This was not planned. I love the Ramones. I’ve played in multiple bands that covered the Ramones. But they’re not my favorite band. The Ramones are my toddler’s favorite band.
We played the kid everything. Stuff we love, stuff we tolerate, stuff we also discovered along with the toddler (We got into Calypso in April 2020 for some reason). The Ramones were around the 100th band we played for them and for the last year and a half, it’s difficult to get through the day without them screaming, “MONES!”
I am mostly in favor of my kid gravitating toward four guys from Queens.
Before I go any further, I am not saying this is cool or uncool. I could care less about what this says about me as a parent. I care quite a bit about having an artist I can play to prevent, stop or end tantrums. If the kid loved Beyoncé or Billie Eilish or Green Day this much, we’d play them Beyoncé or Billie Eilish or Green Day. We are not forcing this band on the toddler nor are we actively encouraging only listening to a group that’s equal parts Phil Spector and The Stooges. Toddlers do not care about cool and I care about making my kid quiet and/or happy.
Having the Ramones as your child’s favorite band is very useful and quite easy. Useful because the songs are danceable, the catalog is large, it’s easy to dress up like the band (dress-up is important to toddlers) and there’s not a ton of variety in the music. Most everything from the first four records is great, the next three are really good, the following two are good and the rest we ignore. It’s easy because their popularity hasn’t waned since the group’s inception. In fact, they may be bigger now than when they were active (1974-1996).
Without sabotaging each other professionally and personally, they live on in ideas and logo more than on stage and record. It’s easy to hear the band’s music (more specifically the first 30 seconds of “Blitzkrieg Bop”) in radio and TV ads, see their logo (or a play on it) on shirts and, if you’re in Fort Totten, take a photo in front of a mural inspired by the cover of their self-titled debut on the side of D.C.’s best burger bar Slash Run.
Speaking of their self-titled debut, it’s sonic perfection: 14 songs clocking in at under 30 minutes, all tracks under two minutes 30 seconds, all playable with a small set of power chords with a crisp production. The 1976 LP is tales of breaking into shows, beating up brats, taking drugs, inflicting violence, male prostitution and Nazis presented as ear worms. Which is both good and bad.
Do I want my toddler to think it’s OK to beat up rich kids? Sniff glue? Stab johns? No, of course not. Do I want my toddler to understand the best songs are sometimes the simplest songs, that literally anyone with a guitar or bass can make amazing art? Absolutely.
My toddler does not know or care about the personal lives of the band members. It’s for the best. If they did, there would be way more marks in the con column (alcoholism, heroin use, twenty year feuds, an ill advised rap career, etc.).
But a family friend recently gifted us a children’s book about the Ramones. Now they are learning about the personal lives of the original four. All of the “real” stuff is omitted: all of the sex, drugs and sadness that fueled every aspect of the group. Instead, it reads like most children’s stories. But unlike Santa or the Easter Bunny or Curious George, the Ramones are real — and unlike Santa or the Easter Bunny or Curious George, sooner or later my kid is going to figure out the story behind “53rd & 3rd.”
That’s the long and short of loving a band like the Ramones. For all of the valuable lessons in each uplifting song, there’s an equally depressing real life anecdote.
Most successful organizations, groups or bands are made up of people from different political ideologies. Joey and Johnny Ramone definitely did not align politically. Before his death Joey Ramone mocked George W. Bush. At the band’s 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction Johnny Ramone said sincerely, “God bless President Bush and God bless America.”
But the Reagan-loving Johnny did go along with recording the last great Ramones song, 1985’s “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” a protest song against Reagan’s visit to the Bitburg military cemetery in Germany, where Nazi soldiers are buried. Johnny went along with the recording when it was decided it would be released as “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” in the U.S. It’s a great example of compromise and art winning. That’s a lesson I want my kid to learn. I want my kid to be friends that don’t always politically align like Johnny and Joey. I also want my kid to hear songs that honestly reflect Reagan’s politics.
The four original Ramones are all dead. Only one made it to his 60s. Frontman Joey Ramone passed away at 49, a year short of getting his AARP card. The band did not illustrate healthy living, respecting personal boundaries or fading away. A few members were alcoholics, one died of a heroin overdose, another “stole” someone’s girlfriend.
Sooner or later, my kid will either stop enjoying the best punk band from the ’70s (The Stooges count as the ’60s) or, if they’re anything like their parents, want to learn as much as they can about the inner workings of the group, the songs and, maybe most importantly, the stories behind the songs. If life lessons are learned because of this band, I’m cool with it. I’d rather teach my kid about homophobia (“53rd & 3rd”), class warfare (“Beat on the Brat”), chemical dependency (“We’re a Happy Family’’), the falsehood of trickle down economics (“Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”), questionably problematic words that were once OK (“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”), gun control (“End of the Century” produced by Phil Spector) and the importance of eating a varied cuisine (“I Just Want To Have Something To Do”) at a young age than listen to shitty music.
My Toddler’s Top 10 Ramones Songs
10. “Pinhead,” “Cretin Hop,” “Psycho Therapy.” These three are tied because they warrant the same reaction: a hips-based shimmy brought on by a similar chord structure played at a similar BPM, all between 88 and 105.
9. “Do You Wanna Dance.”
The three drum hits before the guitar, bass and vocals hit give it a slight leg up on other Ramones’ classics. The “Do-you-do-you-do-you-do-you-wanna-dance?” delivery is also appealing to people learning language skills.
8. “I Just Want To Have Something To Do.” My kid enjoys definitive starts and stops. That’s the first 20 seconds of this song and every chorus. Am I influencing this list? Of course. I have to listen to stuff I like, too.
7. “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” More definitive starts and stops, more heys and hos and, for better or worse, my kid now sings about the KKK. We’re against the KKK. Very against the KKK. Also, key changes. This song has a key change. Toddlers love key changes.
6. “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The group’s biggest MTV hit either pulls you in in the first five seconds or you know it’s not for you. It’s definitely for my kid.
5. “Blitzkrieg Bop.” This was their favorite song for a year. It was all we could listen to in the car. Thankfully, there’s four different mixes of it (and two live versions) on the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Ramones’ “Ramones.” The best is the 40th Anniversary Mono Mix, disc 1, track 15. It’s the only one with Dee Dee’s “1-2-3-4!” at the top and it sounds like you’re in the same room as the band. When you listen to four slightly different versions of to the same song hundreds of times, you develop preferences.
4. “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.” I have no idea why this one does it but it sure does. One of the few political songs in the catalog, I hope the kid doesn’t revolt later in life and become a modern day Alex P. Keaton.
3. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Specifically the album version. They do not like the music video version. I wonder what they think goes on in high school.
2. “Beat on the Brat.” If my kid ever uses a bat on another kid, I’m going to get blamed. They sing along whenever Joey sings the words bat and brat.
1. “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” It’s requested as “Punk rocker!” We play it often because it’s a kid’s song. It’s about kids. It’s about choosing your identity, your tribe. There’s call and response in the verses. There’s ohs and ahs and oh yeahs background vocals. There are jingle bells (or at least bells that sound like jingle bells). There’s about 25 words in the entire song. This is an “adult” version of “Wheels on the Bus.”
Looking to check out some Ramones? Check out these record shops.
Som Records: 1843 14th St. NW, DC; @somrecordsdc