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Why Aren’t You Having A Party With Jonathan Richman?

Mark Smotroff finds the rock in a solo guitar performance…

I had a bit of an epiphany when I was listening to the recent Record Store Day (pretty much) first time vinyl 30th anniversary reissue of Jonathan Richman’s fine third solo album called Having a Party with Jonathan Richman.

Here on this 1991 album Jonathan admittedly continues to do what he does (some might say) “best” which is to sing his wonderful and sometimes humorous pop confections which are rooted in classic rock forms from the 1950s, ‘60s and even maybe the early ‘70s depending on your perspective.

Jonathan even admits — with refreshingly blunt honesty — on the back cover that this album is very much like things he’s done before. There, it says:

“Once in a while a record comes along that is such a departure from the normal style of a singer that some explanation is in order. This record is not one of those.”

But that doesn’t make it any less of a good album and, actually, it’s really quite fabulous.

“But what about that epiphany you mentioned before, Mark,” you ask?

Well, last week I reviewed Paul McCartney’s recent reinvention of his latest solo album, called McCartney III Imagined. This was an instance where he reached out to artists he respected to do remixes or recordings depending on their perspective on the music. Click here if you’ve missed that review.

Several of my favorite tracks on McCartney III Imagined are ones where the remix artists took tracks that McCartney had originally recorded in very simple acoustic guitar form and fleshed them out into full bodied pop and rock songs. These versions are markedly different than what is on the original album and in some instances a significant improvement. 

So as I was listening to Jonathan delivering gems such as “She Doesn’t Laugh At My Jokes,” “Cappuccino Bar,” and “They’re Not Tryin’ On The Dance Floor,” my mind wandered a bit wondering how these songs might sound if Jonathan had a full band behind him.

For those of you not in the know, Jonathan was one of the founding members of the wildly influential group called The Modern Lovers which only put out one album. But what an album it was and that group spawned two other major rock stars including Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads and David Robinson of The Cars.

When Jonathan reemerged with later incarnations of the band, the music was quite a bit lighter. It was fun and generally joyous but it had none of the muscle of that first Modern Lovers record. And that is ok… 

Now I don’t know that you’d want to put that kind of power behind the songs on Having a Party with Jonathan Richman, but I did at least think about it!  At the end of the day Jonathan is all about the rock and the roll!

The new special edition of Having a Party with Jonathan Richman is a joyous affair pressed on swirly “Bermuda Seafoam” green colored vinyl. Happily, it sounds really nice (at least partially because it is pressed on opaque vinyl and not translucent which I have found at times to be noisier and harsher).

Having a Party with Jonathan Richman is a fun album to get if you like Jonathan’s music. 

But… just try it — in your head as you’re listening to this record — to think about what it might sound like if Jonathan was again backed up by a full band. You may find, as I did, that his solo guitar-’n-vocal records are a lot more rock ‘n’ roll than you might think… 

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