Garage door openers

Bands like The Strokes and The Vines evoke the stripped-down sound of 1960s garage rock.

So you want to be a rock and roll star? Well, listen now to what I say. Get yourself an electric guitar and take some time to learn how to play."

Such was the advice offered in the 1967 song "Rock 'n' Roll Star," by The Byrds – one of the great garage-rock bands of the genre's original heyday.

Today, bands like The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, and The White Stripes are picking up where The Byrds left off, taking their homemade rock from the garage to the top of the charts. (See CD reviews at right.)

The Strokes' first album, "Is This It," has gone gold, selling more than 500,000 copies. The Vines' debut, "Highly Evolved," launched at No. 11 on Billboard's albums charts earlier this month.

"Garage rock is music for older people with young spirits and young people with old souls," says Steven Van Zandt, legendary E Street rocker and actor ("The Sopranos"). "These days, it is also again becoming the property of younger fans."

Spawned from the electrification of instruments (especially the guitar), garage rock came out of the garages and small clubs and bars of America and Western Europe in the 1960s.

Armed with a few chords and a lot of heart and attitude, these young rockers took the music scene by storm with their stories of working-class life and love.

"I see garage rock as a form of folk music," says music journalist Ted Drozdowski, "because it's made by unskilled people who are using music to speak about what affects them."

"Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen is one of the classics of the genre. Others include "Destroyer" by The Kinks and "Gloria" by Them (featuring Van Morrison).

Trading blue-collar for white-tie

As with traditional folk, garage rock represents "the rock and roll underdog," says Mr. Drozdowski, who is also the frontman for The Devil Gods, a blues-rock band in Boston. However, he adds, today's garage rock is not being created by people who have authentic blue-collar backgrounds.

"They have had the advantages of following a gilded path," Drozdowski says, citing Julian Casablancas, frontman of nouveau-garage rockers The Strokes.

Mr. Casablancas is a product of private school and classical music lessons whose father founded the Elite Modeling Agency.

"That's contradictory to what garage rock is all about," Drozdowski adds.

Nonetheless, with their proclivities for black leather, overdriven amplifiers, and (dare it be said?) fun, bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes hark back to the days of The Kinks and The Blue Magoos.

Some say their stripped-down sound might hew a little too closely to their predecessors – rehashing more than reinventing the genre.

"The garage-rock scene hasn't changed in 40 years," says Jeff Conolly of the rock band Lyres, who considers the new rockers to be "pale examples."

"It's just younger people getting on the bandwagon," he says.

Lots and lots of younger people. Even though they are relatively young bands, many of the new generation of garage rockers are already selling out at clubs and arenas around the country.

Songs such as "Alone Together," by The Strokes, have been heavily rotated on Top 40 stations. The White Stripes' video "Fell in Love with a Girl" has been nominated for four MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Video of the Year.

"It's good to see something more real and visceral on the charts," says Graham Shaw, singer and songwriter for Petrol, a San Francisco band that records for Garage Rock Records.

Some of the bands with the biggest buzz strike him as just a bridge between boy bands and real garage.

"But if that's what it takes to swing things around from the boy-band thing," Mr. Shaw concedes, "that's fine with me."

Petrol itself has yet to reap the financial benefits of the resurgence.

As Shaw puts it, "We are not stained yet by the major-label machine. It's easy to have street cred when you are totally broke and playing for 200 people instead of 2,000."

And Shaw remains hopeful that turning the dial back to garage rock's frequency will bring his band more listeners as well.

"Ultimately, if people buy Hives records and start going to local rock shows and having fun, that will bring it back to what rock is about," he says.

Back to the garage

To help, Mr. Van Zandt has launched "Little Steven's Underground Garage," a weekly syndicated radio program that is broadcast on more than 50 stations nationwide.

"It's my way of taking listeners back to the days when radio mattered," he explains. Acting as program director, music director, and disc jockey, Van Zandt has almost total creative control over his latest media venture.

"I will play garage rock as I define it," he says. "For me, it's a back-to-basics rock that is directly related to the '60s."

Whether today's garage rockers are "pale examples," as Conolly puts it, or bright beacons to rock's future, one thing appears to be undeniable: Rock 'n' roll is here to stay.

"It's a certain sensibility that you have when you're 17 or when you're 67," Van Zandt says. "It never goes away."

Fast & furious

BRMC – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Virgin): This band lacks a one-two punch name like that of The Vines or The Hives, but then the trio's music is more complex than other garage-rock bands. BRMC are fond of layering their rumbling bass and fuzzy guitar to produce an effect of cascading waves of sound, at times emulating British indie artists like Jesus and the Mary Chain. The influence of The Velvet Underground is equally present, and on the single, "Whatever Happened to my Rock 'n' Roll [Punk Song]," BRMC encapsulate the spirit of garage rock with the lyric "I gave my heart to a simple chord." By Stephen Humphries

The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious (Burning Heart): Ever wonder why nearly every teenager wants an electric guitar and a really loud amplifier? This is why. Irresistible power riffs, slamming, hyper-speed drums, and a lead singer (the aptly monikered Howlin' Pete Almqvist) who sounds as if he's punished more than his share of microphones. The songs are about – hey, I'm not really sure – but they're fast, fun, and loud! Hailing from pop-music-fertile Sweden, these five rockers sound nothing like a Volvo. And they don't stop for speed bumps. By John Kehe

The Strokes – Is This It (RCA): The Strokes may have blazed the way for the new generation of garage rock, but musically they haven't reinvented the wheel so much as given it a fresh set of treads. Retreads, actually, since this three-chord rock sounds little different from when Iggy Pop or The Who did it. But context matters, and, in a time of affected corporate rock and cynically formulated pop, The Strokes' oeuvre sounds vital again. Their roving bass lines and trash-can drum clatter offer a tuneful backdrop for Julian Casablancas's voice – which ranges from insouciance to jauntiness. The result is 35 incendiary minutes of punkitude. – S.H.

White Stripes – White Blood Cells (V2 Music): Talk about back to basics! Singer/guitarist Jack White and his sister, Meg, on drums ARE White Stripes. That's it. But it's more than enough to rattle the speakers and fill your house with primal, infectious rock 'n' roll. Jack writes the songs that morph the history of rock, blues, punk, and soul into two-minute, bite-sized chunks of red-hot candy. Before you realize how inane most of the lyrics are, that song is over, and he hooks you with the next one. – J.K.

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