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Issue: February 2008

Whole Lotta Rock

Little Steven's Underground Garage Presents The Coolest Songs in the World! Vol. 3 (Wicked Cool Records)
Various Artists

Little Steven, a.k.a. Steven Van Zant, uses his spare time (when he's not rocking with Bruce Springsteen) to take the mantle of garage rock on his back and do his earthly best to promote it as an artistic musical form. The guy not only hosts a weekly garage rock radio show, he's organized tours, launched a record company and started a series of Coolest Songs in the World compilations. Here's No. 3.

Basically, the deal is this: If you like 1960s rock (Beatles, Zombies, Hollies, Moby Grape, etc., etc.), you'll love this disc. This is a bunch of groups you've probably not heard of, mixed with a handful of familiar names and blasting out three-minute rockers that your parents probably would have liked if they were teen-agers in 1966.

The collection kicks off with "The Savage Beat" by the briefly reunited Dictators (this is a track from their 2001 reunion album) and makes its way through a lot of familiar rock chords, booming backbeats and simple, fun arrangements. And even if you haven't heard the songs before, they sound familiar. That can be good and bad.

For instance, "She's My Girl" by Spain's The Shake sounds conspicuously like the Beatles' "If I Needed Someone," especially when the chorus comes around. Hey, if you're going to emulate someone, it's hard to go wrong with the Beatles. At the same time, if it's that easy to identify, adjustments probably need to be made.

"Wanna Be," by Detroit's The Fondas, is a banging rocker than grabs you by the 'nads and doesn't want to let go. It's almost maddeningly repetitive, like what might happen if the Troggs and the Bangles had a love child.

The Supersuckers make an appearance with a song called "Shake It Off." The cowpunk-meets-trash-punk approach isn't a perfect fit in this set, but it's close enough. Songs like the organ-laced "Money For Soul" by Baby Woodrose is more what this collection is about. This 2003 track sounds like it was recorded in the late 1960s under the influence of LSD. Man, when that guitar solo kicks in at about 1:30, it feels like your hair is going to catch fire.

One strange addition is Tegan and Sara's "Walking With a Ghost." It's a chunky, synthed-up pop track and it's a decent enough song, but it seems out of place here. On the other hand, perhaps the nicest surprise here is the post-Rockpile-sounding "Nobody Does It" by Roy Loney & the Longshots (which is actually Loney, a founding member of the Flamin' Groovies and the Young Fresh Fellows).

And the collection wraps up with "Out of My Mind (Into My Head)" by 1980s power-pop band the Romantics. Even as their seminal "What I Like About You" continues to blast over radio waves and in TV commercials, these guys have moved toward a grittier sound and provide a nice closer for this disc.

While garage rock made a return in the early 2000s on the strength of bands like the White Stripes, this collection really better exemplifies what garage rock is, by paying tribute to its roots. Worth a listen.

Find this and other Little Steven compilations at www.wickedcoolrecords.com.

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