Even before he helped launch the Ramones' career, Danny Fields was a major player in the early punk scene. The Queens native, who had worked publicity for the Doors, was the one who recommended that Elektra sign both the Stooges and the MC5. Later, after seeing the Ramones at CBGB, he became the band's manager and oversaw their mid-Seventies breakthrough. Now Fields is opening his archive of vintage Ramones photos for a new limited-edition art book, My Ramones, which features more than 250 images from 1976 and 1977. Here we present images from the book along with Fields' captions and introductory remarks.
In the Seventies, a band's first album was a very big deal.
It was nice to have some singles out there, and some demos floating around; but a band did not properly greet the world with just a single, and EPs were virtually unheard of.
The announcement of an "album deal" with a major recording label signified arrival; a debut LP was expected soon after, or at least before anyone began to wonder if a baby was really on the way – and how healthy it would be.
By 1975, the record industry was aware of creative forces coming from CBGB's, and Sire Records, a major minor label, was on the lookout for artists to sign. In November, the Ramones got their deal.
Here's how: I had a weekly column in the trendy Soho News, in which the Ramones very much wanted a favorable mention. Tommy Ramone, acting as their manager then, would call four or five times a week, insisting that I would love them. Then rock power-journalist Lisa Robinson insisted I would love them, and that did it, I went to see them at CBGB. I loved them.
Less than 15 minutes after their 15-minute set ended, I met with the band and told them I wanted to manage them.
The first thing a manager has to do is get the band a deal; in October, I took my dear friend Linda Stein to see the Ramones. Linda raved about them to her husband, Seymour Stein, the owner of Sire Records. The band auditioned for him, and by February of 1976, they were at Plaza Sound, high atop Radio City Music Hall (the world's largest movie theater) recording their debut album for Sire, titled Ramones.
Recording began on February 2nd; the album was complete and ready to press by February 19th.
We all felt that the event should be photographed, but not while the actual recording was in progress. These were musicians at work, after all, making their very first album, so I decided to get shots of the guys just in the studio, with and without instruments, tuning up, ordering food, calling home, checking out what equipment was already there, listening to playbacks of what had been recorded, consulting with Craig Leon and Rob Freeman and perhaps just standing and thinking about … whatever.
I only shot two rolls of 35mm TriX film, about 75 images total, and butted out of there when I figured I'd "identified" the event. Back then, in the era of chemical photography, you did not instantly get to see what had been shot, and you had to trust that you had what you wanted. You crossed your fingers, patted the camera, rewound and reloaded, and hoped that the little cans of film were full of as-yet-invisible images.
They'd better be, because the Ramones were not ever again going to record their first album – this was it.
Ramones, the album, with 14 songs, came in at a remarkably short 29:04, which allowed it to be extremely "hot," i.e. loud.
The album was released on April 23rd, 1976, to what might certainly be called a mixed bag of reviews, from "El stinko garbage" to "great, fantastic, stupendous." The sales reports were anything but mixed. Ramones got no higher than Number 111 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, and sold a meager 6,000 copies in the U.S. in its first year. That's about one copy for each dollar spent on the recording – amazing statistics by any standards.
But it hung in there, and in 2014 – 38 years after its release, Ramones earned a gold album (500,000 sold) from the Recording Industry Association of America.
And it got lots of honors. Spin magazine named it the Number One Alternative Rock Album of All Time, and the Number One Essential Punk Record; Spin also ranked the Ramones just after the first place Beatles in their list of the Best Bands of All Time. In Rolling Stone it was Number 33 in the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. You will search in vain for any list of the most important rock & roll albums that does not include Ramones, and England's New Musical Express went so far as to say that the Ramones were "arguably the most influential band ever."
It is not hard to work the word "irony" into everything about the history of this band. At the time these pictures were taken, Johnny was harboring the dream that the first album would have so many hit singles and sell so many million copies and that they would never have to work again.
It didn't quite happen that way. According to the Ramones tour manager Monte Melnick's book On the Road With the Ramones, they performed 2,263 shows over more than 20 years of touring.