Song Lyrics in the Real World: The Ramones – 53rd and 3rd

53rd and 3rd - 00353rd and 3rd is a song from the Ramones’s self titled debut album from 1976. Recorded in less than in a week in February of that year at Plaza Sound Studios (on the 8th floor of Radio City Musical), the album was initially a commercial dud but later on became known as one of the most influential albums of all times, kick starting the punk movement with its ultra short songs and relentless energy.

53rd and 3rd - 001-2
Radio City Music Hall today.

The song title refers to the corner of 53rd street and 3rd avenue in New York City. The area at the time was a male prostitution spot known as “The Loop”.  According to Wikipedia, “The area was a center of gay nightlife decades before the West Village became prominent, and was home to well-known hustler bars, most notably Cowboys, Rounds, and Red, from the 1970s through the 1990s. Shortly after the song was written, the block between 3rd and Lexington avenues was cleared to make way for one of Manhattan‘s tallest skyscrapers, the Citigroup Center. Years later, the Lipstick Building was built on the east side of 3rd Avenue at 53rd. However, gay hustlers remained in abundance at bars on 53rd between 3rd and 1st avenues.”

The song was written by Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramones, and some think it is partly autobiographical.

“In the song, Dee Dee’s lyrics referenced the wavering feelings of a “straight” teenage hustler who confuses being purchased with being attractive and also confuses violence with masculinity. Legend has it that Dee Dee himself, bassist and primary lyricist and songwriter of The Ramones, worked as a hustler in order to pay for his heroin habit. He refused to discuss the matter during his lifetime, fueling speculation that the track is, in fact, autobiographical. In the film End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, other members the band seem to insinuate that the story is indeed true. At the end of the song the protagonist of “53rd and 3rd,” who bemoans the fact that he’s “the one they never pick,” is finally chosen by a customer but kills the man with a razor blade. He is chased by the police, but is pleased that he has “proved that [he’s] no sissy.”” (Wikipedia)

Strangely enough, the same year Rod Stewart released The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II) which is also about the killing of a homosexual man at the corner of 53rd and 3rd.

The sight of blood dispersed the gang
A crowd gathered, the police came
An ambulance screamed to a halt on Fifty-third and Third

The corner of 53rd and 3rd has a subway exit for the Lexington/53 St stop, which surely made it convenient for customers to come in and out of the area. Nowadays it is a boring part of Manhattan, with office buildings all around.

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The song was covered by Metallica and Shotgun Messiah, among others.

Jean-Frederic Vachon
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1 Comment

  • Ovidiu Boar , September 24, 2014 @ 9:13 am

    Interesting read about one of my favourite Ramones songs. Few days ago I was listening to the great ‘It’s Alive!’ album and thought it was quite a shame that the song was not in their live set-list during that period.

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