In the summer of 1977, Queens punk rockers the Ramones were beginning to make a name for themselves in the US and UK punk scenes. They had toured around the US persistently the previous year after a residence at Manhattan’s famed CBGB nightclub, where they had gained a cult following (Erlewine). Their nostalgic greaser-influenced fashion choices and tracks paying homage to the pop and surf rock of the 1960s set them apart from more brash punk artists, such as the UK’s Sex Pistols or Siouxsie and the Banshees. With 1977’s release of “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” which landed on the UK Top 40, it seemed like the band was making their brand of punk pedestrian (Erlewine). But two years later, guitarist Johnny Ramone lamented to Jim Green of the Trouser Press that, “They say, ‘Aw, The Ramones, they’re a joke, they’re stupid,’” “they” referring to radio DJs and the music press (Green). The Ramones sought a different kind of fame than the cult following they had garnered in the US and UK, and felt dismissed despite their efforts. They wanted to make it big with American teenagers.
“They say, ‘Aw, The Ramones, they’re a joke, they’re stupid” -Johnny Ramone (Green).
The Ramones’s interest in connecting with teenagers through rebellious lyrics, heard in “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” is a reaction to the disillusioning economic and political climate of the 1970s and early negative critical reception of the Ramones’s music. In their musical references to 1960s surf rock, the Ramones argue against high-minded progressive rock of the 1960s and “fabricated” disco of the earlier 1970s, both genres which marketed themselves to youth and adults, while edging into the nostalgia of the burgeoning New Wave genre. Still, because the Ramones’s music was directed to a young audience, these efforts furthered disparaging critical and popular perception of the band by rock critics and listeners uninterested in the punk genre. Because critics and radio stations didn’t promote the band, the Ramones had a hard time reaching their target audience.
The “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” promotional music video (Rhino/YouTube).