Thursday, July 23, 2015
Classic Vinyl: "Field Day," Marshall Crenshaw (1983)
I'm not really sure why Marshall Crenshaw didn't become a star. He had the chops, he had the looks, and to these ears he certainly had the sound. Maybe it was just a matter of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the early 1980s, there wasn't a lot of room on the airwaves for his style of straightforward, slightly pop-oriented rock. There were no synthesizers, and he certainly wasn't a punk. You could dance to his music, but the dancing would have been closer to 1950s sock hop than to anything remotely resembling what young people were doing out on the dance floor in 1983 or 1984.
"Field Day," released in 1983, was clearly his best album, and severely underrated at #29 in that year's Pazz & Jop poll. Most of the criticism at the time centered on Steve Lillywhite's production, and that criticism was not unfounded. Lillywhite's techniques and sound (heavy on drums, slightly tinny) worked perfectly for such bands as U2, Big Country, XTC and the Psychedelic Furs, but it was a horrible match for Crenshaw's American-oriented sound. It was as if Quentin Tarantino was tabbed to direct a rom-com. Just a weird combination.
But even with the muddy production, the songs were outstanding; even unbelievable. In a perfect world, the album's opener - "Whenever You're On My Mind" - would have been a #1 hit, and it wasn't even the best thing on the album. On "Our Town," Crenshaw showed that with the right kind of development, he might have been able to explore themes that wouldn't have been out of place on a Bruce Springsteen album; on "Monday Morning Rock," he demonstrated that he could be a balls-out rock 'n roller with a sense of humor; on "What Time is It?," he showed that he could handle 1950s updated for the modern era just fine.
He's still out there, but obviously never quite hit the big time. Which is too bad.