THE MODERN LOVERS The Modern Lovers (Get Back)

Feted and fated, The Modern Lovers coulda been contenders. Their demo sessions were produced by John Cale and Kim Fowley, they were courted by major labels such as A&M and Warner Bros. and counted Gram Parsons as a friend. Their lineup included idiosyncratic singer/guitarist/songwriter Jonathan Richman and future Talking Head keyboardist Jerry Harrison, yet they imploded before releasing an album. When this eponymous collection of remixed demos was released in 1976 its guileless simplicity saw it adopted by the nascent punk movement. Its songs have been covered by the Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Lloyd Cole and Cale himself, and in quotation Richman’s lyrics have titled a Robert Forster album and a Mercury Rev track.

Of course, complaining about The Modern Lovers’ chronic lack of recognition does rather ignore the fact that the album’s classic opening salvo “Roadrunner” almost grazed the top ten when released as a single in 1977. Its potency has hardly dimmed in thirty years: not even Springsteen has written a more definitive ode to the delights of night driving with the radio on, and it’s unlikely that The Boss could grasp the slippery, sly wit that Richman’s lyrics display here. “Astral Plane” hustles “Black Night”’s stolen riff back to its garage roots, but “Pablo Picasso”’s slouching, stumbling gait was only improved by John Cale and David Bowie’s covers, more venomous and upbeat respectively. “Hospital” has all the high drama of a daytime soap, Richman stuttering hesitantly amidst the hiss and hum; “Someone I Care About” and “Girl Friend” both outline a disarmingly un-rock ‘n’ roll emotional manifesto.

Compared to such bafflingly overrated punk touchstones such as the Ramones’ and New York Dolls’ debuts, “The Modern Lovers” is much more fun, and its approachable, inclusive aura has worn the years better than those bands’ pouts and sneers. Get Back’s vinyl pressing is as good as it needs to be: it crackles and crunches in all the right places.

Jonathan Richman

Talking Heads