Let us be the latest voice to bemoan the loss of Joey Ramone, who died of cancer on Sunday at age 49. Ramone will be forever remembered as the lead singer of seminal New York City punk band, The Ramones, who could fairly be credited with introducing the sound of punk rock to the world and thereby changing the course of popular music history forever. It wasn’t that the members of The Ramones were particularly talented, but they were the catalysts that launched punk rock into the mainstream.
Punk rock lore has it that Joey ended up as the lead singer because he couldn’t figure out how to play the drums, and at best the Ramones had mastery over four chords. But what a beautiful four chords they were. They managed to synthesize the fury and abrasion of the proto-punk rockers that came before them with a Beatles-esque pop sensibility, writing songs with hooks so catchy that every Destiny’s Child would be jealous.
After one listen, the unmistakable melody of “I Wanna Be Sedated” was forever implanted in the brain of the listener. It, and other Ramones’ gems like “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” would become the soundtrack for suburban frustration, the base from which punk would build upon.
Moreover, The Ramones introduced punk rock to the United Kingdom. They directly influenced bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, who would popularize punk rock on both sides of the Atlantic and rescue popular music from the disco inferno that it had sunk into at the end of the 1970s.
While the Ramones never reached the top of the charts in the United States, their influence could be clearly seen. The New Wave bands of the early 1980s, like Blondie and Talking Heads, borrowed the upbeat pop sensibility of “Rock and Roll High School.” The grunge bands of the early 1990s like Nirvana and Pearl Jam wrote about the same teen alienation that lay behind so much of The Ramones work.
By the time of his death, Joey Ramone was hailed as an American musical legend, a forefather of punk and a savior of rock and roll. Not bad for the New York kid who only wanted to be sedated.