The Modern Lovers

Roadrunner

Composed by Jonathan Richman

Song Review by

"Roadrunner" is a garage band classic, one of those exuberant rock & roll grooves that was a specialty of the Velvet Underground; it mostly jams on one driving chord, with a cheap-sounding organ droning away, before the band pounds on a second chord to emphasize the main refrain, "Radio on!" It is a chant more than a song; an anthemic ode to the highway in the great rock & roll tradition of Chuck Berry. Filled with suburban Massachusetts references, "128 (highway) when it's dark outside," "Gonna drive past the Stop & Shop with the radio on," and "And I'm in love with Massachusetts and the neon when it's cold outside," the lyrics seem to come off the cuff, as if Richman has an outline he wants to cover but improvises the specifics. Much of the lyric of "Roadrunner" is concerned more with the way the words themselves sound than the actual meaning -- also like some of the great Berry compositions. "Roadrunner" fits neatly into the tradition of other "Roadrunner"s -- the Bo Diddley composition of the same name, for example -- and provides a link between the godfathers of punk rock, the Velvet Underground (VU member John Cale produced), and the punk, new wave, and post-punk bands of the '80s and beyond. Richman and his band -- some of whom went on to play major parts in important bands like the Cars and Talking Heads -- pointed the way toward movements such as no wave (Talking Heads, Television), and jangly, intelligent, and sometimes irony-fueled college rock bands like the Neats, the Feelies, and They Bight Be Giants. "Roadrunner" has become a rock & roll standard, covered by hundreds of bands in concert and recorded, most notably, by Joan Jett and the Sex Pistols.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Modern Lovers 1976 Universal Distribution
Live 1978 Universal Distribution
Precise Modern Lovers Order: Live in Boston, 1971 and Berkeley, 1973 1994 Rounder Select / New Rounder / Rounder 4:54
Punk: The Jubilee 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 4:04
No Image Punk Vault
blue highlight denotes editor's pick