Extolling the musical genius of Marshall Crenshaw

Stuart Grant

Every music lover has an artist they feel is unjustly denied their due in fame and recognition. One they feel a strident sense of injustice about. The great unsung artist must be an outsider to pop culture who could walk down the street unrecognized.

When a fan adopts the cause of such an artist into their musical affections, they become evangelical, preaching to all in earshot that “their” artist is an undiscovered musical messiah. Such is the zeal of acolytes of Marshall Crenshaw.

Crenshaw emerged in the early eighties and due to timing was lumped in with New Wave. Crenshaw’s musical style had very little to do with the sound or fashion that we associate with New Wave today. If anything, Crenshaw is a musical purist, whereas New Wave ushered in synthesizers and drum machines to speak nothing of outlandish hair styles.

While there were other guitar based artists to come out of the New Wave era like The Jam, The Alarm and Graham Parker, Crenshaw didn’t reflect the working class, punk anger of his UK counterparts. He is neither a social or political activist in song and, while his politics are unknown, it's hard to visualize him throwing a brick through a plate glass window.

If anything, there is an innocence to his music that harkens back to simpler times and feelings, amplified for expression and passion. His closest musical cousin may be Nick Lowe, minus the British accent.

One of Crenshaw's first mass exposures was in a PBS broadcast. His music had organic fifties harmonies with an energetic rock and roll thrust behind it. There was a connection he had with the audience and with his creative spark that stood out. Underlying this was a spirit of fun.

Crenshaw made the music, not himself, the star — a modesty that continues today that has played a part in his relative anonymity. As memorable as his show was, his music still got no radio airplay in many markets.

He scored a top 40 hit with “Someday, Someway” from his eponymous debut album. A curious, if safe, choice for a single considering the strength of the the rest of the album. Other pieces fans found much stronger like “Mary Anne” or “Rockin’ Around in NYC”.

All the while, radio DJs with eclectic tastes played the single “Something’s Gonna Happen” on late night underground programs. That led those wanting more to seek out his long play albums.

Followers learned that “Something’s Gonna Happen” was released as a single and didn’t appear on either of Crenshaw’s first two studio albums. nevertheless, fans who took a chance on his second album ”Field Day” were greatly rewarded. It opens with the beautiful, florid guitar, sweeping melody and singable lyrics of “Whenever You’re on My Mind” that left listeners incredulous as to why this song wasn’t a hit.

Field Day has an unmistakable fifties feel fused with more powerful, punchier rock and roll, inspiring emotional landscapes reminiscent of the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. No song better illustrates this than the pulsing, evocative energy and haunting lyrics of “Our Town”.

Your Crenshaw tour continues with the rollicking “A Hundred Dollars” from the Mary Jean and 9 Others” Album. This one will have you swaying and snapping your fingers in your next backseat karaoke concert.

Calling Out For Love (At Crying Time) has beautiful harmonies will have you swooning over unrequited loves, real and imagined.

You can create your own Crenshaw 101 course on Youtube if these whet your appetite. Enjoy your musical journey with Wild Abandon.

In an age where technology can make any pretty face into a pop star with little more than social media marketing, it is reassuring to know that real musicianship and songwriting still exist. Crenshaw takes many of the best elements of early rock and roll and fuses them into a sound that is singularly his. He has been a critical success throughout his career. He is widely regarded as one of the great singer- songwriters of this era, the fickleness of fame and fortune notwithstanding.

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