The cover image of the first Ramones album (1976)—which the record company paid only $125 for—was shot by Punk magazine’s Roberta Bayley, and features the four band members leaning against a brick wall in New York City, dressed in t-shirts, sneakers, ripped jeans, and leather jackets. When Ramones was released, the cover made a huge visual impression in stores, even though actual record sales lagged (it would take an additional 35 years for the album to go gold). Danny Fields, the Ramones’ manager, has stated that Bayley’s image “was perfect,” and it served to both establish the Ramones culturally and create what would become the “punk look.” It is now considered one of the most important and definitive music images of the decade.
Leave Home (1977) was the Ramones’ second album, and in a misguided attempt to “upscale” the band, the record company took over the design of the album and chose a well-known fashion photographer shoot the cover. Printed in full color and utilizing the skewed perspectives and modern aesthetic of high-end editorial work, the resulting image was the antithesis of the gritty, downtown urban persona the band had previously embodied. Fields has referred to this cover as both a “disaster” and a marketing “nightmare.”
For Rocket to Russia, the band’s third album (1977), Fields was determined to recapture the visual identity Bayley had established so memorably on Ramones. The original location of the first shoot was no longer available, so Fields found an alley with a similar appearance behind CBGBs and photographed the band himself, positioning the members to not so much replicate Bayley’s iconic prototype as pay a respectful homage to it and channel its unorthodox mood and power. However, Fields also wanted to clearly differentiate Rocket to Russia from the purely black-and-white look of the first album, so for the cover type he requested a strong hot pink color—a deliberately not-ordinary hue—that was only possible with a fifth plate. Initially, the record company resisted the extra expense, but after continuous prodding from Fields, they finally agreed to the color, which would go on to become “punk pink,” the emblematic color standard of the entire punk movement.