The Ramones, the Ronnettes, and Cargo Cult Rock and Roll

The thing everyone forgets about the Ramones is that they were a girl group. Which, mind you, wouldn’t stop them from beating me up if they found out I said that.

What I mean to say is that the Ramones did a lot of things that groups like the Ronettes or the Shirelles may have done.  You just never noticed because you were too busy bobbing your head along to the drums and that buzzsaw guitar.  But there’s background hand claps on “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” for God’s sake.  And they’re in “I Wanna Be Sedated,” too in the part where the boys bleat “bahbah bahbah bahbahbah bahbah,” which is, after all not so different from the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” or the background “ooh’s” (and hand claps) of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”   And aren’t there’s some “oohs” in “Rock and Roll High School?”  Why, yes there are.

So what makes the Ramones so different from the Ronettes (besides, y’know, the gutars and the penises)?  Well the most important factor is probably that they didn’t have a clue what they were doing.  Joey wasn’t a great singer by any stretch of the imagination, and Johnny doesn’t seem to have known too many chords (although strumming downstrokes that fast for two and a half minutes is not easy — trust me on that).  Their record producing also took some interesting turns.  Someone told them you have to seperate the drums and the guitars.  So the guitar is hard right and the drums hard left.  You have to give them credit, they never let themselves get paralyzed by overanalysis; if they didn’t know how to do something, they made it up.

Some indigenous peoples have been known to imitate the processes of operating an airline landing strip in the apparent hopes that performing the same rituals as foreigners will result in material wealth coming from the sky (as it does for their industrial neighbors).  These are known as cargo cults.  The Ramones were rock and roll’s original cargo cult.  “We all have to dress the same, and have the same name.  And you smash those drums, and I’ll strum this here guitar, and you play the big one with the four strings and we’ll be famous any day, now.”  Of course, for them, it worked.

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Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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