I personally have over 100 recordings of Jonathan Richman music and occasionally people ask me for advice on which cds they should buy next - so what follows is my buying guide for Jonathan Richman
Of course most of you know this but Jonathan has made some very different types of cds. There is room for debate on this but I think the following are the distinct periods or stages of his career (if you only know of one then you are going to be very surprised at the range of stuff he has put out)
- Punk - to be played loud, electric, backed by a full band, mostly 'serious' material (though he has his fun moments even here)
- Ice Cream Man - much quieter, much more fun, often acoustic (but he almost never does this stuff live anymore)
- 80s/90s - a retreat from the Ice Cream period but still fun. The cds in this period are usually poorly produced
- Current - not sure about this one but latest releases are almost all serious songs, he seems to have lost some of his playfulness. The quality of the cd production is MUCH greater than anything in the 80s/90s but oddly enough the songs aren't as interesting (at least to me). [UPDATE] I would say now that they are growing on me but this still isn't the stuff I would turn to first
- Other Stuff
Summary and Final Recommendations
Some More Thoughts
If this stuff is why you like Jonathan then you are going to hate the rest of his music (at least you will wonder what happened to him). If you heard stuff from the Ice Cream Man period first then you will not want to get these cds. Basically, he changes drastically after this so if you buy cds from different periods be prepared ...
The two cds that first came out from this period are
But if you like this stuff then the cd to buy is the one that just came out (2004)
There are also three live cds in this period
Now these three are more or less identical (only a couple of songs worth of difference) but the best production job is on Precise Modern Lovers Order
So, if you like this type of music, buy
If you buy any of the others you will be mostly buying duplicates that sound worse (of course if you are a fanatic like me you will buy everything you can)
The Ice Cream Man period\stage
This is my favorite of all - these are the cds I listen to the most. He is down on this period lately (in an interview in Take Me to the Plaza he says that the stuff in this period was too cute). After the Punk phase he made a lot of people mad with turn to this lighter but more fun (and better) material and it seems that he now agrees with his critics (he would often get booed on stage when he did this stuff live at the time). Jonathan pretty much ignores this stuff in his live shows these days, oh well ...
- Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - hard to find but rereleased by Castle (2004)
- Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers +4 - currently available (2004) same as the above except they threw on 4 songs from the punk phase for some reason (why they didn't include some previously unreleased material instead is beyond me)
- Rock 'n' Roll With The Modern Lovers - really hard to find but rereleased by Castle (2004)
- Rock 'n' Roll With the Modern Lovers +1 - currently available (2004), same as the above. They threw on an extra version of Dodge Veg-O-Matic, the only difference is it includes a spoken intro where the band makes fun of Jonathan's car (this version also appears on the Beserkely Years compilation).
- Back In Your Life - hard to find but Castle is rereleasing this one too
- Back in Your Life +4 - 2004 rerelease which include the b-side singles which also appear on the Roadrunner compilation
- Modern Lovers Live - hard to find but Castle is rereleasing this one too (as a 2 disc set with a pile of prevously unreleased material) - UPDATE: they promised a 2 disc set but they ended up releasing the standard 9 song cd
All of this stuff is essential for a complete Jonathan Richman collection and with the rereleasing by Castle, all four are currently available (2004).
Less fun than the Ice Cream Man period, but still interesting. Lots of great songs but the material is uneven - some cds are great, some are not so good.
- Jonathan Sings - still easy enough to find (2004). On an interview in Take Me to the Plaza, Jonathan says that he finds it hard to listen to (I am not sure why, there are a lot of good songs here but it isn't his strongest overall effort). I would still recommend buying it. It is like the cds from the Ice Cream Man period but not as good.
- Rockin' & Romance - Great cd. Highly recommended. Only a couple of weak songs. This one used to be hard to find but if you go to the Twin Tone site you can order a custom burned cd (I was very happy with the one they burned for me).
- (If you think the above two belong in the Ice Cream Man period\stage, you have a point. These are definitely transitional)
- It's Time For Jonathan Richman - almost impossible to find, easily the hardest to find of all the regular releases. BUT not really worth it (of course many would disagree). Weak cd, don't pay a ton of money for this on ebay unless you are a hard core fan.
- Modern Lovers 88 - still easy enough to find (2004) but not his best effort (New Kind of Neighborhood would likely get my vote as the worst JoJo song of them all)
- These are two of his weaker cds, don't buy them unless you are a hard core fan
- The following cds are the core to this period - they are still fun to listen to but Jonathan is slowly moving to a more serious sound. These are still easily available and all well worth purchasing. (I would rate them all about the same)
- Jonathan Richman - good cd. I believe 'Cerca' is the first Spanish version he does (though what the point is of doing both an English and Spanish version of the same song on the same cd is is beyond me)
- Jonathan Goes Country - like the title says, Jonathan is exploring country music here. One of my personal favourites but if you don't like country music, you might not like this much
- Having A Party With Jonathan Richman - some of the songs are taken from live shows and others are done in the studio. Worth it just for Monologue about Bermuda (I find it ironic that it includes Just For Fun as this period in his career gets less and less fun as it goes along)
- I, Jonathan - in the Take me to the Plaza interview, Jonathan says this is one of his releases that he really likes. Good cd (except for parties in the usa)
- Te Vas A Emocionar - Entirely in Spanish. Almost all of it is Spanish versions of songs he has done before but still worth getting since it sounds better - the studio work is much improved
- You Must Ask The Heart - Includes covers of The Rose and Nothing can change this love but plenty of good stuff as well
- Surrender to Jonathan - at first this sounds weird since it is the most produced of all the cds to this point. Good but for me it misses the simplicity of the music with the overproduction
- The three above cds lead the transition to the current period
Current (Tommy Larkins) Period
- In this period it seems like Jonathan has lost much of his sense of humour. The music is good but if you like the playfulness in his earlier work, you won't find it here (at least not often, it does show up a bit in the foreign language songs). The cds sound great - he is much better in the studio now than he used to be. This is also when he tours and records almost always only with Tommy Larkins on drums.
- I'm So Confused - Good cd. But I find I don't listen to it than much. (typically, it includes remakes of a couple of songs from previous cds, he does that a lot - usually the remakes sound much better)
- Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow - again it is a good, well produced, technically skilled cd but I don't like it much. The sense of fun and playfulness is really hard to find here. He does do 4 more Spanish songs here (the best four on the cd)
- Take me to the Plaza - I know I sound like a broken record but this is like the other two, good but way too serious in the song selection for my taste. Still this is an essential buy since you do see his interaction with the audience and it is what you would likely see if you go see him live these days (2004). Also there are a few previously unreleased songs he does on the dvd (but none are that interesting)
- Not so much to be Loved as to love - Ok I didn't like it much at first but it is growing on me. Less produced than the first two in the group - the sound is simpler (more like you would hear live). A nice mix of 4 Spanish and French songs (which I will eventually get translated) in addition to 8 new songs, a new version of Vincent Van Gogh, and 2 songs that were on the Take me to the Plaza dvd. STILL little evidence he has rediscovered his sense of humour (and without that he is much less interesting). And it seems to me that he has lost his 'arrogance' (for lack of a better word) of his youth (which makes him likely a better person but the music is less interesting). This is by far the most explicitly religious cd he has ever put out (which as a religious person myself I appreciate) and his optimistic worldview is plainly stated. He has always had this side to him (Springtime, Angels Watching over me, etc.) and I like it but his best cds have always been the ones that had his humour, arrogance, playfulness, and the serious side. However, this is still his best cd in the last 8 years (since Surrender to Jonathan)
- Because her Beauty is Raw and Wild - not too much to say here, if you like the others in this period, you will like this one too
- A Que Venimos Sino A Caer? - all foreign language songs but only four new ones (the others are identical to previously released songs)
- O Moon, Queen Of Night On Earth - not too much to say again here, in the same style as the others in the period. It sounds great but a lot of sense of fun (except perhaps for my favorite track on it, Sa Voix M'Atisse)
There have been MANY Jonathan Richman compilations over the years and in my opinion NONE of them are really worth buying (unless you only want to get only one of his cds) He is a hard person to put together a decent greatest hits cd since he has gone through radically different phases but as a fan I would want a cd to cover a particular period well and throw in some previuosly unreleased material. Only a couple of the compliations have any previously unreleased material (Roadrunner and Beserkley Years). Anyway, enough on that rant ...
- Mega 20 Track Album - I found this one in a used cd store. Not really a greatest hits, it is Rock and Roll and part of Back in Your Life combined. Since both of those are now easy to buy there is no reason to look for this one (though for a long time it was my only access to the Rock and Roll cd)
Punk and Ice Cream Man periods
- All of these cover the same material (and nothing from the later stages of his career)
- The Berserkely Years
- 23 Great Recordings
- Buzz Buzz Buzz
- Radio On - the only one worth getting of this bunch but if you already have the cds from the period there is really no point in buying it
- UPDATE: Roadrunner Roadrunner - Yet another collection of the Beserkeley stuff, not bad but get the cds instead (no previously unreleased material)
Punk and 80s/90s
- Roadrunner - has some stuff from all phases of his career (except the very latest) and since it is only 1 cd the choices of songs are sometimes odd. It does include Jonathan butchering Chapel of Love (which makes this cd worth it if for nothing else)
- UPDATE: The release of Back In your Life +4 includes all of the extra stuff on the Roadrunner compilation so there is no longer any reason to buy it
- There have been many many bootlegs made over the years but you have to look hard for them (and have something to trade when you find somebody with one. People have sent me bootlegs over the years but none are (of course) well produced. The studio versions are always better. There is some interesting stuff to be found but mainly you have to be a fanatic like me to like the bootlegs
CDs by Other People
These are cds with one or two Jonathan songs on them ..
- Gumby The Green Album - Includes one JoJo song, I like Gumby, great song of the Ice Cream Man phase
- Live From 6A:...With Conan O'Brien - forgettable version of Let Her Go into the Darkness
- The Inner Flame- includes Broken Promises (instrumental) which is forgetable
- There's Something About Mary (Original Soundtrack) - well if you like the title song you have to get this, but True Love is Not Nice and Let Her go into the Darkness are done much better elsewhere
- Think About Mustapha - has two songs by JoJo, Mustapha (in French I think) and Mustapha Instrumental (pretty much the same as the other but without the vocal). Nice enough but likely not essential to anyone but a fanatic (or a French fan)
- No Alternative - includes a live version of I love Hot Nights but since I don't like the song I wouldn't recommend getting the cd
- The Unreleaseable Tapes - includes Broken Promises (instrumental) which is forgetable and another French song J'Aime Paris Au Mois De Mai which is really good and worth getting your hands on
- Acoustic Café Show 118 - I don't have this. The songs are all stuff released before but it sounds like there are interview here as well so it might be interesting
- Home of the Hits - I don't have this one but it first was a sort of Beserkely greatest hits collection half of Jonathan Richman and the other half with other people. It has also come out as a dvd audio (I assume it is the same stuff). The track listing makes me doubt this is worth buying
- Wig in a Box: Songs from & Inspired By Hedwig and the Angry Inch - I was visiting my parents in the States and I saw this one on the Apple ITunes store and I downloaded the one JoJo song The Origin of Love (reprise), well worth the 99c (I am not sure it is worth buying the whole cd)
Summary and Final Recommendations
A) If you like the Punk period buy the following (and skip all of the rest)
B) If you like the Ice Cream Man stage, buy the following (and stay away from the punk records)
(if you want more like the above 4 but not quite as good get)
C) If you want something from the 80s/90s period get
(if the previous four leave you wanting more, get)
D) If you want the current stuff get one or more of the following (if you like the one you will likely like the others)
E) Compilations and Greatest Hits
F) Rare Stuff
- The bootlegs, cds by other people and the promos are all fine for the fanatic but mostly just for the dedicated fan.
G) So, as far as I'm concerned the really essential Jonathan Richman cds are
Some More Thoughts
Ok the more I think about it, if you are new to Jonathan, my advice is to buy
These have a good mix of the playful fun stuff and the serious material. If you listen to these and you really like the fun songs - then buy the earlier cds from the Ice Cream Man stage. If you like the more serious songs, then buy the later cds.