This was intended to be a chapter in my theoretically forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It was originally added to the book’s Table of Contents because I thought my abiding love of The Ramones wasn’t sufficiently conveyed in the preexisting chapter on “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” and also because–let’s face it–The Ramones’ “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” IS The Greatest Record Ever Made.
But ultimately, although I like this chapter a lot, I don’t think it fits the book. So I’m going back to fortify the “Sheena” chapter, to let it more fully illustrate why I regard “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” as the record that changed my life. And we’re freeing up this chapter for public viewing. (My paid patrons have already seen it, but since it’s now being posted publicly so much earlier than planned, they’re also getting the as-yet-unseen Sly and the Family Stone chapter as a bonus private post.)
An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, THIS is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
There would be no hit records. The road to ruin reached its predetermined end.
In 2002, Spin magazine ranked The Ramones second on its list of the 50 greatest bands of all time, with only The Beatles perched above them. Writer Marc Spitz explained the rationale of placing this seemingly misfit Carbona Quartet just a step below that other Fab Four:
“Punk rock exists because of the false assumption that The Ramones can be imitated. ‘1-2-3-4!’ Three chords. ‘Second verse, same as the first.’ Technically speaking, it’s simple. Legend has it that in every city where The Ramones played in support of their 1976 debut, a handful of punk kids started up bands, thinking that they could do it, too. But The Ramones’ loud-fast style masked a pop genius. Slow their tempos, and you’ve got Beach Boys harmonies. Replace lyrics about sniffin’ glue and eatin’ refried beans, and you’ve got The Ronettes. Give everyone matching leather jackets, and you’ve got the punk rock Beatles. Just four lads from Queens who birthed thousands of bands, then blew each one away.”
I believe I may have dropped the magazine at that point just so I could give it a standing ovation.
We have not yet created a language that can adequately convey the sheer, visceral thrill of that precise second when I realized The Ramones were…perfect. Just perfect. Punk? Sure, yeah. Rock ‘n’ roll? Oh God, yes. But also power pop, bubblegum, every great song ever played on any AM radio ever conceived on Earth or above, all distilled into this massive, physical presence that’s simultaneously as heavy as a truncheon and as light as helium candy. Pop music, played loud, played fast, and played for keeps, our hearts sustained by its velocity, our souls redeemed by its purity, our faith in the transcendent power of music restored by forceful melody, accomplished as easily as the above-cited count of 1-2-3-4.
And for all that, The Ramones never had a goddamned hit record. Not in America anyway. “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” charted. “Rockaway Beach” made it all the way up to # 66 in Billboard, and a cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” wrote finis to The Ramones’ brief three-part invasion of the lower half of The Hot 100, all accomplished in 1977-78. Like the immortal “Blitzkrieg Bop” before it, “I Wanna Be Sedated” did not chart. “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” did not chart. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” did not chart. Radio’s ears were closed to The Ramones. Retail declared them niche, cult…lesser. MTV all but ignored them.
The Ramones pretended not to care. They insisted that hit records never mattered to them. Their practiced scowls hid the fact that they were lying through their teeth.
Of course The Ramones wanted hit records! They’d come of age in a time when the greatest records were hits, from Del Shannon to The Dixie Cups, James Brown to The Beatles. They never outgrew the quaint notion that the best stuff could be the most popular stuff, the most popular stuff the best stuff. They didn’t want to grow up. They couldn’t.
When I’m lyin’ in my bed at nightI don’t want to grow upNothing ever seems to turn out rightAnd I don’t want to grow up
The Ramones’ final studio album was 1995’s Adios Amigos!, its stated intent to be the Ramones’ farewell effort tacitly understood to carry an asterisk: the final album* (*unless this one’s a hit). It was not. But Jesus, it should have been.
The album opens with a supercharged Ramonesified reading of Tom Waits’s “I Don’t Want To Grow Up,” a triumphant bludgeoning that plants its feet and establishes one last Rockaway Beachhead. There would be no hit records. That 2002 Spin piece concluded, “Like sharks, The Ramones never evolved. They didn’t have to.” But growin’ up is for squares, man. The Ramones weren’t gonna do it. We don’t have to do it either.
“I Don’t Want To Grow Up” written by Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan, Jalma Music ASCAP
TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. TIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve Stoeckel, Bruce Gordon, Joel Tinnel, Stacy Carson, Eytan Mirsky, Teresa Cowles, Dan Pavelich, Irene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click Beetles, Eytan Mirsky, Pop Co-Op, Irene Peña, Michael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With Randolph, Gretchen’s Wheel, The Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.
(And you can still get our 2017 compilation This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4, on CD from Kool Kat Musik and as a download from Futureman Records.)
Get MORE Carl! Check out the fourth and latest issue of the mighty Big Stir magazine at bigstirrecords.com/magazine
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).