Greatest Songs, #457: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” by Ramones

Album: Rocket to Russia (Sire Records)
Year: 1977
Written by: Tony Bongiovi & T. Erdelyi
Billboard Hot 100: #81

  From Rolling Stone:

This mash note to surfing, punk girls and New York was actually cut twice: first as a single that was rushed to radio and became one of the Ramones’ few, modest hits, then in a slightly souped-up version for the band’s third album, Rocket to Russia. “I combined Sheena, Queen of the Jungle with the primalness of punk rock,” said singer Joey Ramone. “It was funny, because all the girls in New York seemed to change their names to Sheena after that.”

From the original Rolling Stone review of the album in 1977:

Rocket to Russia is the best American rock & roll of the year and possibly the funniest rock album ever made. Not that the Ramones are a joke — they’re more worthwhile than almost anything that’s more self-conscious because they exist in a pure and totally active state.

Rocket shows substantial progress in the group’s sound—it has opened up so that hints of Beach Boys harmonies float among the power chords, kind of like moving with the Who from My Generation to Happy Jack. Certainly, there is nothing resembling the lock step of the first two albums holding them back. The guitars still riff relentlessly, but they are freer within the murky sound, and the songs give them much more to work with.

Despite the title, the Ramones aren’t about escape. Reductionist aggression never is — conquest is more like it. And if you’re alienated by it, that’s because you’re supposed to be. The Ramones explore the dirty truths that pop music and rock designed to “entertain” have to cover up.

Most contemporary music—yeah, even the New Wave stuff—asks why we’ve slowed down or complains about the fact. The Ramones consider this irrelevant. The question they pose is more interesting: why can’t you keep up? I dare you to try.