Ask most anyone to name the biggest hit by the Ramones and they’re likely to name tunes like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Those songs have all become rock standards and appeared countless movies, sporting events, TV shows and commercials. But back in the 1970s, they didn’t even ding the charts in America. Sire put a little promotional muscle behind “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach” and “Do You Wanna Dance” in 1977 and early 1978, but none of them got higher than Number 66 on the Hot 100. And those are their only three songs that even entered the Hot 100 throughout their long career.
But they did have one song rise all the way to Number Four on the Modern Rock charts and actually get some MTV love – which, arguably, makes it the most successful thing they ever did. Oddly enough, it’s from the soundtrack to the 1989 screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. The horror writer is a longtime fan of the group and even brought them to Maine for a concert in 1982.
“I had a couple of radio stations in Maine at the time,” King explained in a previously unpublished part of his 2014 Rolling Stone interview. “My station manager John Marshall said to me, ‘The Ramones are touring with Cheap Trick. We can get them here, and I think we’ll only lose $400.’ I said, ‘Book the show.’ They then played one of the arenas in Bangor and just blew the fucking house down. We didn’t even stay for Cheap Trick, and we heard later they were pissed about that.”
Memories of how exactly the Ramones came to write “Pet Sematary” differ. In Marky Ramone’s 2014 memoir Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone, he writes about the band visiting King at his house in Bangor. “He served us a big dinner in the basement,” Marky wrote. “But the real treat down there was all the props and memorabilia, mostly from sci-fi and horror movies. … During a break in the friendly Yankees-Red Sox debate between John and King, the legendary author handed Dee Dee a copy of his bestselling novel, Pet Sematary.” He goes on to write that it was that very evening, sitting on King’s porch, when Dee Dee announced he was leaving the band.
There’s only one problem: King says none of that is true. “We didn’t eat at my house,” King told RS in 2014. “They never even came to the house. We ate at Miller’s Restaurant, the only fancy restaurant in Bangor. They showed up in their black leather jackets and torn jeans. Joey ordered steak tournedos. I don’t remember if we talked about Pet Sematary. I might have said something about a song. What I remember is that Marky was the only one who was articulate. The other ones really weren’t.”
King says he saw a galley of the Marky book and was surprised to read about the group visiting his house. “I said to my publisher, ‘This story about them coming to my house is total bullshit,'” King explains. “But I also said, ‘Don’t change a fucking word.’ It’s like James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. When the truth and legend are in opposition, print the legend.”
However it came to be, the Ramones did score a hit with “Pet Sematary.” Check out the video, which was shot at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York, which is the final resting place for everyone from Andrew Carnegie to Brooke Astor and William Rockefeller.