Rock 'N' Roll High School

Album: End Of The Century (1980)
Charted: 67

Songfacts®:

  • The Ramones wrote this song for the movie Rock 'N' Roll High School, which is about a student who leads a rock rebellion against the school administration. In the film, the student, Riff Randell (played by P. J. Soles), writes the song in her songwriting class (somehow this school she found so stifling offered a songwriting class and a means for her to work up a professional demo) and plays it to her classmates during gym class.

    Determined to get the song to her favorite band, the Ramones, she is thwarted by the principal and stages a protest in retaliation, taking over the school with her fellow students. In the final scene, she leads the students out of the school in apparent surrender, but then introduces the Ramones, who have joined them to perform the song. While they play, Riff hits the plunger and blows up the building as the horrified teachers look on.

    The film is campy in the tradition of Animal House, and it captured the punk attitude of rebellion with a heaping of humor. It was released independently, so it was never big at the box office, but Rock 'N' Roll High School earned an excellent review from the influential movie critics Siskel & Ebert, and quickly gained a cult following.
  • Rock 'N' Roll High School director Allan Arkush was a big Ramones fan, and pushed to make them the band in the movie. When he met with the band's manager, Danny Fields, Arkush pitched him the story of the band playing while the school blows up. Fields was sold.
  • The song is a throwback to '50s and '60s hits about goofing off with girls and cars: The "fun, fun" harmonies are very Beach Boys, and the lyrics evoke at least two early '60s tunes:

    "Cruisin' around in my G.T.O." - Ronny & the Daytonas sang about the Pontiac G.T.O. on their 1964 song "G.T.O."

    "I don't care about history" - In his 1960 song "Wonderful World," Sam Cooke's opening line is, "Don't know much about history."

    Much of the Ramones brand of punk rock was influenced by early rock and roll.
  • The Ramones first recorded this song with producer Ed Stasium, who helmed their previous album Road to Ruin. The band started working with Phil Spector soon after, and Spector "remixed" the song (it sounds to us like he just added echo) for the film. This is the version that was released as a single and included on the film's soundtrack.

    When Spector produced the Ramones End of the Century album, he had them record a new version, employing his "wall of sound" technique. While the original begins with eight seconds of drums, this rendition opens with the sounds of students mulling about at school, a class bell, and a sustained guitar note played by Johnny Ramone.

    This guitar note became the stuff of legend when tales were told of Specter making Johnny play it over and over for eight hours. When Johnny walked out, Spector ordered him back in, and Johnny retorted, "What you going to do, shoot me?" (this exchange is captured on tape).

    Spector is often said to have brandished a gun either at this point or at another point in the session, but Marky Ramone tells us that this is overblown - Spector carried a gun but never threatened them with it.

    The album took about six months to make, which was an eternity by Ramones standards, although most of that time was Spector working without the band. The album was a modest success, going to #44 US and outselling previous Ramones efforts, but it left the band divided - Joey and Marky loved it, but Dee Dee and Johnny felt traumatized by the experience.
  • If the Ramones were ever going to score a hit single, this would have been it. The song was the title track to a movie, and the renown hitmaker Phil Spector had his hands on it. It was not to be: the song didn't crack the American charts and the Ramones never did have a commercial breakthrough.
  • A video was made for this song using the 1980 End of the Century release. The video is based on the movie, with most of the band in detention and Marky dressed like a woman, playing the role of the principal in the film, Miss Togar. When MTV launched in 1981, it got some spins, but the Ramones never became video stars.
  • The version sung in the movie by P.J. Soles was also included on the soundtrack album.
  • According to Joey Ramone, the movie was going to be called Disco High School, since disco was big at the time. Director Allan Arkush managed to make it a rock movie starring the Ramones.

    Joey says that when they blew up the high school at the end, they were really destroying the school and the explosions were frightening. The band was under strict instructions not to turn around until cameras stopped rolling. When they did, they saw the school up in flames.

    Imploding the set did more than just create a great visual: it made it impossible to do re-shoots, ensuring that it couldn't be reverted to Disco High.
  • The End Of The Century album cover was shot by Mick Rock, whose famous clients include David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. He was warned before the shoot that the Ramones did not like photographers, but the session went well and resulted in one of the more memorable images of the band, with them wearing colorful T-shirts and no leather.

    "It only took about an hour," Rock told Songfacts. "They came, I did some Polaroids. They didn't really comment much, but at least they liked them enough for one to appear on the album cover."

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