Massachusetts' official rock song: 'Roadrunner'? 'Dream On'?
BOSTON -- A battle of the bands is breaking out at the Massachusetts Statehouse, pitting a song by rock megastars Aerosmith against one by underground legends The Modern Lovers for the title of official rock song of the commonwealth.
The battle began after fans of The Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner," a 1970s ode to the joys of driving along Route 128 when it's dark outside, launched a social media campaign.
Fans point to the song's many references to the Bay State including cruising along the Massachusetts Turnpike, driving by the Stop & Shop and listening to "the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts." The group was led by Natick native Jonathan Richman.
The "Roadrunner" bill has prompted a backlash from fans of Aerosmith, who want the group's early hit "Dream On" named the official rock song instead.
Aerosmith also got its start in Boston. In November, the band performed a free outdoor concert in front of the apartment building on Commonwealth Avenue where members lived in the 1970s.
While the Modern Lovers were performing around Boston during the same time, they never achieved the superstardom of Aerosmith, although Richman went on to a long career as a singer-songwriter with a loyal following. Two other original members of the band went on to help found The Cars and Talking Heads.
The two songs are nearly as different as the bands.
"Dream On," from Aerosmith's first album, helped launch the band's career, although even backers concede the song is devoid of direct Massachusetts references.
But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered as the state's official rock song, said state Rep. James Cantwell, a co-sponsor of the "Dream On" bill. The Marshfield Democrat said the song has a positive message and encapsulates the spirit of Massachusetts rather than ticking off a series of geographic locations.
"I think ‘Dream On' is about how one should be optimistic about achieving one's goal and persevering to make your dreams come true," Cantwell said.
In contrast, "Roadrunner" is an unabashed long song to Massachusetts and a two-chord celebration of the joys of driving alone at night. It's replete with local references and prefigured the punk rock explosion. The Sex Pistols would later attempt a cover of the song.
"I'm in love with modern moonlight, 128 when it's dark outside," Richman sings in the song.
One of the co-sponsors of the "Roadrunner" bill is Sen. Robert Hedlund.
Hedlund said he first heard the song in the late 1970s on the radio when he was 15 and working at a gas station, trying to save money to buy a car.
"It came out of one of those little transistor, pre-boom box, radios and put me in a specific time and place," he said. "That song just kind of grabbed me. It's just such a romantic song from someone that has pride in his state."
The Weymouth Republican, who also has counted members of Aerosmith among his constituents, said "Dream On" is a fine song but makes no references to Massachusetts.
Cantwell said one possible way around the impasse might be to sponsor a bill naming Aerosmith the official rock band of Massachusetts -- an idea that would likely spark its own debate, given the state's rich history of rock music.
Whichever song ultimately wins will have plenty of company. Massachusetts already has an official song, "All Hail to Massachusetts" by Arthur J. March, and an official folk song, "Massachusetts" by Arlo Guthrie. There's also an official ceremonial march, glee club song, polka and ode of the commonwealth.
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