I love Little Steven Van Zandt’s Underground Garage radio show, especially when I catch it in the car.
It’s got three basic things going for it. The first is the host’s personality (key to any successful radio show). Second is the chance to hear music I would never hear anywwhere else and make judgments on it. Third, and most significant for me, is the chance to hear familiar music re-contextualized. At its best, the show does what modern radio so seldom does–hooks you.
The one small fly in the sea of ointment is Van Zandt’s occasional tendency to indulge a bit of uber-hipness, which, oddly, cuts against the grain of the whole enterprise (he’s not, for instance, afraid of praising the Monkees or Herman’s Hermits).
This week, driving home on a Saturday night, I heard one of those re-makes which was sufficiently different from the original that I couldn’t place it until I heard the chorus.
Turned out to be some obviously punk-ish version of “Yo-Yo” (which I have posted in the past and can be viewed again here), a hit for the Osmonds in their brief run of genius before some idiot induced them away from Memphis’ American Studios, songs like “Yo-Yo,” and any chance of being real long-term competition for the Jackson 5 (an idea that isn’t nearly as heretical as some might assume–the American period was the only time the Osmonds had a similar level of musical support to what the Jacksons got at Motown, and while the difference between the two groups vocally was real, in the words of John T. Chance, I wouldn’t want to live on the difference).
Anyway, when the deliberately off-key remake was followed by Deep Purple’s hit version of “Hush,” I thought maybe there was some kind of Joe South tribute going on (he wrote both songs).
Turned out that wasn’t the case, though when Steven came back on the mike he did mention that South wrote both songs and remarked on the oddity of the same man writing a big hit for both the Osmonds and Deep Purple in the same era. Unfortunately, that was only after he had claimed the “Yo-Yo” remake (by the Doughboys as it turned out) had made the song “kinda cool.”
Which I heard with a touch of bemusement because my first thought when I realized the song was actually “Yo-Yo” was along the lines of “Too bad Steven didn’t have the stones to play the Osmonds.”
I had that thought because the Osmonds’ version smokes the Doughboys seven ways from Sunday.
And it would have taken some moxy for Little Steven to admit as much, right there in the Underground Garage.
Besides which, “cool” is such an elusive concept: