The American Garage Rock Road Trip

Garage Rock Summer

When I decided in late May to initiate “Garage Rock Summer” I had no idea that I was inadvertently backing into the second major project for Strange Currencies Music. Unlike A Century of Song – where I spent years preparing and narrowing down the list of 1000 tracks – there was no real advanced planning for what I’ve now officially dubbed The American Garage Rock Road Trip. Initially, I figured that I’d do a handful of An Introduction To articles on what I perceived to be the most fertile American garage rock scenes: the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Texas, Michigan. I planned to intersperse these among track/album reviews, internationally-minded pieces, and the return of the On Distant Stations feature.

Instead, I came to realize just how true it was that every corner of the United States harbored a vibrant garage scene, and that the American garage rock movement was an even deeper rabbit hole than I had ever suspected. Not only that, but each region started to reveal more unique character and nuance with every new band that I uncovered. Eventually, it just made sense to keep going: to cover every region in the United States, holding to the thirty-song, fits-on-one-CD parameters that I had established with the initial feature on the Pacific Northwest.

What that created was a fifteen-part series, covering every state in the union, except for Hawaii (it didn’t fit into any of my defined regions, but I’ll come back to it at some point) and Wyoming (which does not actually exist). All in all, that meant that 450 songs, by 450 different bands and artists, were represented in these features. Among these groups, there are a handful of big names (The Sonics, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, Love), but while I’ve not taken an official tally (yet), I suspect that over half of the bands here never released more than one single.

Within these groups, I encountered countless great stories and anecdotes: some via liner notes; some via online comments by the (apparent) artists themselves; and many via excellent resources, such as the wonderful labor of love, Garage Hangover. I’ve long suspected that this depth of music and stories could be out there, but always turned off into another musical direction, partially out of intimidation from the sheer volume of band names and obscure one-off singles.

With these admittedly-limited An Introduction To pieces, I’ve attempted to give as good of an overview as one can of these wildly varied and deep regional scenes. A few personal choices and quirks are revealed throughout. First, while my initial draft of the PNW feature stretched all the way from 1960-1970, I’ve stayed almost-entirely focused on the years between 1964-68; specifically, I was quite deliberate in making the first song on the first feature “Louie Louie,” and the closer to the last one “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” as the prime era of American garage happened between those two landmark singles. Next, I tended to downplay some of the most overtly psychedelic/acid rock tracks. Psych gets a fair amount of representation here, but while the lines between garage/psych are often blurry, I tend to view them as separate genres where possible. Finally, I love a good punk rager, but at the end of the day, I’m a sucker for melody – especially when a 12-string guitar is involved.

I’ve linked to the fifteen regional articles below. Each contains two playlists: one that features the tracks that are presently available on Spotify, and another YouTube Music playlist that includes all thirty songs for each region. At the bottom of this page, I’ve linked Spotify/YouTube playlists for the entire series. The YouTube one has all 450 songs, arranged in as-close-to-chronological order as is possible, given the limited information available on some of these tracks. It is awesome, and you’re welcome.

I’m far from done with garage rock. This “accidental” project has put me in a musical discovery mode, the likes of which I haven’t experienced in many years. At various points over the summer, I considered repurposing Strange Currencies as a garage-centric site, but – despite my recently-announced “qualified hiatus” – it will remain a musical jack-of-all-trades. I have begun another garage-focused project in earnest, details of which will come in time. For now, peruse the articles below, and dive into the obscure, rollicking, and beautiful world of the American garage rock movement.

  • An Introduction to Pacific Northwest Garage Rock
    With a potent combination of hooks, grittiness, and volume, bands of the Pacific Northwest created their own unique brand of garage rock in the sixties. Check out our crash course on this exciting scene.
  • An Introduction to New England Garage Rock
    Garage bands from New England forged their own unique sound during the sixties: one that often mixed jangly guitars, strong melodies, and melancholic lyrics to create miniature masterpieces. Explore the best that the scene had to offer in this introductory article and playlist.
  • An Introduction to Los Angeles Garage Rock
    Los Angeles and the surrounding area housed one of the most vibrant garage rock scenes of the mid-sixties. Get acquainted with help from our introductory article and playlist.
  • An Introduction to Lower Midwest Garage Rock
    Garage bands from Chicago and the rest of the Lower Midwest carved out a unique style that reflected the region’s reputation as the crossroads of America. Explore their sound in this introductory feature.
  • An Introduction to Texas Punk
    Texas bands of the mid-sixties frequently pushed beyond the generally-accepted boundaries of rock music, and what they created collectively was virtually unprecedented. Get acquainted with Texas Punk in this introductory article and playlist.
  • An Introduction to New York Garage Rock
    New York garage bands of the sixties reflected the diversity of the Big Apple and the surrounding Empire State. Acquaint yourself with the best of the bunch with this introductory feature.
  • An Introduction to Northern California Garage Rock
    The Bay Area garage scene was home to folkies, psych-crazed rockers, and embryonic iterations of soon-to-be iconic bands. Check out the best of what it had to offer in this introductory feature.
  • An Introduction to Deep South Garage Rock
    Garage bands from the Deep South often created their music while facing great resistance from figures of authority. Discover some of the best of what they had to offer.
  • An Introduction to Florida Garage Rock
    Florida garage bands of the sixties refused to be pigeonholed; instead, they represented a wildly diverse state through sounds that were alternately rustic, cosmopolitan, spontaneous, and refined. Check out some of the best of them in this introductory feature.
  • An Introduction to Mountain States Garage Rock
    There’s no single style that defines the garage rock of the Mountain States, but the expansive region houses a wealth of unearthed gems. Check out some of the best of them here.
  • An Introduction to Upper Midwest Garage Rock
    Garage bands from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas may have stood in the shadow of those from Chicago and Detroit, but they forged an exciting scene nonetheless. Check out thirty garage classics from those states on this feature.
  • An Introduction to Pennsylvania Garage Rock
    Pennsylvania – and especially Philadelphia – was a bustling haven of garage rock activity throughout the sixties. We uncover some of the best that the scene had to offer right here.
  • An Introduction to Upper South Garage Rock
    The Upper South states produced a plethora of great garage singles, though few that actually achieved national attention. We pick thirty of the best in this introductory feature.
  • An Introduction to Mid-Atlantic Garage Rock
    Like the rest of the nation, the Mid-Atlantic region was consumed with Beatlemania in the mid-sixties. See what its aspiring young musicians crafted in this feature.
  • An Introduction to Michigan Proto-Punk
    The final stop on our cross-country tour of American garage rock scenes takes us through the Wolverine State. Kick out the jams, as we celebrate Michigan proto-punk.

Author

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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