Imagine not only starting a revolution, but also creating an extraordinary work of art in the process. Imagine if Lenin could paint like Picasso.
Ramones, released 40 years ago this month, is one of the most original and satisfying works of art of our time. In just over 29 minutes, it introduced a truly new idea, magnificently realized. It was the soup can no one had ever thought to paint; it had always been the obvious destination of rock pop, so obvious no one had ever dared to try it.
“They were the Bizarro World Beatles,” notes Craig Leon, the producer of the Ramones’ remarkable debut album and a rare witness to one of the most important recording sessions of our era (we’ll be hearing a lot more from him soon).
There are three primary ways to discuss the 40th anniversary of Ramones. The date—April 23, 1976—marks a convenient (if overly simplistic) way to demark the beginning of an important movement in music and fashion; it also denotes the ascension into the public eye of one of the fundamental artists of the last century. But what is frequently obscured is this: 4/23/76 marks the release date of one of the most skillfully executed and conceptually original recorded works of all time. This apex in pop rock must be examined both apart from the movement that Ramones is largely credited with instigating, and also separated from the subsequent career of the band that created that achievement.
We can date the era of “album rock” roughly to the release of Rubber Soul in December 1965. At this point, rock/pop artists began to release records intended be greater than the sum of their parts, LPs that were more than a collection of tracks designed to fill the spaces between singles and well-treaded covers. Of course, jazz, classical, avant-garde and even folk artists had been conjuring album-length experiences for decades, but it was a relatively late development in rock.
There are only two indisputably flawless pop rock albums that I can think of, whose conceptual and artistic perfection and execution cannot be questioned. These arePet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Ramones by the Ramones. But the ubiquity of the Ramones as a T-shirt icon and hashtag for the very idea of “punk” often obscures the fact that they were great artists, they made one of our era’s greatest works of art—and they made it on purpose.
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