Desert Island Discs: “This Is Easy: The Best Of Marshall Crenshaw” (2000)Posted: February 8, 2012
“The fact that any of the songs on this CD aren’t pumping out of every pop radio station in these United States is not only a mystery but a miscarriage of justice.” – Rock legend Cub Koda, from the liner notes for “This Is Easy”
“What you fall in love with at 17 does stay with you.” – Marshall Crenshaw
Back in the day, as a snotty 17-year-old, I looked down my snotty nose at “greatest-hits” and “best-of” albums. Truth to tell: back in the day, they pretty much sucked. Established artists with a string of commercial hits were the only worthies to be given them, so chances are you already had all their songs committed to memory. They always missed the best underrated songs, and reflected someone else’s judgment of “greatest” or “best.” Songs were presented out of context, not the way the artists intended, not within the flow of an album or standing alone on a b-side. Indeed, once you had a greatest-hits album you rarely ever bought their other albums because you already owned their “best” songs. I surely missed out on a lot of great music because of this.
(Some rare exceptions were “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II,” “Chronicle” vols. I and II by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and “Skeletons from the Closet” by the Grateful Dead.)
A couple of market forces changed all that. One was the advent of home taping which morphed into CD burning, mp3s, and file sharing. You no longer needed to wait for the record company; you could create your own anthology of an artist’s outstanding songs. The other was the advent of the CD. A longer playing time compared to an LP, coupled with the need to coax music fans into re-buying music they already owned, forced record companies to dig deep into the vault for “added value.” Greatest hits and best-of collections suddenly got some love. No longer the sole province of the “household names,” they began to showcase better songs by more deserving artists, often selected and compiled by the artists themselves.
Which leads to today’s Desert Island Disc: “This Is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw.” Since it’s a greatest-hits disc, if I were still 17 I’m sure I’d look down my snotty nose at it. To quote one of Crenshaw’s fave songs from his home town of Detroit: “Look at what I almost missed.”
“Marshall Crenshaw’s music has roots in classic soul music, British Invasion songcraft, Burt Bacharach, and Buddy Holly – to whom Crenshaw was often compared in the early days of his career, and whom he portrayed in the 1987 film ‘La Bamba.’ Crenshaw is also a noted guitarist who uses offbeat chord progressions, almost verging towards jazz, and tight leads.”
In short, he’s uncategorizable.
Crenshaw released his eponymous first album 30 years ago. He did not instantly become a household name, mostly because he didn’t look or act like the rock stars of the day (i.e., he didn’t pretend to be Boy George or Adam Ant). Reviewer Kevin Doyle observed:
“His songs are catchy, his lyrics earnest without seeming dopey, and his musicianship first-class. Perhaps his sound was just too ‘old-fashioned’ for the new-wave ’80s and grunge ’90s, but I propose that his work has stood the test of time much better than many of the bands with whom he competed for airplay. Hats off to you, Marshall.”
Reviewer Robert Moore added:
“There are literally hundreds of bands and musicians who have been forced down our throats because the record companies have built them up and then overexposed them. Meanwhile, first-rate talents like Marshall Crenshaw don’t receive the hype, and don’t get the exposure that they deserve… In a better world, where talent determined whether or not someone’s music was widely heard, Marshall Crenshaw would have been huge.”
Crenshaw had written songs for several other artists, and Robert Gordon had a middling hit with “Someday, Someway.” On that first album Crenshaw recorded his own version and took it to the Top 40, the only time he went that high on the charts. I tumbled onto that first album in 1987, five years after it came out. It didn’t floor me at first, no out-of-body experiences like I’ve discussed with other albums. Instead it grew on me gradually.
“This Is Easy” chronicles 22 songs from his first 18 years of recording output. Phenomenal songs. Even the rare ones you may skip past would be clamored for by lesser artists. “Someday, Someway” was Crenshaw’s “hit,” and the song he’s best known for:
(Crenshaw’s brother Robert was the drummer, and became a solo artist in his own right.)
“You Should’ve Been There” is a great song with a clever double meaning:
Crenshaw covered other singers too, as they did him. He took on John Hiatt’s “Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me,” and made it his own. Any song that encourages a guy to run off to Nova Scotia to avoid heartbreak is a winner in my book:
My favorite song on the CD, though, is “Cynical Girl.” More pop songs need to feature the glockenspiel.
When you start listening to Marshall Crenshaw you’ll be hooked. When you pick up “This Is Easy,” I guarantee you’ll go out in search of the rest of his catalog. This isn’t a difficult prediction to make. In fact, this is easy.
(Clips from youtube)