Thirteen minutes was an awful long time for The Ramones, since they could play an entire album of songs in a quarter of an hour. Thus, when Ramones fan Mark Gilman snuck a Super-8 sound camera into the Grenada Theater in Kansas City in July of 1978 to secretly film the band, he managed to capture an awful lot of The Ramones on film before he was forced to shut it down. The band, as you can see above, was in top form.
I exaggerate a little…. Ramones albums are longer than this film clip. Their self-titled 1976 debut is over twice the length at 29 minutes, which is still three or four minutes shy of the shortest LPs of the time (back when albums only meant vinyl). Into that almost-half-hour, the ultimate 70s New York punk band crammed 14 songs, at an average of two minutes each: no solos, no filler, no extended intros, outros, or remixes….
That’s exactly what we see above: mops of hair and a sweaty, leather-and-denim-clad wall of pure, dumb rock ‘n’ roll, played blisteringly fast with maximum attitude. It’s quality, audience-level footage of about half a classic Ramones show, which usually spanned around 30 minutes: no banter, chatter, tuning up, requests, or encores. This is what you came for, and this — full-on assault of bubblegum melodies, thudding chants of “I wanna” and “I don’t wanna” played with chainsaw precision — is what you get.
They seemed fully-formed, walking and talking right of the womb when they hit stages outside the New York clubs that nurtured them. But four years earlier, their first audiences didn’t see a disciplined rock ‘n’ roll machine; they saw a shambling mess. Ryan Bray describes the impressions of longtime tour manager Monte Melnick on first seeing them in 1974:
Musically, songs like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” were already in the band’s repertoire, but the songs were plagued by erratic tempos, blown notes, and other sorted sonic miscues. Between-song bickering also marred the band’s earliest shows. For a second, Dee Dee and Tommy seem like they’re almost ready to come to blows when they can’t agree on what song to play next.
“I didn’t like them at all,” Melnick remembers. “It was pretty raw. They were stopping and starting and fighting. They could barely play.” They didn’t meet a devil at a crossroads in the years between these early gigs and their 1978 live album It’s Alive (recorded at London’s Rainbow Theatre on the last day of the year as the band finished a 1977 UK tour). They played a hell of a lot of gigs, and pushed themselves hard for a rock stardom they’d never really achieve until their founding members died.
Allmusic’s Mark Deming describes the band in 1978 as “relentless…. a big-block hot rod thrown in to fifth gear” and calls their live album of the time “one of the best and most effective live albums in the rock canon.” Watch them play “I Wanna Be Well” at the Rainbow Theatre, just above, and catch a rare bit of stage banter from Joey regarding the previous night’s chicken vindaloo.
via Boing Boing