John Doe's Five Essential Ramones Songs
John Doe (photo by Jim Herrington, PR)
While the Ramones staked out New York's East Village as their rock 'n' roll province in the '70s, the great punk band X anchored Los Angeles with their raucous blasts of misfit fury. At SXSW this past March, punk icon John Doe, who co-founded X with guitarist Billy Zoom, took part in a Grammy Museum panel on the Ramones and explained that the Queens rockers were akin to "pop art," a bridge between Andy Warhol and street art. Doe also said that the Ramones influenced X, reflected in Zoom's guitar playing and even the robust brevity of many of X's early songs.
As much of a punk historian as musician, Doe will guide another Ramones Q&A with the cast and writers of "Rock and Roll High School" on July 24 at Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles, as part of the Johnny Ramone Tribute 2016: Celebrating 40 Years of the Ramones.
Away from X, Doe has also spent the past quarter century as a solo artist and author. On his majestic new album The Westerner, he brings his windswept, wistful poetry to desert meditations like "A Little Help," featuring Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and the elegiac "Rising Sun." This past May, Da Capo Press published Doe's other labor of love and wisdom, Under the Big, Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, which includes interviews with other denizens of the city's hardcore punk scene from 1977-1982
What better man to assess "Five Essential Ramones Songs" than the great John Doe? We are especially thrilled and honored that Doe has written up a list for this week's FUV Essentials, dedicated to the Ramones.
John Doe's Five Essential Ramones Songs:
It would easiest to say every record and over half the songs because they’re great! Five essential songs is a truly daunting task. It’s also hard to say why Ramones songs are great; they just are! I tried to make a list of "Five Essentials Ramones Songs" only using titles with “I Wanna" as the theme but that would mean leaving out a couple absolute essentials.
"I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," Ramones (1976)
This could’ve and should’ve been a hit in any decade from the ‘50s until forever. They wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking melody that would make Leiber and Stoller jealous. It’s a song that I really wish I could write.
"I Wanna Be Sedated," Road to Ruin (1978)
Love this mid-tempo rocker, which for these guys is a chronicle of where they had been at this point in their career: lots of shows and lots of vans and airplanes. To prove that punk isn’t that simple, they even modulate keys. Then of course there’s a signature fa-fa-fa-fa.
"I Want You Around," Rock 'n' Roll High School (1978)
Here’s another “I Want” song about teenage bad boys with so many minor chords that you'd get sad even if you didn’t understand English. And what?!? Acoustic guitars?!? This certainly pissed off the purists, but the teenage angst sends me through the roof.
"Pinhead," Leave Home (1977)
Here’s the "I Don’t Wanna" song. Yeah there’s three chords but about three different sets of three. It’s almost like prog-rock in simplest terms. Who can forget Joey grabbing the Gabba Gabba Hey sign from their roadie, Bubbles (?) to get the audience to agree that we were all “one of us”
"We’re A Happy Family," Rocket to Russia (1977)
It’s no secret that they all came from difficult homes and had hard times with each other—and here’s the proof masked in their typical jokey way. People forget that the Ramones were funny and had some of the darkest humor around. I took a hell of a lot of inspiration from the way they replaced guitar leads with sections of power chords. It’s a lost art. Doesn’t everyone miss the Ramones like crazy?
- John Doe