April 1979: Ramones Release IT'S ALIVE

Monday, April 1, 2024

By the end of 1977, New York pioneers Ramones had blazed a singular trail through the world of rock 'n' roll that all but single-handedly birthed the punk scene in America. Over the course of three studio albums released in rapid succession--Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977), and Rocket to Russia (1977)--the band created a new musical language that broke down song structure down to its barest essentials, slammed it together at breakneck speed, and set it off with a "1-2-3-4!" that launched almost every tune.

While Ramones' albums had done much to kick off the punk movement in the rock underground, the band's first two albums didn't have nearly the same success in the mainstream. It was the group's third LP, Rocket to Russia, that found Ramones seeing a flash of mainstream chart achievement as it climbed to #49 on the Billboard 200.

Rocket to Russia was also the first Ramones album to feature singles that impacted the Hot 100: lead single "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" rolled to #81, while the follow-up "Rockaway Beach" clawed its way to #66, making it the highest-charting US single in the band's career.

With Ramones on the road in the UK supporting Rocket to Russia, the time was ripe for the gang to record their very first live album: It's Alive, titled after the 1974 horror movie of the same name. The group recorded four shows on the tour, but it was the wild and raucous 1977 New Year's Eve gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London that was used to create the live record.

"Since it was New Year's Eve, our management brought in some balloons and gave everybody these 'Gabba gabba hey' signs to wave around," recalled drummer Tommy Ramone to Classic Rock magazine about the show. "It was very celebratory. Johnny Thunders was there, and Sid Vicious with his new girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Elton John was there, dressed up like Marlon Brando in The Wild One. We'd honed our craft really sharp by then. The Ramones' sound was basically the essence of rock 'n' roll. That's what we were going for."

“That was one of the best shows they ever played," raved the band's long-time road manager, Monte A. Melnick, to Billboard in 2019. "Everything went well; they sounded great, and they were together, and the venue was terrific, and the crowd was great. It also sticks out in my memory because the crowd destroyed the first ten rows of the theater there, which was amazing at the time. Everybody was freaking out — they didn’t expect the mosh pit in a seated theater. It was basically a hundred percent show, in my mind.”

Capturing the band at its energetic and some say creative peak, It's Alive finds Ramones roar through the New Year's Eve set at a whiplash pace, with each tightly wound tune crashing directly into the next one without catching a breath. Twenty-eight songs fly by in well less than an hour (just under 54 minutes, to be exact). Opening with "Rockaway Beach," "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" in the blink of an eye, Johnny Ramones signature down-strokes only guitar attack leads the band's incendiary punk rock attack.

“Their studio records were great,” remembered Ramones producer Ed Stasium, who looked over six of the band's LPs, including Rocket to Russia and Leave Home, “but there was nothing like a live Ramones show. England was a perfect place to do it, because the British audiences loved them and the Ramones loved to play there.”