We come from garageland….
Roget, were he alive, might be persuaded to list authentic as a synonym of garage.
That thought occurred to me this week as I crisscrossed the back roads of LSD. Prompted, as I often am, by a particular song I realized that there is one genre that never fails to please. Well, at least me, and that’s a tall task.
Yet the claim about authenticity is arguably true. No less a pair of songwriters than Strummer-Jones claimed to be there, armed with their “bullshit detector.” And so I submit the perfect rock form is garage which, in its way, made punk possible and which, at its best, taps the same energy as the early days of rock & roll even as it sets off on the road to almost completely white forms. (Teutonic and Nordic death metal bands are where that road hits its deserved wall.)
What makes garage? You need a few key ingredients. Lo-fidelity recording. Guitar riffs played on cool looking guitars. Fender or Vox amps. A Farfisa always helps but a harmonica will also do. Back in the day, a band look was also essential. Maybe that explains why so many of these songs charted.
I also think a personal connection to 1966 helps, even if it’s just loving the songs of that year. Or Batman,
If you really want to do the deep dive, I heartily recommend investing the hours from 3 to 5 every Sunday listening to the Black Hole of Rock & Roll on WFMU. Host ‘Wild’ Bill Kelly knows more about obscure bands, now and forever, than anyone I know.
Here are a few progenitors and their offspring. I’ll hit the big three from 1966 first.
Dirty Water–The Standells (#11 June 11, 1966)
Maybe I should have added irony to the ingredients list because The Standells, whose big hit celebrated Boston as home, actually hailed from Los Angeles. Stuffed with references to Beantown circa 1965 (when they actually wrote the song), ‘Dirty Water’ would be a hit even if it didn’t spawn a genre.
Psychotic Reaction–Count Five (#5 October 15, 1966)
How many bands can claim a Top 10 single and serving as the inspiration for one of of rock &roll’s great madmen? Hailing from San Jose (see, something more important than tech once happened there) and drawing on singer John Byrme’s psychology textbook, Count Five are pretty much the definition of a one-hit wonder. But what a hit.
? and the Mysterians–96 Tears (#1 October 29 1966)
All this talk of walls troubles me. Think of American music without Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Richie Valens or Rudy Martinez, You say you don’t know Rudy? Sure you do, he’s the hip-swinging, sunglass-wearing front man who was known by a typographical mark long before the idea occurred to his purpleness. How empty would life be without this classic by the children of migrant farm workers who called Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan home?
Help You Ann–Lyres
A generation after the initial garage explosion those bands were still setting others in motion. Band uniforms and chart positions were among the first casualties. In Boston, Jeff Connolly (there are a lot of Irish guys in garage bands) fronted Lyres, a band that still gigs. Here’s a later-day lineup playing their 1983 debut single.
The Fleshtones–Roman Gods
Anything Boston can do, New York will do better, just ask the Red Sox. (I’ve intentionally scrambled the chronology so I could use that sentence.) In the midst of late 70s punk chaos, the unsung borough of Queens spawned a garage band with a horn section, led by Peter Zaremba, a man born to front a band. Making clubs safe for dancing, rather than mad pogoing, The Fleshtones put fun back in the mix. Here’s their 1982 hit. As Zaremba likes to say, “Get in the power stance, baby.”
It’s Not About What I Want (It’s What You Got)–The Woggles
I always tell my kids there’s nothing about the Wiggles that couldn’t be fixed by correcting the spelling. Another band that just keeps on gigging, these sons of Athens, GA absolutely tear up the house casting themselves as Sherman’s army in reverse. This song hails from the early 2000s.
Elixir of Life–The Primevals
Here’s the 1986 song that set me off this week. Like a few other tunes that captured my ear on first hearing, I spent years tracking down this group of Glaswegians. (It didn’t help that at first I thought they were Australians.) The twist with these guys is the use of slide guitar. Listen to a whole album of it and you’ll be bored to tears. In the mix, though, these guys deliver.
A transplant to the Garden State, I am reluctant to accept the local take on rock hagiography. So resistant am I to the notion of St. Springsteen that I regularly submit other acts as the state’s greatest contribution to music. Here’s Trenton‘s own garage trio, making the case that the nod ought to go to a downstate garage band.
Here’s the playlist with a couple of bonus tracks thrown in:
Enjoy what’s left of the summer.