audience? Most clubs at the time didn’t have live music, they had disco records, or at best cover bands. For most people at the time, live music happened at arenas with ten’s of thousands of people in the audience. The Ramones, were now signed to Sire records, and being managed by Danny Fields and Linda Stein. They needed to get their band in front of people who would be receptive. My Name is Harley Isaac Rother, I’m a musician, rock n roller and now podcaster. Welcome to Guitars and Stolen Cars - Renegade Rock N Roll History Podcast - Season 1 The Ramones Episode 3 Leave Home
The Ramones self-titled album came out in April of 1976. About two months after it was recorded and close to two years after the band had started. They spent April and May playing shows in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts. In June, they went to Ohio to play two shows. The first one got canceled at the last minute, but they noticed thay the movie Freaks was being screened, so they went to see it. Freaks originally came out in 1932, and featured real carnival sideshow performers; dwarfs, siamese twins, a man with no legs, a woman with no arms, and most memorable to the Ramones, Pinheads. Freaks was directed by Todd Browning who had already established himself as a macabre outlier in film making for directing Dracula in 1931. Freaks was his fallow up movie. It has a twisted storyline of deception, ridicule, revenge and murder, all taking place among circus performers. The plot revolves around a non-freak trapeze artist who works at the circus , plans to seduce and merry Hans, a dwarf from the freak show. Cleopatra is doing this with the intention of murdering Hans after the wedding, and steeling his big inheritance. Unaware of this, Hans and the other freaks accept Cleopatra as one of their own with the chant “gooble gauble gooble gauble we accept her , we accept her, gooble gauble gooble gauble one of us. One of us.” This would serve as an inspiration for the song Pinhead, that would appear on the the second Ramones album. Anyway, the freaks eventually learn of, and thwart Cleopatra’s plan. They punish her by mutilating her and turning her into the Human Chicken, a freak in the circus freak show. She really did become one of them. The Ramones spent their first night in Ohio watching this movie, Freaks.
The Ohio show the next night, did not get canceled, although, it was lightly attended. It still is significant for two reasons. First, Monte Melnic, Tommy Ramones’ former bandmate, was along as a roadie. At the show, band manager Danny Fields told Melnic that he would be promoted to tour manager, if he could get the full pay out for the show, even though it was far from sold out. Melnic got all the money, and he would go on to be the Ramones tour manager for the rest of their career. The second significant thing that happened that night in Ohio was a band called the Dead Boys. They introduced themselves to The Ramones, and The Ramones encouraged them to come to NY and play at CBGB’s. The Dead Boys would take their advice and go on to be one of the seminal punk bands of the era. After the show, As the Ramones van drove away in their van, the Dead Boys followed them in a car onto the turnpike mooning them. Everybody in both bands thought it was hilarious.
The Ramones management sensed that England might be a more receptive audience than the United States. Punk magazine, who helped associate the term punk with the Ramones and the other bands at CBGB’s, was getting distribution in England. Joey Ramone was on the cover of Punk Magazine issue number 3, and it was selling. So, the Ramones went to England. And they went on the Bicentennial, Americans 200th birthday, July 4th, 1976. They first played at the Roundhouse in London. They were opening for another band Sire had just signed. The Flaming Groovies. The Groovies started in the 60’s and were already established. The show was sold out. There were 2,000 people there. CBGB’s by comparison was sold out at around 300 people. This was the biggest crowd the Ramones had played for since they were boo’d off the stage at the Johnny Winter concert.
But this audience was different. They were young, and they had heard about the Ramones and CBGB’s in the magazines, like Punk. They wanted to see them play. The Flaming Groovies were great, but the Ramones absolutely stole the show. They were the most exciting band in the world. Synchronized stage moves, jumps and spins, split seconds between songs, played faster than anyone had ever heard before. The Flaming Groovies sounded like a great band from the 60’s. The Ramones sounded like the future.
The next night, the Ramones headlined a show at a smaller club called Dingwalls. It sold out and the place was packed with 500 people all there for the Ramones.
Fans were hanging out and wanting to meet the band. A lot of these kids had their own bands. Band like The Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, Billy Idol and his group Generation X. They were all hanging out, wanting to meet the Ramones. The Clash told the Ramones that were a band but they weren’t any good. The Ramones told them it didn’t matter and to keep playing anyway. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols wanted to meet the Ramones, but he was afraid they might beat him up. He had heard they were crazy. But when he went to the dressing room, they were friendly. They offered him a beer, and he drank it. What he didn’t know was The Ramones had a prank where they would pee in a beer and offer it to unsuspecting victims. Johnny Rotten didn’t get beat up, but he did drink the pee beer.
The Ramones shows in London, England were a huge success but they only had the two booked, so it was back to America to hit the road. They played cities in the Midwest, the South, the North East and into Canada. Most significatly they played in California. Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer was playing the Ramones on the radio and made them feel like stars. Bingenheimer worked at the radio station KROQ or Kroq, which at that time was not under the control of corporate music world, and that gave Bingenheimer the freedom to play whatever he wanted. So he started playing music that wasn’t otherwise getting on the radio. Music like the Ramones.
The Ramones shows in LA were almost as nuts as the shows in London. After their 1st of 4 LA shows they were doing, they went to a party with The Asheton Brothers, Scott and Ron. The Asheton brothers were heroes, because they had played in Iggy pop and the Stooges. Being the only Stooges fans in Forest Hills is how Dee Dee and Johnny originally got together, and Tommy and Joey were also huge fans. But the The Asheton brother were crazy. They were trowing bottles into traffic from their balcony and trying to get the Ramones to do it also. They thought it would be good press for the Ramones to get arrested their first time in LA. The Ramones didn’t agree, and they left as the cops were showing up. Los Angeles would become the Ramones home away from home. And, a Ramone did get arrested before they left. Joey, his brother, Mickey and Arturo, their lighting guy, got pulled over for the horrendous crime of loading passengers in a no loading zone after the final LA show. LAPD arrested Joey for public drunkenness and got the other two for not having ID’s on them. They all spend the night in jail. Welcome to LA.
The Ramones continued playing shows in America for the rest of 1976, and in October they were back in the studio, working on their second album, Ramones Leave Home. A reference to their touring. They were still recording on a shoe sting budget. Partially by necessity, and partially by choice, as Johnny observed about recording ”You don’t want to sit there and bullshit, It’s your money they’re sending”. Which is true, a record label will pay for the recordings, but they deduct the cost from your royalties. So if you spend $30,000 recording an album, you’re not going to see any money until the label makes that $30,000 back in sales. So, less money spent on recording, less money owed to the label.
Thus, the Ramones recorded in another small studio that was normally used for recording radio commercials. Sire records brought in a more experienced producer to co-produce with Tommy, named Tony Bongiovi. Bongiovi had been working with the successful disco star Gloria Gaynor, so he knew how to make the record sound more professional than their first album. He brought with him his engineer, Ed Stasium.
Just to clarify, because I know not everyone has been in a recording studio, The Producer is in charge of running the session, and making the artistic choices as it related to the art of recording. The engineer is in charge of running all of the equipment, setting up the microphones and the other technical aspects of recording. Engineer, Ed Stasium said this about his first encounter with the Ramones music at the studio “I’d been listening to Pink Floyd, Supertramp, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. So when I walked into the studio, it was jaw dropping. For about a minute, I didn’t get it. But then i said, holy shit this fantastic.” And it was fantastic. The Ramones, second album sounded even better than the first. And once again, every song was great. Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Pinhead about the movie Freaks, and Commando are all standouts tracks.
Gimme Gimme Show Treatment utilized the quintessential Ramones formula. Strange lyrics about wanting shock treatment. 8th note downstrokes on the guitar, 8th note hi-hat hits on the drums, all with a catchy melody, at a fast tempo. Production wise it shares the rawness Tommy Ramone captured producing the first album but adds the sleek production Tony Bongiovi and engineer Ed Stasium.
Another song on the album, Pinhead started with the chant Gabba Gabba we accept you, we accept you one of us. As we discussed, it was inspired by the movie freaks, but it became a rallying cry for Ramones fans. If you were a delinquent like Deedee or Johnny, or a strange kid like Joey, or just a rock n roll fan like Tommy, you could put on jeans and a leather jacket and: “We accept you, We accept you. one of us. The weirdos had a place to belong with the Ramones.
Ramones leave home had fourteen songs and everyone was truly great. Oh oh I Love Her So features one of my favorite Ramones lyrics “I met her at the Burger King, we fell in love by the soda machine”.
Carbona Not Glue is a fallow up song to Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, about how they’ve moved on from glue to sniffing the cleaning product Carbona to get high. The song was meant as a joke, but the Carbona company did not think it was funny. We’ll discuss that more in the next episode.
Suzy is a Headbanger was the next installment in the series of songs about girls who are something. Which started with Judy is A Punk on the first album, and continued now with Suzy Is A Headbanger. Swallow my Pride was inspired by the Ramones feeling like they were the best band on the planet, but were largely going unrecognized. California Sun was the 60’s cover song of the album. It was a hit for the Rivieras in 1964, and celebrated the idealized sunny California lifestyle. Perhaps, one reason the song was chosen was because the Ramones were met with more fanfare in California than anywhere else they had been in America. Here’s the Rivieras in 1964. Now here’s the Ramones from 1976, released the following year in 1977.
You’re Going to Kill That Girl was a poppy song, with dark humor lyrics inspired by bass player Dee Dee’s on again, off again girlfriend Connie Grip. Connie had previously dated The New York Dolls bass player Arthur Kane. She was notoriously violent and one time attempted to cut off Arthur Kane’s thumb to prevent him from being able to go on tour. Connie and Dee Dee were both into dope and street hustling. But Dee Dee was Dee Dee and Connie would start fist fights with his other girlfriends. Dee Dee recounted one time, Connie started a fight with another girl he was seeing, and in the melee, he slipped out the door with a third girl. Another time, Connie was fighting a rival and knocked out Dee Dee in the process. She also stabbed Dee Dee in the ass one time, which prevented him from being able to sit down for awhile. If anyone was going to kill anyone, it was probably Connie, but the song, You’re Gonna Kill That Girl was classic Ramones twisted dark humor.
Unfortunately, The Ramones themselves, were not getting along with each other. They were friends when they started, but being cooped up with the same people in vans, and greens rooms and hotels takes it toll. They were bickering constantly, and for the most part stopped hanging out outside of doing band stuff. Dee Dee said of this period, “I was making $125 a week, and I had a $100 a day dope habit.”
At the same time the Ramones were their second album, the scene in England was exploding. The Damned released the 1st British punk single on October 22nd 1976. Its sound built on the first Ramones album, adding their own style to the formula. Here is New Rose by The Damned.
The Damned were great, and they had the first record out, but British band that started first, and would be the most sensational was the Sex Pistols. The story of the Sex Pistols starts with their Svengali manager Malcolm McLaren. McLaren owned various shops in London catering to shifting youth cultures. Many of which were nostalgic, like his first shop, Let It Rock, which celebrated 1950’s rock n roll style, but in the 1970’s. They sold clothing and records.
McLauren would make periodic trips to the United States. In 1975, he was hanging out in NY just as The NY Dolls were falling apart. McLaren briefly stepped in in as their manager, but they were doomed. Two of the Dolls were hooked on heroine, another was drunk all the time. Still, McLaren liked that the New York Dolls were visually shocking. They dressed like ridiculous caricatures of harlots from the 1940’s. McLaren felt like they had already done this gimmick for several years, it didn’t get them anywhere and they needed to do something new. Something even more shocking. Something like dressing in red and playing in front of a hammer and cycle communist flag at the height of the cold war. They experimented with this new gimmick, but it was over. Nothing could save the New York Dolls. Not a new gimmick. Not even an Englishman.
Around the same time, McLaren also familiarized himself with the scene at CBGBs and became enamored with the bass player of Television, Richard Hell. Hell wore his hair spiked and had wore torn clothes with safety pins on them. McLaren thought this was brilliant.
Taking his inspiration from what he saw in NY, McLaren, had an idea for a new clothing store in London. He would simply call it Sex. It would sell clothing that combined the grittiness of CBGBs especially, Richard Hell, with glam fashion that was being popularized by David Bowie and his ilk, and mix that with S&M bondage sex wear.
McLaren’s stint managing the New Yoek Dolls was short lived, but it inspired him to want to manage a new band. A band that also relied on shocking gimmicks but would be based in London. He took Syl Sylvain from the NY Dolls guitar with him when he left the States. He gave Sylvain’s guitar, both fugitively and literally, to Steve Jones, a teenage delinquent who hang around his shop. He thought Jones would make a good guitar player. He was right. Jones brought in his buddy Paul Cook who could play drums. McLaren brought in John Lydon, another unpleasant weirdo who hung around his store, and also Glen Mattlock, a normie who could provide some stability, and write songs.
The guys in the bad listening to Iggy and the Stooges and the New York dolls. The Stooges had made two influential, but financially unsuccessful albums for Electra Records before being dropped. Danny Fields, who was responsible for signing the Stooges was also fired from Electra. Iggy, who was from Michigan, went to New York to visit Fields. Fields took him to Max’s Kansas City, and introduced him to David Bowie. Bowie was a fan of the two Stooges albums and offered to bring Iggy to England to do a new album. Iggy brought along a wiz kid guitar player from Detroit named James Williamson. After arriving in England, Iggy and Williamson couldn’t find a rhythm section they liked, so they flew out Ron and Scott Asheton from the Stooges. Ron Asheton played guitar on the first two Stooges records but now he was on bass. Scott Asheton was still playing drums. The album that resulted was 1973’s Raw Power. The name was right on, as it was more raw and more powerful than any rock album up to that point or maybe even since. The album was driven by James Williamson’s savage guitar playing and it pushed the rest of the band. Iggy was singing in a higher register and more aggressively to match the guitar. The Drums and bass playing had to be faster and tigher than on the earlier albums where they were more loose and jammy. The fast tempos, wild guitar playing, and aggressive vocal style would be a major influence on every single punk band. Behold the Raw Power.
The New York Dolls released their classic album in 1973, the same year as The Stooges - Raw Power. The following year, In 1974, The Dolls teamed up with producer Shadows Morton, who was responsible for the girl group the Shangri Las. Shadow Morton would produce the second New York Dolls album. Overall, it’s not as good as their first one. But one song that stands out is Chatterbox. It’s sung by the groups guitar player, Johnny Thunders instead of lead singer, David Johansen. The influence of the chord progression, guitar style and vocal approach would all be seen in the new group McLaren was putting together.
So, McLaren had assembled this new band, Steve Jones on Guitar, Glenn Matlock on bass, Paul Cook on Drums and John Lydon singing, with the New York Dolls and Iggy and the Stooges as the primary influences. McLaren was their patriarch, funding the band, and providing them with a rehearsal space. Since he was funding the band, he wanted them to promote his shop, Sex. Sex was floated as a band name, but they settled on Sex Pistols. It sounded like they were young, vicious, sexual assassins. And in a way, they were. John Lydon took on the name Johnny Rotten, probably inspired by Richard Hell’s stage name. They started gigging, and they started getting good. McLaren succeeded at getting them press, and The Sex Pistols were good at being rude to reporters, as well as making sensational soundbites like “were not into music, we’re into chaos.” While the Ramones lyrics may have off color and strange, The Sex Pistols were intentionally provocative. Their first single was called Anarchy in the UK and it came out November 26th, 1976. It opened with the lyrics “I am an anarchist, I am an anti Christ. I don’t know what I want, but i know how to get it. I want to destroy the passer by”. This lyrics were genuinely shocking to people in England. Musically, you can hear how it was a new take on the invocations made by The New York Dolls and Iggy and the Stooges
This music was an assault on everything proper England stood for.
To promote the single, on December 1st The Sex Pistols, and members of their entourage were guests on an afternoon TV show with the host Bill Grundy. Grundy was trying to goad The Sex Pistols. Challenging them about making money and how that goes against their image. After a few minutes of repartee with the band, Grundy turned his attention to the two girls, who were part of The Sex Pistols entourage and started in on them. One of the girls, Siouxsie Sioux, who also had her own band, the Banshees, told Grundy they she always wanted to meet him. Grundy replied, that she should meet him after the show. So a man in his fifites just made a pass at a teenage girl on television. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols immediately came to Siouxsie’s defense. He blurted out “You Dirty Sod, you dirty old man”. Grundy goaded him on replying “Keep going you’ve got another 5 seconds say something outrageous.” Jones cooly puffs on a cigarette and replied “You Dirty bastard, You dirty fucker. What a fuckin’ rotter”.
Nobody had ever heard that type of language on TV before, and certainly not in the ever so proper Queens England. The press had a field day. The Daily Mirror ran the headline “the Filth and The Fury.” It went on to say ”A pop group shocked millions of viewers last night, with the filthiest language ever heard on British television.” It described a viewer who was so outraged by the language that he kicked in the screen of his TV set.
The media coverage was explosive. A few days later, The Sex Pistols were to embark on the Anarchy in the UK tour. But concerned citizens protested. Politicians and clergy spoke out. They did not want this kind of filth in England. Of the 20 shows booked for the tour, 13 got canceled. The press was desperate for more stories, and ran exaggerated reports of the Sex Pistols puking, and spitting, and breaking things and running amok. The workers at the manufacturing plant where The Sex Pistols single, Anarchy In The UK, was being pressed, refused to handle the record in protest. McLaren fueled the scandal telling reporters before his next meeting with their record company, EMI, that he was going to “puke all over their face.” The Sex Pistols got dropped from EMI records after just the one single. The Sex Pistols were too hot to handle.
Still, the they did manage to play 7 of the 20 shows on the Anarchy In The UK tour, and supporting them was, The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. As you recall, Johnny Thunders was one of the guitar players from the NY Dolls. His new band flew into England from New York for the tour. They knew how to look good on stage, and the English bands took note.
Thunders had already been in, what was for a very short time, the best rock band on the planet, The New York Dolls, and it went nowhere. With his new group, he sang in the anthem “Born to Lose”. It would very much sum up how punk in the 1970’s ended. Born to Loose wasn’t recorded until a year later but I want to play it now because it foreshadows things to come. You can hear the sound of the New York Dolls has been updated in Thunders’ new band. He was seen the Ramones and he was ready to up the ante just as much as the Damned or anyone else.
Along with showmanship and great songs, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers brought a few more things over with them from New York to England. Heroin addiction, and a junkie groupie named Nancy Spungen. Spungen fallowed the Heartbreakers to London but they didn’t want her around. She found another musician who did. More on that later.
1976 ended with the Ramones recording their second album. The Sex Pistols exploding in scandal all over the British media, and Johnny Thunders and the Heatbreakers bringing their style of NY punk to England along with Herion and Nancy Spungen. 1977 would be a huge year for punk. Maybe the peak year. See you in the next episode - Englands Dreaming