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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Vital: 'Ramones', by Nicholas Rombes

As Nicholas Rombes says in his concluding remarks "like all great albums, it resists interpretation. It rejects the tyranny of meaning, whether imposed by the fan or the critic". And so it does; without wishing to make my own attempt, it is one of those very few albums - offhand I would think about only Elvis's first RCA album, the Velvet Underground & Nico and - maybe - Sgt Pepper standing alongside it - which is so unlike anything which preceded it and so influential on everything that followed that almost any kind of criticism risks seeming trivial and irrelevant. But saying that, Nicholas Rombes gives it a damn good go, taking the album - as is appropriate - entirely seriously and devoting less time to the songs themselves than to the context into which it emerged, its influences (largely from writing, film, photography and other media) and its phenomenal impact on the world around it. Refreshing that he respects the amount of thought and consideration that the Ramones themselves put into the album, dissipating any notion that this was a flash in the pan, an accidental catalyst for the emergence of punk and New Wave. You put this essay down very aware that the Ramones knew exactly what they were doing, both culturally and musically. These were no dumb punks.

Nicholas Rombes writes about punk with the benefit of hindsight, but that's no crime - it allows him a tremendously sharp and pungently delivered perspective. If you like this, try 'A Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1974-1982', which provides a similarly acute analysis of the broader canvas of punk and the new wave.


  1. And there was a readiness for it; I can recall the anticipation even now...
    And its economy; under 30 minutes of compressed energetic, well, musical discourse...
    Only New York...

  2. I remember the first time I heard it very well, notwithstanding that it didn't win me over instantly. I had to listen to it two or three times before I really got it .

    Something I've been very struck with recently is how mechanically 'military' the sound of the Ramones is, which is almost entirely down to Johnny Ramone's sound (and very likely Johnny's mindset too) - I can't listen to it without thinking of an M16 - though my exposure to M16s is of course entirely courtesy of Hollywood - and the rhythm is surely exactly the acka-dacka-dacka of a machine gun...

  3. Thanks for the kind words about the books. Both were tremendously consuming but fun to write. Glad they resonated with you.
    Cheers, N.R.

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