Friday, April 3, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 68)

68. "Surrender"
Artist: Jonathan Richman
Year: 1996

Usually, you either get Jonathan Richman or you don't. 'Surrender to Jonathan!' wasn't all that well received by fans, but in an odd twist, I think it's an album that could actually be liked by those that wouldn't normally "get him." The so-called silly songs are at a minimum, "Rock 'N' Roll Drummer Straight From The Hospy-Tel" being the huge exception, and the tone is tender and often serious. Unfortunately, this is probably due to a divorce after 13 years of matrimony. He sings of a woman who didn't want to feel like a "plus one" on the guest list anymore. He opines in another song that "my little girl's got a full time daddy now." Although the love of his life might never come back, she's with him all of his days on "Just Look at Me." I saw Richman on this tour, and I will never forget how deep he dug for some of these songs.

It's not only tone and theme that leads me to believe this collection could and should have won over a legion of new listeners. So often on an album, Richman and his guitar are a party of one. When I say he was backed by a band this time, I don't mean Tommy and his snare. There's piano, even more organ and a bevy of brass. Andy Paley even brought polish to the producer's chair. So, yes, I can understand why old-school fans would have longed for the comfort of the more common lo-fi Jonathan, but this left turn completely worked for me. Too bad I was the only one.

One of my favorite moments in a Richman song is when he takes it to the bridge and announces it by actually saying "guitar!" before a solo. In "That Little Sleeper Car," he yells "horns!" at the bridge as the brass takes over. For that one second alone, which is such a smile, I almost chose the song for this spot. In the end, however, I wanted something heartfelt and one that has managed to leave such a deep mark nearly 20 years after I saw him perform it.

To win you must fight, or so they say
But with love things never seem to work that way.
With love you can't win
If love can't get in
And it can't pierce the heart of a defender.
To win in love you must surrender.

If you're angry then you can't surrender, no.
Your unwilling surrender's just a show
And unwillingly sweet means certain defeat
Better a fighter than a soft-spoken contender
To win in love you must surrender.

Now, I can be stubborn and draw the line
But now I've learned to pray thy will and not mine
Love has softened my heart and softened me
It's softened my eyes on the things they see
And my cheek has got much
Softer to the touch
Since I learned to be receiver as well as sender.
To win in love you must surrender.

I ask at night when the world is still
Be it done unto me according to thy will.
To summon Gabriel and Michaelangelo
Or to compete with Juliet or Romeo
Your armor, so strong
Is strategically wrong
Victory goes this time to the tender.
To win in love you must surrender.


george said...

Never heard this before, Brian, but it's still sort-of what you'd expect, a lovely heartfelt song. The music is not lo-fi as you say, but in no way overblown, just a little different

Brian said...

Yes, George, that does just about sum it up, doesn't it? Thanks for chiming in.

The Swede said...

Another album I don't know and, judging by this beauty, one I really should seek out.