Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Modern World...The Story of The Modern Lovers & Show # 325

Originally from a suburb in Boston, Natick, Massachusetts, Jonathan Richman moved to New York following his graduation in 1969. While there he was became closely associated with The Velvet Underground, even opening for them on one occasion. Richman spent several weeks sleeping on the couch of Steve Sesnick, the Velvet Underground’s manager. He then relocated to a hotel in New York known for its rodent infestation and poor conditions, the Hotel Albert. After nine months in New York, Jonathan Richman moved back to Boston and formed a band of his own. The band that would be known as The Modern Lovers had originally consisted of Jonathan Richman (vocals/guitar), John Felice (guitar), Rolfe Anderson (bass), and David Robinson on drums. The band’s first live gig was in September of 1970. In early 1971, the band had some line up changes. Rolfe Anderson and John Felice exited the group, being replaced by Ernie Brooks on bass, and Jerry Harrison would join the group as a keyboardist. With these new members in the band, the classic line up of The Modern Lovers was now in place.

The band began playing live shows and building up quite a reputation through word of mouth. By the fall of 1971, major label attention came the bands way, first in the form of Warner Brothers Records. The band recorded their first multi-track demo session in Boston. The demo created further interest in the band, more industry label interest came to the band from A&M Records as well. In April of 1972, the band went to Los Angeles to record two demo sessions. The first demo session the band recorded was with John Cale in the producer seat for Warner Brothers Records, the second for A&M Records with Alan Mason producing. Bootleg copies of the John Cale sessions began circulating all over, including the UK. As a result even more interest in the band generated.

The band continued to play live and build up a stronger following and by 1973 they had signed to Warner Brothers Records, but the band was on different wavelengths. Jonathan Richman agreed to record the bands earlier material, but wanted to depart from the bands early Rock/Velvet Underground inspired sound to a more mellow based sound. The band intended to record more sessions with John Cale producing, but the sessions never occurred (they also coincided with the death of friend Gram Parsons). Kim Fowley produced material with the band following this at Gold Star Studios. Since the band failed to deliver a completed album, The Modern Lovers were dropped from their label. They continued to perform live with a new drummer, Bob Turner. Disagreements amongst the remaining band members ensued. Richman had no interest in performing the bands older, still unreleased material preferring to go in a new direction. In 1974, after a final disagreement about the bands musical direction with Jerry Harrison, the band split. Jerry Harrison would join Talking Heads, drummer David Robinson would join and help form The Cars, John Felice would form The Real Kids, and Ernie Brooks joined up with David Johansen.

Jonathan Richman relocated to California in 1975 and began working at Beserkley Records. While Jonathan continued working in his new direction, Beserkley Records compiled material from the earlier sessions done by The Modern Lovers and put together an album from the sessions that the band did with John Cale and Alan Mason in 1972. The album was simply titled The Modern Lovers. When it was released the album received attention even being hailed as “One of the truly great art rock albums of our time” by critic Ira Robbins. The album featured nine tracks initially. The tracks “Roadrunner”, “Astral Plane”, “Old World”, “Pablo Picasso”, “She’s Cracked” and “Someone I Care About” all originated from the sessions that the band did with John Cale in 1972. The remainder of the albums tracks came from the sessions done with Alan Mason “Girl Friend”, “Modern World” and the song “Hospital” was taken from the bands first demo session in 1971.

“Roadrunner”, the first track on the album has been described as “the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest” by Rolling Stone magazine. It was written when Jonathan was 19, and drew influence from The Velvet Underground song “Sister Ray”, modifying the Velvet’s three chord structure to a two chord sequence for the most part of the song. Lyrically the song references the modern urban environment of Boston, Massachusetts while driving alone with the radio on. The song is magically passionate and was eventually covered by Sex Pistols. It was also recorded several times by Richman. It would appear on the Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers album in 1976. The song “Pablo Picasso” was another unique track on the album. Credited to John Cale and Jonathan Richman, the song featured lyrics such as “Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole”. The instrumentation on the song was Jonathan Richman on guitar/vocals, Ernie Brooks on second guitar, Jerry Harrison on bass, David Robinson on drums, and John Cale on piano. The album was released in 1976 and had a big impact on the future of what would become Punk Rock and New Wave, often being called Proto-Punk. While musically stylistic with elements of The Velvet Underground and Rock and Roll, The Modern Lovers lyrically harnessed a feeling that people could related to with songs about awkwardness, dating, growing up in Massachusetts, the love of life and the USA.

During the release of this album Jonathan Richman released another album titled Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. The Modern Lovers became the moniker for his backing band and was not the same musicians as previously stated. The music on this album was in a different direction, a mellower more Acoustic based sound with Doo-Wop flavour and Pop elements. This line up of the band included Leroy Radcliffe on guitar, Greg Keranan on bass, and David Robinson on drums. Robinson would exit the group following Richman’s insistence that he reduce the size of his drum kit. D. Sharpe would replace Robinson and bassist Greg Keranan would exit the group as well, being replaced by Asa Brebner. This line up would record the album Rock and Roll with the Modern Lovers which was released in 1977. This album produced a top five European hit for the band with the song “Egyptian Reggae”. The song itself was an instrumental track, with a haunting melody. While the songs on the album explored different song writing styles, a highlight of the album is the song “Dodge Veg-O-Matic”, which is an acoustic Rock song about a totaled car. Jon went solo in 1979 with the album Back in Your Life, but returned with a new version of The Modern Lovers backing him in 1983 with the album Jonathan Sings! This album which is now out of print features a strong romantic outlook on many of the songs. This album has been cited as one of his best, with songs such as “Give Paris One More Chance” and “That Summer Feeling”.

In 1981, another compilation album was released featuring recordings that the band did with Kim Fowley in 1972 as The Original Modern Lovers. The title was a little bit misleading, since the recordings did not feature the “classic” line up of The Modern Lovers. Released on Bomp Records, the songs serve as a document of early incarnations of Modern Lovers songs featuring two takes of “Roadrunner”, and several previously unreleased songs. Songs such as “Walk Up The Street”, “Sleep In Your Arms”, “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste”, and “Dance With Me”. Jonathan continued to release records with the Modern Lovers backing him until the 1988 album Modern Lovers 88. He continues to perform solo, usually acoustically. While he never did return to the early Modern Lovers Rock sound, Jonathan Richman has gone down in music history as one of the most unique, eccentric and unpredictable musicians to come out of Boston.

This Week's Play List:

1. Modern Lovers - Pablo Picasso
2. Square Root of Margret - WYSIWYG
3. Thee Dueces - You Gotta Try
4. Tom Northcott Trio - Just Don't
5. Ritchie Knight & The Mid-Nights - Work Song
6. Thee Mighty Caesars - Now I Know
7. Modern Lovers - Government Center
8. Ray Charles - Isn't It Wonderful
9. Otis Redding - Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out
10. Them - One More Time (Single Version)
11. The Plimsouls - I Can't Turn You Loose
12. Mike Jones Group - Funny Feeling
13. Micronite Filters - Let's Get Drunk
14. Micronite Filters - One-Eyed Stew
15. Sunbear - Living Dead
16. Guided By Voices - Cut-Out Witch
17. The Visitors - Sad TV
18. Dee Dee Ramone & The Chinese Dragons - Bad Little Go Go Girl
19. The Mark Inside - There Is Nothing To Admit
20. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Dodge Veg-O-Matic
21. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Egyptian Reggae
22. Modern Lovers - Road Runner (Alternate Version)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for November 9th. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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