For me, the Ramones are godlike manifestations of rock stripped to its bare core then spit in your face in LP form, peeling away life’s artifice as you go track for track through their history. Yes, I am a Ramones fan. Yes, I have something to say about this band.
What has me thinking about the Ramones today? Earlier, I stumbled across the fact that today (November 19th) marks the 21 year anniversary of the ’94 Spider-Man animated series premiere. For me, any reference to an animated Spider-Man always makes me think of the Ramones. I immediately hear the voice of Joey belting out their cover of the ’64 series theme song. Not familiar? Check out the original here, then jump over to the Ramones version (and while linking don’t miss this rarer, better version). The song now stands forever changed in your memory, right?
How did this song come to be? Their version of the ’64 theme first turned up on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits and then a slightly different version was included as a hidden track at the end of the bands final studio album, ¡Adios Amigos!, also in ’95. How important was the character to them? They chose to end their recording career with Spider-Man and that wasn’t just a quirky Gabba Gabba Hey styled afterthought, it reflected their love of cartoons, comics, baseball cards, and all the related nostalgia that rolls into that appreciation.
That said, there is a deeper story. Most think of frontman Joey Ramone as the tall, thin, somewhat lanky lead of the group. His spread eagle stance with the mic stand bent to the side showing off the ripped Levi’s and black leather band uniform made a statement and has become iconic. For those that knew him though, there was also a very shy man behind all that mash of sunglasses and hair.
As we later learned in Legs McNeil and Mickey Leigh’s book, I Slept with Joey Ramone, Joey overcame a lot to be that frontman. He was born sickly and remained ill for much of his life. Joey was also shy, reclusive, and a loner in his younger years. Doctors gave him little hope for a normal life as mental illness began to trouble him. His bouts with obsessive-compulsive disorder were known but fewer knew of his battle with voices and his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Despite it all, music helped him persevere into a lovable and influential punk icon and the way he grew up also framed him.
Joey spoke many times of his love for cartoons (something he shared with much of the band). He even detailed it a bit in the Saturday Morning liner notes. There he remembered jumping up out of bed as a kid on Saturday morning and slouching in the lounge chair watching Beatles, Jetsons, and a host of other cartoons. “You’re gonna screw up your posture!” his mother screamed and Joey admitted later, “I should have listened.”
Their version of the theme went on to be served up three more times (’96 Greatest Hits Live, the Weird Tales of the Ramones completion and in the last live performance album We’re Outta Here!) and is beloved. Additionally it made it’s way into Guitar Hero, the film Bio-Dome, and even a series of Australian Spider-Man toy commercials. Now it simply lives on via YouTube.
As much as the band loved geek culture, that culture has loved them back. They’ve turned up in a host of other ways over the years including an appearance in the fifth season of the Simpsons (playing themselves) in the episode “Rosebud“. They’ve gotten the Funko Pop! love (check out Johnny and Dee Dee) and amid a sea of t-shirts over the years, I like the ones that play homage to the iconic band symbol in mashup form best (think Avengers, Hobbit, My Little Pony, Ghostbusters and Johnny Cupcakes to name just a few). Coming up in 2016 the band will be taking a trip to Riverdale as the Ramones meet Archie and his crew in comic form. The publication date of the comic is planned to coincide “with the 75th anniversary of Archie Comics and the Ramones’ 40th anniversary” according to press releases.
Credited by many as creating punk music and undeniably influencing much of the sound that followed, the Ramones left a mark on music history and their fans. For this fan, one of the highlights of my life was getting to meet and share some time with Joey back in 1989. When I learned of their geeky tendencies, I loved them all the more and I thank him for taking time to have a bit of fun with a college Freshman from a little radio station in Kentucky before soldiering on to the next show…
“We were real. We were unique.
We’re like four unique individuals.
It’s a chemical thing.
It’s a strong chemical imbalance.
Opposites attract and all that crap”
– Joey Ramone