Forty years ago today, the eponymous debut album from Ramones first appeared in record shop racks. Compared to the colourful, artistic gatefold sleeves all around, it looked cheap, grubby and monochrome; the band looked like they'd do you over for your loose change and then dance off, West Side Story-style and their song titles were all juvenile and bleak. Who could resist?
They also formed their own cartoon universe out of things nobody cared about in the mid-70s. Here are just a few of the recycled items in their impregnable wall of trash.
1. 7" singles
The music of Ramones may have borrowed the buzzsaw guitars from The Stooges, but it was in order to try and replicate both the "wall of sound" from 1960s pop hits produced by Phil Spector, and the best of bubblegum pop, which for them meant anyone from Bay City Rollers to Chris Montez. All of which came from the humble 7" single.
They weren't playing Sabbath riffs; they were trying to make an instant orchestra with humble means (and volume). And while everyone else had songs that lasted half an hour, Ramones made an album of 14 songs that only just made it past the 29 minute mark.
2. Band T-shirts
There's a reason Ramones appeared as the cartoon logo for 6 Music's Wear Your Old Band T-Shirt To Work campaign. Not only were T-shirts an integral part of the band's uniform, they created one of the most iconic logos in music, the one that wittily pinched the Great Seal of the President of the United States:
The logo itself was created with the band's friend, artist Arturo Vega, and proved so popular that T-shirt sales became their main source of income. It's worth bearing this in mind the next time you meet some snarky punk rocker complaining that more people wear Ramones T-shirts as fashion accessories than have ever bothered to listen to their records. It was always the case.
Every publicity shot of the band shows them either on stage or lined up on some street corner, looking like a gang, which is no coincidence. They each took the same surname, they wore the same uniform, they shared a similar sense of humour (although they argued a lot too) and they even had their own sonic turf, which they guarded jealously. Ramones were both Jets and Sharks, and the 1970s update of 1950s' biker gangs, as seen in movies like The Wild One.
While other bands looked to Lord of the Rings for inspiration, Ramones were reading comic books and watching cartoons and immersing themselves in pop art. Johnny Ramone wore Popeye and Mickey Mouse T-shirts, Joey and Dee Dee wrote deliberately provocative slapstick songs about beating on babies with baseball bats. And in time they ended up becoming cartoons themselves, on the cover of their album Road to Ruin.
There was a lot of denim about in the early 1970s, most of it flared and flapping around the ankles of no-nonsense boogie bands. As this consumer report (above) claims, jeans are one of the few items of clothing you can wear without washing for long periods of time, and Ramones returned the cowboy cool to this most American of apparel, wearing grubby straight legged denim with huge holes in the knee, as if torn and frayed from living too long on the streets (where there is no furniture to sit on).
6. Leather jackets
Before Ramones, the only people who routinely wore the black leather biker jacket were people who rode motorbikes and scoundrels. Even The Fonz in Happy Days - a character created to play a rebellious 1950s biker type - wasn't originally allowed to wear a leather jacket when not riding his bike, in case a family audience thought he was up to no good. After Ramones, the biker leather became an essential item of rock 'n' roll clothing.