He led the first great band to build on The Velvet Underground, which didn’t mean as much as it could, as The Modern Lovers’ sole album was released in 1976, two years after they band broke up. In the meantime, Jonathan Richman reinvented himself into an acoustic troubadour with a strong ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll bent and, at times, a childlike innocence. Of course, this was considered terminally uncool by some, but Richman persevered, as his direct songs helped garner him a rabid fan base. Since then, he’s had bouts of fame (especially from his appearance in the movie There’s Something About Mary), but generally, he’s been a reliable performer who has explored other genres and various nuances in his core style. Jonathan Richman is a rock original. In honor of his birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Joy Division – Novelty (Substance): This was the b-side of the “Transmission” single which ended up on the CD version of this great compilation. This song is centered on a guitar riff, with prominent drums and a submerged bass. It’s a step close to some of their post-punk contemporaries. Not a great Joy Division track, but a worthwhile one.
Pulp – Joyriders (His ‘n’ Hers): This was the album where Pulp’s identity cohered and they began their ascension to the Britpop throne. And this is a song that starts with urgency and builds to a fever pitch in the chorus, with Jarvis Cocker front and center.
Adam Marsland – The Night I Bought Mickey Dolenz a Beer (Hello Cleveland): A silly, but I presume fairly true, account by Mr. Marsland. This album was banged out by Adam and his band in one night and the live energy really comes through. Fun track.
Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul – Angel Eyes (Men Without Women): The first solo LP from Steven Van Zandt is about as terrific a soul revival album as you can get when your lead singer has about half the range of Bob Dylan and less nuance. Yep, Steven’s voice is a limited instrument, but the tunes are fantastic and his passion burns through. I could hear Steven’s boss doing this one.
The Beach Boys – A Day In the Life of a Tree (Surf’s Up): This is a folk ballad with psychedelic touches that Brian Wilson co-wrote with Jack Rieley, who sings on the track with Van Dyke Parks and Al Jardine. This is a song that draws in the listener with atmosphere, though it doesn’t really go anywhere.
Tom Waits – Downtown Train (Rain Dogs): For all of his weirdness, Tom Waits can write songs with anyone. Rod Stewart later had a hit with tune, but no one can ever beat this original version. The instrumentation is about as straightforward as anything on this album and the chorus is just killer.
Jalla Jalla – Hollow Moon (Jalla Jalla/Crumelur): This Finnish rock band follows in the footsteps of The New York Dolls and other punky yet traditional rock ‘n’ roll outfits. The energy on this two album set is great throughout and every song has at least one memorable hook.
Pop Will Eat Itself – Satellite Ecstatica (This Is The Day...This Is The Hour...This Is This!): If rock-rap had followed the PWEI template, maybe it wouldn’t have been so insipid. Granted, the rap element was not fully there, but the Poppies mixed dance and hip-hop moves with catchy guitar riffs and clever lyrics that led to this one fine album.
Buck Owens – Tall Dark Stranger (The Buck Owens Collection): Seems like Buck is coming up every other week on my shuffle. This is not a bad thing. This isn’t a honky tonk tune, but more of a pop tune with country elements. This could easily be covered by a garage rock band.
Prototypes – Je Ne Te Connais Pas (Prototypes): I got this disc in a dollar band, solely because it was on Minty Fresh. This is fizzy French pop with dance music elements and, on this song, kind of a glam rock simplicity. It sounds really cool.