You've seen the title, so let's hop right to that interesting question: Were the Ramones (or, as they tended to call themselves, simply "Ramones") the most influential punk rock band? It's a little more objective than asking "Are they the best punk band?," or a question like that. In fact, there are some common criteria one might cite to determine their influence, such as record sales, concert attendance, or how often the band gets referenced by other musicians as influences. The problem is, apparently, Green Day has actually sold the most records, so if we're basing it on record sales alone, it seems Ramones are already not at the top, even before we consider other criteria!!
See the problem there? Objectivity sucks sometimes, and in this case it doesn't truly seem to arrive at the answer. If you are a hardcore Ramones fan (and they do exist), I think you'll place them at the top of the punk empire no matter what. Of course, the problem with that is simple: It's not objective enough, so we're back to square one. Now, I don't want to be accused of writing an article that doesn't come close to answering this question, so let's just look at more of the basic facts about Ramones.
This much is true: The Ramones are often considered one of the most influential bands in punk rock history, and they have the same thing that makes bands stand out: A vibe, or an aura, or that feeling that they belong in history. They are also an oddly likable band. Even metalheads, who might be stereotyped as criticizing punk for its general simplicity, might be seen occasionally donning a Ramones t-shirt (and other punk shorts, of course), suggesting there's maybe a little "Ramone" in all of us. The band emerged in the mid-1970s in New York City and played a significant role in shaping the punk rock sound and ethos, but they also have that vibe of an "all-American punk rock band," just as Chuck Berry might seem to embody the spirit of rock and roll.
The Ramones and mass appeal
Much like Johnny Cash, the Ramones have iconic aspects to them, and even a double-live album considered a classic: Ramones - It's Alive, which, at least to some, may be every bit as great as the Johnny Cash prison albums. The Ramones' fast-paced, stripped-down style had a profound impact on the punk rock movement, influencing countless bands that followed.
As Punk Rock Blog notes: "The Ramones set the foundation for punk rock, influencing generations of bands that followed. And it should be known, this wasn’t because people felt the Ramones were the most talented bunch in rock. Quite the opposite, many within that early punk scene would see the Ramones play and leave thinking'“if they can do it, why not me?'"
While the Ramones are undeniably influential, the punk rock genre is diverse, and different bands have contributed to its development in various ways. In fact, “punk” has always been a far more diverse genre than some might initially think. Oddly enough, the Ramones seem to encapsulate this fact by themselves; though typically considered a pop-punk band, they have moments that certainly flirted with outright hardcore punk, if not french-kissed it.
Still, in any discussion like this, one must note that other bands like, the Sex Pistols, Black Flag, The Clash, the Buzzcocks, Dead Kennedys, Green Day, Pennywise, Rancid, and the Offspring are also frequently cited as highly influential in the punk rock scene. Then there are the myriad bands who represent the DIY ("do it yourself") spirit of punk, blazing their own unique trails, and heaps of bands who really should have received more recognition (North American Bison, I'm looking at you).
The adaptable moods of the Ramones; does influence equal popularity?
The impact of a particular band may be subjective and can depend on individual preferences and perspectives. At the end of the day, it seems like one of the biggest criteria for influential bands is whether they can convey various moods, rather than always simply creating “happy” or “sad” music. It seems bands with different song topics and styles are destines to reach a wider audience, and the Ramones were somehow able to dabble in many different styles while still being a uniquely (some might complain overly) simple band. In my book, there's something deeply respectable about that.
There's another important angle to this question: Is a band's influence mostly defined by how popular/well-known they are, or do we allow the possibility for lesser-known bands who still have hugely influenced music? This premise surely doesn't instantly overpower the Ramones, but it does make such a debate more interesting (and maybe more fun). It's also possible that Iggy and the Stooges (who were themselves an influence on the Ramones) are, in some ways, just as influential as the band in question. That being said, it's far easier to make the argument that, if people are chanting "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" (And here's Ceelo Green's version of "Blizkrieg Bop," with lyrics altered to simply be about football.)
Final thoughts (on a personal note)
Lastly, on a personal note: Back when I was in high school and the internet was fairly new, I sent an e-mail to Joey Ramone himself after seeing it listed in some metal magazine. Incredibly, he responded, and I still firmly believe it was genuinely him. Granted, because hindisght is 20/20, I wish I had asked him a better question than "What are your influences?" Still, it's something that definitely made me a bigger fan of the Ramones, because practically every influential band at (or near) the top of their genre will be able to stay in touch with the fans. Plus, there isn't a person on earth who can deny that the Ramones wrote some catchy songs!
Wait a second...The Ramones had a slightly more diverse sound than they are given credit for (sometimes)?!