Did the Ramones have good musicianship?

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Answered by: Jason, An Expert in the Artists and Bands Category
It is fairly common knowledge that punk rock was the backlash against what had become huge stadium rock of the 70's. Bands like the Ramones wanted to take songs back to the rock and roll basics... three chord progressions, four on the floor drum beats, simple lyrics about simple things. They didn't want all the fancy time changes, harmonies, weird chord progressions, extended finger-breaking solos, or epic twenty minute odes to mystical things on concept albums about insanity and alienation that bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and their ilk were playing to stadiums full of people. The Ramones had no desire for any of that. They just wanted to play good old rock and roll, only as fast and as loudly as possible. But did the Ramones have good musicianship?

Say what you will about the progressive rock giants of the mid seventies. Their critics talk of pretentiousness, grandiosity, musical wankery, lyrical self-indulgence and silly costumes. But the fact that cannot be disputed is that these guys could play the hell out of their instruments! Sure, the guys in Yes looked very silly in their capes (and don't even get me started on Rush's kimono period), but they were serious virtuoso musicians. In End of the Century, a documentary about the Ramones, there is a clip of Keith Emerson playing a crazy synth solo while wearing a very shiny shirt that is used to illustrate the exact opposite of what they wanted to play. And while Emerson may not be everybody's cup of tea, and to some he may even embody everything that was wrong with rock and roll at the time, his musical ability simply cannot be questioned.

So what does that say of the musicianship of bands who were rebelling against this? Short, fast, simple songs with three or four chords are fun, they're good to jump around to, but do they particularly take any real musical skill to play? Of course they do. Punk rock requires a different sort of musicianship than progressive rock, that's for sure. But you still need to have skills. Playing that fast is no simple task. Much like driving a car, the faster you go, the worse things can get if you make a mistake. Not only would the Ramones play those fast songs even faster live, they did that under the hot glare of stage lights wearing heavy leather jackets. This was a musicianship of endurance. Later punk bands like the Clash might have played more intricate parts than the Ramones, but still, the musicianship of the Ramones cannot be denied.

Of course, songwriting must be considered as well. When your songs are typically under two minutes long, you need to write a whole lot of them in order to fill a record. And these songs need to be different enough not to make the album boring. While this may not be the same type of musicianship that relates to the actual playing of music, there is absolutely a degree of musicianship that goes into being able to write a very large quantity of punk rock songs.

So the simple answer to a complex question of whether the Ramones have good musicianship is a resounding yes, bearing in mind that the concept of musicianship itself is far from black and white.

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