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Today in history: The Ramones play their first CBGB's show

On August 16, 1974, about year after CBGB's opened, the club that would later be called the "undisputed birthplace of punk" hosted one of the first performances of The Ramones. There is some debate over what punk band came first out of the several that formed in the 70s, but there is no doubt that The Ramones were trailblazers for the punk rock revolution.

The Ramones at the New Yorker Theater September 1976
Photo by P.B. Toman

Beginnings and influences

The first show The Ramones played was on March 30, 1974, when the band included only three members — Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee. Jeffrey Hyman (Joey) was on drums and lead vocals, John Cummings (Johnny) played guitar and Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee) played bass. The group's manager, Thomas Erdelyi, joined as Tommy Ramone after that first gig.

After some shuffling around in instrumentation, trying to decipher who did what best, the group kept Johnny and Dee Dee where they were, put Joey as the frontman and Tommy on drums.

The sound was unlike anything New York had heard before. In a time that was just coming out of psychedelic rock and coming into disco, punk was an outlet for rebellious youth. None of The Ramones' early songs reached three minutes long, and all were played with loud intensity not seen in other music at the time.

Most songs only had four chords, but the lack of complicated patterns and chord progressions didn't matter. It was the feel of the music and the lyrics that gave the songs the fast-paced, frantic sound that fans identified with.

The Ramones' unique sound didn't come from thin air. They had several obvious influences, like Iggy Pop & the Stooges and The Who. But they also drew inspiration from early rock and roll, like Elvis Presley, as well as surf music like the Beach Boys. The simplicity of the latter combined with the stage presence and intensity of the former to create a new genre that would become hugely influential.

Punk primogeniture problem

It's hard to really pinpoint where a genre begins. Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols — all of these musicians and bands influenced later generations of punk bands. For a couple decades, there has been a feud between Sex Pistols fans and Ramones fans over who came first.

The truth is that they both formed in the same year on separate continents. They didn't steal each other's ideas. And really, it shouldn't matter who came first. All that matters is the influence these bands had on the world.

The Ramones achieved a lot in their two decades of touring and music-making. They inspired many other bands like Nirvana, Metallica, the Beastie Boys and the Strokes, and they paved the way for loud, fast music to stand on its own.