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Best Ramones Songs: 20 Blitzkrieg Boppers From NYC’s Iconic Punks
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List & Guides

Best Ramones Songs: 20 Blitzkrieg Boppers From NYC’s Iconic Punks

The best Ramones songs reveal why the singular and highly influential “Brudders” were the ultimate outsider punks.

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Ramones were often called “Da Brudders”, but while they all adopted the same surname, they weren’t actually related, and they frequently disliked each other. However, vocalist Joey, guitarist Johnny, bassist Dee Dee (latterly replaced by CJ) and drummers Tommy, Marky and Ritchie collectively realised the sum was always greater than the parts when it came to their art. Their self-titled debut album is often earmarked as the template for punk rock, and it kickstarted a 20-year recording career during which these hard-boiled New Yorkers assembled a truly seismic catalogue. But enough with the backstory already. Hey ho! Let’s go and listen to the 20 best Ramones songs…

Listen to the best of Ramones here, and check out our 20 best Ramones songs, below.

20: Pet Sematary (from ‘Brain Drain’, 1989)

Though generally regarded as one of Ramones’ lesser achievements, 1989’s Brain Drain did include Pet Sematary: a high-profile collaboration with legendary horror author Stephen King. A long-term Ramones fan, King gave bassist Dee Dee Ramone a copy of his novel of the same name when he invited the band for dinner at his New England home. Just hours later, Dee Dee completed the lyrics for the song which would accompany the film adaptation of King’s book. Though slower and notably world-wearier than many of the best Ramones songs, the compelling Pet Sematary nonetheless became a huge radio hit, and it remained a staple of the band’s latter-day setlist.

19: Psycho Therapy (from ‘Subterranean Jungle’, 1983)

Ramones were not in a good place when they came to record their seventh album, Subterranean Jungle. Inter-band relations were poor, and while drummer Marky Ramone appeared on the record’s cover, he was fired, due to alcohol-related problems, before the sessions ended (he was later reinstated for 1989’s Brain Drain). Though intended as a return to the band’s punk roots after several poppier albums such as the Phil Spector-helmed End Of The Century, Subterranean Jungle suffered from muddy production, but its best track – the rip-roaring Psycho Therapy – showed that Ramones still had plenty left in the tank.

18: 53rd & 3rd (from ‘Ramones’, 1976)

A prolific lyricist with absolutely no fear of autobiography, Dee Dee Ramone penned many of his band’s earthiest lyrics, often drawing from his own chequered history on the mean streets of New York. He wrote candidly of his drug use on the Johnny Thunders collaboration Chinese Rocks, while his band’s legendary self-titled debut album included 53rd & 3rd: a seedy classic alluding to his spell of male hustling to get dope money on the corner of the titular street corner located on Manhattan’s East Side.

17: Surfin’ Bird (from ‘Rocket To Russia’, 1977)

The Trashmen’s original recording of Surfin’ Bird peaked at No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, but Da Brudders picked up on the song after The Cramps recorded it, and it went on to conclude their live sets during the late 70s. Cutting Surfin’ Bird in the studio cemented its place among the best Ramones’ songs, and it remains one of third album Rocket To Russia’s numerous highlights. Producer Ed Stasium later marvelled at Joey Ramone’s vocal performance in the booklet for Rhino’s Hey Ho! Let’s Go CD anthology: “[Surfin’ Bird] is basically one chord and for the hole in the middle – Joey’s vocal noises – we just stopped and kind of guessed how long his part would be. When he did the overdub, Joey got it somehow. There was no click track – he had to guess where the hole ended – and he did!”

16: Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La) (from ‘Too Tough To Die’, 1984)

Surely the latter-day Ramones’ artistic pinnacle, 1984’s aptly-titled Too Tough To Die album got the band right on track artistically. Though better known for its more aggressive material, such as Mama’s Boy and the throat-shredding hardcore of Dee Dee’s Endless Vacation, it also included several sparkling pop-punk tracks. Arguably the most radio-friendly of these, Dee Dee’s Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La) was given additional polish by producer Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), and while it inexplicably missed the charts, it still sounds like a huge hit in waiting.

15: Pinhead (from ‘Leave Home’, 1977)

Recorded for their scorching second album, Leave Home, outsider anthem Pinhead immediately established itself as one of the best Ramones songs, thanks to its famous refrain, “Gabba gabba hey!”, which the band lifted from Todd Browning’s 1932 proto-horror movie, Freaks. Dee Dee elaborated further in a posthumously published Record Collector interview: “I guess it was the rallying cry for the misfits. Society was sweeping these people under the rug. They were saying, ‘Gabba gabba, we accept you.’ It was more of a Johnny Ramone thing about us following his orders [within the band].”

14: Bonzo Goes To Bitburg (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down) (single A-side, 1985)

Atypically political by Ramones’ standards, 1985 single Bonzo Goes To Bitburg (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down) created a bit of a stir. Its subject matter attracted media attention as it dealt with then US president Ronald Reagan’s controversial state visit to a German World War II cemetery containing the graves of high-ranking Nazi soldiers, but it also created tension within the band, as Joey and Dee Dee were both staunchly anti-Reagan, whereas Johnny was a Republican who believed Reagan was an excellent president. Hubris aside, Bonzo wasn’t a hit, but it was a fine, muscular punk-pop anthem that deserves to stand among the best Ramones songs.

13: Don’t Come Close (from ‘Road To Ruin’, 1978)

Ramones recorded their fourth album, Road To Ruin, after their first line-up change, with Marky replacing founder member Tommy on drums. Tommy, however, made the changeover as seamless as possible, initially by rehearsing alongside Marky and then by co-producing Road To Ruin with Ed Stasium. A degree more polished and mainstream-inclined than the band’s first three albums, it still had plenty of Ramones’ patented buzzsaw punk, but also featured pure pop moments such as their atypically jangly cover of Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche’s Needles And Pins and the self-penned Don’t Come Close. Among the band’s most radio-friendly songs, the latter squeaked into the UK Top 40 and took the group onto Top Of The Pops.

12: Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love) (from ‘Too Tough To Die’, 1984)

Dee Dee shouldered most of the songwriting duties circa Too Tough To Die, as Joey was ill for a protracted period of time prior to – and during – the album sessions. When Joey gave the project his full attention, however, he wrote several great tracks, including the album’s second single, Chasing The Night. That track’s flipside, Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love), really should have been an A-side on its own merits. A widescreen anthem that rocked hard yet still exuded crossover appeal, it’s arguably Too Tough To Die’s outstanding cut.

11: Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment (from ‘Leave Home’, 1977)

Often cited as the album which spawned punk, Ramones’ self-titled debut is more iconic, but, with hindsight, its immediate follow-up, Leave Home, was arguably superior. Benefitting from improved production, it was a storming record, with Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment just one of many standouts. The song’s Dee Dee-penned lyric (“Happy, happy, happy all the time/Shock treatment, I’m doing fine”) touched upon the controversial electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) given to people with severe bipolar conditions, but the song itself was an equally short, sharp shot of vintage punk rock.

10: The KKK Took My Baby Away (from ‘Pleasant Dreams’, 1981)

Arguably Ramones’ most underrated album, Pleasant Dreams is often dismissed as one of their weaker records, which is frankly mystifying as it includes no shortage of contenders for a place among the best Ramones songs. Sire Records’ decision to pair the New Yorkers with Mancunian Graham Gouldman might seem like a curious marriage, but the 10cc man’s pop savvy and punchy production techniques served the record well. Rumour has it that the album’s best track – the extremely sarky The KKK Took My Baby Away – was Joey’s response to Johnny stealing his girlfriend.

9: Danny Says (from ‘End Of The Century, 1980)

Though not necessarily their best album, End Of The Century was surely Ramones’ most high-profile release, as it put them in the studio with legendary producer Phil Spector. In retrospect, it may have seemed a great idea on paper, but Spector’s laborious methods and control-freak tendencies were always going to grate with a band more accustomed to completing an album in the time it took their producer to perfect his desired drum sound. Nonetheless, Spector’s magic touch did enhance several of End Of The Century’s best tracks, with the shimmering, almost-ballad Danny Says sounding especially regal.

8: Glad To See You Go (from ‘Leave Home’, 1977)

Leave Home’s barnstorming opening track, Glad To See You Go was an ode to Dee Dee’s ex-girlfriend Connie: a wayward soul with a propensity for attacking her boyfriends with knives and other assorted kitchen utensils. Dee Dee dumped Connie and celebrated the event with this rather less-than-affectionate ode (“And in a moment of passion/Get the glory like Charles Manson”) co-written with Joey, who completed the song’s melody on his two-string acoustic guitar.

7: I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend (from ‘Ramones’, 1976)

Ramones are frequently hailed as the instigators of punk, but unlike their UK counterparts Sex Pistols and The Clash, they didn’t subscribe to the era’s “Year Zero” mentality, making no bones of their love of pop music through recording souped-up versions of classic hits such as Chris Montez’s Let’s Dance and The Rivieras’ California Sun. One of their self-titled debut album’s many highlights, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend also belied their love of 60s girl groups, though the song’s chief writer, Tommy Ramone, admitted he wrote it partly to balance out the negative aspects in some of their other songs. He told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, “I wrote it because we had all these other songs with ‘I Don’t Wanna’ in the titles – like I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You and I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement.”

6: Do You Remember Rock’n’roll Radio? (from ‘End Of The Century’, 1980)

By some way the band’s biggest pure pop fan, Joey Ramone freely admitted that the 60s’ most monumental sounds kept him going during his difficult early years when his parents divorced, and later told Rolling Stone, “Music was my salvation – the transistor radio, listening to WMCA Good Guys and Murray The K.” The singer gratefully paid tribute to a golden age of pop on Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?, surely the End Of The Century song that benefitted the most from Phil Spector’s glorious widescreen production techniques.

5: Teenage Lobotomy (from ‘Rocket To Russia’, 1977)

Matching a lyric about a teen who’s getting a lobotomy due to brain damage caused by the potentially lethal chemical DDT with an irresistibly hummable tune, Teenage Lobotomy is a quintessential example of the best Ramones songs. The words were wonderfully droll (“Now I guess I’ll have to tell ’em/That I got no cerebellum”), though the music itself was more complex than it first appeared, with Rocket To Russia producer Ed Stasium later referring to the song as “a mini-Ramones symphony”.

4: I Wanna Be Sedated (from ‘Road To Ruin’, 1978)

Though sonically direct and punchy, I Wanna Be Sedated had an especially gruesome instigating incident, as it partly related to a backstage incident at a New Jersey Ramones concert where a humidifier exploded in Joey’s face, leaving the singer with shocking burns which he only had treated after the show. Joey’s trauma did at least sire one of the best Ramones songs, which really should have been a hit, had it not been for the title. “We spent a little time making I Wanna Be Sedated more produced,” Tommy later revealed. “We were trying to get a single, which was bittersweet, because we knew that it wasn’t going to get played widely [on the radio] with the word ‘sedated’ in it.”

3: Blitzkrieg Bop (from ‘Ramones’, 1976)

Ramones’ love of classic pop also influenced the creation of one of their most immortal tracks, Blitzkrieg Bop, from their self-titled debut album. Feeling they desperately needed an anthem, the New Yorkers looked to one of the 70s’ biggest-selling bands, Bay City Rollers. “We really liked bubblegum music and we really liked the Rollers,” Joey Ramone later admitted. “Their song Saturday Night had a great chant in it, so that’s how Blitzkrieg Bop’s ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go!’ chant evolved. It was our very own Saturday Night.”

2: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (single A-side, 1977)

Legend has it that when Joey Ramone first played the demo of Sheena Is A Punk Rocker to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, he was so enamoured that he wanted the band to record it the very same day. It’s not hard to hear why. A classic rock’n’roll song with more than a little Eddie Cochran in its genes, Sheena… had “hit” running through it like the proverbial stick of rock, and it duly granted Ramones with their first UK Top 30 smash, forever asserting its place among the best Ramones songs. Joey later described is as “the first surf/punk rock/teenage rebellion song”, but however you dissected its ingredients, it came out tasting absolutely perfect.

1: Rockaway Beach (from ‘Rocket To Russia’, 1977)

Rockaway Beach is surely the greatest summer hit record that never was. Stupidly catchy and boasting harmonies that would have done The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson proud, this marvellous, Dee Dee-penned song trapped the splendour of a New York summer in a bottle (“Chewing out a rhythm on my bubblegum/The sun is out and I want some”) but then failed as a single, simply because it was released in November. Nonetheless, it tops our list of the best Ramones songs and, as author Everett True says in his book Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story Of The Ramones, it really is “two minutes, six seconds of absolute pop nirvana”.

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