“Shoot ‘Em in the Back Now”: The Story Behind the Overwhelming Assault of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones

Blitzkrieg is a German word: blitz means lightning, krieg equals war. It’s defined as a surprise attack using rapid, overwhelming force. I can’t think of a better word for The Ramones. In 1974, Doug Colvin, John Cummings, Jeff Hyman, and Thomas Erdelyi joined forces in Forest Hills, Queens, to create one of the most potent bands of their time. Colvin began using the name Dee Dee Ramone and convinced the rest of the band to take on a similar surname.

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The Ramones debuted their short and fast songs at Performance Studios in New York City. The band began playing shows at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, joining an emerging scene of artistic groups such as Suicide, Ruby and the Rednecks, and Television. Blondie, Talking Heads, and The Heartbreakers soon followed. Sire Records signed the Ramones and released their debut self-titled album in 1976. Let’s take a look at the story behind a song from that album, “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones.

The Chant

People often cite the Ramones as the first punk band. As they began, there wasn’t a name for their type of music. In 1972, when the compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968 was released, writer Lenny Kaye referred to the music in the liner notes as “punk rock.”

Johnny Ramone (Cummings) wrote in his 2012 autobiography Commando: “‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was our ‘Saturday Night,’ you know, that song by the Bay City Rollers. We had to have some kind of chant just like they did. Dee Dee’s work there. We’d heard the Bay City Rollers doing ‘Saturday Night.’ And we thought that was our competition. So we had to come up with a song that had a chant because they had one too. It’s funny, I originally wanted to be a ballplayer, and now they play ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ at a lot of the parks. They play it at Yankee Stadium all the time.”

Rufus Thomas’s 1963 hit “Walking the Dog,” and more specifically the cover by The Rolling Stones, offered inspiration as well. The Ramones often mocked Mick Jagger’s pronunciation of the line High, low, tipsy toe. Tommy Ramone (Erdelyi) said he “came up with the chant walking home from the grocery store carrying a bag of groceries.”

Hey ho, let’s go! Hey ho, let’s go!
Hey ho, let’s go! Hey ho, let’s go!


Bands like The Stooges, MC5, The Dictators and New York Dolls had been doing what would later be called punk rock before it was used as a marketing tool. Suddenly, these New York bands gained an identity. They were punk! When the Sex Pistols started getting all of the negative press in England, it put a real damper on the scene.

In the documentary Punk: Attitude, Tommy Ramone remembered: “Unfortunately, I think it was detrimental to us as far as the straight media was concerned because they assumed we were a bunch of hooligans and were kind of afraid of us.”

They’re forming in a straight line
They’re going through a tight wind
The kids are losing their minds
The blitzkrieg bop

Opposites Attract

The band all wore black leather jackets and blue jeans and sported similar haircuts. They were an army of young assassins who assaulted their audience with loud, aggressive songs. Live performances would often barely last 20 minutes. Band members would argue between songs, sometimes escalating into physical confrontations. Said Joey Ramone (Hyman): “We were real. We were unique. We’re like four unique individuals. It’s a chemical thing. It’s a strong chemical imbalance. Opposites attract and all that crap.”

Added Tommy: “Our equipment kept breaking down, we kept breaking strings, and we would get into fights between songs, so we hardly ever even finished a song.”

They’re piling in the back seat
They’re generating steam heat
Pulsating to the backbeat
The blitzkrieg bop


Originally called “Animal Hop,” the song was about the fans’ experience at a Ramones show. The excitement at the early Ramones shows was intense. The lyrics are loose and vague, but the recurring theme is about young music fans being part of a bigger scene. Said Tommy: “I wrote ‘Blitzkrieg Bop,’ but Dee Dee contributed the title, and he changed one line. There was a line that went, They’re shouting in the back now. He changed it to Shoot ’em in the back now, which is a non-sequitur. But to him, it made sense.”

Hey ho, let’s go
Shoot ’em in the back now
What they want, I don’t know
They’re all revved up and ready to go

The Recording

The band went to Plaza Sound at Radio City Music Hall in New York and recorded their debut album. Twenty-nine minutes of pure rock. No guitar solos. No song longer than three minutes. It was a rapid-fire, overwhelming assault. It was the antithesis of what was going on in mainstream music at the time. The band hit the road but were not met with open arms everywhere. They had a hard time booking gigs away from New York City. Joey pushed to set up a show in England. It was arranged for the band to play at The Roundhouse in London on July 4, 1976. Various Sex Pistols and members of The Clash were in attendance.

Hey ho, let’s go! Hey ho, let’s go!
|Hey ho, let’s go! Hey ho, let’s go!

Influential in the UK

The Ramones’ debut album didn’t sell particularly well, but it was hugely influential, especially in the UK. Generation X bassist Tony James said: “Everybody went up three gears the day they got that first Ramones album. Punk rock—that rama-lama super fast stuff— is totally down to the Ramones. Bands were just playing in an MC5 groove until then.”

Added Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders: “Sid Vicious [of the Sex Pistols] learned how to play the guitar by listening to the Ramones, and staying up for three nights on speed and playing along to Ramones records. The Ramones were the one band I think that the English punks kind of looked up to.”

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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