The world – or the UK at least – seems intent on revelling in a song about umbrellas, but here we like to pretend at least once a week that it’s summertime. This week I offer – and you’d be a fool to refuse – The Beach by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, the opening track from Rockin’ and Romance, which would obviously be his best album were it not for the inclusion of Walter Johnson and the fact that Modern Lovers is one of the five greatest albums ever made.
There was an article in The Guardian last week about Jojo’s debut single, Roadrunner. It didn’t start very well, with the standfirst calling it “a hymn to a suburban ringroad” when it’s really a hymn to listening to AM radio when driving and the power of rock’n’roll.
Of course, the sub who wrote that was writing in response to the rather overlong article, which seems to think Roadrunner is about driving the Route 128, when the heart and thrust of the song – and part of what makes it so great – is that it’s a celebration of music and how it “helps me from being lonely late at night” and the way it fires the adrenalin: “I'm in love with rock & roll and I'll be out all night”.
Roadrunner isn’t a song about a road. It’s a brilliant case of rock’n’roll’s extreme preoccupation and indulgence of nihilistic desires and how driving on the road – any road, it’s a trope, just being on the road – and the attendant freedom is what matters:
“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.”
Then, quite brilliantly:
“O.K., now you sing Modern Lovers”.
Here, after creating one of the most persuasive, energetic and irresistible cases for rock’n’roll, Jojo introduces the Modern Lovers into the equation. His band is now part of that alchemy. They are the band you hear on the radio, the band who make you feel less lonely, who make you feel you’re going “faster miles an hour” when you hear them on the AM while driving; the band and the song inspire you, and the power and ownership of the modern world – which is driven by music, not cars - is yours when you’re a Modern Lover or, as the subtext suggests, just listening to the Modern Lovers (that is, Roadrunner):
I got the AM
Got the car, got the AM
Got the AM sound, got the
Got the rockin' modern neon sound
I got the car from Massachusetts, got the
I got the power of Massachusetts when it's late at night
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".