Weekly 40-Watt #6: Ramones

Weekly 40-Watt is a feature where I listen to an album or band, new or old, for the first time and jot down some notes on it.

There are several songs that I primarily associate with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series back from the N64 days:

  • “Police Truck” by Dead Kennedys

  • “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” by Primus

  • “Cyco Vision” by Suicidal Tendencies

  • “New Girl” by Suicide Machines

  • “Superman” by Goldfinger

  • “Blitzkrieg Bop” by Ramones

Now … this type of primary association is a factor of multiple events that need to happen concurrently. First off, this association wouldn’t have existed if I’d heard these songs before to any significant extent. If I already had some type of relationship with that Primus song, for example, its primary association in my head would be attributed elsewhere.

Second and third, there’s some amount of repetition required and usually an age barrier to something like this. Since I was quite young, and since I played the THPS series a lot — especially the first installment — these songs got burned into my brain alongside memories of frustration at repeated wipe-outs while trying to capture the secret tape on the Downhill Jam level. I think the age piece is incredibly important; no matter how many times I play Madden 19, I’m never going to associate Cardi B with that game. I’ll instead associate Cardi B with the broader Cardi B moment that existed for a long time. I’m too plugged into the general culture at large now because of the Internet.

Lastly, this association likely doesn’t stick if I would have then followed up and explored those bands. Aside from the fact that all of these bands were too punk for me during my prime THPS-playing years, it also just wasn’t as easy to track down music back then. I would have had to convince my mom to walk into the F.Y.E. at the mall and explain to her why this $18 CD by a band called Suicide Machines needed to come home in the car with us. It was already hard enough to get a new N64 game in the first place, so this was out of the question.

This week’s 40-Watt is based on my first-ever proactive investigation into Ramones. I’ve heard “Blitzkrieg Bop,” of course, thanks to THPS 3, and I’ve heard a couple of other hits over the years. But despite my general love of pop-punk and Ramones’ early influence on that genre, I never dove into this band. I wish I’d done it back in college, when I listened to that type of music around the clock, but I was too busy listening to bands that would never make it into the LP2 stage of their careers.

To start off, I listened to the Apple Music playlist Ramones Essentials (these playlists have been very handy for this weekly feature), then I moved onto the albums Ramones, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin. I’m generally interested in learning more about the advent of punk rock and pop-punk throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, so maybe that curiosity will feature in future installments of this weekly blog.

My general thesis statement for Ramones is that the music is perfect when it hits the mark, and quality enough as a mood-setter when the mark isn’t hit as well. I can imagine they’re looked at as a “greatest hits” band by many people, and that’s understandable since they have so many strong singles that stand clearly above the rest of their album tracklistings. Ramones was the best of the three LPs I tried out — running under 30 minutes with 14 tracks and no song hitting the 3-minute mark, it’s clearly got the build of a true punk album. The template of fast-paced guitar, drums and bass never leaves sight, and the highs are super high.

“Blitzkrieg Bop” is everything you could ever want in an opener from any album in any genre. Extremely energetic, super catchy and a tone-setter in every way. It lets you know exactly what you’re getting from the album, even if it might set the bar so high that it’s never hit again. A nearly perfect introduction to Ramones as a band, the track’s standout feature for me is Joey Ramone’s bratty vocals (no slight to Dee Dee Ramone’s iconic bass line, though). He’s an ideal punk vocalist, with the tone to match his lyricism and the ability to blend into the musicianship a bit when he wants. It’s the type of voice that some people wouldn’t dig, but it’s undoubtedly perfect for this band.

All of the tracks at the top of this album are great — “Beat on the Brat,” “Judy Is A Punk” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” are all excellent. Later, “53rd and 3rd” and “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You” are good too. I moved onto Rocket to Russia, which isn’t as good as the self-titled album but it’s definitely got its share of high-level tracks. “Rockaway Beach” is the best, though “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” is also great. “Do You Wanna Dance” is another highlight toward the back half of the album.

Road to Ruin has two primary attractions for me — first, the hit “I Wanna Be Sedated” is a near-perfect song, and second, featured on the deluxe version of the album, there’s an 11-minute slice of a live Ramones performance that includes “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “California Sun,” “Pinhead” and “She’s the One” buried toward the end as a bonus track. The lightning energy of the band’s live performance is really evident … it’s got that feeling of a band that writes fast songs, but when they get on stage they clearly want to play them even faster, and they’re trying pretty hard to keep the tempo at least only moderately above whatever they originally committed to in the studio.

Overall, a very successful endeavor into Ramones. I will continue to check out more of their albums front-to-back, but I’d definitely advise starting out with their greatest hits album or a curated playlist like the one I linked.