An American Odyssey in Song: Massachusetts – Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers and Roadrunner

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Well, I seem to have enjoyed my time in Vermont so much I stayed there for over a week! Time to move on again though and this time we’re heading down into Massachusetts (tricky to spell as was pointed out last time), named after its indigenous people.

thPJYNRKH1

The random fact element of this post will have to be brief this time as more songs to get through than has been the case to date. Suffice to say it was where the Pilgrim Fathers settled after arriving on The Mayflower in 1620. They formed the Plymouth Colony and after a tough first winter, with the help of the local Wampanoag people, learnt how survive by growing corn. They then held a three day Thanksgiving event to celebrate their first harvest and that celebration of course still goes on today.

The island of Nantucket, more famous now for its beaches and holiday cottages, was home to the whaling trade back in the 18th century and the tale of Moby-Dick was set there. That infamous Tea Party occurred in Boston, but being British I’ll gloss over that one. I am reminded however that our own Alex Harvey put that story to song in 1976 with his version of The Boston Tea Party.

The Kennedy compound was at Hyannis Port in Massachusetts, presided over by dad Joe and mother Rose. Education is big business in Massachusetts and the city of Cambridge is home to both Harvard and the research institute, MIT. In popular culture the film Jaws was set there, mostly filmed on Martha’s Vineyard.

But which song to feature this time? I know that everyone expects it to be this one and it would be remiss of me not to include it, but not one of my favourite Bee Gee songs, and at the time of writing it they had never even been to Massachusetts. It was 1967, the year of The Summer of Love, and the hippies were all heading west to San Francisco so it felt as if here on the East Coast it was time to switch the lights out, as everyone had left. I remember well watching them perform this song on TOTP as a child but didn’t realise until later that the twins Robin and Maurice were aged only 17 at the time. So young but already so prolific.

Massachusetts by The Bee Gees:

Thanks go out again to my blogging buddies who offered up suggestions for songs associated with Massachusetts (links to their blogs on my sidebar). Rol came up with Feelin’ Massachusetts by the Juliana Hatfield Three and Massachusetts Avenue by Amanda Palmer. Both he and Lynchie came up with the Steely Dan song The Boston Ragalthough to be fair Lynchie decided that he was allowed to call them simply The Dan as he had been a fan right from the beginning.

Before I get down to the actual featured song for this state, how would you like to come for a quick drink with me in a great bar I know called Cheers? It’s right here in Boston and for the guys who go there, it’s like their “blogosphere” – Nice to be in a place Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away? 
Sometimes you want to go 
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

So, lots of suggestions already, but for this post it could only really be the one that came in from both CC and C (no relation) – Roadrunner by Massachusetts natives Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, first recorded in 1972 but a hit for them in 1977, when all of a sudden their proto-punk sound fitted the “times” perfectly. I don’t know what I was doing during my teenage years but it certainly doesn’t seem to have been listening to the lyrics of songs properly as until CC pointed out the whole Jonathan Richman/New England connection when I started this series, the Roadrunner I remembered best from those days was this one!

roadrunnerNo matter, it has now clicked and the Massachusetts comedian John Hodgman came out saying that the song was, “Woven as deeply into the cultural landscape of Massachusetts as the Turnpike itself. It is the pulsing sound of the night and the future. It connects the midnight ride of Paul Revere with the dream of every Massachusetts teenager who has just gotten their license and is discovering the Freedom Trail that is Route 128 after the last movie lets out“.

Roadrunner by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers:

This song came out the summer I turned 17 and after a few disastrous driving lessons with my dad (who in every other walk of life was patience personified), I gave up. The boys who were the same age however did not, and one by one they passed their driving tests and acquired “wheels”. We lived in the country and just like Jonathan Richman and his buddies, these local boys became weekend roadrunners. They had no particular place to go but the radio was on and they just wanted to hang out with friends and burn some rubber. Needless to say, every couple of years or so there was a tragic car crash and some of them didn’t make it. Fortunately all my close friends did get through that phase unscathed but the village cemetery is littered with the graves of those who did not. This one is therefore for them. Dougie, Wendy and Neil – You are not forgotten.

Next time we’ll travel into the smallest of the 50 states, Rhode Island. I do have a song idea for that one of my own but definitely “tenuous” so again I would be really grateful for any other suggestions connected in some way to that state (you know where the comments boxes are). We’re still in New England but are now getting ever closer to New York where I now realise there will have to be a Part 1 and a Part 2. Songs about Rhode Island – not so much. Songs about New York – where does it end?

Until next time….

Roadrunner Lyrics
(Song by Jonathan Richman)

One-two-three-four-five-six!
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on
I’m in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it’s cold outside
And the highway when it’s late at night
Got the radio on
I’m like the roadrunner

Alright
I’m in love with modern moonlight
1:28 when it’s dark outside
I’m in love with Massachusetts
I’m in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
Helps me from being lonely late at night
I don’t feel so bad now in the car
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
That’s right

Said welcome to the spirit of 1956
Patient in the bushes next to ’57
The highway is your girlfriend as you go by quick
Suburban trees, suburban speed
And it smells like heaven, I say
Roadrunner once
Roadrunner twice
I’m in love with rock & roll and I’ll be out all night
Roadrunner
That’s right

Well now
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on at night
And me in love with modern moonlight
Me in love with modern rock & roll
Modern girls and modern rock & roll
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
O.K. now you sing Modern Lovers

(Radio On!)
I got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the car, got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the AM sound, got the
(Radio On!)
Got the rockin’ modern neon sound
(Radio On!)
I got the car from Massachusetts, got the
(Radio On!)
I got the power of Massachusetts when it’s late at night
(Radio On!)
I got the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts
I’ve got the world, got the turnpike, got the
I’ve got the, got the power of the AM
Got the, late at night, hit ’em wide, rock & roll late at night
The factories and the auto signs got the power of modern sounds
Alright

Right, bye bye!

Postscript:

I kind of ran out of space above for this little story but still worthy of inclusion I think. The family that lived next door to us in our Scottish village when I was growing up actually did the unthinkable and emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts (they had relatives there and it must have been a lot easier in those days).

They had a son around my age called Graham and it is weird now to think that he will have had a parallel life to my own but of the “American” variety. He will support the Boston Red Sox or the New England Patriots as opposed to our beloved Aberdeen FC. He will have had a Prom instead of a school disco, will have a Boston accent instead of a Scottish one and no doubt became a roadrunner after having “gotten his licence” as opposed to having “passed his driving test”. As a family we didn’t keep in touch, as it was just so far away in those days and communication methods were very primitive – Hope he has had a good life however and in the unlikely event he ever comes upon these pages, hello from Scotland!

1967
The humble author, aged 7 – Quick hide the ball!

Carrie Bradshaw, Barbra Streisand and Guilty

Although my posts often follow on from each other and are somewhat related, the two I wrote last week (from my sickbed) were very different indeed with no obvious link at all. Yet again however a strange synchronicity has come about, and this is the post that links them.

WARNING: It’s all about to get very girly!

In my last post I featured the song Single Girl by The Primitives/Sandy Posey (take your pick). It was all about a girl feeling a bit sad and lonely in a “great big town”. One of the most infamous groups of “Single Girls” were those Manhattan-based stars of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw and her pals, also at times known to feel a bit sad and lonely in a great big town (although not that often to be fair).

tha7visk0y

This reminded me that one of my favourite scenes from a SATC episode was the one where Carrie realises that her failed relationship with Mr Big (the nickname her ex-boyfriend is given – he was supposed to be The Big One, the one she married) was down to the same reason that it didn’t work out for Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in the 1973 film The Way We Were. The world is made up of “complicated girls” with wild curly hair (Carrie and Barbra) and “simple girls”, the ones with tame straight hair – Big and Redford chose the simple girls!

As mentioned above, the female star of TWWW was Barbra Streisand. Who then appeared on the cover of the magazine that pops through my letterbox on a Saturday? – Yes, it was Barbra Streisand. I don’t know what it is about Streisand but she has always just looked so beautiful and timeless to me – Gorgeous hair, skin and that kinky nose. She is one of a very small group of artists who have won Grammys, Emmys, Tonys and Oscars, such is the breadth of her talent – The Queen of the Divas indeed.

thSM047ZQ1.jpg

Got me thinking and joy of joys I discovered that TWWW resides on Netflix so (again from my sickbed) I decided to give it another viewing as I have shockingly never watched it all the way through from beginning to end in one sitting. Of course I had to have a little weep once we got to that scene at the end where Katie (Barbra) tells Hubbell (Robert) that “his girl is lovely” (although she is no doubt crying inside).

Barbra Streisand doesn’t sing in that one but she did record the lovely theme song which contains the following lines:

Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we……?

Ironically, last year, after failing miserably to co-ordinate a date for a reunion weekend with my old “Single Girl” friends, I jokingly sent them an email quoting those very lines with the addendum – Well, apparently not! I thought it was quite funny….but they didn’t. We are all just about talking again now (perhaps that cultural reference was lost on them).

But back to Barbra, it has also of course been known for her to record great duets with some of the biggest artists of the day. Back in 1980 she recorded Guilty with Barry Gibb, on his own, without the rest of The Bee Gees. And this is where the reference to my second post of last week comes in – On St Valentine’s Day I featured a Bee Gees‘ love song and wrote about how sad I felt watching Barry, the lone surviving brother, all on his own at this year’s Grammys, watching a tribute being performed for the 40th anniversary of the album Saturday Night Fever.

Guilty by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb:

I am quite frankly amazed that the song Guilty only made it to No. 34 in the UK Singles Chart but looking again at the video clip, Barry and Barbra (nice ring to it) did look oh so very white in it, and this was very much the era of new wave, post-punk and ska where the artists wore very little white indeed and were much, much edgier in terms of their output. Still a great duet however where each of them gets their own boy/girl lines and “nothing to be guilty of” in terms of liking it, as we don’t do that around here any more. The Bee Gees were great songwriters and as mentioned last week I am very proud to have come out and admitted to being a fan.

So, “What’s It All About?” – Who knew that the simple girls always get their man whereas the complicated girls don’t? Well, maybe they didn’t in TWWW, but thirty years later in SATC, Carrie Bradshaw did end up marrying Big. Yes, it turned out he’d made a massive mistake and he did want a complicated girl after all!

As someone with very tame, straight hair but who is not necessarily always simple this is good to know. Sadly back in 1973 it just didn’t seem to be the case but perhaps relationships have evolved and even complicated girls now can have it all!

Until next time….

Guilty Lyrics
(Song by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb)

Shadows falling baby, we stand alone
Out on the street anybody you meet got a heartache of their own
(It oughta be illegal)
Make it a crime to be lonely or sad
(It oughta be illegal)
You got a reason for livin’
You battle on with the love you’re livin’ on
You gotta be mine
We take it away
It’s gotta be night and day
Just a matter of time
And we got nothing to be guilty of
Our love will climb any mountain near or far, we are
And we never let it end
We are devotion
And we got nothing to be sorry for
Our love is one in a million
Eyes can see that we got a highway to the sky
I don’t wanna hear your goodbye

Pulse’s racing, darling
How grand we are
Little by little we meet in the middle
There’s danger in the dark
(It oughta be illegal)
Make it a crime to be out in the cold
(It oughta be illegal)
You got a reason for livin’
You battle on with the love you’re buildin’ on
You gotta be mine
We take it away
It’s gotta be night and day
Just a matter of time
And we got nothing to be guilty of
Our love will climb any mountain near or far, we are
And we never let it end
We are devotion
And we got nothing to be sorry for
Our love is one in a million
Eyes can see that we got a highway to the sky

I don’t wanna hear your goodbye

Don’t wanna hear your goodbye

I don’t wanna hear your
And we got nothing, and we got nothing to be guilty of
Our love will climb any mountain near or far, we are
And we never let it end
We are devotion
And we got nothing to be sorry for
Our love is one in a million
Eyes can see that we got a highway to the sky
Don’t wanna hear your goodbye
Don’t wanna hear your
And we got nothing, and we got nothing to be guilty of
Our love will climb any mountain near or far, we are

St Valentine’s Day, The Bee Gees and How Deep Is Your Love

By rights I shouldn’t have time for blogging today as it is indeed St Valentine’s Day and I should be spending it being all loved up with Mr WIAA – After being together for 28 years however, it is a bit hard to muster up the enthusiasm for a day of romance but I have just popped in past our local M&S to pick up one of their very delicious special occasion “Dine In For Two” meal deals (no expense spared here at WIAA HQ). I’m sure if we didn’t both have stinky colds it would all taste lovely, but what with the two cards sitting on the mantelpiece and the planned dinner, at least we’re making a bit of an effort.

st-vs-dayThe main reason I wanted to post something today however is that I have been feeling a tad guilty of late for the following reason – Of the 120 original posts that I’ve published since starting the blog 13 months ago, the only one I’ve “trashed” permanently is the one I wrote this day last year, featuring a song by The Bee Gees. Yes, despite the fact that I’ve written about some ropey acts since starting this blog, once I’d accumulated a few followers, the only one I was really embarrassed about having covered was The Bee Gees. I blame the sheer number of comedy sketches that were made about them during their heyday (that would be Kenny Everett then), as how else can it be that a group who have sold 100 million-plus records; penned the world’s biggest-selling soundtrack album; had 10 UK No. 1s; wrote 4 consecutive US No. 1s and were the first group to have UK Top 20s in 5 decades, be embarrassing? No indeed, today is the day to come right out and say it – I’m a Bee Gees fan and am proud to admit it!

bee gees
The Bee Gees circa 1978

For the record, this was last year’s trashed post (fortunately still in a Word doc as I do worry about the day WordPress crashes and we lose all our stuff):

“No long-winded post today as it’s St Valentine’s Day and I’m going to spend it with my lovely husband. (It was a Sunday last year.)

Last time I wrote about the “break-up song” but How Deep Is Your Love by The Bee Gees is from the other end of the spectrum (I think – although retrospectively I’m starting to doubt some of my interpretations of the lyrics). It is still however, my all-time favourite love-song. It was from the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever (starring a young John Travolta) which was released in the summer of 1978. That turned out to be the best summer of my young life to date – School had finished in the June, and the four month period before University was due to start was filled with happy memories that have stayed with me forever. To use the parlance of American teen movies, for my friends and I, that was our coming-of-age summer.

Unusually for me I’m going to leave it there for today – Enjoy that wonderful intro and Barry’s amazing falsetto. Happy Valentine’s day!”

How Deep Is Your Love by The Bee Gees:

But I did say that the main reason for wanting to post something today was to right the wrong of “trashing” a post about this much-loved group of brothers but the second reason is that last night darling daughter and I watched the highlights of the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. Last year I wrote a post about the 58th Grammys where our own Ed Sheerin came away with a couple of awards and I would probably have been writing a post again this year but they have coincided with St Valentine’s Day and anyway, the big awards, yet again, went to Adele. It was pretty much a re-run of our own Brit Awards last year and my thoughts about that ceremony still ring true (The Brits, The “Suits” and Adele), so no point in covering the same old ground.

What was of interest however was finding there had been a Bee Gees tribute on the big night performed by an array of contemporary acts. It is now 40 years since the making of the “Saturday Night Fever” album and 60 years since the brothers first formed a band singing harmonies together. It did make me sad however to see Barry, the only brother still alive, sitting on his own in the front row watching the performance intently, but sometimes also quizzically. Not the way they used to perform these songs back in the day but here is what the 59th Grammys served up.

How Deep Is Your Love Lyrics
(Song by Barry Gibb/Robin Gibb/Maurice Gibb)

I know your eyes in the morning sun
I feel you touch me in the pouring rain
And the moment that you wander far from me
I wanna feel you in my arms again
And you come to me on a summer breeze
Keep me warm in your love and then softly leave
And it’s me you need to show
How Deep Is Your Love

How deep is your love, How deep is your love
I really need to learn
‘Cause we’re living in a world of fools
Breaking us down
When they all should let us be
We belong to you and me

I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour
You’re my saviour when I fall
And you may not think I care for you
When you know down inside that I really do
And it’s me you need to show
How Deep Is Your Love