The Ramones are generally acknowledged as the band that launched the Punk movement. Stripping guitar-driven Rock down to its most basic elements, the four misfits from Forest Hills, Queens, offered an anti-star stance and an anybody-can-do-this message that helped change Rock from an arena-bound spectator sport into a participatory activity, opening the door for countless Punk, New Wave, Hardcore and Indie-Rock combos to follow.
Armed with three chords and four leather jackets, the Ramones – guitarist Johnny, bassist Dee Dee, drummer Tommy and frontman Joey, all of whom adopted the last name Ramone — played short, loud, manic-tempoed tunes, hammered home with primitive force. Often kicked into gear by Dee Dee's raw-throated drill-sergeant "one-too-free-faw" count-offs, the Ramones' songs nonetheless maintained a hook-filled sensibility rooted in the band members' love for vintage Bubblegum and British Invasion pop. The band's sonic stance was matched with a street-level surrealism manifested in the cartoonish humor of Joey and Dee Dee's lyrics, which invoked existential confusion, mental illness and romantic travail.
The band formed in Queens in 1974, and soon became a regular attraction at the downtown Manhattan club CBGB, where their early performances provided the foundation for what would soon emerge as a vital and influential creative community. Record executive Seymour Stein signed the band to his Sire label, and their self-titled debut record came out in 1976. While the record is now hailed as a classic, sales in the U.S. were underwhelming. When the band toured the U.K. that year, though, their impact was immediate – many have pointed to the band’s first London shows as a pivotal event in sparking the British Punk boom.
In their home country, the band remained underground heros, adored by a cult following but unable to translate their influence and status as the fathers of Punk into larger stardom. Touring constantly and recording 14 albums, the Ramones soldiered on for more than two decades, in pursuit of a commercial breakthrough that never quite arrived. The band broke up in 1996; within eight years, three of the founders were dead, Joey of lymphomania, Dee Dee of a heroin overdose and Johnny of prostate cancer.