1-2-3-4! The Ramones and the It’s Alive story

Ramones - Live 12/31/1977 (motherjones.com)

Ramones – Live 12/31/1977

1-2-3-4!

Introduction

In April 1979 the Ramones released their first live album. A classic album that’s universally acclaimed as being the very best of American punk music. It’s a perfect introduction to the Ramones: simple, melodic and above all exciting.

Ramones

Early 1974 John William Cummings, Douglas Glenn Colvin, Jeffrey Ross Hyman and a fourth musician formed the Ramones. Following a couple of changes (including roles within the band), manager Thomas Erdelyi changed his role to drummer and completed the band; the classic line-up had arrived.

Colvin was the first to adopt the surname “Ramone”, inspired by Paul McCartney’s often used pseudonym Paul Ramon. Colvin convinced the others to follow suit. Jeffrey Ross Hyman (vocals) became Joey Ramone, John William Cummings (guitar) became Johnny Ramone, Douglas Glenn Colvin (bass) became Dee Dee Ramone and Thomas Erdelyi (drums) became Tommy Ramone. On March 30, 1974, the Ramones played their first show in front of an audience. Even then, the songs were very fast and very short.

Ramones classic line-up (cbc.ca)

Ramones classic line-up (fltr: Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey & Johnny Ramone)

Punk

They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song. And they started playing different songs, and it was just this wall of noise… They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.

Legs McNeil, music journalist and co-founder of Punk magazine

The Ramones were almost instantly part of a new music scene, of which the band would soon be the main hub, which centered around two clubs in New York, Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. In the beginning the Ramones essentially were an in-house band at CBGB’s, playing 74 shows there in 1975. At the time their shows lasted around 17 minutes, with a setlist containing around 10 songs.

The Ramones didn’t just share their surname; the image was identical as well: bowl haircuts, black leather jackets, Converse sneakers and (torn) jeans. Tommy Ramone: “Eliminate the unnecessary and focus on the substance.” The anti-glamour and simple music provided a huge attraction.

They left a legacy of bands. Kids thought we had no future: “Look at them. They can’t play. They’re terrible! They don’t know more than three notes… They’re big. They’re famous. Everyone can get laid. Let’s start a band!” Every place we went to, there were bands that did not exist when the Ramones first played there, and when they came back, they did. [They were] pied pipers out there.

Danny Fields, Ramones manager

Late 1975 Sire Records signed the band, who at that time were considered to be the leaders of a new musical movement called “punk”. Singer Joey Ramone played a pivotal part. Dee Dee: “All the other singers were copying David Johansen, who was copying Mick Jagger… But Joey was unique, totally unique.” Manager Danny Fields: “He liberated [people] from their own sense of failure, unpopularity. Joey was a hero because he overcame the odds. He triumphed over geekiness and he started off an alien in the world in which he was raised.”

Ramones - Ramones, Leave Home & Rocket To Russia (recordsonvinyl.nl)

Ramones – Ramones, Leave Home & Rocket To Russia

Influence

On April 23, 1976, the Ramones debut album was released: Ramones. The album had cost $6,400 in total, including recording, mixing, cover design and photography. No less than 14 songs in less than 30 minutes. The album defined the Ramones sound: stripped down, simple rock and roll with a pop feel. At the time, it was revolutionary. The lyrics were unique as well. Joey Ramone: “We couldn’t write about love or cars, so we sang about stuff like glue sniffing. We thought we could get away with anything.” On top of that, it also introduced Ramones slogans, the opening song contained the classic “Hey ho, let’s go!” The album was an immediate sensation among critics, but it tanked commercially.

However, in England it was a different story. On July 4, 1976, the Ramones played in London: a huge success, that had a considerable impact on the local music punk scene. A few days later The Sex Pistols and The Clash saw the Ramones play. It introduced (musical) speed to the English punk scene. Wherever they went, the Ramones left their mark. After they visited town, many new bands were formed.

On January 10, 1977, the Ramones released their second album: Leave Home, which introduced the slogan “Gabba gabba hey!”. The album sold less than the debut. Upon the release of Rocket To Russia (slogan “Lobotomy”?) on November 4, 1977, expectations were riding high. The album contains many Ramones classics, Johnny Ramone thought it was their best, so the band’s promise could finally be delivered on. Even though many considered it their finest album, it didn’t turn out to be a success, again.

The Ramones went out on the road again, leading them back to England. On New Year’s Eve 1977 the band played at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The show was taped and would be released on It’s Alive in 1979.

End of the classic line-up

Early 1978 Tommy Ramone left the band, he was replaced by Marky Ramone. On September 22, 1978, Road To Ruin was released, an album that introduced acoustic guitar to the mix and not one, but two songs over the 3 minute mark.

Ramones - It's Alive (spotify.com)

Ramones – It’s Alive

It’s Alive

In April 1979 (the exact date is unknown) the Ramones released the recordings of the December 31, 1977, show as It’s Alive (named after a 1974 horror movie). The live double album wasn’t release in the US; it would take almost 20 years for its first official release in the US.

The show had been part of the tour promoting their then most recent album Rocket To Russia. Because the 1976 live debut of the Ramones had been so successful, 4 shows of the second tour were recorded. The recordings of the December 31 show were picked, in part due to the crowd’s wild behavior. After the show the audience was so riled up by the performance that they hurled the first 10 rows of chairs onto the stage.

Since it was New Year’s Eve, our management brought in some balloons and gave everybody these ‘Gabba gabba hey’ signs to wave around. It was very celebratory. Johnny Thunders was there, and Sid Vicious with his new girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Elton John was there, dressed up like Marlon Brando in The Wild One. We’d honed our craft really sharp by then. The Ramones’ sound was basically the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what we were going for.

Tommy Ramone

Ramones - Live 12/31/1977 (songssmiths.wordpress.com)

Ramones – Live 12/31/1977

Review

Essentially, It’s Alive is the ultimate Ramones album. It contains the best of the first 3 albums, which were like a template for the band’s entire career. Also, it delivers the Ramones the way they should sound: exciting, fast, no-nonsense and stripped down. a band at their peak, perfectly in sync and full of fire. At the time, Ramones concerts lasted less than an hour and no less than 28 songs were usually played in that time. Despite the well-defined group format and its music, the songs still possessed an irresistible swing.

Producer and engineer Ed Stasium:

Their studio records were great, but there was nothing like a live Ramones show. England was a perfect place to do it, because the British audiences loved them and the Ramones loved to play there.

I wasn’t there at the time, but I happily choose to believe this to be true. Interactions with the audience were kept to a bare minimum. Usually the order of things was for Joey to state the title of the song, Dee Dee counting it in, “1-2-3-4!”, followed by a 2,5 minute race through the song, upon which Joey called out the next song and Dee Dee counting it in, “1-2-3-4!”, and so on. The tempo was high, very high.

It’s Alive perfectly resembles the magic of the original line-up, when Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny and Tommy Ramone still had to conquer the world and unleashed their relentless pop-punk grooves onto their audience. It’s the last album to feature the original 4, some send off! It’s Alive isn’t just the best Ramones album, it’s one of the best live albums of all time. In my humble opinion It’s Alive is the superlative degree of the classic first 3 Ramones albums.

Ramones - It's Alive - Ad (beatchapter.com)

Ramones – It’s Alive – Ad

Songs

  1. Rockaway Beach
  2. Teenage Lobotomy
  3. Blitzkrieg Bop
  4. I Wanna Be Well
  5. Glad To See You Go
  6. Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
  7. You’re Gonna Kill That Girl
  8. I Don’t Care
  9. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
  10. Havana Affair
  11. Commando
  12. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
  13. Surfin’ Bird
  14. Cretin Hop
  15. Listen To My Heart
  16. California Sun
  17. I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You
  18. Pinhead
  19. Do You Want To Dance
  20. Chain Saw
  21. Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World
  22. Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy
  23. Judy Is A Punk
  24. Suzy Is A Headbanger
  25. Let’s Dance
  26. Oh Oh I Love Her So
  27. Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
  28. We’re A Happy Family

Written by Dee Dee Ramone (1, 15, 17, 21, 22, 27), Ramones (2, 14, 18, 24, 28), Tommy Ramone & Dee Dee Ramone (3), Joey Ramone (4, 7, 8, 9, 12, 20, 23, 26), Joey Ramone & Dee Dee Ramone (5, 6), Dee Dee Ramone & Johnny Ramone (10, 11), Al Frazier & Sonny Harris & Carl White & Turner Wilson (13, cover), Henry Glover (16, cover), Bobby Freeman (19, cover), Jim Lee (25, cover)

On September 20, 2019, It’s Alive was released as a 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. The boxset contained all 4 recorded English shows from December 1977. The set also contained a book with liner-notes and photos.

Ramones - 1976 (medium.com)

Ramones – 1976

Musicians

  • Joey Ramone – vocals
  • Johnny Ramone – guitar
  • Dee Dee Ramone – bass, background vocals
  • Tommy Ramone – drums

After It’s Alive

In August 1979 the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School was released, in which the Ramones played a part. The movie’s title song was a top 10 hit in The Netherlands and Belgium in early 1980. The (in)famous producer Phil Spector was charmed by the Ramones and decided to produce their next album. In 1980 End Of The Century was released, resulting in the band’s first entry into the album charts. After the albums Pleasant Dreams (1981), Subterranean Jungle (1983) and the resignation of drummer Marky, the 1984 album Too Tough To Die was produced by Tommy Ramone. In 1986 the band released Animal Boy, which held the reviled Something To Believe In, a song I have a soft spot for. In 1987 Halfway To Sanity was released, upon which I saw the Ramones (including the returned Marky) play live at the Amsterdam Paradiso in 1988. In 1989 the album Brain Drain was released. After Mondo Bizarro (1992) and ¡Adios Amigos! (1995) the Ramones played their final show on August 6, 1996.

Ramones - RIP (punk77.co.uk)

Ramones – RIP

RIP

On April 15, 2001, Joey Ramone died at age 49. On June 5, 2002, Dee Dee passed away, he was 50 years old. Two years later, on September 15, 2004, Johnny Ramone died at age 55. Ten years later, on July 11, 2014, Tommy Ramone died, he was 65 years old. All in all, a rather sad ending for one of the most exciting rock bands ever, who played a key role in (the development of) punk rock.

In closing

What’s your opinion on It’s Alive and the Ramones? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: 1-2-3-4! The Ramones and the It’s Alive story. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Ramones - 12/31/1977 - Sign (omegaauctions.co.uk)

4 comments

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    • Gordon Paul on 07/18/2024 at 5:49 PM
    • Reply

    Saw them open for White Zombie in Lewiston

    1. Great!

    • Bo M on 07/22/2024 at 12:22 AM
    • Reply

    I think this writer hit the nail on the head. All there albums had a different meaning for thoughts so it’s hard to say that this album or that album was their best. For me, if you put on some head sets or air pods give Road to Ruin a listen. To me I think that album is great ! Anyway, great job writing this article

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. Really appreciated!

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!