by Adam Brill ’17
Jonathan Richman is a rock and roll singer-songwriter who grew up in Boston, but, upon becoming obsessed with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, moved to New York City to try and succeed as a musician. After failing in New York, he moved back to Boston and formed a garage band called the Modern Lovers. In 1972, the Modern Lovers recorded a series of demos with John Cale (a former member of the Velvet Underground) that became the basis for their self-titled album, The Modern Lovers. The album includes classics like “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso.” Its sound, honest lyricism, and gritty rock and roll aesthetic are very reminiscent of those of Lou Reed. Much like Reed, Richman loves to sing about everyday things. He finds elegance in the mundane. His songs’ subject matters include romance, frustration with romance, nostalgia, and art. His lyrical style is as blunt as it gets; a cursory listen to “I’m Straight” (or just about any track off the album) will reveal this. Richman’s vocal style also has a sheepish adolescent quality to it. It sounds like a nervous, geeky, teenage boy, but it is very charming.
Richman has continued to tour, although lineup changes occurred within the Modern Lovers throughout the remainder of the 70s and through the early 80s. The group released another album in 1981 titled The Original Modern Lovers, which has a lot of overlap with the band’s self-titled album. In 1986, The Modern Lovers broke up, but Richman continued to release music with his trademark rock and roll style. He has also written more acoustic music as of late. His childish and blunt lyrical style remains throughout all of his albums.
A powerful legend, Richman has influenced modern alternative rock. Bands like The Violent Femmes, Galaxie 500, The Sex Pistols (who actually covered “Roadrunner”), and Weezer have all been inspired by Richman’s blunt lyrical style and stripped down sound. Included are some recommended tracks, but I really recommend listening to The Modern Lovers. It’s a classic and is one of the best albums of the 1970s.
Listen to Richman live at the Horn Gallery this Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.