By Clark Collis
Updated January 18, 2010 at 06:23 PM EST
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Credit: Bob Levey/
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Steven Van Zandt recently counted down what he believes to be the coolest garage rock songs and albums of the decade on his Undergound Garage radio show. There’s a lot of great music on both lists. But there’s also some eyebrow-raising choices. For example, several of the acts Little Steven recommends are on the guitarist’s own Wicked Cool label. It also transpires that Steven is a huuuuuge fan of the CD Magic by Bruce Springsteen, who really is Van Zandt’s “Boss” when he’s playing with the E Street Band. We asked Van Zandt to defend five of his more “interesting” picks.

And he agreed!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Magic

Van Zandt-featuring 2007 collection, widely regarded as being inferior to 2002’s The Rising

“Call it employment insurance [laughs]. I do have to occasionally see the man, you know! Obviously I can’t be too objective about it. But I honestly believe that was a terrific album. I think it’s a great statement that at this stage of his career my friend is continuing to write songs that are vital and serious. I looked at the three records we did in the last ten years (The Rising, Magic and last year’s Working on a Dream) and that one had the most resonance for me. It just seemed to be the one that was the most consistent. But it was a close call. It could have been any three of them. They’re all quite good, I think!”

Van Zandt’s coolest album of the last ten year’s is 2009’s stereo-free re-release of the Beatles back catalog. Is he being old-school-for-old-school’s sake? “No!” says the guitarist.

“My last five conversations with [Apple executive and “fifth Beatle”] Neil Aspinall, who we all love and miss, had to do with, ‘Please, Neil, I know you’’re busy, but re-release the Beatles in the original configurations, in mono, the way God intended.’ He was finally getting that done when he died and Jeff Jones, the new guy over there at Apple, thankfully got it done. People don’t realize they’d spend all day on the mono mixes, and then usually George Martin would leave, and occasionally the first engineer would leave, and then the second engineer would throw up a quick stereo mix. They considered stereo a gimmick. Nobody took it seriously up until the last two albums or so. The mono mixes sound better, without question. They’re quite different. [On the stereo versions] there’s overdubs missing, there’s instruments missing. And that’s all that was available all these years. This was the way George Martin and the Beatles intended them to be heard!”

The Rolling Stones: “Rough Justice”

Lead single from the Stones’ 2005 album A Bigger Bang. “Honky Tonk Woman” it ain’t.

“My love of Stones albums ended with Exile on Main Street and I actually prefer the first seven, I prefer the Andrew Loog Oldham era even to the Jimmy Miller era. But I thought that was a fabulous single actually. The best thing they’d done in a long, long, time.”

Kelly Osbourne: “Come Dig Me Out”

This 2004 tune from the Oz sprog is a nicely high octane number. But does Kelly really count as garage rock?

“The song was quite a shock to me, actually. One of the people in the office was playing it, and I didn’t know who it was. It just caught my ear from across the room. The craft on that record alone is really quite good. The composition is great. The arrangement is great. And she does a great job singing it. It’s a great, great, record and I thought, well, she deserved to be on [the list]. We have a broad definition of garage rock. The British Invasion is what we consider ‘the Big Bang’, and we play everything that influenced the British Invasion, and everything the British Invasion influenced. It’s a bit eclectic. But when you really examine it, the dots are pretty well connected.”

Steven Van Zandt placed the most recent studio collection by these somewhat obscure retro-rockers at number 4 on his coolest albums list, which must have really pleased their label boss. The name of that label boss? Steven Van Zandt!

“You’re right, most people would not know them, they just never quite broke thorough. But they pretty much define the modern contemporary garage rock world. And what’s nice is their last two albums have been their two best. (EW: And they also happen to be on your label!). They are now, yes. I’m sorry, do I have to put a disclaimer on this thing? I don’t mind some self-boostering. I don’t mind that at all. Especially since they deserve it. We wouldn’t sign them if we didn’t think they were great!”

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

Photo credit: Bob Levey/


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