Jonathan Richman: I, Jonathan (1992)

The Modern Lovers' self-titled debut is one of the great one-"hit" wonders of the rock era, a fantastic, timeless proto-punk album that built off the Velvet Underground's sound, while up-ending Lou Reed's tales of drugs and degradation with Jonathan Richman's at times tender, at times pointed odes to clean living, romance, and old-fashioned values.

Alas, by the time of its belated 1976 release, Richman had largely moved on.  While continuing to perform with various iterations of the Modern Lovers (before adjusting the name to Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers and, ultimately, simply Jonathan Richman), the Velvet-y rock of the debut was jettisoned, replaced by stripped-down, often acoustic music that veered from children's songs to 50s-flavored oldies to soft pop. The innocent lyrical charm of that debut remained, the songs whimsical and earnest, the tough edges of songs like "Pablo Picasso" and "Cracked" largely eliminated.

The results varied widely across albums, and one could hear his songs as refreshingly tender or cloyingly saccharine depending on your willingness to let down your guard and fully inhabit Jonathan's unique universe.

While I am partial to some of his 80s work, particularly 1983's Jonathan Sings and 1985's excellent but out-of-print Rockin' And Romance, this 1992 solo album is arguably the most consistent release of his lengthy (and ongoing) discography, and serves as a solid entry point for those who have steered clear of his post-Modern Lovers recordings.

The three-song run midway through the first half is among Richman's finest solo work -- the bad boyfriend rip "You Can't Talk To The Dude"; the reverential "Velvet Underground" (which successfully navigates Richman's unorthodox ethos by inserting a cover of the obscene and transgressive "Sister Ray" smack dab in the middle); and the delightful, self-explanatory "I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar," with some of Richman's cleverest couplets ("In the first bar things were stop and stare, but in this bar things were laissez faire").

But little delights can be found scattered throughout the album, from the heart-felt nostalgia of opener "Parties In The USA" (invoking a "Hang On Sloopy" riff) and "Rooming House on Venice Beach," to the largely instrumental surf rockers "Tandem Jump" and "Grunion Run." The album also includes a largely unnecessary but still welcome reworking of Jonathan Sings standout "That Summer Feeling," one of Richman's most wistful and heartwarming tunes.  

Here's the legendary solo tv performance of "Lesbian Bar":
...and a live performance of "You Can't Talk To The Dude":
...and "Velvet Underground" live:
Finally, here's a solo performance of "That Summer Feeling" (circa Jonathan Sings):