Hanging with the regular Thursday crowd at Record Stop always felt like an exit off the mainstream music highway I had been subjected to at Record World. There was never a shortage of new music to discover.
Going through the record bins weekly, it seemed like I was familiar with just about everything. One of the regulars was raving about this band called The Modern Lovers. He said they were a simpler version of The Velvet Underground. Having just discovered The Velvets I was ready to give The Modern Lovers a listen. Nipo thew it on the turntable and from the first song, “Roadrunner”, I was a fan. This album is one of my all-time favorites to this day. I still listen to it. I was not surprised to discover it was produced by none other than John Cale. This album came out in 1976, but remained undiscovered by just about everyone.
Jonathan Richman sings with the innocence of a 7-year-old, discovering life, love and his surroundings for the first time. It’s this suburban, anxiety ridden awkwardness, combined with the simplicity and raw energy of the Modern Lovers that make this a landmark album. It’s brilliant.
The Modern Lovers, besides Jonathan, include Jerry Harrison (before he joined Talking Heads) on keyboards and Dave Robinson (later joined The Cars) on drums.
“Roadrunner” is the opening number and is so catchy. It was later covered by a few bands, specifically The Sex Pistols and Joan Jett. Songs like “Astral Plane”, “She Cracked” and “Someone I Care About” have that typical live punk feel, but not offensive or in your face. Subtle, yet powerful. You can almost hear Jonathan giggling through the lyrics. The improvosational feel and joy in his voice is infectious.
Jonathan really shows off his writing skills in songs like “Old World”, “Girlfriend” and “Modern World”. My favorite song on this album is a slow ballad called “Hospital, about a girl Jonathan is in love with who is in the hospital after a probable drug overdose. The lyric “I go to bakeries all day long, there is a lack of sweetness in my life” is an example of the tenderness and poetry Jonathan is capable of.
Other songs cover life in Massachusetts, having a first girlfriend, being old-fashioned. Until we get to “Pablo Picasso”. Here, Jonathan takes a left turn into anger and jealousy. with lyrics “Some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso. He could walk down the street and girls could not resist his stare, Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole, not like you” It’s about as angry as Jonathan gets.
The Modern Lovers put only one album out. Jonathan went on to other forms of the band and a long solo career that continues today. He is still the same childish man and you can’t help but smile when you hear his songs. However, the original power of the band is gone and I still love that first album.
An under rated and underappreciated pioneer of the punk movement, Jonathan Richman enjoys only a cult following. Artists like They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, and a few others cite Jonathan as a huge influence.
If you can find this first album (Amazon?), get it. You will not be disappointed. It’s an enjoyable listen even after the 2,500th time.