Album: Jonathan Sings – Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Review: Sounds (unknown date)1984
Author: Bill Black
IT’S BEEN a long time since Jonathan Richman‘s last album, Back In Your Life, and apart from the release of some interesting Kim Fowley produced demos featuring the original Modern Lovers line-up (boasting future members of Talking Heads and The Cars), there’s been little for fans of this Boston boy with the asthmatic’s voice and the frail rock ‘n’ roll tunes to get their teeth into.
All the more frustrating then, that his first album in four years, Jonathan Sings, should take nearly nine months finding a home and release date in Britain. But trusty old Rough Trade do the business yet again and I suggest they have an out ‘n’ out winner on their hands.
Those of you who remember who enjoyed a brief flowering in the British charts towards the end of the Seventies with songs like ‘Egyptian Reggae’ are going to be surprised by Jonathan Sings, for whilst the debate over whether he is childlike or just plain childish – the Yanks’ answer to the puerile punkiness of John Otway – continues, Richman has got on with the job of refining his own interpretations of his first love, Fifties doo-wop and early rock ‘n’ roll music.
He is helped by a new-look Modern Lovers featuring two female backing vocalists. Admittedly more like the Roches than the Ronettes, their warm, answering (“tell us Jonathan…”) tones work wonderfully with Richman’s naturally nervous voice.
Better still is the sparse instrumentation. Upright bass, minimal drumming and Richman’s racey rhythm guitar connect in a thoroughly authentic way, giving songs like ‘This Kind Of Music’, ‘Stop this Car’ and ‘Those Conga Drums’ (a dead ringer for the Coasters) an unforced folky feel.
But most impressive is the tenor of Richman’s lyrics. “The Neighbors’, Not Yet Three’ (written from a baby’s perspective with the priceless line “I’m stronger than you/You’re simply bigger than me”) and even the seemingly serene ‘That Summer Feeling’ reveal partially concealed moods of anxiety and fear that have previously languished in the shadows of his, er, “wackier” work.
But there’s plenty of the old Richman too – the ‘let me out, I’d rather walk’ hilarity of ‘Stop This Car’ and the jokey jingle ‘Give Paris One More Chance’ – so you can safely say that this is the most satisfying Modern Lovers album of them all.
I was too busy back in 1984 throwing shapes to indie music in student unions to pay any attention to Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. There was also the fact with so much good music was coming out of Glasgow and the wider environs, it was easy enough not to pay any attention to stuff that was coming out of America.
It was a few years later, thanks primarily to Jacques the Kipper including a few songs on mix tapes that I really paid some attention. But even then, it didn’t lead me to buying much in the way of the back catalogue, preferring instead to pick up compilation efforts such as 23 Great Recordings By Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers (Castle Communications, 1993), and A Plea For Tenderness (Nectar Masters, 1995) both of which were cheaply acquired.
I’ve since picked up a couple of actual albums but not, as yet, Jonathan Sings, and given the prices being asked on-line for even a poor condition second-hand copy, I’m unlikely to. But, I’ve acquired some tracks from other music blogs in recent(ish) years:
mp3: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – That Summer Feeling
mp3: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – You’re The One For Me
mp3: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – This Kind Of Music
mp3: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Not Yet Three
And I’ve a different take on one of its songs, courtesy of it being re-recorded on as solo album, Jonathan Sings Country, released in 1990:-
mp3: Jonathan Richman – The Neighbors
He’s an acquired taste in many ways, but I like him.
5 thoughts on “ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : JONATHAN SINGS”
That Summer Feeling is an absolute classic, up there with Roadrunner in the Richman pantheon. The perfect playlist partner to Indian Summer by Beat Happening (covered by several indie luminaries).
Saw him a couple of times live in small venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 90s and he was brilliant. Like JC says, an acquired taste, veering from unalloyed sentimentality to sharp wit, sometimes in the same song. Check out his Velvet Underground tribute for an uncanny impersonation of ’67 era Velvets.
Jonathan may be an acquired taste when you first hear him on record. But if you see hime live and don’t fall in love with the guy you’re a bad person and should stay inside.
Jonathan is a true original. There really is nobody like him. For me this album is his finest work and ‘That Summer Feeling’ gives me tingles every time I hear it. Terrific memories seeing him tour this album when it came out. Just him and a drummer with the doo wop backing vocals being sung by girls in the audience.
Jonathan Sings Country is a terrific record
The first two Jonathan Richman / Modern Lovers I heard, courtesy of compilation CDs in the early 1990s, were That Summer Feeling and Hospital. The latter is anything but “childish or childlike” and That Summer Feeling makes me want to join in every time I hear it. Excellent choice of artist and songs, JC.