July 1976: Meet the Ramones

One of my mom’s friends gave me two back issues of Rolling Stone, both dated July of 1976.  One issue in particular – the July 15th edition, with The Beatles on the cover, coincidentally enough (as you’ll later see) – is a time capsule rich in details, big and small:

Rolling Stone - Fab Four 76As soon as I turned the page, right away on the inside cover I couldn’t help but notice this full-page (and somewhat provocative) ad for a 1970s ‘midnight movie’ – Tunnel Vision – that somehow escaped notice my entire life until just now..

Tunnel Vision - posterScattered throughout the issue are a number of arresting moments in popular music during a period that would be considered in the decades-to-come as “classic rock”:

  • Full-page ad for David Bowie – in his starring role in a film about an alien who fell to Earth – that features a bold image that was later used as the basis for 1977’s Low album cover.  Later in the issue, the film is panned by reviewer, Paul Nelson, under the title, “Bowie Film Falls Flat: Too Much of Nothing.”  There an outsized quote in the magazine’s Random Notes section from Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, who declares, “Worse film I’ve ever seen, so dreadful … so arty-farty beyond.”
  • Daryl ‘The Captain’ Dragon (of The Captain & Tennille) is quoted in Random Notes remarking on “the tremendous burden” he and Toni faces in influencing young fans and goes on to say, “The Beatles misused that responsibility and turned a whole generation on to drugs.  We’re going to be very careful how we use our new fame.”
  • Neil Young – whose song “Alabama” once inspired a legendary “musical fight” with Lynyrd Skynyrd – actually ended up taking Ronnie Van Zandt’s band on tour with him in the summer of 1976.  According to Random Notes, “those Southern men who once sang they didn’t need Neil Young around anyhow will tag along with Young and Steve Stills on some July/August outdoor dates.  In real life, Skynyrd are Young are pals.  ‘They play my kind of music,’ says Neil, ‘They sound like they mean it.'”
  • Late-breaking news item about a surprise reunion of Country Joe & the Fish, who were expected to play a festival gig in Wales as one of the headlining acts.  The other headliner?  Bob Marley & the Wailers.  Barry Melton reveals what prompted the reunion:  “The festival was originally June 5th, and [Steve] Stills canceled out.  So my agent in London called and asked me how to get hold of Steve Miller – they were offering $50,000.  I found out Miller was all booked up and said, ‘Hey Phil, we’d do it for 40 thousand.’  They said ‘yes.’  Not quite for $40,000, but enough for us to make a lot of money.'”
  • Full-page advert inside the issue’s back cover for Toots & the Maytals‘ “eagerly awaited second album” – Reggae Got Soul – that is dominated by a large photo of Toots Hibbert on stage caught at a particularly transcendent moment, with his back and arms fully outstretched, and one word – Toots! – in giant letters above his head.
  • Legendary Los Angeles session player – saxophonist, Steve Douglas – had just completed one of the most unusual recording sessions ever committed to tape:  inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops!  Said Douglas, “I’m a student of archaeology, and I thought the chamber would be incredible to play in.”  The chamber was so responsive, he said, that he created drum effects by simply tapping on his flute.  Douglas was shopping the album for a label at the time.
  • Frustrated plea from Dave Marsh in his “American Grandstand” column with regard to One for the Road, the “new” album by Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance.  Says Marsh, “It isn’t the most terrific record I’ve heard lately, just one of the most engaging … But record companies aren’t interested in an oddity, even a beautiful one, and One for the Road probably won’t be released in America.  The first Slim Chance album had disappointing sales, and Lane’s contract with A&M has lapsed.”
  • Austin record collector, Doug Hanners, “has unearthed a mid-60s album called Soundsville that contains cut by such biggies as The Beach Nuts and The Rough Necks, among others.  The album sold for 99 cents in grocery stores back then, but now it would fetch up to $20.  The reason:  both groups featured Lou Reed.”             I suspect the album may have increased in value over the years.  Rolling Stone then queried Reed himself, and he told the magazine that “he’d spent time as a staff writer for Pickwick Records, which specialized in the quickie, cheapie LP trade … They paid us a couple bucks a week, and we churned out these things.  Then we’d go in and record them – do it quick, like ten albums in three hours.”
  • Article by Paul Gambaccini about Patti Smith‘s recent tour of Europe & the UK in which she taped an appearance on BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test and played shows in Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam & Paris, in addition to London.   Although Smith was generally well received, the press on Patti was not by no means universally adoring, as Melody Maker “printed a parody of a review, as if to take the woman seriously would be to admit the existence of a rock & roll cancer.”  The reviewer for The Evening Standard was more succinct, “She is the only girl singer I have ever seen spit onstage.”

But what really stands out in retrospect is the full-page ad placed by former King Records employee, Seymour Stein, promoting the debut album by The Ramones, leading lights of a new American rock sound that would later be deemed ‘punk’:

Ramones 1976 adWhat’s clear in hindsight is how this point in time, July 1976, was a changing of “the guard” (i.e., The Beatles) with a new rock sound emerging out of New York City – in the form of Patti Smith, The Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Television, et al. – during a particularly vibrant period of musical innovation in that city’s storied history, enabled in part by an economic recession that resulted in affordable housing rates for artists who were aiming to move the music forward on a variety of fronts – punk, hip hop, disco, salsa, jazz, classical – as brilliantly documented by Will Hermes (in Love Goes to a Building on Fire).

The first Ramones album was most definitely a shot across the bow.  Sire would release two singles from this landmark debut album, with one track – “California Sun” – that would be included on the flip side to “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and show up on their follow-up album, Leave Home: