Candy and chainsaws
It was 1976 and the great stars of the 60's had begun to decline, rock music had become more and more stolid as its members had improved with their instruments, the average length of a song was more than five minutes and an album could hold seven or eight at the most. Furthermore, there were few groups left that remembered the initial excitement of a Johnny B. Goode type-song, or the refreshing youthful energy of the Beatles' first records.
But from the mean streets of New York a new youth revolution was brewing. Four kids who looked like something out of a comic book had come together mixing their love for the guitars of the Stooges and the melodies of the Ronettes and the Shangri-La's, their image was as street as their sound, leather jackets, t-shirts, ripped jeans and sneakers, their melodies as addictive as candy - played at full speed with a guitar that sounded like a chainsaw. They were the Ramones and their debut album was a breath of fresh air that revolutionized the rock world; representing the starting point of punk.
The group had started playing in 1974, and quickly became the flagship band of CBGB (whose acronym stood for Country, Bluegrass & Blues), a venue that became the epicenter of the nascent punk and where Television, Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and Blondie also played. It was a rather heterogeneous scene that included intellectuals like David Byrne, poets like Patti Smith or the more 'street' Ramones. Of all of them, the authors of Judy is a Punk would be those in charge of lighting the flame of punk, although it would not be through their success but through their influence on the other side of the ocean, in pre-Thatcher England, where they would exert an enormous influence on all British punk bands, starting with the Sex Pistols and continuing with the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks or the Irish Undertones.
The Ramones' formula was so perfect that the group hardly changed it in their more than 20 years together, Dee Dee would shout the classic "One, two, three, four", Johnny would go full speed ahead with his cheap Mosrite, Tommy would follow him on drums and Joey would provide the excellent vocals until they played 20 songs in the space in which a progressive music group would get a drum solo. Danny Fields, who had been manager of the Stooges, took charge of the band and got Sire Records to sign them to record an album. The sessions began in February 1976 and were completed in less than a week at a ridiculous cost of less than $7,000. They followed in the footsteps of their beloved Beatles (don't forget that the members took the surname Ramone because it was the one Paul McCartney used when he wanted to go incognito), recording in a similar way to the first Fab Four albums, with Joey's voice dubbed over, as the English band did.
The album opened with their best and most remembered song, Blitzkrieg Bop, to the cry of their fundamental slogan, "Hey, ho, let's go!", a primal chant that invited action, an unbridled guitar, plugged into a Marshall 1959 Super Lead, surf choruses and a perfect melody rounded out a song that put a guitar on the shoulder of an entire generation under a phrase that overthrew the mythology of the rock gods: "Do it yourself". The funny thing about it was that it was mainly the work of the lesser-known member, drummer Tommy, with a little help from Dee Dee. As if that contribution wasn't enough, Tommy also composed that pop marvel called I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, in which to his usual simple I want/don't want statements he added the most surprising of all, "I want to be your boyfriend", being one of the few love songs in a band more related to sniffing glue or beating skulls with a baseball bat, than to simple love stories. It had such a catchy melody that even David Byrne's Talking Heads, opening for the Queens band in their early days, included it in their repertoire.
The rest of the album, and of his discography, had two main songwriters, Dee Dee, the most prolific, and Joey, the most accurate, who here gave three true wonders, Beat on the Brat, Judy Is a Punk and Chain Saw. The first was one of his sharpest songs, in which Joey imagined himself taking revenge on the upper class Manhattan kids, whom he had seen behaving like real spoiled assholes in his neighborhood, and the song stuck in the brain with the same speed with which it was played. For its part, Judy Is A Punk was the second best song on the album and brought, for the first time, two of the fundamental characters of his songbook, Jackie and Judy, who would reappear on the also remarkable The Return Of Jackie and Judy from End Of The Century. The third was a tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in which Johnny and his guitar were once again confirmed as the sonic pillar of the band.
Incredibly its 14 songs and less than 30 minutes in length (the longest, I Don't Wanna Go to the Basement lasted 2:35) were not a sales success and the Ramones did not become stars. Still, no other 1976 album had a greater impact and influence than this one. Their imprint can be traced in thousands of bands all over the world, from U2 to Motörhead, from Nirvana to Metallica, their long shadow is still claimed every few years by hundreds of movements, from punk to New Wave, from indie to grunge, from heavy to thrash. The Ramones and their debut are one of the key references of rock & roll.