The Modern Lovers

Brief musical notes.

My friend Evan wrote a wonderful note about his “15 Life Changing Albums,” and, after returning home from a show a few minutes ago, I was drawn to his fifth album.

5. Jonathan Richman, “The Beserkley Years: The Best of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers”
My drama teacher, Mr. Sloan, recommended that I buy this album I think; either that or he just enthusiastically approved when he saw that I’d purchased it. Anyway, this one was a revelation. While it was still in some sense geek-rock, Jonathan let in all the giddy human emotions that my previous favorites had been too ascetic to sing about. The unrepentant sweetness appealed to me, I guess.

Ernie Brooks, bassist of The Modern Lovers, was a key figure in Wild Combination, Matt Wolf’s brilliant documentary on the life of Arthur Russell, and so I was vaguely familiar with the band, widely considered seminal in the history American new wave. I’ve spent the last few minutes listening to tracks from The Modern Lovers eponymous debut and the music is insanely good.

Evan also name-checked an album I’m guessing many of you also love, though perhaps you’re afraid to admit it:

1. They Might Be Giants, “They Might Be Giants”
There’s obviously a good deal of social baggage that goes along with having been a big They Might Be Giants fan in junior high, and I have carried it all. But this band was so important to me, as a demonstration of how creative, intelligent and imaginative pop music could be. I pick their debut ahead of the more popular Flood — which I probably actually listened to more —just because to me it gets at their core of melancholy surrealism better, and would probably be the biggest surprise to those who write them off as (just) a goofy novelty band.

Frustratingly, I need to buy the actual physical albums, as TMBG, “TMBG” and “Lincoln” are unavailable as MP3 downloads, thus depriving a generation of kids the peerless pleasure of listening to “Don’t Let’s Start” and “Ana Ng,” though you can easily find the videos for both.

While assembling my own list of 30 Desert Island Discs, I spent a little time with an old favorite, The Beatnuts “A Musical Massacre,” which features the fantastic single “Watch Out Now,” complete with pan flute. Truly one of the best albums of the 1990s. I remember taking a date — a really lovely young lady — to a Beatnuts show, which sounds like a terrible mistake, but it actually turned out pretty well. There was a skinny guy on stage, not a member of the group, who would stalk around the stage and repeat lyrics and holds his arms up, or one arm at a time. I remember thinking, “I really wish that could be my job.” One thing that blows my mind is that I’m pretty sure we all kind of dressed like this. I’m pretty sure I wore my corduroy, but the truth is that this was basically “the jam.”

Then there is the song that defined my senior year of college — M.O.P.‘s “Ante Up.” The music video is sublime. My favorite moment is when a familiar New York hip-hop personality points at his carton of Chinese food while Billy Danze yells like a madman. There is something more than a little comic, and tragic, about the enormous amount of time my three best friends and I spent trash-talking while playing Mario Tennis and Battle Arena Toshinden (a game that featured a guy in an orange trenchcoat who fought with a flaming chainsaw), and lip-synching to “Ante Up.”