The Ramones were at home with comic books. Hell, they were a comic book: exciting, energetic and edgy, the Bowery-punk version of superheroes, claiming identical stage surnames and wearing "costumes" of ripped Levi's, black leather and bowl haircuts. They may not have gotten due props in their early years, but talk to any member of a post-punk band, from high-concept Green Day to multi-kulti Gorillaz, and you're going to hear the name Ramones at some point.
They played a stripped down, jackhammer-paced fusillade of songs that were like a cartoon Beach Boys on speed. And their lyrics were simple -- something any comics-reading teenage pinhead could get: "Hey ho, let's go / hey ho, let's go / They're forming in a straight line / they're going through a tight wind / The kids are losing their minds / the blitzkrieg bop."
The re-issue maestros at Rhino get it, too The record company's new 3-CD/1-DVD collection Weird Tales of the Ramones -- compiled by the late Johnny Ramone (yes, before he died; the tales aren't that weird) -- is as much a tribute to comics as to the band.
It's a bright, colorful book with 25 top-notch comic artists, including Bill Stout (EC Comics), Xaime Hernandez (Love And Rockets), Carol Lay (WayLay, and CL's now-infamous 9/11 1st anniversary issue), Matt Groening (The Simpsons), Sergio Aragones (Mad magazine), and Bill Griffith (Zippy The Pinhead). Each tells tales of the Ramones and their fans. One story is even in 3-D and includes the de rigueur blue-and-red glasses. On top of that, and more important: this is the best Ramones set ever collected: 85 songs on three discs, plus a DVD of the band's videos for Sire and Radioactive.
Coming on the heels of the Ramones' induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and the success of the End of the Century documentary and DVD, this lavish box set must have Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee -- the three pillars of the band, now all dead -- shaking their heads and chuckling; or maybe in Johnny's case, pissing and moaning. The Ramones may have never struck commercial gold during their 25-year career, but their influence has been enormous and widespread. After all, these are the guys who inspired thousands in the UK to create the punk rock soundtrack.
As New York author and club hound Legs McNeil noted in End of the Century, without the influence of the Ramones, the music we hear today -- from the most original new rock sounds to the slew of punk-lite acts, alt-metal outfits and even commercial jingles and TV soundtracks -- would be utterly different.