Formed in 1974, New York rock band the Ramones set out to play music that was unlike anything else at the time – and in so doing, they were arguably the key figures in lighting the spark on the movement that became punk rock.
Comprised of four awkward loners who were typically as much at odds with one another as the rest of the world, the Ramones were nonetheless united by an uncompromising attitude, a strict wardrobe of leather biker jackets, battered jeans and t-shirts, matching haircuts – and above all else the determination to play louder, faster and harder than anyone else.
Here are some facts about this iconic band that you might not have known.
20. The entire original line-up are now dead
Sadly, all four men who comprised the original line-up of the Ramones are no longer with us.
Vocalist Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman) and guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings) were Ramones for the band’s duration.
- Credit: Rockarchive.com
However, founding bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin) and drummer Tommy Ramone (Thomas Erdelyi) didn’t stay in the band quite so long.
Joey was the first Ramone to die, passing away from lymphoma in 2001; Dee Dee died the following year, from an overdose.
- Credit: Jorgen Angel/Redferns/Getty Images
Next, Johnny died in 2004 from prostate cancer; and finally Tommy died in 2014, from bile duct cancer.
Happily, the band’s three subsequent full-time members Marky, Richie and C.J. are still alive and well at the time of writing.
19. The band took their name from Paul McCartney’s first stage name
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A key hook of the Ramones was that they all adopted stage names utilising the same surname.
This was the idea of Dee Dee, who was inspired by legendary British rock star Paul McCartney.
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In the very early days of the Beatles, the Liverpool-born bassist and singer-songwriter went by the stage name Paul Ramon.
In fact, Douglas Colvin began using the name Dee Dee Ramone before the Ramones had even got together as a band.
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It was at his suggestion that his bandmates did likewise when they began rehearsing in 1974.
Having adopted matching stage names, the bandmates’ adoption of similar haircuts and outfits was a natural continuation of this.
18. They were one of the bands who invented punk rock
The Ramones were one among a number of mid-70s bands in New York deliberately taking a very stripped-down approach to rock ‘n’ roll.
This was largely a reaction against the progressive rock and disco that was taking over popular music at the time.
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The band’s manager Danny Fields recalls, “People had had enough of Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, all that 1970s pretentiousness.”
The Ramones took a diametrically opposed outlook: as Fields argues, “it wasn’t about virtuosity, it was about ‘just do it.'”
According to their manager, “The band kickstarted the whole DIY, you-don’t-have-to-play-well ethos.”
They played loud and fast, most of the songs lasting two minutes or less and using only three or four chords.
This approach caught on, most significantly in New York and the United Kingdom, and was soon dubbed punk rock.
17. Dee Dee was the principal songwriter – even after he quit the group
Joey and Johnny are sometimes considered the key Ramones, as they were the only members to remain in the line-up for the entirety of the band’s time together.
However, in many ways Dee Dee Ramone can be considered the real lynchpin of the band.
On top of naming the band, Dee Dee was also the main songwriter in the Ramones.
Officially, all members of the band are credited as songwriters on their albums, but it’s widely acknowledged Dee Dee did the lion’s share.
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Dee Dee even continued to write songs for the Ramones after he retired from performing with the band in 1989, to be replaced by C.J. Ramone (Christopher Ward).
The final Ramones album, 1995’s ¡Adios Amigos!, contains six songs co-written by Dee Dee, who also sings on the album’s closing track Born to Die in Berlin.
16. The band went through four drummers
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There have been eight official Ramones, with the most change occurring on the drum stool.
Tommy (who also managed the band and produced many of their albums) stepped down as the drummer in 1978, although he continued to work with the band behind the scenes.
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His replacement was Marky Ramone (Marc Bell), who was fired in 1983 because of his drinking problem.
Marky was in turn replaced by Richie Ramone (Richard Reinhardt), who remained with the band until 1987.
- Credit: Abigail Johnson via Wikimedia
Richie quit after the band refused to give him a cut of the merchandising profits, and was very briefly replaced by Clem Burke of Blondie, who took the name Elvis Ramone.
Burke played just two gigs with the band but couldn’t get the rhythm right, so Marky – who was by this time clean and sober – was re-hired, and remained with the band until the end.
15. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School was originally going to be about disco
In 1979, the Ramones made their mark on the big screen by appearing in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, an anarchic musical comedy based around their songs produced by Roger Corman.
Originally, prolific B-movie legend Corman had planned for the film to be set in the disco scene.
However, after Corman’s younger employees insisted that disco was dead, the film was reworked with a rock angle.
Before The Ramones signed on to appear as the central band, some other notable rockers of the time were considered.
Cheap Trick were the next band in line for the movie, and the filmmakers also briefly contemplated hiring Van Halen.
14. Phil Spector pulled a gun on them during a recording session for End of the Century
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The Ramones’ fifth album, End of the Century, was a step in a different direction for the band.
Although they were noted for the stripped-down, back-to-basics style, the band caught the attention of famously lavish producer Phil Spector.
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A music legend, Spector was responsible for a lot of the Ramones’ favourite music from the early 60s, notably girl group the Ronettes.
However, the Ramones soon learned that Spector’s reputation for being a ruthlessly hard taskmaster was well-earned.
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When Johnny didn’t play a guitar riff to Spector’s satisfaction during a recording session, the producer is said to have pulled out a gun on him and his bandmates.
23 years later, Spector was arrested for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, and was ultimately sentenced to life in jail. He died behind bars in January 2021.
13. Joey wrote The KKK Took My Baby Away about Johnny dating Joey’s ex
They may have all adopted the same name, but the Ramones as individuals were never exactly the best of friends.
Singer Joey and guitarist Johnny had a particularly uneasy relationship, in part because of their opposing political beliefs and other personal issues.
- Credit: Azula Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons
Things got particularly tense when Johnny started dating Joey’s ex-girlfriend Linda (the couple would marry in 1984).
This inspired Joey to write the song The KKK Took My Baby Away, a sardonic dig at Johnny’s conservative leanings.
For much of the band’s last decade, direct communication between guitarist and singer was said to be minimal.
Their relationship ended completely when the band broke up, and sadly Johnny and Joey never got back in touch before Joey’s death.
12. After the Ramones split, Dee Dee, Marky and C.J. formed tribute band the Ramainz
Although the Ramones officially ended for good in 1996, later that same year a new incarnation of the band emerged.
Dee Dee, Marky and C.J. reunited to form the Ramainz, a tribute to their previous band. (Initially they were called the Remains, but were forced to change this on learning of another band already using that name.)
Dee Dee and C.J. both switched from bass to guitar, whilst Dee Dee’s wife Barbara Zampini joined on bass, and Marky remained on drums.
C.J. only played with the band for one year. He was soon replaced by guitarist Ben Trokan.
The Ramainz gigged from 1997 until Dee Dee’s death in 2002, playing old favourites from the Ramones songbook.
They recorded one live album, Live in N.Y.C., which was released several months after Dee Dee passed away.
11. They were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame 11 months after Joey’s death
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In July 1999, all of the Ramones (except for Richie and Elvis) reunited one last time for an autograph session at a Virgin Megastore in New York City.
Less than two years after that, the band’s iconic frontman Joey Ramone passed away in April 2001.
Less than a year after that in March 2002, the Ramones were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam inducted the band, whilst Green Day paid tribute with a live rendition of Blitzkrieg Bop, Rockaway Beach and Teenage Lobotomy.
The inductees were all the surviving members of the original line-up, along with longest-serving drummer Marky, and a posthumous induction for Joey.
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It proved to be the last time the men were all on stage together, as Dee Dee died less than three months later.
The ever-conservative Johnny irked some fans and critics for ending his acceptance speech with “God bless George Bush and God bless America.”
10. Dee Dee wrote Pet Sematary in Stephen King’s basement (in one hour)
Best-selling horror author Stephen King is a huge fan of the Ramones, and filled his 1983 novel Pet Sematary with references to the band and quotes from their songs.
The Ramones would return the compliment by providing the title track to the 1989 film adaptation of the novel.
Pet Sematary was featured on the Ramones’ 1989 album Brain Drain, and it became one of their best-loved songs.
Famously, Dee Dee Ramone wrote the song while he was a guest at Stephen King’s house.
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After King handed him a copy of the novel, Dee Dee excused himself and disappeared to the basement.
He came back up an hour later, with all the song’s music and lyrics fully written.
9. Joey struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder his whole life
Joey Ramone was never the most typical of rock frontmen. Standing close to two metres in height, with dark glasses and hair always obscuring his face, he radiated nervous energy on stage.
What few people knew or understood at the time was that Joey was also living with undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This, as Marky Ramone discusses in his memoir Punk Rock Blitzkrieg, often presented a real problem for life in a busy touring band.
The drummer recalls numerous instances of the band having to wait for Joey whilst he obsessively touched walls, doors and kerbs before finally agreeing to leave.
Marky explains, “We didn’t know what [OCD] was then… A lot of times, Johnny and Dee Dee thought he was pulling their legs, that he was just trying to rile them up.
“Later on, we found out what it was and we understood it, but back then we didn’t.”
Joey’s condition had a role to play in the personal tensions that grew in the band over the years.
8. Bruce Springsteen originally wrote Hungry Heart for the Ramones
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Around the same time the Ramones were making a name for themselves, singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen was also on the rise.
However, where the Ramones appealed to a smaller niche audience, Springsteen soon became one of the most popular musicians in the world.
Springsteen admired the Ramones, and on meeting the band he was asked by Joey Ramone to compose them a song.
The singer-songwriter happily agreed to do so, and came up with the track Hungry Heart with the band in mind.
However, Springsteen’s producer and manager Jon Landau thought the song was too good for him to give away.
- Credit: AP Photo/Lennox McLendon
Previously, Springsteen had written songs for other artists which became hits, notably Patti Smith’s Because the Night (which Smith herself co-wrote), and his manager was worried the singer-songwriter might end up giving away all his best material.
So at Landau’s behest, Springsteen recorded Hungry Heart himself, and it became a top five hit in October 1980.
7. After quitting the band, Dee Dee tried to relaunch himself as a rapper
In what could be one of the most unlikely moves in musical history, 1989 saw Dee Dee Ramone attempt a radical change in musical direction after quitting the band he had founded 15 years earlier.
The bassist and songwriter had grown exhausted after all those years of following the same basic punk rock formula with very little room for experimentation.
It’s largely for this reason that on his first solo album he adopted the name Dee Dee King, and tried his hand at hip hop.
The album, Standing in the Spotlight, was released in March 1989 – the same month as Brain Drain, the last album Ramones album to feature Dee Dee as a full-time member.
The whole endeavour was largely tongue-in-cheek, but most music fans and critics found themselves laughing at Dee Dee rather than with him, and the album flopped hard.
On Dee Dee’s subsequent solo records, he reverted to the name Dee Dee Ramone and went back to playing punk rock.
6. The iconic Ramones logo was designed to look like the US presidential seal
The Ramones are arguably better known for the huge-selling T-shirts bearing their logo than they are for their music.
Ramones T-shirts have been widely available in high street stores for decades, much to the chagrin of some of the band’s more devoted fans.
The iconic logo – a punk variation on the Seal of the President of the United States – was designed by artist Arturo Vega, a close friend of the band in their early days.
Vega explained he used the Presidential Seal as the basis for the logo because “I saw them as the ultimate all-American band. To me, they reflected the American character in general – an almost childish innocent aggression.”
The main changes were putting the band members’ names around the outside, changing an olive branch to an apple tree branch (“since the Ramones were American as apple pie”), and changing an arrow to a baseball bat.
Initially the banner within the logo read “look out below,” but this was quickly changed to “Hey-ho! Let’s go!”, the beloved opening lines of the Ramones’ debut single Blitzkrieg Bop.
5. The Ramones’ feud with the Sex Pistols continues to this day
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Whenever punk rock is discussed, the question is usually raised about which band mattered the most: the Ramones, or the Sex Pistols.
Pioneers of the UK punk scene, the Sex Pistols formed in 1975, and it has been widely speculated that the band borrowed heavily from the Ramones.
Notorious for their outspoken bravado, the Pistols denied any such debt – but the Ramones were not convinced, and often angrily accused the British band of ripping them off.
Because of this, an animosity built between the two bands which lingers to this day.
When the Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) appeared on a Q&A panel alongside Marky Ramone in 2019, things soon got heated between the two men.
Lydon mocked Marky, stating that he loved the Ramones but loved Status Quo more, and accused the drummer of being into drugs and looking like a heavy metaller.
Meanwhile, Marky protested that without the Ramones, the Sex Pistols would have been “doing fish and chips somewhere.”
4. Originally Dee Dee was the singer and Joey was the drummer
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Bands sometimes reshuffle their roles within the line-up in their early days, and there was no exception for the Ramones.
Originally, the band had both Dee Dee and Johnny on guitar, with Dee Dee also providing the vocals, and Joey on drums.
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However, once it became clear that original bass player Richie Stern wasn’t up to the job, Dee Dee switched to bass, and they decided to leave Johnny as their sole guitarist.
Dee Dee then found singing and playing bass at the same time a challenge, so Joey took over as vocalist. Dee Dee would continue to sing backing vocals, as well as yell his signature “1-2-3-4!” intros for every song.
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Unfortunately, there was a pattern emerging: Joey found it too difficult to sing at the same time as playing the drums.
This resulted in the band finally enlisting Tommy as their drummer, and the classic line-up of the Ramones was born.
3. Two of their albums were co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin
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You’d be forgiven for assuming that the Ramones wouldn’t have all that much in common with Bon Jovi.
The multi-million selling stadium rock superstars from New Jersey were pretty far removed in tone and content from the pioneers of punk rock.
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However, there is a surprising link between the two acts: music producer and engineer Tony Bongiovi (above, centre).
Bongiovi co-produced the Ramones’ second and third albums, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, alongside Tommy Ramone.
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As you might have suspected from the surname, Tony Bongiovi is the cousin of John Frances Bongiovi Jr, aka Jon Bon Jovi.
Bongiovi went on to produce Bon Jovi’s self-titled 1984 debut album, although the band didn’t really break big until their 1986 follow-up Slippery When Wet.
2. Reagan supporter Johnny fell out with the band over the song Bonzo Goes to Bitburg
The lyrics of most Ramones songs are noted for their twisted, sarcastic sense of humour.
In this respect, 1986 track Bonzo Goes to Bitburg was a notable break from the norm.
Co-written by Dee Dee and Joey, the song marked one of the rare instances that the Ramones directly addressed politics.
It was an attack on Ronald Reagan, expressing contempt at the then-President’s state visit to Bitburg cemetery in Germany, where a great many members of the SS were buried.
Joey (who was Jewish) said in a TV interview at the time, “We had watched Reagan going to visit the SS cemetery on TV and were disgusted. We’re all good Americans, but Reagan’s thing was like forgive and forget. How can you forget six million people being gassed and roasted?”
This was not a sentiment shared by Johnny Ramone, a staunch Reagan supporter, who demanded the song be renamed on the album Animal Boy as My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (as ‘Bonzo’ was considered an insult to the President).
Though it was never released as a single in the US, Bonzo Goes to Bitburg was widely praised by critics, with Rolling Stone and Salon declaring it the Ramones’ finest work. Today, the song is perhaps best known for its use in the hit movie School of Rock.
1. There are at least 48 Ramones tribute records
The distinctive, simple sound of the Ramones has had a major influence on generations of rock musicians over the years.
According to a 2013 article in Spin magazine, no less than 48 tribute records to the Ramones have been produced.
Plenty of artists have composed songs about the Ramones – such as Frank Black’s I Heard Ramona Sing. (This track inspired the character name Ramona Flowers in the Scott Pilgrim comics, and was later featured in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.)
Then, of course, there are the bands who have recorded cover versions of songs by the Ramones, of which there are many; reportedly Blitzkrieg Bop alone has been covered at least 25 times.
The most high-profile Ramones tribute album is 2003’s We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones, which features Ramones covers by such big-name bands as Metallica, Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2.
There are also a number of lesser-known bands, such as Screeching Weasel and the Mr T. Experience, who have re-recorded entire Ramones albums track-for-track.
Japanese punk rock band Shonen Knife have performed as the Osaka Ramones, covering Ramones material; C.J. Ramone has performed live with them on a number of occasions.