Jonathan Richman is a Singer-Songwriter with a pretty big discography, but I, Jonathan is the album that introduced me to his sound. It could be probably best described as classic Rock n’ Roll. It’s feels very much in the vein of early Beatles and The Beach Boys – simple Pop Rock tunes with some genuine feeling flowing through it. His specific tone is quite muted: the guitar, bass, and drums all feel very quiet and distant, giving it a good Garage Rock feel to it. Jonathan’s voice is the focal point, and it’s very charismatic as well as unique.
Parties in the U.S.A. is a fun song to start off the album, and makes me wonder if he feels like his music is “party music”, as he refers to that a few times in the album. Tandem Jump is just pure fun, with the band members all acting as if they are free falling out of an airplane, with an energetic guitar and clapping that come in after they make the jump. Velvet Underground is a great dedication to that band, and as a long time fan it’s comforting to see someone write a song like this. It absolutely sums up my feelings onthe band with Jonathan’s descriptive lyrics:
“twangy sounds of the cheapest kind
like guitar sale $29.99
bold and brash
stark and still
like the heat’s turned off and you can’t pay the bill”
Up next is the hilarious and fun I was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar. The story of him going to a lesbian bar to dance always makes me smile, and the beat makes me want to dance along with him. It’s got an awesome and funky beat to it and what might be my favorite refrain:
“Well the first bar things were stop and stare
But in this bar things were laissez faire!
In the first bar things were stop and stare
This bar things were lez-ai-faire”
What stops my heart cold though is That Summer Feeling. Out of nowhere comes this depressing song about aging, nostalgia, and rose-tinted glasses. He foretells that those positive and lovely memories will be turned against you, as you will one day give anything to have that feeling again. But then he also deconstructs that same feeling as nostalgia with lines like:
“When even fourth grade starts looking good
Which you hated
And first grade’s looking good too
And you boys long for some little girl that you dated
Do you long for her or for the way you were?
That summer feeling is gonna haunt you the rest of your life”
I’ve absolutely already experienced this feeling, but never looked at it like this and it totally makes sense. Some of my most vivid and fondest memories tend to come back to me at the worst moments, haunting me of the joy I had at one point. I still can’t tell if he meant this to be positive by the way he picks it apart and points out “it’s not that appealing”. It was this song that got me into Jonathan Richman and I was sort of disappointed the rest of the album wasn’t as poignant, but his sound grew on me fast. Smartly he follows this up with an instrumental, Grunion Run to cleanse the pallet. Twilight in Boston is an absolutely gorgeous closer, and speaking of twangy guitars, this one’s always puts me into a lull.
I can’t decide if I would love this album more if it had a fuller sound to it, or that would take away some of the uniqueness. It’s still fantastic, although I could do without the heavy repetition on Rooming House on Venice Beach. Fans of Rock n Roll and Classic Rock should check this out, but even Indie Rock takes inspiration from music like this I think.