Music Commentary: Help Make “Roadrunner” the Official Rock Song of Massachusetts

Bay Staters, be warned – we are living in a state without an official rock song. Luckily, if we pitch in, we can help the government solve this problem.

Make this the official state song of Massassaschusett -- can you come up with a better choice?

Make this tune the official state song of Massachusetts — Or can you come up with a better choice?

By Matt Hanson

Recently, due to the fact that over the years I’ve endorsed a bazillion “likes” on Facebook, I’ve found the one, needle-in-a-haystack chance to use social media to make history. A particular item is moving (albeit slowly) up the legislative docket of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (God save it!). Bay Staters, be warned – we are living in a state without an official rock song. Luckily, this problem may be remedied. There is a committed group of civic-minded fans advocating that “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers be named our state’s rock song.

Frankly, I didn’t realize that there was a such a thing as a state rock song. State song, sure. Lots of other states have some pretty badass artists representing for them: Georgia’s got Ray Charles singing (what else?) “Georgia On My Mind.” Washington state’s got Woody Guthrie. Colorado’s got John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” which is very special for them. Kentucky’s got Steven Foster‘s “My Old Kentucky Home“ and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” performed by Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe.

It doesn’t stop there – a surprising number of states have a variety of officially sanctioned anthems of all kinds, depending on the genre. Monroe’s tune is the official bluegrass song of the state, and Ohio can boast “Hang On Sloopy” by the McCoy’s, which will always have a special place in my heart because it provided me my sole karaoke triumph. Oklahoma clocks in with a whole bunch of songs, including “Do You Realize?” by native sons The Flaming Lips, which is awesome in and of itself.

The Commonwealth, maybe unsurprisingly, is actually one of the most promiscuous with the play lists. We’ve got a state anthem (the rather frighteningly titled “All Hail to Massachusetts”) and a state folk song (“Massachusetts” by Arlo Guthrie) as well as a state march, a “patriotic” song (weren‘t we just hailing it already?), a state ode, and – get this – an official state glee club song (“The Great State of Massachusetts”) and an official state polka (“Say Hello to Someone from Massachusetts”). So we have a state polka, and no rock song. This insult to culture must not stand!

So, if you haven’t heard it by now or you grew up in the 70’s but your memory is hazy, “Roadrunner” is the title track on The Modern Lovers’ 1976 debut record. Written by the Brookline-born Jonathan Richman, the song was released as a single in 1973. The entire LP is amazing, trust me on this, but the standout has got to the lead track. It’s built off a Velvet Underground-inspired two chords that churn and turn like wheels at steady speed.

There’s a reason it’s often voted one of the best driving songs of all time. You can feel the wind in your hair, you can see the lawns and stoplights flicker by. Four minutes of pure joy that celebrates one of life’s great pleasures – rock roll late at night, radio on, Route 128 when its dark outside, driving past the Stop & Shop (yes!) in modern moonlight. He’s in love with Massachusetts, he‘s got the radio on, he‘s like the roadrunner. If you are reading this and haven’t given this song a spin, you have no right to call yourself a Masshole. There can’t be a better song to represent our fair state.

Or is there? Apparently some politico suggested “Dream On” as an alternate selection but this motion thankfully died in committee. Just exactly who it is that decides these kinds of things is of the essence here, especially when the alternative is so lame. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up listening to Aerosmith too, but I have since come to the conclusion that Aerosmith is the poor man’s Stones and the third-world Zeppelin.

The BeeGees’s “Massachusetts” is sometimes bandied about as another possibility. I’ve got to give this the thumbs-down. First off, the song isn’t half bad, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the state itself. It might as well be about any other geographical location with four syllables. Plus it’s written by Australians, which ruins the local angle entirely. And it’s about the lights in Massachusetts going out, which reminds me that everything closes too early, which is not exactly my favorite fact of living here in the first place.

Then there’s “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Obviously, this one would be a clear choice if one were to judge based on Red Sox Nation anthems alone, but let’s not tempt fate. I like it where it is already, and since we already have a polka song we might as well throw in an official baseball song. Besides, the rumor I’ve always heard is that it’s written about Caroline Kennedy, which actually makes it a little creepy.

Pardon my digression, but if you think about it, Diamond actually has quite a few songs that are all kinds of creepy, particularly where young ladies are concerned. I mean, “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” is bad enough, but throw in “Cherry, Cherry” (“She got the way to move me/She got the way to groove me//Tell your mama I can’t stay long//Gonna Make our own lighting…”) and we’re veering close to having to imagine Diamond as some kind of Humbert Humbert, and that’s an image I’d rather not have to think about ever again.

The only other serious contender I can think of is “Dirty Water” by The Standells, but that’s already been played enough at Sox rallies and in Fenway that it can be filed in with “Sweet Caroline.” I’d like to say “Shipping Off to Boston” by the venerable Dropkick Murphys would fit, too, but that’s already been played out, featured on everything from car commercials to The Departed, so often that unless you’ve got Jack Nicholson hurtling the other way down Storrow Drive, armed to the teeth and ready for blood, it’s not really ready for official canonization. Unless, maybe, we want to make room for an official punk song…

The biggest reason, of course, why “Roadrunner” should get the nod is because it’s already been suggested. Let’s build on what we’ve got, people. This can be an example of democracy in action. Last I saw, the bill was languishing in some sub-committee. Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, the time is now. As the man said, all politics is local. If all goes well, we might even be able to get some kind of endorsement deal with the song’s Stop & Shop name check and fund a medicinal marijuana dispensary. Now that’s democracy in action. Write your Congressman, call your state rep. Click the button on Facebook. Let’s make history!

Matt Hanson is a critic for the Arts Fuse living outside Boston. His writing has appeared in The Millions, 3QuarksDaily and Flak Magazine (RIP), where he was a staff writer. He blogs about movies and culture for LoveMoneyClothes. His poetry chapbook was published by Rhinologic Press.


  1. Butch Goldberg on May 31, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Dude! Route 128, Natick, the Pru? Not my schtick. Not my Commonwealth. Nice tune though. So maybe we add some verses about the [Rox] Berry, the [Cam] Bridge, the [Jamaica] Plain, the Somer [Ville], the [Fenway] Pahk, the [Matta] Pan and then I’m down with it.

    Close your eyes and just dig those dignitaries, hand on heart, facing the flag, shaking their asses, singing “…roadrunner, roadrunner?” Word is Mayor Marty Walsh nominated Roadrunner when he was in the Legislature, so I’m riding with Hizzoner. LET’S DO IT!!!!!

  2. Ray on July 4, 2021 at 8:34 am

    I’m a little late to the pahty here, but I found this entry trying to track down the origin of Charlie Pierce’s inevitable usage of the parenthetical (God save it!) and there this was. (BTW, do you know what he’s riffing on?)

    I didn’t recognize your anthem of choice, but I did know, and agree with your assessments of, just about all the others. If you’ve been following the AMC series “Kevin Can *** Himself,” supposedly set mostly in Wistah, Allison’s ringtone for her titular husand is the Dropkick Murphy anthem you dismissed. So, yeah, if it’s associated with THAT Masshole, it’s no good.

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