Monday, August 13, 2007

The Original Modern Lovers

I woke up this morning and decided it should be Jonathan Richman week at Flowering Toilet.

What can I say about Jonathan Richman? He is probably best known for his earliest music, which is often cited as a primary influence on punk rock. Some people refer to his early 70s band, The Modern Lovers, as "proto-punk." I think the idea here is that Jonathan Richman is supposed to be an important artist because the Sex Pistols covered "Roadrunner."

In the early 70s Richman was inspired by the Velvet Underground and The Stooges to form a band to perform his own loud 2 to 3 chord songs. The Modern Lovers primitive, primal music was deeply out of step with what was then fashionable within rock circles (think Yes, ELP, etc.). As a result, The Modern Lovers couldn't get a record deal, and by the time the music they recorded in the early 70s got released, loud, simple music was fashionable again thanks to the rise of punk rock. When The Modern Lovers was released by Beserkley Records in 1976, Richman was sometimes referred to as the "godfather of punk" (despite the fact that he still looked to be around 15 years old).

By 1976 the other members of The Modern Lovers had moved on to bands that would have more commercial success with a variation on this newly fashionable type of music. Jonathan had moved on too, but to something entirely different. His new music was decidedly more gentle, generally written from the perspective of a wide-eyed innocent, and was utterly devoid of the cynicism and anger that characterized the punk rock explosion of the 70s. Just at the time his early music became an influence on a new generation of musicians, Jonathan Richman again found himself totally out-of-step with the prevailing rock ethos. Rock critics fell over themselves praising his early recordings while dismissing his newer work as inconsequential garbage by someone who had totally lost the plot.

But here's the thing those critics (and a lot of other people) didn't understand: Jonathan Richman was still punk, and he always would be. And his new music was great whether the critics or anyone beyond a small cult following got it or not. I'll explain why in later posts.

For now, enjoy a couple of early Modern Lovers demos recorded by Kim Fowley in 1972, and released in 1981 on an LP called The Original Modern Lovers. In the liner notes Jonathan says this music is no good (Jonathan always says his music is no good), but you can make up your own mind about that. "I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms" was covered by the Feelies, and "Roadrunner" was covered by everybody. "Roadrunner" is also the greatest driving song ever written.


Tululo Tres said...

Hello, I'm very glad you decided to make this Jonathan Richman week. I'm a long time fan of his, and I also use to visit your page everyday (by the way, congratulations for your job).

I'm always complaining about the fact that three of Jonathan's albums are out of print (Jonathan Sings, Rockin' and Romance and It's time for Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers), and I wrote several times to pages like Rhino Handmade asking for reeditions of these recordings.

I've seen that you made your own custom artwork for the Rockin' album, well, I've got my own for the It's Time, in high resolution. If you are interested I can send it to you by mail.

I hope that this post can open to people's eyes the great work of the post-Modern Lovers Jonathan.

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi. Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog and the Jonathan Richman posts. Rhino would be the most likely suspect to put out Jonathan Sings, since Sire falls under the Warner umbrella.

As I noted Rockin' and Romance is available as a custom made CD, but I don't think that's sufficient. Twin/Tone licenses some of their stuff to Rykodisc for reissue, and they certainly should do that with this along with the Feelies stuff.

From what I remember Time For came out on Upside, which was part of Rough Trade. No idea who controls that catalog, but some stuff has been licensed to Domino. I owned Time For on cassette, and it was stolen. I've wanted to buy it on LP forever, but haven't tracked it down. From what I remember I did not like it as much as Rockin', but it was a good one. And "Double Chocolate Malted" is one of my favorite JoJo tunes. That is a tough one to find.