I am in no way suggesting this image is the exact show Dave saw, but I love this picture.......
He further wrote that the band sounded like "The Beach Boys crossed with The Velvet Underground." Huh? What? Did Jonathan Richman, Ernie Brooks, Jerry Harrison and David Robinson enact sunny four-part harmonies on tunes about heroin & femme fatales? That description puzzled me for the entirety of the next three years, until I sent away for Beserkley Chartbusters Volume 1 album in 1975, and finally got to hear some Modern Lovers songs.
The day it arrived in the mail I put it on my turntable and my head exploded. There's no real way to explain lead singer Jonathan Richman to the uninitiated, so just give me two minutes, and listen to this.
Jonathan Richman (backed by The Rubinoos) playing "The New Teller"
When the needle of my stereo touched down on "The New Teller" that afternoon in 1975, my first thought was, "Oh no, this is TERRIBLE." I had been waiting YEARS to hear The Modern Lovers, and here was leader Jonathan Richman: out of tune, out of time, singing about the new teller at his bank (?), backed by handclaps and acoustic guitars. I had been waiting for Velvet Underground drug-fueled noise aggro, for N.Y. Dolls decadence, for Aerosmith power & swagger; what I was getting was a song about waiting in line at a bank. By thirty seconds in, though - right around the lines, "There's only three in the other line, but in my line, well I count eleven / Well that's fine, 'cause I'm in heaven" - I said out loud to myself, "Wait a minute, this is great."
And then "Roadrunner" came on, and nothing was ever quite the same again.......
Jonathan Richman (backed by Earthquake) playing "Roadrunner"
And the biggest "what if?" of all: What if Warner Brothers records had released The Modern Lovers' first album in 1973 as they were slated to do before they realized, "We have NO FLIPPIN' CLUE as to how to present & promote these guys to a rock & roll industry currently salivating for the likes of Black Sabbath and Van Morrison." And what if - in one of those scenarios I only come up with given my early childhood addiction to "Imaginary Stories" in DC comic books - it was The Modern Lovers who scorched out of Boston and became the biggest American Band in the Land rather than Aerosmith?
What if "Roadrunner" and/or "Hospital" had become the FM & AM hits that "Walk This Way'" and "Dream On" did? What if short, fast, hard, loud, INNOCENT rock & roll tunes took precedence over ponderous 10-minute guitar solos (and half-hour drum solos, God help us) in songs about coked-up musicians fucking groupies on the road? What if songs about "going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, to the room where they keep the Cezanne" held sway over Styx tunes about spaceships or Kansas encouraging/validating stoners to consider themselves just "dust in the wind"? What if The Modern Lovers had naturally set the stage for The Rasberries, Blue Ash, Big Star, Elliott Murphy, The New York Dolls, The Dictators, The Patti Smith Group, The Ramones, The Clash and about a hundred others?
What if KISS never existed? What if the great blue-jeaned masses of the Midwest went around proudly singing "I'm Straight" rather than "Rock & Roll All Night?" What if they didn't swallow qualludes like they were penny candy and tap their feet to Journey? What if Lee Abrams and Big Business never took control of rock & roll, strangled the radio, invented classic-rock and kept Baby Boomers forever chained to the yoke of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers? What if we never had the albatross of a 70-year old Mick Jagger running around the world singing "Satisfaction" and making babies with 30-something year old models hung around our necks?
Was it Elaborate Rock Fantasies like these that kept my 1970's bands forever out of the mainstream of Midwest rock & roll? Yeah. Does that syndrome extend to this day? Damn straight it does, and I couldn't be prouder.
BONUS EXTRA CREDIT LISTENING
The Modern Lovers / demos recorded 1971-1973 / released August, 1976
The Modern Lovers / Live @ the Stonehenge Club / Ipswich, MA / 1970-1971
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING
There's Something About Jonathan / Tim Mitchell / Peter Owen Publishing, 1999
c) 2017 Ricki C.