Are the Ramones truly the first “punk” band? I don’t know… and I don’t think anyone can say so definitively. Music evolves over time, and punk can certainly be said to have drawn on the garage music of the 1960s, which in turn evolved in part from the basic early rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s. Hell, a lot of the early UK punks were listening to reggae, dub, and Roxy Music before they got all pissed off and learned their three chords. The “holy trinity” of American bands that most influenced the early UK punk movement were probably The Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, and, of course, the Ramones – a band it seemed was destined to always be more popular overseas than in their own home country and who didn’t receive true recognition in the US for their role as pioneers until well after their best years were behind them.
I found this scratched up import the other day at Vortex, along with a handful of other well-used punk records, and the condition assured me an extremely reasonable price while not taking anything away from the sound. It’s a bit rough at the lead-ins, but once the music kicks in it sounds great. Nothing better than a vinyl bargain.
It’s Alive was recorded live on New Year’s Eve 1977 at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The “book” on the Ramones was that their live sets were light years faster than their already fast (by 1970s standards – this is before speed metal) studio work, and It’s Alive proves the truth of that. Twenty-eight songs in less than 55 minutes, without the benefit of lots of cuts and splices in the production process. That’s an average of less than two minutes per song, including the song intros! More than once Dee Dee starts the “1-2-3-4!” count up to the next song before the last note of the current song ends – they’re that fast and tight. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Joey, who basically sings for 60 straight minutes pretty much without any kind of break at all, but he sounds good throughout.
The album is a terrific representation of the band in 1977 – the Ramones
always played faster in a live situation than on record. That came from
Johnny’s philosophy of “Get in, get out, see how many songs you can fit
into 30 minutes.” Occasionally, Joey would have to stop singing because
he ran out of breath or skip words because they were going so fast.”
— Producer Ed Stasium as quoted in Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story
of The Ramones by Everett True (2002)
The show itself was punctuated by the first 10 or so rows of seats being ripped out of the theatre and thrown onto the stage, so needless to say it wasn’t only the band that was fired up.
Of the 28 tracks, 24 are originals with a few rock ‘n’ roll classic covers thrown in for good measure: “Surfin’ Bird,” “California Sun,” “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Let’s Dance.” While many reviewers dismiss the covers, I think they’re solid and like hearing these familiar songs done in that superfast Ramones style. You don’t need me to tell you about the band’s own songs – you’ve undoubtedly heard many of them before, knowingly or otherwise, on the radio, in movies, on commercials, at sporting events…. probably even at the grocery store. “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” “We’re a Happy Family,” they’re all here. And fast. Like, really fast. But the Ramones keep the set tight and Joey keeps pace vocally throughout – it doesn’t get sloppier as it goes on. It’s 100%, all the way through, and sounds great.