Certain Songs #1184: The Modern Lovers – “Roadrunner”

Album: The Modern Lovers
Year: 1976

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!

One of the most joyous, primal songs ever recorded, “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers is a serious contender for The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Song ever, full stop. I’ve listened to it and loved countless times. Weirdly enough, though, that Modern Lovers version wasn’t even the first version of “Roadrunner” I heard.

In fact, in the late 1970s “Roadrunner” was one of those songs I read about without actually hearing, one of those songs that you’d read about as a huge influence on punk rock, but nearly impossible to find. In fact, I’m pretty sure the first time I actually heard any version of “Roadrunner” was the Sex Pistols half-homage half-desecration from The Great Rock ‘n’ Swindle, which I bought as an import in spring of 1980. It’s where they start playing “Johnny B. Goode” — the ur-source of Steve Jones’s riffs — but Johnny Rotten realizes he doesn’t know any of the words, so he starts yelling for them to play “Roadrunner,” and when they do, realizes that he doesn’t know any of the words to that one either, and makes a hash of the whole thing.

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Certain Songs #1183: Moby Grape – “I Am Not Willing”

Album: Moby Grape ’69
Year: 1969

On the shortlist of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, Cosmic Psychedelic Country Division, “I Am Not Willing” isn’t just the highlight of Moby Grape’s third album, 1969’s Moby Grape ’69 (nice!), but the greatest song they ever wrote, sporting a melody that is both as old and as deep as the mountains, while remaining fresh today as it was 50 years ago.

I mean, after all, I bought the the two-CD Moby Grape Vintage compilation back in 1993 because I wanted to have their classic debut on CD — and they knew it, as the first disc is all Moby Grape plus outtakes and live versions, leaving their other three records to share the second disc — so when “I Am Not Willing” showed up near the end of the second disc, I was completely gobsmacked. How wasn’t I prepared for this?

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Certain Songs #1182: Moby Grape – “Murder in My Heart For The Judge”

Album: Wow
Year: 1968

One of the myths that grew up around Moby Grape was that they made one great, undeniable album, and then didn’t do anything worthwhile after it. That my was dispelled in 1993, when Columbia reissued a two-CD retrospective called Vintage, which simultaneously reinforced the myth — including the debut in its entirety — and dispelled it forever, as there a bunch of great songs on subsequent records.

The problem was, of course, those great songs were spread out among the rest of their career. Nevertheless, Moby Grape produced a couple of sleeper classics, one of which — “Murder in My Heart For The Judge” — wasn’t really much of a sleeper, as it was almost immediately covered by Three Dog Night and Lee Michaels.

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Certain Songs #1181: Moby Grape – “Omaha”

Album: Moby Grape
Year: 1967

The reason that Moby Grape didn’t become the biggest group from the San Francisco scene wasn’t that they were beset by bad management; nor was it that they allowed Columbia to release five singles from the album on the exact same day; nor was it even the silly name. The reason that Moby Grape never became huge was that that they were too talented to be focused.

This was a band with five lead singers and five songwriters. (And three guitarists, when that kind of thing was still uncommon.) And while many of their competitors had more than one singer, those bands usually had a single focal point — a Jerry Garcia or a Grace Slick or a Roger McGuinn — around whom the rest of the band revolved.

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Certain Songs #1180: The Miss Alans – “State of Grace (Fresno, 12-26-2010)”

Video, 2010

And so after Ledger, nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true: there were the Super 5 Thor records, full of beauty and atmosphere, cool vocals and trippy guitar. But missing the crack rhythm section that put so many Miss Alans songs over. And after the turn of the century, those dried up, as well, as life took over.

So we all grew older and apart, as was to be expected, wrapped up in our individual lives and jobs and families, and the memories of our crazy past got blurrier and probably a little bit sweeter, and new people we met maybe didn’t quite understand some of the stories from our youth we told them, or if they were young, rolled their eyes, and that was the way it was supposed to be.

And then Facebook happened.

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