Halfway To Insanity: How The Ramones Changed Heavy Metal
Band Photo: Metallica (?)
Last Friday, the only remaining original carrier of the most influential name in rock music sadly left us.
Tommy Ramone, the last original member of the Ramones, was the sole survivor of the legendary quartet for ten years following the passing of guitarist Johnny Ramone in September 2004 and with no original members left alive, the Ramones will now be consigned to folklore.
They didn’t sell as many records as the Rolling Stones, open the listeners minds to new concepts like the Beatles, or even reach the big arenas in their home country, but the Ramones changed the face of rock and roll forever, somewhat literally in fact, as their uniform of denim of leather would become adopted by metal fans not even five years after they released their self-titled debut. This was just one of the ways that these four young Stooges fans would influence the music they were accused of trying to replicate.
The most important thing about any band should always be the music, and this where the Ramones helped to change things the most. Spectators of their earliest concerts in CBGB’s recall a constant barrage of noise, an assault on the eardrums without the musicians on stage giving an ounce of a fuck what the audience thought. A description fit for heavy metal if ever there was one. Of course, the first people to use the Ramones as a template for their bands were many of the young punks in Britain, a place where the band would sell out every time, in larger venues than the ones back home too. The Clash, The Damned and Stiff Little Fingers are just a few of the time who adored the Queens quartet and the DIY ethics they espoused helped bring metal back to street level when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came along, an early fusion of punk rock and the earlier heavy metal such as Budgie, Judas Priest and Van Halen.
A number of the NWOBHM artists cite the Ramones as an influence, including former Iron Maiden frontman, Paul Di’anno, who in an interview for the bonus disc of his album, "The Living Dead," referred to Joey Ramone as the most recognisable voice in rock. Early recordings of the bands live shows, and indeed the ferocious speed they brought to the recording studio, certainly showcase what could be regarded as an early form of thrash metal. The break neck speed, chainsaw guitar and confrontational vocals fit into any playlist alongside the likes of Exodus or Vio-Lence and before long, several recognised names in the thrash genre such as Metallica, Rigor Mortis, Ratos de Porao and Anthrax would cover their songs, not to mention the band being honoured by another forbearer of thrash, Motorhead in their song, "R.A.M.O.N.E.S."
As mentioned before, the Ramones had a very distinctive look, one which Johnny Ramone made sure they stuck with for the entire duration of their careers together. Before the Ramones, heavy metal fans didn’t have much of a uniform, looking instead like forgotten band members from Almost Famous. The Ramones’ outfit of leather jackets and denim jeans would also find themselves into the wardrobes of metal fans, next to the record players blasting their tunes. Of course, most people would credit Judas Priest with bringing leather (and perhaps an interest in BDSM) to heavy metal fans, and they’re not really wrong. Priest was the first recognised band to have this leather clad look and they adopted it around the same time that the Ramones burst on to the international scene. However, the Ramones image was very street and ironically scruffy for a uniform, something which could appeal to more rock fans as an imitable dress.
Although the stereotypical lyrical content of heavy metal unquestionably owes more to Black Sabbath and Black Widow than the Ramones, they weren’t always a million miles from the area. They wrote songs about drug use, violence and the Nazis, they shared subject matter with many of the later metal bands, while the ones of the time would write about these things in a vaguer manner, if at all. They also dared to write love songs, which is unsurprising given Joey Ramone’s love of the old girl groups like The Crystals and The Ronettes. Even with titles as on the nose as, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," the music was gritty and tough. The next decade, almost every big selling band tagged with the metal label would have at least one love song on their albums, though none could ever pull off the romantic snarl exhibited by the widely viewed godfathers of punk.
And there we have it, three ways in which the Ramones, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy left their mark on heavy metal music. Though they tragically now have no surviving members, they can still be seen, heard and felt in the hearts of all headbangers of the past four decades. "Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?" the band once asked. I can’t say I do, but the Ramones will never be forgotten.
The Ramones live at CBGB's
The Ramones - "Suzy Is a Headbanger"
The Ramones featuring Lemmy - "R.A.M.O.N.E.S."
Ratos de Porao - "Commando"
Metallica - "53rd and 3rd"
Rob Zombie - "Blitzkrieg Bop"
Anthrax - "We're A Happy Family"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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