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The Ramones' musical style was an attempt to prove once and for all that the music and culture of the 1960s were long gone. By the 1970s, much of the idealism and hope for the future that had marked the heyday of the hippie era had dissipated, and yet many musicians were still holding onto something that simply was no longer there.
In their attempt to counter the dominant music style of their time, the Ramones succeeded in creating a sound and a musical vision that was distinct and unique to the 1970s.
It should also be noted that the Ramones' musical sound was deeply rooted in the urban experience of the 1970s, a time when many inner cities were hollowing out as white flight and suburbanization were in full effect. New York was a much different place in the 1970s than it was in the 1960s. And the Ramones' music reflected this change. The Ramones' music was deconstructed rock and roll—take out all the unnecessary embellishments that had become so common in rock music at the time. In this respect, the Ramones were looking backwards, while still looking forward. They were paying respect to the early, stripped down sounds of rock music, while also creating something that was entirely new and fresh.
This fresh, raw energy can be felt on the very first note of "Blitzkrieg Bop," as Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy kick in together on guitar, bass, and drums. This is a high-energy, thrashing style of rock and roll. Then the guitar and bass stop playing, allowing Joey to take center stage. It's just him and Tommy on drums, and together they create a sound that will define their music forever. Then we hear, "Hey ho! Let's go!" This chant pretty much defines what Ramones music was all about: rocking out and simply having fun, reveling in the simplicity of it all.
Following the chant, the Ramones go into attack mode. This is a quick, full-scale assault on your eardrums a.k.a. a musical blitzkrieg. And the song is over before you can figure out what just happened to you.
The sound that the vocals, guitar, bass, and drums create comes together so seamlessly, almost creating one instrument. Sure the guitar part is simple, but that doesn't really matter. The Ramones created a sound that is so raw and so fresh that their lack of technical musical ability can be entirely forgotten. If the Ramones had been incredible musicians, they wouldn't have been the Ramones. Together, they created a music that was greater than the sum of its component parts.
One thing that sets the Ramones apart from the other punk rockers they inspired and who succeeded them, are the vocals. Joey Ramone's vocal melodies sound very different from other punk groups. For one thing, they were much more melodious, at times even sweet. This is in large part a product of the music that Joey loved, which was the bubblegum pop of the late 1960s. In some respects, the Ramones constructed music that was bubblegum pop with a very rough edge.
With the exception of "Hey ho! Let's go!" Joey is singing and not yelling throughout "Blitzkrieg Bop." It's quite a departure from many of the screaming punk acts that followed later. And in what could be one of the most surprising aspects of "Blitzkrieg Bop," there is even a nice, sweet harmony. As Joey sings "Hey ho! Let's go! Shoot 'em in the back now," there is a beautiful backup vocal melody that sounds absolutely nothing like what we associate with punk rock. Just listen in at the 54-second mark—it really is pretty remarkable. The backup vocals sound more like something from Motown or bubblegum pop, but not punk rock.
But then again, it's just this sort of thing that makes the Ramones so hard to pigeonhole.
And then after Johnny's guitar has said all it's wanted to say, Joey and Tommy finish the song with one last exclamation mark, as Joey yells "Hey ho! Let's go!" And just like that, it's over. The Ramones—proof that brevity is the soul of wit, or at least the soul of punk, even if they once described themselves as "intellectual twelve-year olds" (source).
With their long, disheveled hair, ripped skinny jeans, and worn t-shirts covered up by black leather jackets, the Ramones certainly had a unique image. And this image soon became iconic.
But if there was one thing that served as the Ramones' calling card, it has to be their electric live performances. The Ramones first made a name for themselves while playing shows at the now-famous CBGB club in Manhattan. And though they would get signed to a record company and release many albums, they were first and foremost a touring band.
For one thing, they had to do this in order to remain financially afloat, since none of their records were huge commercial hits. The Ramones toured practically non-stop for 22 years. They continued touring even as Joey and Johnny Ramone grew increasingly estranged with one another.
That'll happen if you marry a woman who your bandmate can't get over.
Though it may have been out of necessity, the Ramones consistently delivered in their live sets, putting forth all the energy they could muster. They played their songs live even faster than they did in their recordings, as Tommy—though the Ramones did go through a few other drummers as time went on—pounded the drums as hard and fast as he could.
And the rest of the band followed suit. Each song would flow directly into the next, as Dee Dee counted off with a "one, two, three, four." It was this raw energy that allowed the Ramones to resonate with so many fans. These were four guys that were on stage, having fun playing music. And that raw joy and excitement was contagious, as their fans got into the spirit. And that was absolutely the way the Ramones wanted it, because first and foremost, the Ramones were about having fun.
Though not entirely apolitical, the Ramones were unlike many later punk groups, who were major proponents of anarchy. The only message the Ramones really wanted to send had to do with rock and roll music. And this message was made loud and clear less through their lyrics and more through their thrashing and frantic guitar, bass, and drums.
Much like their music, the Ramones' songwriting was uncomplicated and utilitarian.
For one thing, there is only so much that you can say in a two-minute song.
Despite this lack of complexity, the Ramones' practical style of songwriting served them quite well. Most Ramones lyrics tend to be pretty ambiguous, and "Blitzkrieg Bop" is no different. It's hard to know just what Joey Ramone is really singing about in this song. And the fact that there are so few lyrics in this song doesn't help the listener in figuring it out. But that's okay. There's not all that much going on in the Ramones' songwriting here, and that's how they wanted it.
Can anybody really imagine any member of the Ramones laboring over their lyrics deep into the night? Not really. The Ramones songwriting was intentionally minimalistic. Sure, there is a bit of rhyming going on, as in the second verse with "seat," "heat," and "beat." Otherwise, there's just not all that much to see here.
That said, Joey does create some nice imagery describing the experience of being young. The lyrics in the first and second verses seem like they could be about the four Ramones in their youth and the way they experienced music. The four members of the Ramones would have had to "pile in the back seat" in order to make the trek from Queens to Manhattan to see a band like the New York Dolls perform.
Or it could just as likely be about the kids that went to the Ramones shows at CBGB's in New York City. The lyrics describe the experience of going to a club or music venue to see a band that you love. Joey captures the excitement, the tension, and the release that comes with this experience. As he explains in the first and second verses, "they're forming in a straight line" and "piling in the back seat" in order to get to the show. "The kids are losing their minds" out of excitement. While this may be rather uncomplicated songwriting, it does perfectly capture the anxiety and the joy that comes with being a youngin' excited to see your favorite band.