The Ramones released 14 studio albums in their time. There have also been ten live albums and several compilations over the years too. Many attempts have been made to rank their albums and work out which are their best.
When ranking a band's albums it’s almost an impossible task to get a final conclusion which everyone agrees on. With so many variables and personal preferences, there will always be differences of opinion. On the whole, there is usually a clear top three that emerges if you look across a number of those rankings.
As far as the Ramones are concerned though, you can’t really call it for a top three album list. There isn’t a consistent enough view to agree on the final top three. You can instead get a very clear view of the top four Ramones album. The majority of the many ranking attempts I have looked at had their ranking for final places alternating between the four albums listed below in their release date order.
The Ramones and their top ranked albums
Ramones (April 1976)
The band's debut album was recorded in one week at a cost of $6,400. The top track for many is the opening number “Blitzkrieg Bop” though it was full of great tracks. “Judy Is A Punk” being another great example.
The album blew many listeners away with its fast-paced fresh sound. It was very well received critically and set the Ramones on their way. Like most Ramones albums though it wasn’t a huge seller, reaching only 111 position on the Billboard 200 with sales of around 6,000 in the first year.
Leave Home (January 1977)
The second album for the band followed on quickly. This brought a similar approach in terms of style and music. The production levels were notably better than the first album, but if anything the pace of the songs was slightly faster.
The original track listing was altered just before release when a trademark issue ruled out "Carbona Not Glue”. It was replaced by what became a classic Ramones song “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”. Continuing the theme of critical acclaim but low sales the album reached 148 on the Billboard 200.
Rocket to Russia (November 1977)
Album three was recorded over the summer of 1977 when punk rock was at a peak. The band was more established by then and comfortable in their ability to deliver short, fast guitar-led songs with catchy hooks. This album certainly had plenty of them.
A single, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”, was released ahead of the album. Further singles “Rockaway Beach” and “Do You Wanna Dance” followed on. Again, commercially the sales were disappointing. The album peaked at No. 49 on Billboard 200 despite containing many great Ramones numbers.
Road to Ruin (September 1978)
There was a longer gap before this fourth album was released. By this point original drummer Tommy Ramone had left, citing stress over touring and disappointment at the low sales. He did co-produce the album but was replaced by Marky Ramone on drums for the recording sessions.
The band continued to adapt 60s style pop and included a great cover of The Searchers “Needles And Pins”. It was released as a single, as was another band classic “I Wanna Be Sedated”. Once again the sales were low, this time only reaching 103 on the Billboard 200.
Which Ramones album ranks in top place?
Establishing an actual countdown order of the four in order of popularity or preference is the next difficulty in this task. The many ranking lists again made it difficult to determine a top place. Johnny Ramone also identified the same top four from all the Ramones studio albums. He was much clearer and more decisive in calling out his top Ramones album, as New York Magazine reported in 2012.
"Rocket to Russia 1977 A+ This was the best Ramones album—one great song after another. It has just the right balance of slow songs, ballads, and rockers."- Johnny Ramone
I’m very happy to defer to Johnny for that top Ramones album spot. They were all great albums and remain worth playing today. Having said that, it’s still a surprise how poorly the albums sold. Their album chart peak in the US came in 1980 with End Of The Century reaching 44th spot.
Perhaps it’s more of a retrospective view and legacy which counts. Irrespective of the sales numbers the Ramones are regarded highly and seen as pioneers of punk rock, inspiring many great bands to follow. Rolling Stone magazine included the band at no 26 on their 100 Greatest Artists of all time list. A pretty good tribute to their time and music.