Stripey t-shirts, back to basic rock n roll (even doo-wop at times) – lyrics about airplanes, visiting the hospital, dancing in a lesbian bar, the ice cream man and cars (lots about cars). It can only be Jonathan Richman, the consummate entertainer and one of the best rhymers in pop music. I first heard him with the Modern Lovers when he had hits with Roadrunner and Egyptian Reggae. He sounded great on the radio. At heart he is an old-fashioned Medium Wave radio artist – his songs don’t need such extravagances as FM or Hi-Fi. I see him as a transistor radio pop artist. Jonathan is a dab hand at writing and performing tunes and words. In the early 80’s he was the perfect foil to the macho rock scene, the perfect antidote to gothic pretentions, the perfect boy next door who could make you laugh and dance. When he played Dingwalls, the queue went right around the building towards Camden High Street. He could reminisce about school trips, about love affairs and make you feel that you were part of his story. He was a big influence in taking the pomposity out of music. In Alan McGee’s Living Room there were a lot of stripey t-shirts, a lot of lightly strummed guitars, and our fair share of whimsy. It was a reaction to the years of post-punk, dark clothes and the refusal to actually sing about something heart-warming – to show a wider range of feelings than just anger and cynicism.
His songs can be subtle and beautiful too – ‘Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild’ and ‘The Morning of Our Lives’ are great examples. He is a perfectionist and demands to be heard (he insists that people shut up and listen at live concerts) and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He’s like a Shakespearean balladeer giving us his all in the name of “song” (the art or act of singing, vocal music.)
Live, Jonathan is a force of nature. One of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen. I remember seeing him in Glasgow. Glaswegians audiences are great, but if you’re bad they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms. Even there he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. In the 90’s when music became a bit macho again, Jonathan was still around with some great shows (admittedly I probably went to see more comedians than musicians then.) And he cries tears at the end of the show if it’s gone well. Whether they are showmanship or real I don’t know? But it makes for great entertainment.
My good friend (and Creation Records “French ambassador”), JC Brochard, still sends me songs of Richman’s (and has sent me many great playlists over the decades). Some I’ve never heard before, some are amazing live versions, some recent, some not so recent – studio recordings and live ones too. I’ve been amazed to hear Jonathan singing in French and Spanish, and I’m sure he can sing in other languages too.
The obvious song to post would be Roadrunner – the early version of that song is an absolute rock n roll classic. But I’ve gone for a lovely version of That Summer Feeling. I’ll also try and post The Jasmine Minks live version of a classic Richman song…