Nick Hasted: 'Tommy Ramone’s rock’n’roll legacy should not be underestimated'

Every punk band in London bought a copy of Ramones, and most attended their two gigs in the capital in July 1976

Tommy Ramone’s contribution to rock’n’roll was as brief and as fundamentally potent as his band’s songs. Three albums, released over 17 months, were the sum of the real-life Tommy Erdelyi’s time as a Ramone. By 1977, he was done. But if he had only drummed on and co-written “Blitzkrieg Bop”, the opening track of the band’s 1976 debut, Ramones, he would have made an indelible mark.

Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, in the bowels of New York’s Radio City Music Hall, a metronome jammed to its maximum 208 bpm gave Erdelyi’s drumming hands their guide. Played now, “Blitzkrieg Bop” no longer shocks. But its relentless momentum still sweeps you along. The group are already in motion as the record starts to spin, impatient to begin.

Fuzzed distortion clings to every note as Tommy’s bass-beat and blunt cymbal-smashes pummel the music forward. “Ey-oh, let’s go!” Joey Ramone commands, 22 seconds in, like a demented member of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs, the wall of sound behind him suddenly reduced to just Tommy’s drum tattoo.

The lyrics that follow, Erdelyi’s work as much as anyone’s, are a checklist of pulp paperback and B-movie poses: “What they want, I don’t know/ They’re all revved up and ready to go… shoot ’em in the back now.”

It’s the sound of Phil Spector being mugged by the Stooges in a Bowery back alley, or, in Erdelyi’s preferred description: “The Beatles on speed”.

Every punk band in London bought a copy of Ramones, and most attended their two gigs in the capital in July 1976, the month of the LP’s release. As with other bands making their name in the Bowery’s filthy CBGB club then – the Patti Smith Group and Television among them – the Ramones offered a moonshine-potent, cheap and nasty antidote to millionaire rock stars and virtuoso musicians who had lost touch with the music’s primal origins.

Reporting back to NME readers from New York in November 1975, before anyone in the UK had heard the band, Charles Shaar Murray saw them as saviours: “so funny, such a cartoon vision of rock and roll, and so tight and powerful that they’re just bound to enchant anyone who fell in love with rock and roll for the right reasons”.

There were, though, only 27 people in the crowd, one-third of them photographers, when Murray watched them play. They would remain prophets without honour in their own land.

Ramones became a gold record in the US when its half-millionth copy was sold, just a few days before Erdelyi’s death. The Ramones’ initial, abysmal incompetence shocked audiences when they first played CBGB in 1974. This absence of a forbidding degree of talent, along with the sheer squalor of their lives in stinking, bankrupt Seventies New York, made them an appealing, replicable punk rock prototype.

Erdelyi, though, was the necessary exception to such amateurishness. An engineer at New York’s Record Plant studio before he joined the band, he helped produce them even after quitting in 1977, following one gruelling tour too many.

Producer Craig Leon told Uncut magazine: “I was very conscious I was interpreting [Tommy’s] vision.” In one of his last interviews, Erdelyi agreed. “What we were doing was almost like a concept,” he told Uncut. “I realised that what you needed wasn’t musicianship. What you needed was ideas… You had to have intellect to get the Ramones. We had an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and all forms of culture.”

His part in the band’s genesis became a matter of rancorous dispute after he quit playing with them. “We could never recapture that classic punk sound after Tommy left,” Dee Dee Ramone confessed.

But singer Joey dismissed their ex-drummer as “the late Tommy Ramone” at gigs, aggravated at the extent of his claims of creative authorship. By outliving Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny, all dead by 2004, Erdelyi had the last word on his part in shaping their individual brilliance into such a diamond-hard invention.

Age and illness are taking an epidemic toll on the New York punk scene’s once brattily youthful founders. Iggy Pop is the only surviving original member of the Ramones’ first inspiration, the Stooges. Their more direct progenitors, the New York Dolls, have also been decimated, with only Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen still alive. Lou Reed is dead. And now the original Ramones are no more. But every black-leather-jacketed garage band that riots through a set far too fast, or works to strip rock back from bloated excess, honours their blueprint.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?