This week on the music beat

By Evan SerpickChris Willman and Alanna Nash
Updated December 06, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

— LITTLE’S FEATS Steven Van Zandt can’t escape good ratings. He plays Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, pay cable’s top-rated show. He plays guitar for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which sells millions of records. And he plays acts like the Hollies on Little Steven’s Underground Garage, a syndicated radio program with sky-high numbers. On New York’s WAXQ, he turned a 0.7 share (the percentage of radios tuned in) into a 4.2 in his time slot among men 18-34. On Phoenix’s KDKB, a 0.0 became a 9.6. ”I’m probably the only guy playing the Yardbirds now, not to mention the Ramones or the New York Dolls,” says Van Zandt, who also spins youngsters like the Hives. With Underground, his New York City concert series, and general rawk advocacy (he persuaded Sopranos brass to use a Greenhornes song and to hire the Swinging Neckbreakers for a scene), Van Zandt is on a mission. ”It’s important that the next generation of kids hears this music,” he says. ”It could change somebody’s life, like it did mine.” Capisce?

— LEAVING THE COUNTRY Guess which country star is retiring? If you’re figuring somebody grizzled, guess again: It’s comely, critically hailed Cyndi Thomson, 25, whose first single hit No. 1 and 2001 debut album went gold. Thomson quit the biz in October, citing star-making pressures and a desire to settle into her new marriage. She’s been the talk of Music Row since. ”I ad-mire her for making the choice she did,” says Country Music’s Michael McCall. ”But the prevailing opinion is that she’s a prima donna who gave up an opportunity millions would give their children or limbs for.” Capitol Nashville won’t force her to fulfill her contract but is said to be upset about having invested in a kamikaze career. Thomson’s producer, Paul Worley, tried to change her mind but concedes, ”It’s pretty gutsy to give up the promise of success. She wants to live a quiet lifestyle. It’s interesting she didn’t know that before going into this deal, but that’s not her fault.”