The 20 Best Ramones Songs Of The 1970s
By | September 2, 2022
"1,2,3,4!" With that quick, often off time count, the Ramones began one of their hundreds of two minute long blasts of pop punk bliss. Ramones fans are like no other audience in the world. They're freaks, geeks, nerds, and teenage lobotomies, each of them with their favorite song by the greatest band that ever blessed the airwaves. We've put together a short and sweet list of the best Ramones songs of the 1970s (and 1980, there's no way we could leave "Danny Says" behind), but if your favorite song didn't make the cut feel free to put it on and dance around your bedroom like its 1am in CBGB's.
Hey! Ho! Let's go! The battle cry of the Ramones is no longer just a part of a punk rock anthem that shook CBGB's in the late '70s. It's a part of American culture that everybody knows whether they're aware that they're shouting along to one of the first punk rock hits or not.
Released in 1976, "Blitzkrieg Bop" is two minutes of blissful chaos that dares you not to sing along. According to Tommy Ramone, the song was modeled after the least punk rock band of the '70s:
There was a big hit by the Bay City Rollers at the time called Saturday Night, which was a chant-type song. So I thought it would be fun to do for the Ramones too. And somehow I came up with ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go!’ I just liked the term because it made fun of Mick Jagger singing the Stones’ version of Walking The Dog, where he goes ‘High low, tippy toe’. We all used to goof on that and sing ‘hey ho!’ instead.
Listen: Blitzkrieg Bop
I Wanna Be Sedated
Yet another Ramones song that gets stuck in your head and rattles around all day under you're brain dead, "I Wanna Be Sedated" is a feat of spectacular pop punk prowess. Written by Joey Ramone, the simplicity of this punk rock bop is modeled after the monotony of being on the road. He explained:
It’s a road song. I wrote it in 1977, through the 78. Well, Danny Fields was our first manager and he would work us to death. We would be on the road 360 days a year, and we went over to England, and we were there at Christmas time, and in Christmas time, London shuts down. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go.
Listen: I Wanna Be Sedated
Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
Even at their most caustic the Ramones knew how to craft a pop hook. This simple song about being so bored that you'll find some glue and get off your rocker to pass the time actually has some subtext. Tommy Ramone says:
I have a feeling Dee Dee was talking about his childhood, how he actually thought it was some kind of release when he was a kid. I thought of it as a parody. He might have been a little more serious.
On the other hand, Joey Ramone notes that the song is just something that he and Dee Dee put together to make each other laugh:
We couldn’t write about love or cars, so we sang about this stuff, like glue sniffing. We thought it was funny. We thought we could get away with anything.
Listen: Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
53rd & 3rd
This super intense song from the band's first album showed that they were more than cartoon goofballs. Detailing Dee Dee's life as a young street hustler, the track exposes the raw truth to rough and tumble lifestyle that the bass player lived for his entire life.
The song is brutal, sad, and so unlike anything that the Ramones were known for. It's hard to think about Dee Dee carrying thoughts like around in his head for most of his life, but we're happy he was able to get some of these emotions out on wax.
Listen: 53rd & 3rd
As far as summer anthems go you can't go wrong with "Rockaway Beach," the Ramone's anthem to hanging out in the sun and listening to great tunes with your friends. Written by Dee Dee Ramone in honor of the New York beach where he spent much of his time as a young man, the song is the perfect encapsulation of the excitement that comes with that first hit of sea air on a summer's day. Engineer and Producer Ed Stasium said of the song:
It’s a funny song, so typical of the Ramones with the lyrical content and hilarity of it. It’s pure driving Ramones; the way it starts off the record with that E-to-A chord progression and they slam into it. It’s very powerful; minimalism at its best.
Listen: Rockaway Beach
Rock 'n' Roll High School
The opening chant of "Rock rock rock rock rock n roll high school" lets you know that you're in for another two minute blast of pure pop heaven in this track that's made its way across a few different albums. Written for the 1979 film Rock 'N' Roll High School, this track should just be a blow off tie-in for a Roger Corman classic, but it's an absolute banger that works whether you're listening on the first day back to school from summer vacation or if you ripped up your cap and gown a long time ago.
Listen: Rock 'n' Roll High School
Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
This tongue in cheek song may sound like it's about someone that the band knew, but it's actually in reference to Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a comic book character that the band was obsessed with. With this track and its reference to Sheena the band are paralleling the music they make with the raw unpredicatable energy of the jungle. Joey said of the song:
To me 'Sheena' was the first surf/punk rock teenage rebellion song. I combined Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, with the primalness of punk rock. Then Sheena is brought into the modern day.
Listen: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
"Cretin Hop" is a such a wild song that it could really only be written by the Ramones. With its joyous call to all of their fellow "cretins," the Ramones essentially create a new dance craze in the style of their beloved '50s and '60s girl groups, but with a strange little twist.
According to Joey, the idea for the song came from a street sign he saw on tour:
‘Cretin Hop’ came from when we were in St. Paul, Minnesota. We went some place to eat and there were just all these cretins all over the place. And there was a Cretin Avenue, where we drove into the city.
Listen: Cretin Hop
I Just Want to Have Something to Do
"I Just Want to Have Something to Do" shows that the Ramones were capable of harnessing pure rock energy when they wanted to, and that they didn't have to change the actual content of their songs to do so. With this song the band slows down the tempo but they don't shy away from their normal lyrical content. In just a couple of lines Joey manages to sing about teenage boredom, being love lorn, and Indian food, and he makes you want to sing along. That's how you know you're in the hands of a master.
Judy Is a Punk
"Judy Is a Punk" starts with the buzzsaw guitars and chanting vocals that audiences expect out of the Ramones, but by the time we're in the pre-chorus there are handclaps and later there's even a quick note that the third verse is the same as the first.
Smiths singer and iconic misanthrope Morrissey says that when he first heard the Ramones he hated them, but he quickly came to understand how important they were. Today, he covers "Judy Is a Punk" regularly in concert. He says:
When I bought the Ramones first album on import, I was enraged with jealousy because I felt they had booted the New York Dolls off the map. I was 100% wrong. Three days after writing that Ramones piece, I realised that my love for the Ramones would out-live time itself. And it shall. Well, it virtually has already. If the Ramones were alive today, they’d be the biggest band in the world. It takes the world 30 years to catch on, doesn’t it? I mean, look at poor Nico. Every modern teenager now seems to love Nico, yet while she was alive she couldn’t afford a decent mattress.
Listen: Judy Is a Punk
"Pinhead" may sound derogatory, but that's the point of this call to arms for Ramones fans. Appearing on "Leave Home," the second album by the Ramones, "Pinhead" features a chant that remained in place for the entirety of the band's career. Engineer and producer Ed Stasium explains:
We had fun with 'Pinhead.' They had this 'Gabba gabba hey' chant and I started messing with the vari-speed control on the tape machine, just as a joke. I'd speed it up and slow it down, and Dee Dee's going 'This is cool!' It ended up being on the record. You can hear a little chipmunk voice going 'Gabba gabba.
One of the few songs the Ramones canon that doesn't bonk its audience over the head with blistering guitars, "Danny Says," is a love song written to the band's manager Danny Fields. Penned by Joey while the band were crashing at Los Angeles' notorious party spot the Tropicana Motel, the song sees the singer flexing his melodic muscles, proving that he didn't need to move a 1,000 mph all the time.
Oddly enough, even though Johnny Ramone doesn't play on this song he really enjoys it. He said:
It really worked when [Phil Spector] got to a slower song like 'Danny Says'—the production really worked tremendously. For the harder stuff, it didn't work as well. 'Danny Says' was always a favorite.
Listen: Danny Says
The thing that the Ramones could do best was distill a brutal teenage emotion into a lightning fast pop song with chainsaw guitar. "Teenage Lobotomy" is a sort of goofy, sort of intense song about being such a nuisance that your parents want to rip out your brain. No one in the band ever had a lobotomy, but Joey and Dee Dee's storytelling abilities were already so dialed in by '77 that they could make anything sound like a slice of real life.
Listen: Teenage Lobotomy
Originally performed by R&B singer Joe Jones and later by '60s rock band the Rivieras, "California Sun" sounds best when its pumped through the Ramones machine. The band barely slows down their breakneck pace to sing about heading west to beat the New York cold, and they sound spectacular doing it.
Nothing about this cover feels like "selling out" because the Ramones didn't care about that. They just wanted to make fun music and they didn't care how it came about. "California Sun" is up there with the most quintessential Ramones tracks.
Listen: California Sun
Do You Wanna Dance?
Heck yes we're including another cover on this list of best Ramones songs. The Ramones were so good at taking something, whether it's the essence of bubblegum pop or just another song and turning it into a Ramones song that very well could have been written by Dee Dee after a long night in New York City.
This song is so simple and fun that it doesn't matter who wrote the words, the Ramones own this great piece of pop.
Listen: Do You Wanna Dance?
Suzy Is a Headbanger
Penned after checking out Nightmare Alley, the 1946 film noir about a con man who destroys his life and ends up a carnival geek, this track is an absolute barn burner from Side A of "Leave Home," the band's second LP.
Every song on this record is an absolute jam so we can't say that this is the best song on the album (that would be "Pinhead") but it's an absolute must-listen for anyone just getting into the Ramones.
Listen: Suzy Is a Headbanger
The Return of Jackie and Judy
"The Return of Jackie and Judy" is a rare plaintive song from a band that spent most of their time singing about brain procedures and comic books, but for "End of the Century" the Ramones were trying something new. The song references characters from the first album, nodding to the idea that even punks have to grow up. It's a rare song that shows the Ramones thinking about growing up and getting older.
Listen: The Return of Jackie and Judy
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
If "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" sounds a little different from the rest of the songs from the first Ramones album that's because it's supposed to be antithetical to the "I Don't Wanna" songs from the LP. Tommy Ramone told David Fricke:
I wrote 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' because we had all these other songs with 'I Don't Wanna' - 'I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You,' 'I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement.' The only other positive song we had was 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.' One thing we all had in common was we were frustrated. We escaped from our anger with humor. A lot of that came from Dee Dee's sensibility, this Dada sensibility that got squeezed into 'I Don't Wanna.'
Listen: I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
Initially written for the Ramones, only to be turned down by Johnny, "Chinese Rock" had a circuitous route to the Ramones repertoire. A break from the band's normal comic book style songwriting, this track is a harrowing tale of drug addiction and heroin use straight from Dee Dee Ramone. After the song became a cult hit for Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Johnny changed his mind and the song made its way to "End of the Century." Dee Dee later said of the super depressing track:
The reason I wrote that song was out of spite for Richard Hell, because he told me he was going to write a song better than Lou Reed's 'Heroin,' so I went home and wrote 'Chinese Rocks.' I wrote it by myself, in Debbie Harry's apartment on First Avenue and First Street.
Listen: Chinese Rock
Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
With "Leave Home," the Ramones proved that they were more than just a one album wonder, and "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment" is a track that shows they're a band with an endless ability to create anthems about no one understanding you, and not caring if "normal people" are ever able to get on your wavelength.
According to Joey:
'Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment' we all pretty much wrote together in Arturo's [Vega, the band's artistic director] loft. There was another loft where we rehearsed; we used to let Tommy live there. I remember it had fruit flies. Horrible things.
Listen: Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment