Photo: Redferns/Ebet Roberts
The Ramones' Pioneering Punk Rock
Sire Records Founder Seymour Stein on 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Ramones and their pioneering punk rock
(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.)
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Edward Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Remembering Seymour Stein: Without The Record Business Giant, Music Would Be Unrecognizable
The music man who signed everyone from the Ramones to Madonna will be profoundly missed throughout the global music community. He passed away on Apr. 8 at 80.
There’s a Belle and Sebastian song titled “Seymour Stein” that evokes a real-life, lavish feast between the soft-spoken Scottish indie band and the record company executive.
In the 1998 ballad, singer Stuart Murdoch details the tension between their working class identities and the dizzying prospects that Stein held in the palm of his hand. “Promises of fame, promises of fortune/ L.A. to New York/ San Francisco, back to Boston,” Murdoch dreamily sings. But he demurs, thinking of a girl back home in the country: “My thoughts are far away.”
There was a very good reason Murdoch and company associated Stein with an almost blindingly paradisiacal vision of music success. For an entire generation of alternative weirdos, Stein — the co-founder of Sire Records and vice president of Warner Bros. Records — was the guy who made it happen.
Sadly, Stein passed away on April 2 at his home in Los Angeles of cancer at the age of 80. This seismic loss to the global music community has rightfully earned tributes from far-flung corners of the music industry. Many, like his signee Madonna, openly pondered where their lives would be without his razor-sharp perception and adoration of all things music.
Think of the three-or-four-chord powderkeg of the Ramones’ 1977 self-titled debut, and the CBGB-adjacent army that answered to its detonation: Talking Heads, the Pretenders, Richard Hell and the Voldoids — on and on. Stein signed them all to Sire, either initiating their careers, as per the Ramones, or heralding their second acts, as he did the Replacements.
That paradigm arguably amounted to the biggest shift in guitar-based music since the Beatles — the ratcheting-down of opulent ‘70s rock into something leaner, meaner, and arguably more honest. But even that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Stein's influence on music and culture at large.
Stein was the man who signed Madge, a profoundly pivotal figure in the following decade. And the rest of his resume was staggering: the Smiths, the Cure, Seal, k.d. lang, Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, Body Count… the list goes on.
He helped to establish the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, by way of the foundation of the same name, initiated by Ahmet Ertegun in 1983 — and was himself inducted in 2005. In 2018, the Recording Academy bestowed him with a coveted Trustees Award, which acknowledged his decades of service to the music community.
Indeed, the music man’s loss reverberates throughout the world’s leading society of music people.
“Seymour Stein was one of the greatest A&R executives of all time,” Ruby Marchand, the Chief Awards & Industry Officer at the Recording Academy, tells GRAMMY.com. “His passion, magnetic energy and natural curiosity underscored a lifelong dedication to unique artistry.
“He especially prized the art of songwriting and had an encyclopedic knowledge of songs, often bursting out in song to regale and delight friends and colleagues,” recalls Marchand, who worked with Stein for decades. “Seymour traveled the globe for decades and basked in the glow of discovering emerging artists singing to small audiences, from Edmonton to Seoul.
“He was a doting mentor, advisor, cheerleader and advocate for hundreds of us in the industry worldwide,” she concludes. “We cherish him and miss him terribly, and know how fortunate we were to have had him in our lives.”
The Recording Academy hails the late, great Stein for his monumental achievements in the music industry — ones that have fundamentally altered humanity’s universal language forever.
Photo: Chris Cain; Jeremy Danger
Ann Wilson & Nancy Wilson Of Heart Receive The Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award | 2023 GRAMMYs
This Lifetime Achievement Award honors performers who have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.
Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart are verging on the half-century mark of their groundbreaking group. Through five decades of changing musical eras, their impact has not waned. From the ’70s, when Ann set the blueprint for rock frontwomen and Nancy established her oft-imitated and never-quite-duplicated guitar playing style, through the ’80s when the band dominated MTV, to 2019 when the sisters spearheaded the all-female Love Alive tour, the Wilsons broke barriers as musicians, singers and songwriters.
The two started early in music. Nancy showed marked virtuosity on the acoustic guitar at 9 years old. Ann, four years her senior, was already singing in the style of blues greats — albeit filtered through rock and roll.
Their 1976 debut album, Dreamboat Annie, spawned the hits "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You,"which remain staples on classic rock radio. "Barracuda" from 1977’s Little Queen followed suit. Drawing from folk, hard rock and the daring to not be pigeonholed by their gender, the Wilsons were among the few women granted authority on a rock stage dominated by men.
By the time the sisters glammed up and became MTV staples and chart-toppers in the mid-‘80s, they were proven songwriters and already a multiplatinum-selling band. It was the GRAMMY-nominated Billboard No.1 album Heart that catapulted Ann and Nancy into the musical stratosphere. The album’s hits were ubiquitous, all cracking the Top 10. Its flagship song, "These Dreams"— sung by Nancy — hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. A year later, the band snagged that position again with "Alone" from their album Bad Animals, and with it, two more GRAMMY nominations. They continued their GRAMMY nomination streak with 1990’s Brigade.
Over the course of 16 studio albums, the pair have sold 35 million records and had seven Top 10 albums. Ann and Nancy also charted on the New York Times bestsellers list with their 2013 memoir, Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll.
Ann and Nancy individually extended their musical reach to the silver screen. Ann through her iconic voice on the unforgettable songs "Almost Paradise," "Best Man in the World" and "Surrender to Me" on stellar soundtracks from the timeless films Footloose, The Golden Child and Tequila Sunrise, respectively. Nancy through her essential, award-winning scores for the box office smashes Say Anything, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky.
Their abilities have continuously attracted accomplished musicians of all genders who speak with reverence about their skills and consider performing alongside as a distinct privilege. Their songs have been sampled by the likes of Eminem, Lil Wayne, G-Eazy, and Nas.
No matter how much they accomplish, the need to create is ever present with the Wilson sisters. In the last couple of years, they have both released solo albums. Nancy with her first album of original material in 2021 with You and Me, and Ann in 2022 with her third solo album, Fierce Bliss.
Honors and accolades abound for Ann and Nancy: the ASCAP Pop Music Awards Founders Award, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But they remain active. As Nancy said in her Rock Hall acceptance speech: "We’re not finished rocking just yet."
Photo: Gutchie Kojima/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Nirvana Receives The Lifetime Achievement Award At The 2023 GRAMMYs
This Lifetime Achievement Award honors performers who have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.
Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana didn’t invent grunge, but they mainstreamed it in the early ’90s, arguably accidentally and maybe even regretfully. In the process, they almost overnight changed the tenor of rock from exuberant hair metal to a heavier, socially disaffected sound. They became the defining rock band of their era, but also the face of the many troubled musicians who emerged from the Northwest underground scene.
As a punk-rooted, pop-obsessed indie rock band that worshipped at the altar of metal progenitors Black Sabbath, Nirvana created a unique sound accessible to multiple audiences while setting up an untenable paradox with which the band would ultimately have to wrestle. Their pop melodies played against guitar noise and boldly dynamic verse/chorus constructions led to unlikely chart and sales success. But that success fed their own backlash against the trappings of pop stardom, influenced in no small part by lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain’s drug addictions and mental illness. After Cobain’s suicide in 1994, Nirvana’s story would become tabloid fodder, but their legacy would prove out as instrumental in turning alternative rock into a ’90s phenomenon.
Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic met while attending high school in the Seattle area. They kicked around for a few years under various band names and with a number of drummers. In 1989, their debut album Bleach hinted at how the noise, menace, melodies, and songcraft would distill into their fully formed sound just two years later. Drummer Dave Grohl would join permanently in 1990, and the band would sign with major label DGC for Nevermind, the breakthrough album that would set them on the course to unlikely superstardom. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would become an MTV staple, ultimately affirmed in the pop-culture zeitgeist by a Weird Al Yankovic parody.
Their response to sudden fame was 1993’s follow-up In Utero, sometimes referred to as Cobain’s "suicide note," a deliberately difficult and dour record whose attitude might have been best summed up by "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," on which Cobain sings “Use just once and destroy/ Invasion of our privacy." Still, it was a stunning work of willful personal dissonance.
In April of 1994, Cobain was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. "MTV Unplugged" In New York would be released posthumously, winning a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Music Performance and clearly showing a band that was, like all great bands, growing and redefining its sound.
Cobain’s suicide followed the overdose death of Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood and would be followed years later by fellow Seattle-scene rockers Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, sadly, seemingly preordained finales for musicians who sang authentically about such real-world trauma as social alienation, abuse, isolation, and addiction. Seldom has a genre of music so deeply reflected the raw emotions and turmoil of the artists.
In 2005, the Library of Congress added Nevermind to its National Recording Registry of culturally important recordings. Pitchfork called Nirvana "the greatest and most legendary band of the 1990s." The band were first-ballot inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
If the mark of greatness is that your art changes the medium, then Nirvana’s greatness is unassailable.