Action Packed: The Best of Jonathan Richman
Okay, the title’s somewhat of a lie, because this disc doesn’t include anything before 1988, when JoJo moved over to Rounder Records with Modern Lovers ’88. That’s right: no “Roadrunner,” no “Abominable Snowman in the Market,” no “Government Center” or live “Ice Cream Man”– for those, you have to get the Snapper comp Radio On: Stop and Shop With The Modern Lovers. And since that’s the stuff Jonathan’s most famous for, careless shoppers might feel ripped off: “Hey, man, my friend said he was like the godfather of punk or the uncle of emo or something, and this doesn’t have no loud guitars or nothing.”
But this disc is hugely important, because it makes a very good case for the importance of Jonathan’s later career. Every song here is completely great, from the rockabilly stylings of “Circle I” (about a nudist organic farm) and the surf leanings of “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” (which is about how lesbian bars rule over other clubs for dancing, which is true) to the country of “Since She Started to Ride” and the flamenco ballad “Una Fuerza Alla (A Higher Power).” Anyone who’s ever put down recent Jonathan should take a close listen to these 70 minutes of pure fun dancy sweet goofy music — it’ll shut them up forever.
Most of these songs are performed by Jonathan and his guitar with minimal or no accompaniment — this allows us to realize once again that he is one of rock’s greatest lyricists. I was psyched to hear one of my faves, “Fender Stratocaster,” his ode to crappy rock guitar sounds: “The sound’s so thin that it’s barely there/Like a bitchy girl that just don’t care.” And you have to love “She Doesn’t Laugh at My Jokes,” where he consults with Jean-Luc Godard, Albert Camus, and Sigmund “Frood” to find out why his wife doesn’t appreciate his sense of humor. Brilliant, hilarious, deceptively well made, and really, really nice. Why isn’t he our Poet Laureate?
The key to this whole record is the seven-minute “Monologue About Bermuda,” taken from Having a Party With Jonathan Richman, wherein he describes to a Milwaukee audience how he heard a bar band playing in Bermuda that convinced him to lighten up and not be so stiff anymore. Listening to this record will cure any residual uptightness and might even make the most hardened goth kid smile and dance — if but only to “Vampire Girl,” the greatest ode to overly-made-up women ever written.
If everyone owned this album, America and the world would be better places.
Rounder Records: http://www.rounder.com