This one was the very last track on the first volume of Ace Records Theme Time Radio Hour compilations . . .
25. ROADRUNNER (TWICE)
THE MODERN LOVERS
Home Of The Hits LP HH 1910 76) 4.03
From Show 18 “Radio”
Roadrunner is one of the most intriguing songs in all pop history. It looks backwards, to the Velvet Underground's three-chord Sister Ray - the riff is the same, only minus one chord. It looks forward, to punk - the Sex Pistols played it, early on, and recorded it, late on.
It appears to be playing with irony - a hymn to 'the modern world' has to be a gag, right? But I don't think it's actually meant to be ironic. I think Jonathan Richman means every word of it, really does love Massachusetts and the modern world, if in a Jonathan Richman way.
It's a road song yet, of the many songs about specific roads - Route 66 etc - it is surely the only one about a by-pass. Not just any by-pass, though. Route 128, which loops around Boston, was 'the first limited access circumferential highway in the US'. It opened in 1951, the year Richman was born, in Natick, less than five miles to the west. Like London's M25, it's evolved, over time, to become half ring-road, half metaphor.
As home - and connecting ribbon - to generations of computer and software companies, it's developed a whole other imaginative life as an adjective, a synonym for 'hi-tech'. In other words, Route 128 really is the modern world. What sounded like - and still sounds like - a naïve projection was, in fact, a fairly accurate prediction of our future. Out of the mouths of babes and Jonathan Richman.
Next up A trip up river, to deepest Minnesota