There are hidden gems of obscurity in all parts of musical history. This is one of them, being the best album that prolific artist Jonathan Richman was a part of. It is considered a classic today, and would have garnered more attention if it had been released properly in 1973, instead of 1976. It’s a pure blast of proto-Punk music. Let’s see if it still sounds good today.
The first track is a classic named Roadrunner which is an ode to driving out on the road. It’s simple, energetic and very good rock and roll. Jonathan Richman’s voice is unusual, deliberately sounding ambivalent in its delivery. It’s very much inspired by The Velvet Underground, and at the time, was very groundbreaking. It’s a classic tune, and a must listen. There is a cool keyboard solo in the middle, and the whole thing sounds very 1970s. Great effort here. The chanting towards the end is infectious.
Following is Astral Plane which sounds like a song that The Rolling Stones would do. Jonathan Richman’s singing sounds as though he is really bored, but deliberately so. This is a song about dreaming with a lover, an interesting topic. The Deep Purple like organ sound and guitar solo meshed together are really good, very evocative of the 1960s. Beats most of the progressive rock around this time all the same. Really unique and excellent music here.
Old World begins with some acoustic style sounds which discusses the dawning of the new world in contrast to the old world as the rock music world propels a new era. It’s a great observation of the self, but still sounding original and magical. This music is original, inventive, witty and fantastic. Some more traditional influences are here lyrically. The combined guitar and organ solo are in sync, and are really very good. Another solid listen.
Pablo Picasso is an awesome, groovy sort of piece about the famous painter who attracted attention for his brilliant works of art. It’s a fresh and groovy piece, which calls the listener “an asshole” unlike the painter himself. It’s very much inspired by The Velvet Underground and their musical connection with Andy Warhol, as well musically. The frenetic guitar solo is very, very good. Great music from a time long ago. Chugging piano is here, too. A great effort. A weird, wacky song but so good to hear.
Next is She Cracked which is about a lover who doesn’t show respect. It’s a great and upbeat pop/rock piece with attitude. These songs definitely have a punk rock attitude about them, even though they were recorded in 1973. It details a straight edge lifestyle among catchy guitar riffs. No excessive studio production or 15 minute long keyboard solos, unlike a lot of the music from this time. It’s just short, fast and furious. Solid effort.
Following is Hospital which starts with an almost inaudible melody with a sort of love song about a lady in the hospital, for some strange reason. A weird topic to cover, yet a sensitive sort of listen that is really well delivered by Jonathan Richman. Another great effort to listen to, and very unusual. It’s about being in love with a girl’s eyes alone, an unusual phenomena in itself. Simple, melodic and beautiful, this is a great love song with suspense added as well and sounds like Jonathan Richman is fighting back tears. Moving.
Someone I Care About comes next. It’s a much more upbeat and catchy piece than previous efforts on the album. This is a great listen, and likely inspired future Punk Rock groups such as Talking Heads. It dismisses drug use and in that respect, shows a great deal of maturity from the singer and rock frontman. Like all the songs here, it is a very good listen and consistent effort. This is rock and roll as though the hippie trip from around 1965-1973 never occurred. Excellent.
Girlfriend is a raw, slow piece about spending time with a lover who one spends precious time with. It’s another excellent listen and worth hearing this story about innocent love. We all have that experience at some point, but this encapsulates it perfectly. A classy, consistent effort. Pop, but not overwhelmingly so. Sounds fresh, even today.
Get up and dance with the Modern World which is a great straight ahead rock and roll track. Another deliberately energetic song with a deliberately ambivalent vocal, The Modern Lovers really do well here. A great piece to listen to, even today. This music has barely aged at all, showing its ability to be timeless. Energetic and exciting listening. An awesome keyboard solo is here, too.
Next is Dignified and Old which is an ode to simple retirement. It is a looking ahead to the future sort of piece. Some really energetic drumming is here, and it is obvious from a lyrical perspective Jonathan Richman was here for a long term career. A good listen about the joy of growing old, but not losing spirit. A good song, once again.
I’m Straight is the first reference to the straight-edge lifestyle that became Punk Rock legend for some fans of that music. It’s a great lyrical and musical point about the pitfalls of drug use. Indeed, this is a great musical statement about such a lifestyle. Drugs ultimately aren’t worth it in the long run, and Jonathan Richman tells us why this so here. Great stuff. It builds up to a good climax towards the end, good thinking for a song.
Government Center is a strange piece with a reference to the ins and outs of the body of government. It may be political in an unusual (possibly) way, but it is another good musical piece to listen to. Another good effort by The Modern Lovers.
The raw I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms comes next. It’s an energetic and pulsating listen which is quite fast. A good and quick listen, it is proto-Punk sort of thinking in relation to being with a lover. Good and very quick.
What begins with wind chimes goes into Dance With Me which is a great and suspenseful listen, mainly driven by acoustic guitar. It’s a good listen and is one of the slower songs here. Perhaps a little too slow, but still that is forgivable as the suspense is awesome. Towards the end, the climax occurs, making this different.
The last three tracks are alternative versions of the songs Someone I Care About, Modern World and Roadrunner. These three versions are rawer and more energetic than the final versions, although these songs have already been written about. Nice to hear, however.
This is one of the linking albums between the mod scene of the 1960s and the punk rock scene of the late 1970s. It is also one of the great underrated albums of all time. If you love history and the history of music, seek this out. It is a winner.