As an 1980s teenager growing up in New York City, I got the chance to see The Ramones on a fairly regular basis. The beloved local band played clubs all over the city, including the famed CBGB on Manhattan’s lower east side as well as at my hometown haunt, L’amour, a heavy metal club in Brooklyn. Every kid with a token for the subway — whether they typically listened to hard rock, punk, metal, or hardcore — flocked to see the local heroes play their signature tunes like “Blitzkrieg Pop,” “Pinhead,” “Teenager Lobotomy,” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
The mop-topped liked-surnamed band members — singer Joey, guitarist Johnny, bassist Dee Dee, and original drummer Tommy — formed the band in 1974, and always donned t-shirts, jeans, Converse sneakers, and leather MC jackets on stage to play their fast-paced punk anthems, getting crowds to shout out catchphrases like “Hey, ho, let’s go!” and “D.U.M.B. everyone’s accusing me!”
The Ramones are considered to be the forefathers of punk rock, thanks to the aggressive simplicity of early tunes like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” “Judy Is A Punk,” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement,” but their extensive collection of songs also features music heavily influenced by the 1950’s girl groups (“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”), Bobby Freeman (“Do You Wanna Dance?”), as well as surf music and British Invasion bands.
The band, which broke up in 1996, saw several line-up changes in its over 20-year existence, including the addition of drummer Marky Ramone, who played on some of their more famous songs and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, along with the four original members. All members were present at the induction ceremony except for Joey, who had died of lymphoma the previous year. Since then, Johnny and Dee Dee also passed away (of prostate cancer and drug overdose, respectively), leaving no chance for a Ramones reunion.
For those of you who never got to experience The Ramones in concert, The Ramones – It’s Alive 1974-1996 collects over four hours of rare and previously unreleased live footage from performances from around the world. And for those fans lucky enough to have seen the band in their heyday, this 2-disc set will leave you a little misty eyed when Dee Dee counts off each tune with his famous “1-2-3-4!” and feeling like one of the crowd when Joey shouts out “Gabba, Gabba, we accept you, we accept you, one of us!”
Starting off Disc 1 is black-and-white footage from the group’s earliest shows at CBGBs (before they even had an album out) and at another famous NYC club, Max’s Kansas City. The young band’s obvious inexperience really shows through during those early gigs, but once we get to the late 1970s, the band is solid, confident, and really has their act together, most notably during their June 1977 show at CBGB, a few months before the release of their third album, Rocket To Russia.
A turning point for the band was their appearance on the classic music TV show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, as the host intros The Ramones’ performance with a mention of the coming wave of punk music in America.
I’ll admit, I giggled a little during The Camera Mart Stages obviously lip-synced performances, as The Ramones kept the energy up even as the songs faded out (not to mention, they, um, weren’t plugged in.) But then we get to the first international gig on the disc with 14 songs played to a packed house at The Rainbow in London. This amazing footage was taken on New Year’s Eve 1977 during the recording of the band’s double live album It’s Alive.
Disc 1 ends with the DVD set’s Extras, which includes some endearing interviews with the band on tour in Argentina in which they mention playing L’amour in Brooklyn (nice!). The Extras also contain rare early footage, music videos, and photo gallery.
Disc 2 begins with 11 live songs played with then-new drummer Marky in Bremen, Germany, on September 1978, the month of the release of their fourth studio effort, Road to Ruin, which contains the band’s most popular song “I Wanna Be Sedated.” But it’s not until further along on the disc when The Ramones play the US Festival in California in 1982 that we get to see the song performed live.
Also on disc 2 there’s live shows in Argentina, Finland, Italy, and Sweden, as well as several slots on Britain’s Top of the Pops show and, ahem, an appearance on the Sha Na Na variety show (oh lord). There’s also an outdoor daytime show at the San Francisco Civic Center: now that’s a treat — The Ramones in daylight!
The disc ends with a show at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in early 1996, and the DVD’s liner notes state that while the last song on the disc, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” was never the show’s finale, it is on this disc “in celebration of the last impact, spirit, and raw emotion of The Ramones,” and I think that says it all.