Why the Ramones Couldn’t Break Through With ‘Rocket to Russia’
Rocket to Russia was to have been the Ramones' big breakthrough – the album to put them on the radio, in the charts and in the hearts of rock and rollers everywhere. But despite the random attempts over the years to re-write rock and roll history, the truth is that most of America couldn't have cared less about the Ramones.
The year 1977 was all about Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and so on. Most U.S. teens were simply not interested in the propulsive three-minute blasts of energy dished out at sonic speed by four misfits from Forest Hills, Queens.
After the minimalist approach of their first album, the Ramones hit very hard on their sophomore effort, the classic Leave Home. The second album had even more energy than their debut but with an added sonic burst. Released on Nov. 4, 1977, Rocket to Russia found the boys upping the ante one step further, streamlining the sound to deliver a more solid and defined one-two punch. Perfectly produced by Tommy Ramone and Tony Bongiovi, this studio album is a simultaneous kick in the gut and a kiss on the lips. It's loud, supercharged and 100 percent pop, and every song clocks in at under three minutes.
From the opening blast of "Cretin Hop" to the finals strains of "Why Is It Always This Way?," it is as solid an album as the band would ever make, with many considering it their best. Rocket to Russia is loaded with many of the Ramones' best-loved songs such as "Teenage Lobotomy," "Rockaway Beach," and "We're a Happy Family." Their cover of the Trashmen classic "Surfin Bird" helped cement the path between the young, loud and snotty sounds of 1977 and the equally chaotic teenage blasts from the previous decade.
The guys made an ever-so slight move into the Billboard charts with the single "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," which got all the way up to No. 81. Rocket to Russia actually made it into the Top 50, but both the single and LP quickly fell off the charts as radio's refusal to give into that "evil punk rock" stood firm.
It's so hard to imagine now, but the Ramones and others of a similar cloth were seen as the enemy as much as disco was back then to the die-hard rocker. The question of "why" is still uncertain all these years later, but one thing that is for sure is the power and the fun of the Ramones hasn't diminished one iota.