Five Essential Jonathan Richman Songs (Post Modern Lovers)

We were about 20 miles outside of a town called Wikieup, standing off the road, a motionless 1967 Karmann Ghia shaking like a leaf with each passing semi off the road.

I get a text: "Jonathan Richman is coming to Crescent Ballroom!"

Our stalled trip to Las Vegas suddenly barely mattered. I told Zane -- his broke down car, by the way -- and he replied, "Of the Modern Lovers? I didn't realize he made music after the Modern Lovers."

A few hours later, after a tow, a brief ride in the Oldsmobile with the other members of our party, and a trip to a mechanic in Kingman, we were back on the road, and I explained to my friend that yeah, J. Rich not only made music after the 1976 Beserkley Records release he was familiar with, but that he made his best music after that release, embracing pop, doo wop, samba, country, and folk along his weird and wonderful path. "Yeah, it's that dude from ...Something About Mary!"

We didn't have any J. Rich or Modern Lovers on us (we settled for Marquee Moon, beamed from his iPhone to the cassette deck/tuner combo via one of those FM transmitters), but here are the five songs I would have played him to get him as psyched about Jonathan Richman performing in Phoenix as I am.

Jonathan Richman is scheduled to perform Thursday, June 28, at Crescent Ballroom.


The "title" track of his 1996 album Surrender to Jonathan, "Surrender" demonstrates Richman's way with words. Sure, he's just rhyming words like "in" with "win," but there's a sense that no couplet is cheap or wasted. It's gorgeous (oh man that organ solo), and such a remarkably true but simple sentiment, the sort of thing Richman does better than just about anyone.

"Since She Started to Ride"

1990's Jonathan Goes Country is kind of uneven on the whole, but this opening track is just about perfect. His big, boisterous voice fits the nimble snare groove and supremely twangy guitar lines. Richman takes a particular glee in hopping genres, and this track makes you think he could take on any style he sets his mind to.

"We'll Be the Noise We'll Be the Scandal"

Richman's latest, 2010's O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth for Neil Young's Vapor Records, is a quiet, low-key affair, and the hushed intimacy of "We'll Be the Noise We'll Be the Scandal" finds Richman in a romantic, haunting mood (which is sort of how he's sounded for the last decade).

"I Was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar"

It's remarkably easy for people to think Richman is "joking," because the sounds are so whimsical and often humorous, but with tunes like this he makes it clear that fun doesn't have to mean ridiculous. Or that ridiculousness can be fun.

Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow

From the 2001 album of the same name. Unspeakably pretty, it says everything you could ever hope to say to a woman.

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