By Jeremiah Tucker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Missouri has yet to select an official rock song. Only a few states have, but whenever one decides to adopt an official rock song, it's a good time.
Remember how much fun we had when Oklahoma made The Flaming Lips' trippy pop song "Do You Realize?" its official number? There was the legislative kerfuffle that began after a representative saw one of the band members wearing a T-shirt with a hammer and sickle on it, and the governor had to weigh in. Great fun.
I enjoy seeing legislators momentarily turn into college roommates arguing over which band's poster will adorn their dorm room. How refreshing, after all, to see them wrestling with such a trivial issue after expending so much time and energy treating trivially the vital issues that impact the lives of their constituents.
Currently, Massachusetts is locked in a battle pitting rock snobs against rock populists. A citizen-led campaign to name The Modern Lovers' 1972 iconic pre-punk punk anthem "Roadrunner" the state's official rock song looked like it was going to sail through the legislature, until two representatives introduced a competing bill to give that honor to Boston-born Aerosmith's "Dream On."
If these kinds of decisions were based on what is, artistically, the better song, "Roadrunner" is the clear choice.
Without "Roadrunner," a foundational piece of punk and indie rock is suddenly missing. Without "Dream On," maybe the influence of the power ballad is weaker, the classic rock radio format has an extra four minutes to fill every hour, and Michael Bay goes in a different direction with the "Armageddon" theme song - all outcomes I'm happy to live with.
Numerous paeans have been written to "Roadrunner." But it bears repeating that it really is one of the best pop songs ever written, its motorik beat and the clarity of its mission, to evoke the simple joy of driving with the radio on, tap into a sense of freedom and primal joy that lies at the heart of all great rock 'n' roll. Also, it's a killer track for any road-trip mix.
In a piece in The Guardian newspaper from a few years ago, a journalist wrote about a pilgrimage to Massachusetts to investigate all the local landmarks name-checked by songwriter Jonathan Richman in "Roadrunner." It was that article, in which the journalist called "Roadrunner" "one of the most magical songs in existence," that inspired the push to make it the official state rock song.
And it makes sense, considering Jonathan Richman not only names specific places but actually sings, "I'm in love with Massachusetts."
It would be perfect for a state tourism commercial, and if we want to get crass about it, less expensive than licensing an Aerosmith song. So, from both a practical and artistic perspective, "Roadrunner" is the better state song, and it's the snobbish choice only because it's less well-known.
Which brings up another good question worth asking when selecting an official state rock song: Do you want a behemoth, major-label smash hit? Or do you want a song from an outsider, one more evocative of the little guy?
I trust the good representatives of the people of Massachusetts will make the right choice.
Meanwhile, if Missouri ever has to choose a state rock song, my choice remains St. Louis native Chuck Berry's "Maybellene." What's yours?