Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop [7-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Blitzkrieg Bop [7-inch] (1976)


You can argue for days whether or not “Blitzkrieg Bop” was the first punk single, but what's undeniable is that the song served as the building block for all punk to come after. And still, it remains as the benchmark against which punk bands are often judged (and 99.999% of them come up short).

Released in February 1976, a mere one month after its recording, the song made a statement that has resounded through punk, and pretty much all music since then: simplicity, power, and meaning are the only things required to make a good song, and maybe they’re the only things that should be in a song.

Paul Simon and Barry Manilow were at the top of the charts during the winter of ’76, and the bop was a direct reaction against that gentle, quiet music. The band, as they would later write, missed the rip-rockers heard on Murray the K’s program, so they did their best to emulate and evolve from the first wave rockers. Kicking off with Jonny Ramones' iconic buzzsaw guitar before collapsing into Joey Ramones’ famed battle cry, “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” the song had a sort of bubble gum structure. “Hey, ho, let’s go! Shoot em in the back now!” is sung almost like a nursery rhyme. There was a clear appreciation for stuff like Freddy Cannon and Bobby Freeman and the Ramones, in the midst of the complexity of bands like Kansas, reminded everyone how much snap there is to these literally timeless rhythms.

But, Tommy and Dee Dee’s lyrics betrayed much darker image. Tommy Ramone, who was Jewish, and Dee Dee, who was a military brat on a German airforce base, played with the menacing threat of German warfare tactics: “Lightning War,” wherein tanks, supported by bombers, strike aggressively against opposition using speed and superior firepower as their main tools. Yet despite the song’s title, the body of the lyrics seem to float in a sort of ambiguity. At one point, it seems Tommy is writing about kids going to concerts in New York City, “They’re forming in a straight line/they’re going through a tight wind/the kids are losing their mind/the blitzkrieg bop.” But, at another section, it seems to be about teenage romantic encounters, “they’re piling in the back seat/ they’re generating steam heat/pulsating to the backbeat/the blitzkrieg bop.”

The band never really let on as to what the song is about. It could be that it has no one, true meaning and is a collection of images that seem to fit together. But, then again, being mainly a Tommy Ramone composition, it’s equally likely that the song has a very direct meaning, but due to Tommy’s frustration with the band, he never felt lile truly explaining it, or perhaps even had a certain glee in knowing that desperate Ramones fans would never truly understand the tune.

Joey Ramone’s vocals introduced a new style into music. Despite his lanky frame, his vocal style had a sort of meathead, Queens brawler vibe to it. And, that was sort of the fun of the band. He portrayed himself, vocally, as a sort of pinhead, when really, like all four of the original Ramones, there was great intelligence behind the words. And, although we wouldn’t see it here on this single, Joey would also shortly pull the trick of flipping from pseudo-dummy to wounded romantic on the band’s very next single, showing just how much he understood the key elements of his craft.

Of equal importance, if not more, is Johnny Ramone's guitar. As he slammed out guitar lines that were about as simple as they could get, he launched ten thousand other careers. But, despite the simplicity of Johnny’s guitar style, there was a masterful craft at work. The tone of the guitar, which is more a wall of sound than a few thin lines, emotes a wave of texture. Perfectly encapsulation the energy of the early rockers, Johnny’s style also brought force a newfound menace heard in music. The guitar alone, with its almost white-noise bite, stated that this was not a nice song, despite its poppy-skeleton.

Of equal interest is the flipside, “Havana Affair.” The Ramones were never pigeonholed as a political band, but it is fascinating that both sides of their debut single had some sort of commentary on warfare, albeit in an ambiguous sense. Unlike the Bop, “Havana Affair” is more straightforward in its approach. Again in a playful rhyme, the song tells the tale of a Cuban local who starts taking money from the CIA in order to help (the failed) Bay of Pigs invasion. And yet again, we have the juxtaposition between a poppy-forefront and a very dark under current in the song’s lyrics. Likewise, again Johnny Ramone’s thundering guitar serves as the axe that relentless strikes down while Joey bounces up and down across the song’s rhythm.

It’s this ambiguity and cross-purpose that demonstrates why the Ramone shave endured. They had simple music, but the band’s message was anything but. The music is as catchy as anything, but you pick through the lyrics for decades and still not quite get what the band is getting at. It’s no wonder thousands of bands have copied this formula and it’s also no wonder why all those same bands have had such trouble achieving the bliss and fury heard on these two cuts.