Buying Guide

More than a decade ago (years after I started this site) I wrote a buying guide for people new to Jonathan who would wonder what cds they should buy. Since I wrote the buying guide all those years ago, streaming music has become much more common - people aren't buying cds or records like they used to. So perhaps the need for a buying guide has passed (collectors will still buy physical recordings but I have always been more interested in the music than in how rare the recording is - I do include scans of covers on this site so those looking for physical copies have an idea what to look for)

I have over 200 different Jonathan Richman recordings [2021]. Not many people would have listened to as much JoJo as me. So instead of a 'buying' guide, I offer the following as a 'listening' guide. It will be pointless for those of you familiar with Jonathan (since you will know all of this already) but for those relatively new to JoJo it might be somewhat helpful.

Jonathan, as a recording artist, is a fascinating and compelling mix: at times serious and intense, at times fun and playful, at times sentimental and spiritual, and at times internationally eclectic. He has also made some very different sounding recordings; Jonathan can sound quite different from one recording to the next. This is why I think the following may be helpful: it may give you some idea of what to expect.

When I started to listen to Jonathan in the early 1990s, finding his cds was often a challenge. Following the 'Something about Mary' movie (and the increased availability of online shopping), it became a little easier for awhile. Today, in 2021, physical cds and records can be more of a challenge to find (though they are there on ebay etc if you are willing to pay). But through streaming services (Apple Music and Spotify) and places like Bandcamp, most of his catalogue can be found ('It's Time for Jonathan Richman' seems to be the exception as it is still rare).

Jonathan's songs are mainly about relationships, seasons, growing up, his vision of the good life, and events or experiences of his past. He rarely mentions anyone by name and he avoids politics and causes (except Abu Jamal and perhaps Dick Gregory). There is something I really appreciate about this approach: rather than protest against those who damage the environment (for instance), he writes songs which invite you to love the world. If more people loved walking like he does, we would burn less oil. I am not claiming he has a hidden agenda, it's just that his music pulls you in to seeing and feeling the world in a different way.

Jonathan has gone through different sounding periods/phases in his career. Often the sound of his work can be linked to the label his was with at the time (but not always). He starts in the early 1970s with a full band and plays intense loud music heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground. He then abandones that band and switches to much lighter and fun material for the last half of the 1970s to the mid 1980s. Much of this material is heavily influenced by his love of early (fifties and early sixties) rock and roll.

Then from about 1988-1998 he retreats somewhat from the intense light hearted material. Much of it is stil fun, but it is definitely more serious in tone overall. He also starts to do songs in other languages which one assumes he develops an interest in from his extensive touring. In the last 20+ years (since 1998), his music has become much more serious, sentimental (in a good way), and spiritual. He has also maintained his interest in French, Italian and Spanish, releasing songs in all three languages (sometimes these are versions of his earlier English songs, sometimes they are covers, sometimes they are original works).

Now it is tempting to think that he is changing because some of these transitions have been stark. But all of these parts to his music have been there from the start. He's always been intense, serious, childlike, fun, sentimental, and spiritual. It's just that at various points, one or more of these qualities has shown through more than the others. The difference is more in the fans and which recordings initially drew us in to his work. If listening to the intense serious sound of the early 70s made you a fan of Jonathan, the fun and playful records will be hard to take. If you, like me, were drawn in by his work from 1976-1996, the serious and sentimental side of his later work won't be as appealing (and you will be shocked by the earlier stuff). But all the sides of his interests have been there all along. The only changes I see are the recordings are better produced as he goes along, his is much better at playing guitar now than when he started, and his international interest has grown.

The more I think about it - art and painting might be a good metaphor for JoJo's work. And of course he is a painter and he sings songs about painters so it has clearly been an influence. I think he sort of paints pictures with many of his songs: he wants you to 'see' what he sings about. And it's like at different points of his career he uses different brushes: what he sings about doesn't really change but how he paints the scene changes.

  1. Stages
  2. Other Stuff
  3. Summary and Final Recommendations

  4. Some More Thoughts


If this material 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 recordings.

The two recordings that first came out from this period are

But if you like this stuff then the one to listen to is the one that came out in 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, listen to

The others are mostly duplicates that sound worse

Fun and Playful

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 ...

All of this stuff is essential for a complete Jonathan Richman collection and all favourites of mine.


Less fun than the Ice Cream Man period, but still interesting. Lots of great songs but the material is uneven - some recordings are great, some are not so good.

Current (Tommy Larkins) Period


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 ...

Punk and Ice Cream Man periods

Punk and 80s/90s



CDs by Other People

These are cds with one or two Jonathan songs on them ..

Summary and Final Recommendations

A) If you like the Punk period get the following (and skip all of the rest)

B) If you like the Ice Cream Man stage, get 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

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.