Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers: “Roadrunner”
Well, after a week off, the blog is back in action. Family travels took me back to Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, visiting friends and family, and a great time was had by all. Given the travel locations, I thought I’d try to go thematic and choose some great songs that have been written about each place for the remainder of this week’s posts. For Massachusetts, there’s always the Bee Gees’ ’60s hit, “Massachusetts,” but that seems too obvious; besides, the song is fine, but it isn’t really a favorite of mine. Instead, I’m going to go with the probably equally obvious, but far preferable, “Roadrunner,” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.
“Roadrunner” was actually recorded in 1972, but it and the other songs recorded at that time weren’t actually released until 1976, as the original band’s only album, The Modern Lovers. That album, and “Roadrunner” in particular, was extremely influential on many of the practitioners of what became known as punk a few years later, right up there with Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5, the Velvet Underground, and the New York Dolls. It had a simplicity that gave every kid with a guitar who heard it the feeling that they too could make music (although that simplicity was actually a bit deceiving, as there was some excellent musicianship going on: besides Richman on guitar, the band also included Jerry Harrison on keyboards, before he was with the Talking Heads; David Robinson on drums, before he was with the Cars; and Ernie Brooks on bass, before he…uh…before he wasn’t with the Modern Lovers anymore). And while the anger of punk wasn’t part of Richman’s songwriting, leaning instead toward a youthful optimism, his casual singing style and offhand attitude certainly showed up later in a number of punk bands.
So, about that Massachusetts connection: just listen to the lyrics! Over one of the all-time great music tracks for driving to, Richman sings about loving not only Massachusetts, but also his favorite aspects of American culture: “modern” rock ‘n’ roll, driving at night with the radio on, and girls, not necessarily in that order. Whether you love Massachusetts or not, it’s one of the truly essential tracks in all of rock ‘n’ roll.