JONATHAN RICHMAN and The MODERN LOVERS – ” The Albums ” Reissues

Posted: January 23, 2023 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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The Modern Lovers were formed in 1970 by teenage singer, songwriter, guitarist Jonathan Richman, augmented with Jerry Harrison (keyboards), Ernie Brooks (bass) and David Robinson (drums), with Richman’s friend and original band member John Felice joining them occasionally.

In 1975, Richman moved to California to record as a solo singer/songwriter with the independent Beserkley Records label. His first released recordings appeared on 1975’s “Beserkley Chartbusters” compilation, where he was backed by members of Earth Quake and the Rubinoos. The four songs on the compilation also appeared on singles released by Beserkley.

Richman’s work with the first incarnation of Modern Lovers is a major influence on punk rock. One critic called him the “Godfather of Punk”. On his second solo album, Brian Eno made mention of Richman’s band in his lyrics, and the Sex Pistols and Joan Jett were among the first artists of note to cover the song “Roadrunner” in the 1970s. A version of “Pablo Picasso” performed by Burning Sensations was included in the 1984 cult film, Repo Man. David Bowie covered “Pablo Picasso” on his album “Reality“. Velvet Underground founding member John Cale has a version of the song on his 1975 album, “Helen of Troy”, and continues to include the song in his live shows. Iggy Pop has performed “Pablo Picasso” live and wrote an extra verse for it. Echo and the Bunnymen covered “She Cracked” in concert in 1984 and 1985 and Siouxsie and the Banshees have a version of the song on “Downside Up”.

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers

In January 1976, Richman put together a new version of the Modern Lovers, which included original Modern Lovers drummer David Robinson, former Rubinoos bassist Greg ‘Curly’ Keranen and Leroy Radcliffe on guitar. The new group, now billed as Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, found Richman turning away from the harder, Velvet Underground-influenced electric rock of the original Modern Lovers, toward a gentler sound mixing pop with 1950s rock and roll, and including a bigger emphasis on harmony vocals. During this period Richman recorded a mix of original songs and material by other writers,

Originally released in 1976, this debut album from Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers was released shortly after Richman relocated to California and created a new version of The Modern Lovers, who helped 2 singles from this record bring more visibility to Richman’s inimitable rock formula. In 1972,

“Rockin’ Shopping Center” opens the listen with a bouncy bass line, as Richman’s distinct talk/singing enters the jangly rocker, and “Back In U.S.A.” puts a very fun twist on the Chuck Berry original with crisp drumming, meticulous guitar and plenty of rock’n’roll energy.

Packed in the middle is the cautious and eastern spirit of “Lonely Financial Zone”, that’s heavy on mood, while “Hey There Little Insect” is very much drum focused and recruits backing vocals for the nearly tribal like climate.

Approaching the end, “Springtime” is an acoustic guitar, folk friendly love song, and “Amazing Grace” exits with a very unique version of the classic that moves quicker and even with an upbeat demeanor as Richman and company really do make the tune their own.

Richman is joined by David Robinson (drums, vocals), Leroy Radcliffe (guitar, vocals) and Greg ‘Curly’ Keranen (bass, vocals), and together they dive right into Richman’s vision of more acoustic and harmony fuelled song craft that would quickly gain them a cult following all across the globe.

One of four releases from Richman that Omnivore is reproducing in CD and LP for the first time since their original releases, this one has clearly aged well, much like everything they’ve done.

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The Modern Lovers

The band recorded a series of demos with producer John Cale (formerly of the Velvet Underground). Among these songs were the seminal “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso”, which were eventually released on the group’s post-breakup album, “The Modern Lovers” in August 1976.

Originally released on the Beserkley label in 1976 (though most of the material was recorded in 1973), The Modern Lovers is a universally accepted proto-punk classic. It’s an album that bridges the gap between The Velvet Underground, a band whom leader Jonathan Richman was obsessed with, and the first wave of punk rock. While also displaying the goofy wit that would later be Richman’s signature, The Modern Lovers is equal parts geeky, emotional, angst driven, life affirming, and, from start to finish, absolutely brilliant.

Compiled of demos the band recorded with John Cale in 1973, The Modern Lovers is among one of the great proto-punk albums of all time, capturing an angst-ridden adolescent geekiness which is married to a stripped-down, minimalistic rock & roll derived from the art punk of the Velvet Underground. While the sound is in debt to the primal three-chord pounding of early Velvet Underground, the attitude of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers is a million miles away from Lou Reed’s jaded urban nightmares.

As he says in the classic two-chord anthem “Roadrunner,” Richman is in love with the modern world and rock & roll. Bringing in all of Richman’s signature songwriting flourishes, including references to his home and a fondness for youth distilled into one perfect chord progression, ‘Roadrunner’ helped invent and perfect power pop. Excitement has rarely been bottled into such an effective package.

He’s still a teenager at heart, which means he’s not only in love with girls he can’t have, but also radios, suburbs, and fast food, and it also means he’ll crack jokes like “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole…not like you.” “Pablo Picasso” is the classic sneer, but “She Cracked” and “I’m Straight” are just as nasty, made all the more edgy by the Modern Lovers‘ amateurish, minimalist drive.

But beneath his adolescent posturing, Richman is also nakedly emotional, pleading for a lover on “Someone I Care About” and “Girl Friend,” or romanticizing the future on “Dignified and Old.” That combination of musical simplicity, driving rock & roll, and gawky emotional confessions makes The Modern Lovers one of the most startling proto-punk records — it strips rock & roll to its core and establishes the rock tradition of the geeky, awkward social outcast venting his frustrations. More importantly, the music is just as raw and exciting now as when it was recorded in 1973, or when it was belatedly released in 1976.

From the moment you heard The Modern Lovers, it was clear that Jonathan Richman was an individual. While completely enamoured with old-school rock and roll, Richman was happy to pair those sounds with a fresh look at the themes and messages that pervaded those songs, as he does on ‘Someone I Care About’.

Richman was also unafraid to go against standard lascivious rock star views of relationships and love. Richman puts lust in the back seat on ‘Some I Care About’ wanting something more than just a girl to have fun with. He’s looking for a connection, which is wonderfully wholesome for a rock and roll tune.

I’m Straight’, produced by Kim Fowley in October 1973. This ended up being The Modern Lovers final recording session. The band were plagued with creative differences during the course of recording what would have been their debut LP. They had just signed with Warner Brothers but were dropped almost immediately when they were unable to complete an album.

Inevitably, they band split. Drummer David Robinson went on to find huge success with The Cars (band). Keyboardist Jerry Harrison too was greatly successful, joining Talking Heads (official). Ernie Brookes went on to work for Rounder Records. And Jonathan Richman….well ‘There’s Something About Mary’, of course.

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Rock ‘n Roll with the Modern Lovers

Rock ‘n Roll with the Modern Lovers” is the second album released as Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. The band, which is build around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Richman, almost totally focuses on the sound from the ‘50s. The lo-fi record breathes folky roots music and rock ‘n roll as it would sound ages ago. “Egyptian Reggae” (earning them a UK Top 5 hit) and “Roller Coaster by the Sea” are all superb songs, uncomplicated and wonderful. This is one of the most remarkable projects recorded by Jonathan.

“The Sweeping Wind (Kwa Ti Feng)” opens the listen with intricate eastern influences on guitar in the instrumental climate, and “Ice Cream Man” follows with Richman’s signature raw, distant vocals amid minimal instrumentation.

Elsewhere, the playful strumming of “Afternoon” welcomes well timed, conversational backing vocals, while “South American Folk Song” is full of warm guitar playing that’s quite breezy and packed with culture.

Further along, “The Wheels On The Bus” puts a charming spin on the traditional with call and response vocals, and “Angels Watching Over Me” continues the formula with finger snapping, group vocals and plenty of Richman’s minimal sensibilities.

Richman was shifting towards an acoustic/harmony based formula at this point in his career, and with his new drummer D. Sharpe on board, he hit #5 on the UK charts with “Egyptian Reggae”. An aptly titled affair, there’s certainly plenty of rock’n’roll spirit to be found here, surrounded by Richman’s garage-rock and proto-punk leanings.

The Modern Lovers were formed in 1970 by teenage singer, songwriter, guitarist Jonathan Richman, augmented with Jerry Harrison (keyboards), Ernie Brooks (bass) and David Robinson (drums), with Richman’s friend and original band member John Felice joining them occasionally.

Back in Your Life

Back in Your Life” was released in 1979 under the Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers moniker. Half of the album features Jonathan playing solo and the other half The Modern Lovers are supporting him as a backup band. It’s a very pleasant album where Jonathan brings his melancholy mood to the quiet and reflective songs. He’s a very talented and creative musician and that’s exactly what he’s bringing to the rock ‘n roll rhythms and pop. The music will remind you of the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, but still it has stood the test of time very well.

The third studio release from Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers features the U.K./European single tracks, “Abdul And Cleopatra,” “Buzz Buzz Buzz” and “Lydia.”

Jonathan Richman’s intended Beserkley catalogue is available again. His true releases, “Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers” and “Rock ’n’ Roll With The Modern Lovers” are back among these other reissues, as originally intended, on CD and LP with exclusive coloured variants.

“Back In Your Life”. While credited to Jonathan and the Modern Lovers (which now included Andy Paley—Brian Wilson, Chris Isaak, NRBQ, John Wesley Harding), the release was Jonathan, accompanied on about half of the material by the Lovers. It followed the ‘Live’ record”

Another musician on the record, and co-producer, was Kenny Laguna, whose work with Buddah Records (The Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Lemon Pipers,) plus Tommy James & The Shondells, Crazy Elephant, Bow Wow Wow, and Joan Jett. Laguna was a perfect person to put Jonathan’s sound where it needed to go.

Featuring the Richman staples, “Abdul And Cleopatra,” “Affection,” and the title track, “Back In Your Life” signals the ending of his Beserkley tenure, but with much more to come…Richman went on sabbatical for a few years, staying in Appleton, Maine, and playing at local bars in Belfast, Maine.

So… you don’t come to Richman for his ear-frazzling sonic experiments. But his rudimentary arrangements are part of what makes him unique. There is almost nothing to his songs but the words and melodies, and there is nothing to his words except his own thoughts and emotions.

There is no filter, no irony, and the nearest he ever gets to adopting a persona is when he is pretending to be a little dinosaur. That’s why so many of his album titles have his own first name in them: I, Jonathan; Surrender to Jonathan; Jonathan Sings. Yes, his songs are crafted, but they are so direct and intimate that he could be confiding in a close friend – and, while you’re listening, you feel as if you’re that friend yourself.

Omnivore label did us a favour and reissued 4 Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers albums this year, and here we’re treated to his sophomore record, originally released in 1977.

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