Some Ramones fans first learned about the band when they started playing CBGB in 1974. Others came onboard after their self-titled debut came out two years later, or when “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and “Rockaway Beach” became minor hits in 1977. It took the release of their movie Rock ‘n’ Rock High School in 1979 for many suburbanites to get their first exposure, and kids a little younger may have not heard of them until “Pet Cemetery” got a little MTV love in 1989.
But more Ramones fans than who are likely to admit it – especially ones born after the 1970s – first saw them when they appeared on The Simpsons in October of 1993. They had the good fortune to appear in one of the all-time great episodes, a Citizen Kane spoof titled “Rosebud” in which Mr. Burns attempts to track down his beloved childhood teddy bear Bobo. The band appear during a birthday party in which nothing will cheer up the morose billionaire, including the entire continent of Australia spelling out “Happy Birthday” with candles.
“Here are several young men that I’m sure are gonna go far,” says Smithers, introducing them. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!” (Why he though that booking a loud, abrasive punk band would please Mr. Burns is unclear.) “Ah,” says Burns, leaning back into his chair. “These minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.” His happiness doesn’t last long. “I just wanna say this gig sucks,” says Joey Ramone, who voiced himself along with his bandmates Johnny, Marky and C.J. “Hey,” says Johnny before kicking into an aggressive “Happy Birthday.” “Up yours Springfield!” Even C.J. gets a line: “Go to hell, you old bastard!”
Now, there’s a lot of classic Mr. Burns lines in the running for his best ever. (“Ever since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun” is just one of hundreds.) But his response to the Ramones is quite possibly his finest moment: “Have the Rolling Stones killed!” Smithers attempts to explain it was a different band, but Burns cuts him off. “Do as I say!” Before long, an army of robots enters the hall and begins viciously beating the attendees.
The appearance came at an odd time for the Ramones. Groups like Pearl Jam and Nirvana that grew up worshipping them were the biggest thing in rock, but they were still traveling around in a van and playing clubs. Their last album, Mondo Bizarro, peaked at 190 on the Billboard 200. They broke up three years later amid complete public indifference. They didn’t become cool until the early 2000s, right as Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee all died in quick succession and made any sort of reunion impossible. They leave behind an incredible legacy, and one of the best moments in Simpsons history. There’s no shame if this is where you first saw them.