The late 1970s not only marked a huge step forward for heavy metal, but it was also when punk rock was crashing onto the airwaves as well. Although punk didn’t quite make the same impression as heavy metal did, it certainly gave many influences to metal, and the classic punk records still remain very important here in 2018. In fact, my favorite Ramones album, and quite possibly my favorite punk album (right up there with London Calling by The Clash). Road To Ruin turns forty on September 21!
By 1978, Ramones had already built something of a reputation, laying the groundwork for bands like The Sex Pistols, The Vibrators, The Damned, and the like. Their critically acclaimed self-titled 1976 debut, and the two booming records that followed it in 1977, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, credited them for being nothing but a bunch of dirty ol’ punks that wrote fast music with little depth to the lyrics. Over time, though, fans would come to discover deeper messages implanted into some of those simple lines. Rocket To Russia would even start to make this more obvious with songs like “We’re A Happy Family.” But in my eyes, Road To Ruin is where this came to be complete.
Here, Johnny and the boys would begin incorporating more emotion into their songs, which was another thing that was hinted at before, but was made more obvious now. Sure, the legendary “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” was one of the earliest forms of this, but 1978 brought us “Questioningly,” a sad love story about running into a past lover and the memories associated with it. “She’s The One” follows this with a happier take on love, as well as a much simpler one. This was one of the first Ramones tracks that I really loved. And of course, who could forget the famous cover of The Searchers’ “Needles & Pins”? This is all evident of punk rock being more than just rebellion and fighting the establishment. This was the record that showed the world that it’s all about true feelings, and while it widely focuses on edgy attitudes, it’s also about love, struggle, suffering, and trial.
On the other hand, the world would still get the silliness and attitude that such music was known for. The furious and energy packed rawness of “I’m Against It” would come to be a classic, and I see it as a huge influence for the hardcore scene as well as the thrash metal scene. If you haven’t heard Overkill’s rendition of it, I suggest stopping here and giving it a listen. “Go Mental” and “Bad Brain” would also help charge this movement in heavy metal and punk music alike. It’s pretty clear, seeing how many metal and punk acts of today like to cover Ramones tunes and sport their shirts, that they’re extremely relevant. This album gave the band that extra push to do so. After all, this is also the record that gave us “I Wanna Be Sedated.” that silly tune with such a catchy chorus that even those who aren’t into the genre know and can jam to it.
The public received this album with a mixed attitude. With Tommy out and Marky now on drums, it made for a different writing style, and lacked the jazz infusion that some felt from previous releases. Moreover, with the emotions injected into the bloodline, there was clear intent on reaching the mainstream a little more, and gaining radio airplay. Though the band may not have been satisfied with this, it still worked. On the other hand, it made for them to continue down a road of style changes. The album that follows this, End Of The Century, would show no signs of holding back with this, and cleans everything up even more, making for another one of the band’s best releases. What’s extra special is that this shows how well the album aged. Back in the late ’70s, it didn’t get as great of a reception other than the song they managed to get on the radio. But decades later, it has such a huge following that you can’t possibly deny its impact. Once again, this shows punk’s true colors, and how many people can get behind what it’s all about, rather just focusing on the rebellion aspect of it.
Overall, the different lineup, the musical influences outside of punk, and the more in depth writing would mark a turning point for the Ramones. Not to mention the fact that solos were now included made this stand apart, and the interesting concepts fueled the fire. In the end, they got their radio hit, they sent a different message, and they may have divided the punk crowd for the time being. But how Road To Ruin influenced metal, hardcore punk, and stood the test of time is what is most impressive. It’s another easy album to attain, you can find this at almost any retail music distributor in CD format. Because of the smaller following at the time, finding an original LP is tougher to come by, but it has been re-pressed. All lovers of the genre should seek this beast out.