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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits