Perhaps you’ve heard that this year is the 40th anniversary of punk and about the events being staged to mark the occasion. With history never moving in such a linear fashion and other punk forms predating 1976, though, it’s truly impossible to put a definitive time stamp on the genre. However, one thing is certain: the Ramones, the Queens quartet who created the prototype that would come to epitomize punk, released their self-titled debut 40 years ago, thus forever changing the face of rock & roll and inspiring a legion of misfits to spring up and create bands of their own.
Like the exhibit currently on displays at the Queens Museum, Ramones at 40 (Sterling Publishing) marks the anniversary of the landmark album. Presented in the style of a coffee table book, the tome is a barrage of photographs and memorabilia that dutifully captures the visual language and spirit of the band. Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy weren’t born in black leather jackets and the band’s logo didn’t design itself (Arturo Vega was responsible for that), but such things seem so incarnate, you’ve perhaps haven’t given them much thought. With the history of the seminal band related visually, the significance of the Ramones’ self-styled image presents itself in all its various manifestations.
But Ramones at 40 is not simply a picture book. After a rudimentary introduction from C.J. Ramone, the bassist who took over for Dee Dee in 1989, author Martin Popoff digs into the band’s history from inception to dismantlement and afterwards. With all the original Ramones now having passed on, Popoff turns to a variety of sources (producers, journalists, friends, associates) for a wealth of new quotes. In particular, producer Tony Bongiovi’s remarks on working on the band’s second and third albums (Leave Home and Rocket to Russia) are, er, insightful: “‘Nothing!’ laughs Tony Bongiovi, when asked what was done differently on the sessions for what would become Rocket to Russia…. ‘Whatever worked on that first one, I did the same thing on the second one, because if it wasn’t broke, why should I fix it?’”
Elsewhere, quotes from drummers Marky and Richie Ramone and producer Daniel Rey give insight into the band’s later, less revered records. Additionally, Popoff penned a number of fun sidebars to keep the book from being just another retelling of the band’s tale, ranking the songs the band covered, as well as their album art and promotional items. Others are more studious, with passages on the aforementioned fifth Ramone, Arturo Vega, as well as the band’s starring role in Rock ’n’ Roll High School. These elements ensure that Ramones at 40 isn’t just another rehashing of New York Punk 101 history. Moreover, with the large color format, this book is as brash and bold as the music the band created and a fitting tribute to the Ramones’ lasting legacy.