Damn it! Every time I listen to a Marshall Crenshaw album I get pissed off because (1) he is not ever going to be considered for the stupid Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, more importantly, (2) why isn’t the man ever referred to as America’s Elvis Costello?
Crenshaw released his eponymous debut album during the Spring of 1982, arguably one of the greatest years for rock music. Yes, I found out about the album in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine, so I took Mom’s Chevy Chevette over to the local independent record store-slash-head shop, the long defunct Sun Records. As I walked in, the owner of the store, Steve, immediately says to me, “Have you heard this Marshall Crenshaw album? I just put it on. Let’s listen to it!” Talk about serendipity! So, I pulled up a seat and listened to this brilliant album with the owner of the local record, who, by the way, would never hire me. I often wonder if one of my parents told him not to hire me since I probably would have just taken my pay in albums. But I digress.
When Side One was over, I knew I had to have the album. I turned to Steve, and he gave me a knowing nod and pointed to the small display he had for the album, which meant it was his album pick of the week. I picked up a copy and purchased it from him. Then, I sat back down as Steve played Side Two. The whole album was nothing but power pop bliss. You could hear the same influences in Crenshaw’s music as Costello’s, yet there was an American exuberance in “The Marsh’s” music that was lacking in Costello’s stuff, which may simply have to do with a difference in cultures. By the way, the small Ball State coterie that loved Crenshaw I was a part of referred to him as “The Marsh”. From songs like “Someday, Someway” and “Mary Anne” to “Cynical Girl” and ” There She Goes Again”, I felt like I finally found the perfect voice for my romanticized views of life. This album was definitely one of my Top Five albums of 1982, if not ever. So, needless to say, I could NOT wait to hear his sophomore album.
Well, Marshall Crenshaw’s second album was released in the Fall of 1983, yet another great year for albums. Anyway, the lead single from the album was the pitch-perfect “Whenever You Are On My Mind”, which had been released weeks in advance. From the moment I heard the new song, I was certain that the song was destined for the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. When I heard the album, I was a little disappointed with the production. Crenshaw had been forced to use Richard Gottehrer, who had just done wonders with The Go-Go’s debut album, Beauty and the Beat, in addition to Kim Carnes’ new wavy hit album Mistaken Identity that contained the huge hit “Bette Davis Eyes”. So, Crenshaw, who loved the XTC album English Settlement, choose the producer of that album, Steve Lillywhite to produce this one.
While the songs were once again great, some of the enthusiasm that had made his debut so endearing was missing. Sure, the drums sounded great, which is what Lillywhite was known for back then, but Steve sure did not understand the American’s music. Where the English come from a very dry sarcastic point of view, American’s like Crenshaw were paying an undying love of all music American, such as Buddy Holly. So, that damn drum sound Lillywhite was known for, in my opinion, curtailed the momentum behind Crenshaw’s career. Which was too bad, because Crenshaw went on to make some of the finest music of the Eighties and Nineties that very few heard because of the minor misstep.
Now, what I love about his first Greatest Hits album, called This Is Easy! The Best of Marshall Crenshaw, is that the songs are in chronological order so you can hear his growth. Plus, you can compare the sound of his Lillywhite songs, minus “Whenever You’re on My Mind”, which is perfect, to those from the rest of his career to hear what I am talking about. Plus, the CD also includes some of his B-sides, including the absolutely brilliant “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”, arguably his finest single. Sure, he lacks the acerbic view of Costello’s songs, but Americans tend to use a poison pen less often than the Europeans. Still, Crenshaw should be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Costello, nothing more, nothing less.
Let me say one last thing about Marshall Crenshaw. His songs “Cynical Girl”, “Whenever You’re on My Mind” and “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” are all songs that remind me of my wife. Those lyrics just describe our relationship from my point of view. What more can an individual ask of an artist?