Listen to this track by leather-jacketed punk rock architects from Queens, New York, The Ramones (or simply ‘Ramones’). It’s “Rock N’ Roll High School” a song that served as a title track to the Roger Corman-produced movie of the same name, and appearing on the soundtrack album, and later in a Phil Spectre-produced version on End Of The Century.
By the time this song, and the movie, came out, the Ramones was an institution. Founded in 1974, they took to writing songs for the simple reason that they didn’t have the confidence to play other people’s songs as well as ones they could come up with on their own. The four guys from Forest Hill in Queens New York would craft a sound, and a look, that would solidify what many acts had reached for over the decades since rock n’ roll as a social phenomenon was established.
Their music is basic, visceral, and appealing to the teenaged mind no matter how old that teenager gets. Maybe this is why they were incorporated into the plot of the film which is all about teenagers. In many ways, the movie is much like a Ramones song in cinematic form; it concerns itself with the pursuit of kicks, chicks, and resistance to oppressive authority.
Much like their other material, this song didn’t set the mainstream charts on fire. Perhaps this is another layer of their role as a standard-bearer band for the weird, for the geeky, for those who are as far away from the footaball team and cheerleading squad as it’s possible to be.
This version of the song was recorded especially for the movie, made to appeal to this very same audience, with characters who were out and out Ramones fans. The band is even in the film, playing themselves, with this song being one that is offered to them by the hero, Riff Randell to play. Really, the movie is a throwback to the rock movies of the past, with comedy and caricature in equal measure. It could be argued that the Ramones themselves carry this very same balance.
A part of the Ramones impact was not just that they boiled down a rock sound to its basics at just the right time, but they reminded listeners that all rock music is a part of a continuum, very much connected to pop music of all kinds, even if that rock music is loud and bluntly stated. This was an important flame to keep during a time in history when the music was expanding, and fanbases were becoming less unified around what rock and pop music was, or should be. This had significant results not just for record-buying fans, but also for those inspired to start bands themselves.
The Ramones would endure through the 1980s and into the mid-90s, when they would give a farewell concert in 1996. By the begining of the 21st century, we lost the three founding members of the band in quick succession; Joey in 2001, Dee Dee in 2002, and Johnny in 2004. And yet, of course, The Ramones remain to be influential, at the head of an important tributary for rock ‘n’ roll bands writing hard-edged music with a sweet pop center.
Learn more about the Ramones at Ramonesworld.com, a site curated by early Ramones collaborator and band logo designer, Arturo Vega .