Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – First Album
The first, since their original releases, of 4 Jonathan Richman LPs reproduced for CD/vinyl. The Modern Lovers (formed in 1970) had a 1976 LP called The Modern Lovers, but this is not to be confused with this 1976 Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. Entirely different first LP.
At that time this LP featured future Cars drummer/vocalist David Robinson, bassist/vocalist Greg “Curly” Keranen (The Rubinoos), Jonathan (vocals/guitars) & Leroy Radcliffe (guitar/vocals). The 34-minute debut Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers (Drops Aug 19-Omnivore/Sanctuary Records/BMG) was produced by Matthew King Kaufman & Glen Kolotkin.
The set was recorded at CBS Studios, San Francisco with 11 songs (9 by Jonathan with “Back In the USA” by Chuck Berry & the now traditional “Amazing Grace” by John Newton in 1779).
Boston-born Richman explored genres like garage rock, proto-punk, straight folk & rock. It’s said he was influenced by New York City’s The Velvet Underground & moved there temporarily in 1969 to get closer to that scene. Richman’s originals were somewhat minimalist but his debut LP left a significant influence on the development of many punk bands.
If the late Alex Chilton isn’t the Godfather of Punk then Jonathan Richman is (he was cited by Joan Jett & The Sex Pistols who covered his songs). Richman’s product is for selective tastes with “Rockin’ Shopping Center,” which features spare instrumentation & a tight garage-band ethic, Richman’s primitive Iggy Pop-type vocal tone.
As far as covering Chuck Berry – Chuck had nothing to fear from Jonathan. The band did capture the heart & soul of the classic because the songs aren’t about polish but expression, spontaneity & feeling. The rawness & amateur doodlings are the charm (“Important In Your Life”) which applies the same confections as The Velvet Underground (“I’m Sticking With You”) without their drops of battery acid.
The band injects doo-wop but not as cleverly as say Frank Zappa did. There are awkward spots in songs (“New England”) but it’s a bowl of sweet cereal with milk that’s passed its sell-by date. However, if you’re hungry, you’ll be fine & it is.
The “Lonely Financial Zone,” melody sounds composed with intelligence & if Richman was reaching for a Lou Reed gold ring – he got it. VU could’ve covered this song.
Production-wise it has no heft. No intensity. But that’s not what they’re about. They go for a low-calorie approach of so many cool hit 45s of the 60s. Sometimes it seemed Richman wasn’t certain if he wanted to be a garage rock band, a Velvet Underground knock-off, or a Frank Zappa novelty parody (“Cruising With Reuben & the Jets”). But the musicians performed smartly, energetically, with significance & most importantly — fun. It’s here.
The 2nd reissue: September, a third in October & a fourth in November 2022. LP portrait photo by Fabian Bachrach/Color image with guitar by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images.