The Over/Under: The Ramones

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The Ramones hold such a vested place in pop history that to reduce them to overrated and underrated seems like a silly endeavor. But what the hell, that’s never stopped us before. Spanning more than 20 years and 14 studio albums, the Ramones have spurred heated debate since day one and influenced, well, pretty much everybody. As wonderfully demonstrated in 2003 documentary End Of The Century, the Ramones should have always been the biggest band on the planet—and somehow they never were. Here are the five most overrated and the five most underrated releases by Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, Marky and Tommy.

:: The Five Most Overrated Ramones Songs
1. “We’re A Happy Family” (1977)
There are a lot of absolutely brilliant tracks off of Rocket To Russia that I genuinely can’t criticize, no matter how often they’ve been played: “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach.” They’re just further proof that the Ramones, along with Chuck Berry, are a key exception to a very valid rule: No rock artist is allowed to write a song with the word “rock” in the title. But “We’re A Happy Family,” complete with cheese-heavy spoken fadeout, is one of Rocket To Russia’s weakest numbers. How it became so beloved is anyone’s guess.

2. “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” (1976)
Ramones might be the band’s most punk album—and no doubt one of the most influential albums ever recorded—but it does have its overrated moments. I get that “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” is edgy, punky, nasty, dirty—all those good things. But it just sounds kind of flat; 1977’s “Cretin Hop” did the beat better, and the same year’s “Carbona Not Glue” did the lyrics better. “Judy Is A Punk” might be another overexposed track from the band’s self-titled debut (thank you, Wes Anderson), but unlike “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” that number still is—and always will be—brilliant.

3. “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School” (1980)
It’s not really fair to talk about the Ramones getting “overexposed.” (After all, 1988 compilation Ramones Mania is the band’s only album to be certified gold.) But End Of The Century‘s “Rock ’N’ Roll High School” is really just awful; it steals the beat from “Rockaway Beach,” tries to steal its title and doesn’t come away with any of the fun. The titular film is pretty terrible; there’s a reason that the Ramones weren’t known for their crossover potential. (See also Dee Dee’s rap career.) Sure the Ramones—or rather Joey—loved surf music and did it well on occasion (even “Surfin’ Bird” has its charms), but “Rock ’N’ Roll High School” is one of their better-known tracks that should have stayed underground.

4. “I Wanna Be Sedated” (1978)
I stand by keeping most of the stereotypical “overplayed” Ramones tracks off of this list, songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is A Punk” and “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” But “I Wanna Be Sedated”? Yes, the beat is still great. Yes, it’s still a sneering little mess. But it’s been beyond overplayed, beyond overexposed, so every drop of punk-rock nastiness has been thoroughly sanitized out of it. Call me crazy, but I was never particularly fond of the Ramones’ numbers lamenting life on the road, and “I Wanna Be Sedated” is the best-known of the bunch.

5. “Pinhead” (1977)
Gabba gabba hey! It spawned a catchphrase, launched an empire (if a fairly small one), and “Pinhead” still doesn’t hold anyone’s attention 32 years later. Leave Home is actually one of the weaker albums from the Ramones’ early career, despite some winning moments. The Ramones were a one-trick pony, one joke told over and over with different trimmings, and that never seemed like something to criticize before. So why does “Pinhead” feel so redundant?

:: The Five Most Underrated Ramones Songs
1. “Listen To My Heart” (1976)
First off, it must be said, I simply cannot put “Blitzkrieg Bop” on this list. I know, it’s been done to death—it’s pop for pre-schoolers at this point—but it’s still so damn good. It still sounds like everything you ever wanted punk to be. Is it the best punk track ever written? Possibly. That’s a debate I don’t really want to start, but even the cool kids have to admit that “Blitzkrieg Bop” is still pretty damn brilliant. Then again, Ramones has countless great tracks, from rent-boy saga “53rd & 3rd” to the snotty “Beat On The Brat” to the equally underrated “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” And then there’s the superb “Listen To My Heart,” which doesn’t have many lyrics to speak of, doesn’t do much musically and has a beat that even a hearing-impaired hamster could drum along to. In other words, fantastic.

2. “I Can’t Make It On Time” (1980)
End Of The Century has taken a lot of hits for an album that’s really pretty damn solid. Sure, producer Phil Spector is nuttier than a fruitcake, and sure, he held the band at gunpoint in order to perfect this record, but hey, the man gets results. “I Can’t Make It On Time” is a perfect example of an End Of The Century hidden gem, along with standards like “I’m Affected” and “Danny Says.” After all, Joey was a bigger fan of girl groups than pretty much anyone around, and the Ramones were always about pop as well as punk. Maybe that’s why “I Can’t Make It On Time” just sounds right.

3. All of Pleasant Dreams (1981)
Along with End Of The Century, Pleasant Dreams never seems to get the fair treatment it deserves. It’s admittedly a little slick, a little over-produced and certainly not the best album the boys ever produced. But with a hit-heavy number like “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” it doesn’t really seem right to quibble. Allegedly Joey’s rebuttal to Johnny’s seduction of Joey’s former flame Linda (there’s as many twists here as a soap opera), “KKK” proves that Joey was often as good a songwriter as he was a guitarist. And we mean that as a compliment.

“The KKK Took My Baby Away”:

4. All of Subterranean Jungle (1983)
OK, so the ’80s weren’t exactly kind to the Ramones. And Subterranean Jungle isn’t the punkiest album the band ever released. But there’s a weird sort of charm to it. And tracks like “Little Bit O’ Soul,” “Outsider” and “My-My Kind Of Girl” really stand up, even if the Reagan era is (we hope) over. Besides, there was no band that could pull off a ’60s cover like the Ramones, and Subterranean Jungle has some of their best.

“Little Bit O’ Soul”:

5. “Questioningly” (1978)
The band’s fourth album, Road To Ruin might have had its ups and downs, but “Questioningly” was unquestionably one of its highlights. It’s a country-tinged ballad, and if that doesn’t sound like typical Ramones territory, well, it’s not. But it’s nearly perfect, with a vocal performance that could jerk a tear out of the grimiest punk fan. The Ramones did punk well, possibly better than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t broaden their horizons just a little bit.

—Emily Tartanella

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