I put the satellite radio back in my car a few weeks ago. My presets were right where I left ’em, although the channels are different since I dropped my subscription at the end of 2008. When Sirius and XM merged, duplicated channels were taken off the service. Most of the channels I listened to regularly as a Sirius subscriber have been replaced by XM channels.
After the merger, the Sirius deep-cuts classic rock channel, called the Vault, was replaced by the XM Deep Tracks channel—which is vastly superior. The Vault provided plenty of depth, but without breadth. More than once I would exasperatedly tune away as the channel played yet another tune by the Who, David Bowie, or the Doors, who often seemed to be the only artists on the channel. Deep Tracks, meanwhile, goes all over the place—in the last few days I’ve heard people like McKendree Spring, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and lots of others whose names I know but whose music I do not. The selection is deep and wide, but not self-consciously obscure—it doesn’t shy away from onetime hit singles that have been forgotten, or the ignored tracks from famous albums. (It served up some of the most amazing Christmas music I’ve heard on the radio, ever.) Deep Tracks also features Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour and Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure show, and the entrancing on-air work of Earle Bailey, a 40-year veteran of album-rock radio who’s also the channel’s PD.
Last Friday was Richie Havens’ 70th birthday, and Deep Tracks treated listeners to a birthday salute featuring several songs, some better known than others. First up was “Handsome Johnny,” from his 1967 debut album Mixed Bag. It’s a powerful anti-war song famously performed at Woodstock.
The Deep Tracks set also featured “Nobody Left to Crown,” from the 1977 album Mirage, a song I’d never heard, which includes the following bit of wordplay:
Home, home on the range
Where the fear and the antidotes play
Where seldom is heard an encouraging word
And our leaders do nothing all day
The set closed with Havens’ version of “Here Comes the Sun”—which I bought on a 45 in the spring of 1971 before I knew the Beatles’ version. It’s a beautiful performance; the radio version cut the introduction down to four seconds, but the 45 I bought starts with at least a minute of Havens’ percussive guitar before he begins to sing. Make me say so, and I’ll tell you I prefer Havens’ version to the one on Abbey Road. Here’s a live TV performance from 1971:
The Havens birthday set, which also featured several interview clips, is an example of the sort of serendipity that keeps Sirius/XM Deep Tracks listeners hooked. To a degree unparalleled by any station I’ve ever heard, you simply have no idea what’s coming next—and you want to stick around to find out.