Like fellow ships at sea the Stooges, the New York Dolls, or the Velvet Underground, there was no precedent for what Richman was up to, nor was there much of a declared intent behind it. The Modern Lovers, like all of those other acts, were a rock band first and foremost. They played rock'n'roll. How others defined them was out of their hands.
Punk's rallying cry remains the "1-2-3-4!" count-off, but it's obvious that there's more to Richman when he gleefully keeps counting up to six on "Roadrunner". That track kicks off the Modern Lovers' self-titled debut, the impact of which has rippled through the work of fans as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Brian Eno, NPR fixture Sarah Vowell, sly subversives Art Brut, and lovesick crooner Jens Lekman. Back at the beginning, though, it was all about Richman, his insular world, and specifically his own obsession with the then-novel Velvet Underground, an appreciation he brought back home to Massachusetts after a trip to New York in the late 1960s.
You can hear the Velvets coursing though the Modern Lovers' debut-- impossibly out of print in the U.S. for nearly 20 years-- and not just because most of it was produced by John Cale (notorious impresario Kim Fowley gets credited with a couple of tracks, too). Richman had an innate knack for the Velvets' chugging drones, except rather than explore the dark stuff as Lou Reed did, Richman aims (mostly) for a certain innocence and naivete that's often at odds with the music itself. Indeed, Richman would switch gears before the album's belated release, and he all but disowned the harsher original sound of the Modern Lovers after shifting to softer, gentler sounds.