I, Jonathan is the most “Jonathan Richman” of all Jonathan Richman albums. The album is extremely stripped down and retro in its sound. To call it “LoFi” is an understatement The songs call back to an earlier time in rock. “Tandem Jump” and Grunion Run are a wonderful throw back instrumentals. “You can’t talk to the Dude” evokes all those girl group odes to bad boyfriends and lovers. While the music leans towards earlier and perhaps more pure and innocent time in pop music, the lyrics are far more modern and personal and indeed, pure Jonathan. Its a quirky set of basement tapes .literally recorded in Jonathan’s basement with his friends. Yes, my friends, before Jack White and everyone who plays stripped down rock, there was Jonathan Richman.
Its summer and one of my favorite tunes to play in the car is “Parties in the USA”. Built musically on the riff from “Hang on Sloopy” by the McCoys, it’s a tale of long-lost times in America, where neighborhood block parties in back yards were a regular summer experience.
While even Jonathan admits the 60s will never return, he yearns for that experience the innocence of that time period of “potato chips sitting and guitar playing”. Even the plaintive pleas of the cops to the party goers to “Go home, Go home” seems a throw back to an early era.
The story is built like a musical moral tale–the first section is a description of a block party from around 1965 which ends abruptly at 9:00 when the cops respond to a noise complaint. The second part is pure Jonathan Richman and speaks to what has been lost in the meanwhile.
Well could there be block parties of which i know not?
Wild beach parties around some open flame?
I know there’s got to be parties, i bet there’s a lot.
But the USA has changed somehow that i can’t name.
Over a simple guitar riff, Jonathan describes the isolation of individuals in neighborhoods, the lack of appreciation of live music and its intimacy, the loneliness of Americans. In the final chorusm he pleads:
We need more pa-pa-pa-pa lupe lou,
We need more shake it shake it shake it lupe.
We need more parties yeah, in the USA,
Alright, yeah, shake it up, shake it up, oh.
And Jonathan is right; we do need more parties.