Why Do The Ramones Sound British?

Ramones sound British lg

Maybe it’s the famous ‘ey o, let’s go’ instead of the American ‘hey ho, let’s go’, but many people, after hearing The Ramones for the first time, want to know why do The Ramones sound British?

Here’s what I know being a lifelong fan:

Joey Ramone, the lead singer of The Ramones, tended to sound British both because many of his favorite bands were British and also because of the close ties of his native New York accent with that of the English accent. They were also often mistaken for British, given most punk bands from the 1970s were English.

It’s often a shock to newbies to learn that the Ramones are as American as apple pie. They are, in fact, from the Big Apple – New York City.

If you are not familiar with one of the most notable accents in the US, it would be easy to be confused and think that these guys were just another band that came out of the British punk invasion of the later 70s.

The Ramones are, after all, often lumped in together with British punk icons like the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks.

The Ramones are one of the most popular bands of all time, and they just seem to get more and more popular. They move into the realm of punk mythology as time goes on.

That’s why I thought this was a really interesting question to look into. 

If you want to read the recent article I wrote about how they’ve managed to stay so popular for so long despite never topping the charts, just click that link to read it on my site.

But let’s explore their origins, influences, and accents in greater detail.

Are the Ramones British?

The Ramones are from New York City and are specifically formed in the Forest Hills area in Queens. However, original drummer Tommy Ramone was born in Budapest and moved to NYC in 1957. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone was born in Virginia but grew up in Germany until age 15 when he then moved to Queens.

NYC is the melting pot of melting pots.

Were Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Marky actually British immigrants? Did they come from some other part of Europe? How did they end up in the big city?

As I said, Tommy Ramone was actually originally from Hungary. He was a young kid when they fled the country and settled in New York, where he had to learn English like millions of other immigrant kids.

Johnny Ramone was born and raised in Queens. It is interesting to note, however, that his father was of Irish descent. The Irish way of speaking is recognized by linguistic scholars to be heavily influential in the formation of the New York accent.

Joey Ramone was born and raised in Queens, NY, to parents who were also born and raised in Queens, NY. He was a true New Yorker.

As mentioned, Dee Dee Ramone was born in the US but grew up in Germany with a German mother. He returned to the US when he was 15 years old. He was bilingual, to begin with, and then he moved to Queens.

And if we include Marky Ramone, the long-time drummer who replaced Tommy after the 1st 3 albums, we find another native-born New Yorker. Born to parents of European immigrants, Marky is as American as they come.

Looking at the group as a whole, I think it’s safe to conclude that not one of them is British, not even by a long shot.

Did Joey Ramone Intentionally Try to Sound British?

Joey Ramone didn’t try to fake a British accent. But he did grow up listening to The Beatles and many British Invasion bands from the 1960s, which influenced his vocal style. However, he also no doubt saw the rising British punk scene and may have felt drawn to it.

But was he trying to ride the coattails of the British punk movement?

Some people accuse the lead singer of our favorite band of intentionally faking an exaggerated British accent, especially at the beginning of their career.

And if you listen to the songs, it’s easy to see how they could get that idea.

But if you listen to interviews, what I hear is a pure New York accent, one that seemed to be stronger in his youth than later on in life.

What Accent Do the Ramones Have?

The Ramones, most notably Joey, Johnny, and Marky, have a very pronounced New York City accent. Dee Dee Ramone spoke both English and German and had a more neutral accent, given he did not move to New York until age 15.

The NYC accent is non-rhotic. This means that speakers mostly drop the ‘r’ sound from their speech and occasionally add it back in where it doesn’t belong.

Guess what other accent is non-rhotic?

The British accent.

I want to take a moment here to clarify that there is not actually one single ‘British’ accent. The accent you hear from acts like the Sex Pistols is a working-class version.

There’s the ‘Cockney’ London accent, the Welsh accent, the Scottish accent, and many other variations from different areas of the United Kingdom that vary by class as much as geography.

Just like the varied Cockney London accent, the New York accent differs depending on which borough or neighborhood you find yourself in, which ethnic background you come from, and even your socioeconomic status.

Interestingly, the accents of New York have been thoroughly studied by linguists. 

The consensus is that most of its defining features are directly descended from the London-based British accent. Interesting, huh?

Why do so many British Bands Sound American and Vice Versa?

Most musicians have a tendency to sing in styles reminiscent of their greatest influences. Singers who grew up in Liverpool and liked Elvis tried to sound like him. Singers who grew up in America and were huge fans of the Beatles often ended up sounding vaguely British. 

It’s only natural. Artists tend to imitate the artists that inspire them.

This sociolinguistic relationship may explain why so many British bands sound American and so many American bands sound British.

The academic explanation is helpful, but I think there is more to it.

That’s just one of the reasons why so many musicians sing with an accent that is not necessarily the same as their speaking voice.

There are a couple of other reasons why it might sound like your favorite musician is faking an accent when they sing:

  1. Marketability – The US offers the largest market in the world for English-speaking musicians. If the audience can understand the lyrics to a song and identify with the music, an artist is more likely to find commercial success. The ‘American’ accent is considered ‘neutral’.
  2. The Physical Reality of Singing – When singers sing, they have to adapt their vowel sounds and consonants to the melody and rhythm of a song. They may also play with certain pronunciations to achieve an easier rhyme where it may not exist in their native accent.

I did an article recently on why the Ramones are so important, which you can click on here to read.

In that article, I didn’t analyze the impact Joey Ramone’s vocal style had on an entire generation of punk bands that were inspired by their music, but I should have.

Who Inspired Joey Ramone (and were they British)?

There are a few musicians that Joey Ramone named over and over again during his career as being primary influences, including The Who, David Bowie, and The Beatles, all of whom are British.

When reminiscing about the Who, Joey made it pretty clear where his primary inspiration came from. He said,

“When I was 16, I saw The Who,” the singer recalls, “It was the first time they played America. It was a Murray the K show at the RKO theatre on 59th street [in New York City] — like 30 bands and The Who and Cream for the first time in America. Cream were great, but The Who blew my mind. The character and the visuals, Townshend, Keith Moon. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. When I perform, I want to blow people’s minds like that.

Sure, he had some American groups that he looked up to, such as the Stooges and Iggy Pop, but Joey Ramone found most of his inspiration on the other side of the pond.

101 Totally True Ramones Facts


It’s no wonder then that the Ramones sound British.

First off, they all spoke in that world-famous New York accent that linguistically descends from London-based English. Secondly, Joey Ramone’s major musical influences were practically all British.

By understanding where Joey Ramone was coming from, I think we can forgive the admittedly exaggerated British accent on some of the earlier recordings.

He was just a guy from Queens finding his voice.

Photo which requires attribution:

ramones by masao nakagami is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text and graphic overlay added

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