Ramones: Ramones (1976)
Now, I can't pretend that I heard this album upon its release and it immediately changed my life. It was 1976, and I was 10 years old, too wrapped up in the Bay City Rollers and Sweet to notice the punk revolution that had been kicked off. When I did finally hear the band a few years later -- I don't remember if it was the appearance of "Beat on the Brat" on a punk rock mix tape a friend lent me, or the airplay that later single "I Wanna Be Sedated" was receiving -- I viewed them more as a novelty act, i.e., wouldn't it be fun to reduce rock and roll to three chords and sophomoric lyrics delivered with a fun and only mildly-threatening attitude?
But over time I did come to appreciate the band on its own merits. As with the Sex Pistols, it's hard to listen to the band without hearing them in their historical context, a fuck you to prog and classic rock excess and rock as a post-Beatles art form, a cultural statement about stripping out the pretension and the BS and leaving just the visceral thrill of rock and roll. And also as with the Pistols, it's amazing that the first Ramones album stands up as simply great music. Even more so, you can imagine this album coming out today and still being fucking thrilling. You can laugh off the musical simplicity, the attitude, the style, but it's hard to overstate the perfection of the musical performance. Not a wasted note, insanely tight, that perfect and instantly identifiable drum beat and the dynamics of Johnny's guitar and Joey's no-frills but spot-on vocals, and the whole damn album recorded in like an hour or so.
It's tough to think of another lead-off track as exciting as "Blitzkrieg Bop" (well, maybe "Debaser" off the Pixies' Doolittle album), music as pure catharsis, yet still catchy as hell. And to follow it with "Beat On The Brat," it's really a one-two punch, a double A-side single that renders the rest of the album pure gravy. Actually, more like a triple A-side, as "Judy Is A Punk" completes the opening hat trick. And after three consecutive timeless punk anthems, they take it down a notch for the perfectly straight midtempo love song "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," a firm reminder that for all the buzzsaw guitars and kick-drum stomp, the Ramones were a pop band at heart, more Beach Boys than Stooges.
I can't say the rest of the album captures the same thrill as those first four tracks; I'm probably more partial to the rollicking cover of "Let's Dance" than to most of the originals making up the balance of the album. Which isn't to say the whole damn thing isn't perfect, but not every song can (or should) be "Blitzkrieg Bop."
Here's some live "Bop":