"Sometimes it's hard for a man to just hug a woman
She's gonna think you want her to sleep with you
And it's even harder for a woman to just touch a man
Cause he'll misunderstand the same way too"
When you go to a Jonathan Richman concert there are always a few classics that have at least a 50% or higher chance of being played (Lesbian Bar, Egyptian Reggae, etc).
One song, Affection, certainly fell under that category starting in the late 70's and went strong all the way up to the late 80's.
He's played it a bunch of times after that but it seems to have ceased being a staple of a show.
Still, Affection has had a remarkably long run compared to trillions of other JR songs that would only last a few years, or even weeks.
Affection is almost the quintessential Jonathan Richman song.
- It's got a message. A strong, emotional message. One that would make some cringe in embarrassment, and others wide-eyed in awe.
- You are taken through a roller coaster of emotions without feeling like someone forced you - you willingly surrender to Jonathan!
- It's got funny spoken word parts that serve at least two big purposes:
1. It further explores the idea at hand to the people who've already heard the song and are honing their understanding of the message.
2. And it keeps the first-time listeners incredibly entertained at the wacky style of this bizarre troubadour.
Affection has gone through several stages throughout its 30-plus(!) year lifetime.
It started in (at least) 1978 as a more stream-of-consciousness thing. Something that would be enjoyable, but didn't really hammer home the message in a lucid way that would come later.
By the time 1979 came around it had developed more-or-less into the "classic" version, with the "chorus" which is really just a more structured verse!
Somewhere along the line he added a funny but sobering little "chat" with the audience about how even the ones who say they love affection might be hiding their insecurities more than they let on. This section was slowly retired eventually.
Throughout the 80's the song was honed and went through several different Modern Lovers lineups and was clearly a fan-favorite.
By the 90's it was usually shorter, more experimental, and when he plays it now (as of a 2011 show) it's kind of been given the "Old World" treatment.
So what is the actual message of the song?
I am no Richman, and the best I can do is offer my personal favorite versions with small descriptions.
Let Jonathan show his wisdom through his incredible skill of memorizing you in performance.
Enjoy, and don't chicken out!
1978-03-03 Chicago, The Quiet Knight
With Asa, D Sharp, and Leroy Radcliff
He starts this song by stating that the song is called "simply Affection"
The crowd doesn't really know what to make of it at first, but he wins them over when he get's real emotional!
"I need to be touched during the day or there's a loneliness at night"
"I don't need sex right now. I just need simple affection"
1979-07-13 Chicago, USA Gaspars
Follows the typical early structure
Still clinging to the little instrumental bit (mimics the guitar lick with his voice). That part get's lost as the song evolves.
Get's heckled a little...handles it like a pro!
1981-02-20 Mt. Vernon, NY Left Bank
With Ellie and the early 80's Modern Lovers
March 1981 Detroit, MI Bookies
With early 80's Modern Lover's and Rockin' Robins
Great piano presence (Ken Forfia)
Jonathan sounds exasperated
1983-10-09 Bloomfield, NJ The Dirt Club
Early 80's Modern Lover's and Carla on Sax!
Has IMO the best explanation of the idea behind the song
Recording unfortunately cuts off, but there's enough to get the idea
1986-09-08 Bloomington, IN Second Story
If you only listen to one version...Listen to this one!
With classic mid-80's Modern Lovers.
My favorite version of the song
Lot's of ad-libs
1994-10-14 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue
Early sighting of Tommy!
Song has matured a bunch by this time
2011-02-25 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506
Very 2011-ish version
Set the mood for the show (I was there, and recorded this!)