Three recent e-mails:
“My favorite radio station is Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM—rock and soul music you [will] not [hear] anywhere else.” – Michael DesBarres, October, 2017, in response to a column called “My New Favorite Radio Station Is…”
“It really is time for you to cover Steven Van Zandt’s Underground Garage. Simply put, we play music that you cannot hear anywhere else—from Howlin’ Wolf to Greta Van Fleet . . . Little Steven has created a very singular ethos to rock and soul music, beaming the beat from a satellite.” – Michael Des Barres, November 2017.
“Sean, it really is time you shine a spotlight on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Everything you discussed here, we’ve been doing for over a decade.” – Michael Des Barres, January, 2018, in response to an article about the use of “Oh Wow” oldies.
Okay, Michael Des Barres is right. Des Barres is the veteran rock artist who was signed both to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song and producer/writer Michael Chapman’s Dreamland/RSO. (For me, the latter carries at least as much weight.) He co-wrote and recorded the original version of Animotion’s “Obsession.” Now, he’s a DJ on Underground Garage, Sirius XM Channel 21.
From the minute Des Barres reached out, I fully intended to write about Underground Garage. It’s one of the reasons that I’m glad Sirius XM goes deep in the rock universe. That it took me a few months to get around to it was logistics—the end of the year; only having Sirius XM in the car. And maybe I figured that I could do it any time. But I should never take for granted that a station like this exists, even on satellite or elsewhere on the infinite dial.
Garage rock was just at its peak when I began listening to current music in early 1967, and minutes away from splintering into psychedelia and bubblegum. The realization that it comprised hundreds of local hits, and depth far beyond what I initially knew, was a significant development for me in my appreciation of music and in record collecting.
Van Zandt and his best-known co-worker are credited with helping to bring the garage rock ethos to the masses, culminating in the launch of “Underground Garage” as a syndicated show in the early ‘00s at a moment when garage was being refracted through the White Stripes, Strokes, and the indie movement in general. But I don’t think he’ll be insulted if I say that for certain among us, an obvious love and respect for garage rock did as much to certify Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven as vice-versa.
After more than a decade, Underground Garage has evolved well beyond the boundaries of ‘60s garage rock and its obvious descendants. It’s an alternate universe version of the oldies format, not called Kool Oldies, but playing cool oldies. As I write this, they’re playing “Funky Street” by Arthur Conley. Or you’ll hear “She’s A Fool” by Lesley Gore, which might not have seemed quite as connected to “Psychotic Reaction” in the mid-‘60s as it does now.
And more than 50 years after the original epicenter of garage rock, to listen to Underground Garage is often to hear recent artists throwing back to artists who were deliberate throwbacks themselves. The Go-Go’s and Bangles had their obvious ‘60s heroes. I had never heard 2009’s “Round & Round” by Cocktail Slippers until Underground Garage, but it’s a throwback to the Go-Go’s and Bangles.
Just for fun, you can also ponder whether everything on Underground Garage is a throwback to the right thing. Any band compared to Led Zeppelin as frequently as Greta Van Fleet is probably saluting not garage rock, but the thing that trampled it underfoot for a while. But I recognize that PD Dennis Mortensen and Van Zandt have their own internally consistent logic. It’s anything you might find in the collection of somebody who loves garage rock and has varied and (mostly) good taste.
Little Steven’s Underground Garage is also a salute to the first generation of progressive rock and stations like WNEW-FM New York now remembered for championing music. When you hear Des Barres and his colleagues, you will learn something about every song, sometimes down to the artist and producer level. In that early ‘70s era of Album Rock radio, garage rock was mostly in hiding or derided as bubblegum—a Raspberries song or two on Top 40, a Big Star or Flaming Groovies off in the distance and not on the radio at all. (Only glam rock was an exception, partially because the connection was less obvious at the time.) But if you could correct that now, why wouldn’t you?
Here’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage as heard Jan 23 just after 8 a.m. during Des Barre’s mid-morning shift:
- Chevelles, “Round And Round”
- Eddie Cochran, “Something Else”
- Sonics, “Like No Other Man” (if there’s a core artist on LSUG, it’s the Seattle ‘60s band; this is from a reunion album)
- Jan & Dean, “Dead Man’s Curve”
- Steve Conte, “Mercedes Band” (the Janis Joplin song)
- Equals, “Hold Me Closer” (the B-side of “Baby Come Back,” which normally confers cred enough)
- Jimmy Reed, “Blue Carnegie”
- Donovan, “Superlungs My Supergirl”
- Stiff Little Fingers, “Alternative Ulster”
- Beatles, “All My Loving”
- Cotton Mather, “She’s Only Cool”
- Rod Stewart, “Dixie Toot”
- Rolling Stones, “Paint It, Black”
Des Barres and Mortensen also sent me the log from 8 a.m. the following day:
- Kinks, “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”
- Elvis Costello, “Less Than Zero”
- Doughboys, “Manic Reaction”
- Ramones, “7-11”
- Buddy Holly, “Rave On”
- Rolling Stones, “Sweet Black Angel”
- Ricky Byrd, “Kicks” – yes, a recent remake of the Paul Revere & the Raiders classic
- Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”
- George Harrison, “What Is Life?”
- J. Geils Band, “Southside Shuffle”
- Joan Jett & Blackhearts, “A 100 Feet Away”
- Kris Rodgers & Dirty Gems, “Headlines”
- Meters, “Hey Pocky A-Way”
- Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels, “Sock It To Me – Baby!”
- Nick Curran & Lowlifes, “Psycho” (not the Sonics song, but recognized as an homage)
- Beatles, “When I Get Home”
- Mudcrutch, “Scare Easy”