The Ramones' Pioneering Punk Rock

Sire Records Founder Seymour Stein on 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Ramones and their pioneering punk rock
  • Photo: Redferns/Ebet Roberts
    Ramones
July 12, 2014 -- 10:30 am PDT
By Seymour Stein / GRAMMY.com

(The Ramones were honored with The Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. The original version of the following tribute ran in the 53rd GRAMMY Awards program book that year. The last original founding member of the Ramones, Tommy Ramone died July 11 at the age of 62.)

Being head of Sire Records, which turns 45 in 2011, I was responsible for all artists, and as hard as it was not to show favoritism, for the most part I succeeded. It was hardest with the Ramones, partly because soon after I signed them their manager Danny Fields asked my wife Linda to be his partner. It was harder still because I admired the band's total dedication to their music, despite the fact that selling millions of records eluded them throughout their career. 

With Linda as their co-manager, the Ramones knew my every move. One Sunday within 10 minutes of returning from a 10-day trip to London, I received a call from Johnny. "Seymour, we got some great songs, ya know, we want you to hear 'em, ya know."

I said, "Great, just got home. Come in anytime you want on Tuesday."

"No, we want you to hear 'em live, ya know, and we know you're not doing anything Wednesday night, ya know, so we booked ourselves into CBGBs."

That evening proved monumental. The opening act was supposed to be the Shirts. I had seen them many times before and was standing outside the club with Lenny Kaye. 

The opening act goes on and I hear a screeching voice: "When my love, stands next to your love…" and all of a sudden as I'm sucked into CBGBs, I say, "That's not the Shirts." Lenny says, "No, they got another gig, that's the Talking Heads.

Armed with the Ramones and Talking Heads, amid the buzz building around the Bowery and CBGB, Sire finally got the distribution deal I always wanted with Warner Bros. Records, where we have been for the past 35 years. 

Thank you Johnny. Oh yes, and thank you Joey, thank you Tommy, and thank you Dee Dee. 

Over the years I can't tell you how many artists were lured to Sire by the Ramones, and yes, also Talking Heads.

The Ramones made it seem easy and as such were an inspiration to bands as varied as U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Pearl Jam, the Offspring, Motörhead, Metallica, the Undertones, the Strokes, Bad Religion, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Sonic Youth, Bad Brains, and many others.

I remember when we first brought the Ramones to London back in 1976. Members of the Clash and Sex Pistols, both only semiprofessional at the time, attended the second show and it was said both bands turned pro right after that.

According to Danny Fields, Johnny Ramone asked the Clash's bass player Paul Simonon, "Are you in a band?" Paul said, "Well, we just rehearse. We call ourselves the Clash, but we are not good enough." Johnny said, "Wait 'til you see us. We stink, we're lousy, we can't play. Just get out there and do it."

Joey Ramone had the biggest heart ever and was always trying to help new acts. Last time we spoke, two weeks before he died, Joey called to tell me he had just sent a new band's CD.

Bono once said at a Madison Square Garden gig, "We love New York City…New York City has given us a lot of things, but the best thing it ever gave us was a punk rock group called the Ramones, without whom a lot of people would have never gotten started; certainly us!"

Eddie Vedder might have set a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame record by speaking for more than 20 minutes when he inducted the Ramones back in 2002. "The Ramones didn't need Mohawks to be punk. They're visually aggressive. They were four working-class, construction-worker delinquents from Forest Hills, Queens, who were armed with two-minute songs that they rattled off like machine-gun fire. And it was enough to change the Earth's revolution."

I've been to Beijing twice this past year to check out China's emerging punk music scene. There is a club called D-22, reminiscent of CBGB, and aspiring young bands like Carsick Cars, P.K. 14 and Rustic are carrying on the tradition, further proof the Ramones' music is truly global and will endure forever.

(As founder of Sire Records, Seymour Stein signed the Ramones, Talking Heads, Pretenders, Madonna — all of whom have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Depeche Mode, Echo And The Bunnymen, Ice-T, the Replacements, the Smiths, k.d. lang, Erasure, the Cult, the Cure, Seal, the Undertones, and Barenaked Ladies, among many others, to the label. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.) 

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