Hey! Ho! De­but Ra­mones al­bum gets a gold star – nearly 40 years on

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - bboyd@irish­times.com

‘Voice, gui­tar, bass, drums. Sim­ple, speedy, stripped­down rock’n’roll”. Ed­die Ved­der’s de­scrip­tion of Ra­mones’ epony­mous 1976 de­but al­bum mim­icked the band’s trade­mark mu­sic by say­ing it all in as short a space as pos­si­ble.

Par­don my French, but screw The Vel­vet Un­der­ground, Elvis and The Bea­tles: The Ra­mones’ first al­bum is ar­guably the most in­flu­en­tial piece of pop­u­lar mu­sic ever recorded. Ra­mones was a ver­ti­cal shift in mu­sic’s evo­lu­tion, split rock’n’roll his­tory in half, was di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for The Sex Pis­tols and The Clash (among many oth­ers) and its sound still re­tains hold­ing shares in much of to­day’s big name bands.

Just as an im­por­tant build­ing is “listed”, Ra­mones has long been pro­tected by the US Li­brary of Congress, which recog­nises it as “a sound record­ing that is cul­tur­ally, his­tor­i­cally or aes­thet­i­cally im­por­tant and/or in­forms or re­flects life in the United States”.

That hoary old ax­iom about The Vel­vet Un­der­ground – that no­body bought their first al­bum but that those few who did all ended up form­ing rock bands – can’t com­pete with the fact that while no­body ini­tially bought Ra­mones (it sold only 6,000 copies in its first year of re­lease), those who did didn’t just form bands; they helped change the course of mu­sic.

So it was a shock and a sur­prise to see re­ports this week that Ra­mones has fi­nally, 38 years af­ter its re­lease, achieved gold sta­tus in the US: 500,000 copies sold. That’s one of the long­est waits ever and an ap­palling ag­gre­gate sum for a work of such mag­nif­i­cence. By con­trast, a band such as Green Day, who are very much the Dono­vans to the Ra­mones’ Dy­lan, reg­u­larly hit the 15 mil­lion per al­bum mark, even though their work is es­sen­tially a crappy Tesco Value Brand ver­sion of the real thing.

The fact that Ra­mones is still sell­ing nearly four decades on gives rea­son to be­lieve. But the hor­ri­ble truth about Ra­mones is that they never sold many records and had trou­ble break­ing the top 100 with most of their re­leases. Still, they’re a multi-plat­inum T-shirt band – their iconic Ea­gle T alone is be­lieved to have sold nearly two mil­lion, most of them prob­a­bly bought by people who wouldn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween Blitzkrieg Bop and Stair­way to Heaven.

By to­day’s stan­dards, Ra­mones sounds like it was recorded in­side a matchbox. How­ever, its son­i­cally hy­po­der­mic qual­i­ties are en­hanced by the fact that the 14 tracks come in at 29 min­utes in to­tal, which is shorter than some prog-rock drum so­los. No gui­tar so­los, no in­stru­men­tals – it’s all heart/no head mu­sic that is al­most stupid yet at the same time so­phis­ti­cated in its sim­plic­ity.

Recorded in less than a week for about $6,000, Ra­mones is the As­tral Weeks of garage rock. The now iconic cover photo cost $125. The al­bum was all but ig­nored or mis­un­der­stood on its re­lease, and it was years be­fore it was prop­erly ap­praised and longer still for people to re­alise that these 14 tracks cre­ated a fis­sure in mu­si­cal his­tory.

The fact that Ra­mones has fi­nally gone gold is sig­nif­i­cant. Rock bands have it ar­se­ways these days: they chase af­ter and as­so­ciate them­selves with brands. Ra­mones were their own brand.

They beat that brat: Ra­mones’ heav­ily in­flu­en­tial 1976 de­but

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