Saturday, 11 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 7 The Modern Lovers

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 7 
The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers

"I know life is cruel but I don't wanna be a bitch, man
I just wanna cry like Jonathan Richman"
(work in progress)

Jonathan Richman is one of the few (maybe only) performers I've seen cry onstage. Perhaps he is too pure for this world, as close as we have to an angel. He believes in all the good stuff, love, love and more love. Family, work, community. As he puts it himself: "I'm Straight." He seems to speak from somewhere that is beyond pretence, with a directness the equal of Johnny Cash's.

For years the only clue I had to the existence of this album was Roadrunner, one of Jonathan Richman's only hits - the other was Egyptian Reggae. I remember being thrilled when I found an 'Old Gold' copy of the single with the John Cale mix on one side and the more straightforward one on the other. The song is imperious, hypnotic and celebratory. It's opening count in of 1,2,3,4,5,6 always lifts my heart. If 45's had play counters on them this would be in my top two or three, if indeed it is not my most played 45.

I also bought a number of other Jonathan Richman albums and, although great, they come with barrel-loads of whimsy. This didn't seem to be available, but, not being aware of it's existence, I may have passed up the opportunity to have bought this earlier in my life. Ah, regrets, life is full of them. When I did read about this and considered the idea that there could be an album of Roadrunneresqe tracks out there, I was excited. It was made even more exciting when I discovered that Talking Head Jerry Harrison had cut his teeth playing in the Modern Lovers. (That's two in a row for Jerry in my Top Ten.)

Anticipation can knock the stuffing out of your first experience of a record but when I finally got a hold of this it was everything I'd hoped for and more. I already knew Pablo Picasso ("Some people try to pick up girls / And they get called an asshole / This never happened to Pablo Picasso") but I found any number of other classics: Old World; She Cracked; Hospital; Someone I Care About... What does it say about the human race that this went unreleased for four or five years. Not a lot. The coke addled cynics who ran the record industry and thought that what we needed was another narcissistic 'sex god' probably dismissed these as naive or as threatening the rock 'n' roll lifestyle or... well I don't know nor do I want to know what was going on in their heads. Perhaps Jonathan's shtick was more revolutionary than the usual macho r'n'r excess. Admit your weaknesses!
"Well, I don't want some cocaine-sniffing triumph in the bar
Well, I don't want a triumph in the car
I don't want to make a rich girl crawl
What I want is a girl that I care about
Or I want no one at all"

The celebration of the ordinary that underpins this album is balanced on the razor's edge of despair. For of course it is a struggle to allow that the world deserves such uncomplicated love. It's an album full of genuinely vulnerable moments. It's a record that brings me to the edge of tears. No song more than Hospital.
"Now your world is beautiful
I’ll take the subway to your suburb sometime
I’ll seek out the things that must’ve been magic to your little girl mind
Now as a little girl you must’ve been magic
I still get jealous of your old boyfriends in the suburbs sometimes
And when I walk down your street
There’ll probably be tears in my eyes"

The music on the record is hugely influenced by The Velvets and The Modern Lovers must go down as one of the first bands to wear their influence so clearly, and as one of the very best to wear it at all.

C'mon now, join in (if you don't you may be called an a***ole (unless you're Pablo Picasso))
"And me in love with modern moonlight
Me in love with modern rock & roll
Modern girls and modern rock & roll
Don't feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
O.K., now you sing Modern Lovers
(Radio On!)
I got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the car, got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the AM sound, got the
(Radio On!)
Got the rockin' modern neon sound
(Radio On!)"

The things you learn! I never thought of Jonathan Richman and Gram Parsons together but I found this in Wikipedia "on the day before Parsons' death, he and Richman had played miniature golf and discussed recording together." Apparently they were good friends. That would be one hell of a starting point for an album. Lets try to make the record Jonathan and Gram would have made together.


  1. Seamus, that is mad about Gram and Jonathan what with Gram's dissolute lifestyle! Great article here on Roadrunner.. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2007/jul/20/popandrock5 .... After reading it , I got on to ebay and sourced the 7 inch Morning of our lives/Roadrunner Thrice. Now a treasured possession. I can email you a digital copy if you haven't got it already. It is 8MB.

    1. Great article, Brendan. Thanks. I have a copy of Thrice. It's great, all three versions are.

  2. This is one of my all time favorites too. Your analysis of this is very insightful. You wrote,

    "The celebration of the ordinary that underpins this album is balanced on the razor's edge of despair."

    I have always had trouble describing this one to folks who have not heard it. The above is very well said.

    1. Thanks Brian. It's an album that always seem to surprise me by being even better than I remember, which is surely one of the tests of greatness.