“Steel Factory”

April 30, 2010 at 7:22 pm (Poetry & Literature)

In an empty room,
All by myself
Keying technical data
Into a computer
Freezing from the lack of heat
Outside my door,
Machines are buzzing and hissing
Forklifts passing by
Not my ideal place

And I wonder if I should call you
But I’m afraid of what you’ll say
Instead I’ll write a music review
To pass the time
And wait for the rain to stop

The hours pass slowly.

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“A List of Maybes”

April 29, 2010 at 3:21 pm (Poetry & Literature)

Maybe I should get a haircut
It’s getting long in the back
And maybe I should find a job
Unemployment sure doesn’t pay much anymore
And maybe I should stop calling her
It only brings me down
And maybe I should join the army
And go fight in a foreign land
Do you think they’d take me at 40?

And maybe I should grow back my goatee
No, too much gray these days
And maybe I should become a father
Am I getting too old?
And maybe I should go to India Oven
For a plate of chicken vindaloo
And maybe I should be more spontaneous
And throw more caution to the wind
Am I becoming too boring?

And maybe I should stop complaining all the time
I’m tired of listening to myself
And maybe tonight the cat will finally let me sleep
3AM is not the time for cat’s play
And maybe the sun will appear tomorrow
Today is far too cold and rainy
And maybe someday I’ll finally find what I’m looking for
Whatever the hell that may be
Am I waiting for something that doesn’t exist?

And maybe I should get myself a beer
No, I had too much of that this weekend
And maybe I should join a gym
I’m trying to get bigger
And maybe I should go find myself a whore
It’s been four months since I last had sex
And maybe I need to get over her
It’s been far too long already
Did I simply waste my time?

And maybe this day will turn out to be good
I pray for some encouraging news
And maybe I shouldn’t have dropped out of college
I didn’t exactly set the world on fire
And maybe it’s not too late for me to change
Hey, stranger things have happened
And maybe I shouldn’t have rented Con Air
That’s ninety minutes that I’ll never get back
How do I make such bad choices?

And maybe I should be more outgoing
Learn to be less shy
And maybe happiness is just around the corner
I just have to have some faith
And maybe it’s time I stop beating myself up
For things that I can never take back
And maybe the war will end someday
Though I’m not too hopeful
By the way, did we ever find those WMDs?
And just where is bin Laden?

And maybe someday I’ll get back out to see her
But is there really much reason to anymore?
And maybe I’ll find that twenty bucks I lost
That’s too good to be true though
And maybe I’ll recover all my files and pictures
That got deleted from my computer
And maybe I’ll learn to be more patient
I get annoyed far too easily
Am I just becoming an angry old man?

And maybe I should sell off some CD’s
I’ve got far too many of them
And maybe the Yankees will win another World Series
Nobody has repeated since they did in 2000
And maybe this country will someday get back on track
Though it’s looking very doubtful
And maybe she’ll change her mind about me
I’m not really what she thinks I am
Or should I just give up on that hope?

And maybe I should stop dwelling on the past
It’s not doing me any good in the present
And maybe I should pour another hot cup of coffee
This room is like a meat locker
And maybe I should take a trip down south
My future might be awaiting me there
And maybe she really meant what she said on the phone
Though I know she’ll change her mind
Does she seriously think it’s over?

And maybe I shouldn’t get rid of these twenty year old jeans
Stone wash might someday come back in style
And maybe there really is a heaven above
Though I have trouble believing it most days
And maybe Sarah Palin will be President in a few years
If so, then I’m moving to Canada on the next bus
And maybe I should go for a long car ride
No, the price of gas is too expensive these days
Why does it always go up when the weather gets warm?

And maybe if I’m lucky I’ll last a few more decades
But the way the world is perhaps that’s not lucky
And maybe someday politicians will be honest
Yeah, I couldn’t even say that with a straight face
And maybe God really does exist
But if he is, why isn’t he listening?
And maybe someday she’ll pay me back the money she owes me
Perhaps when hell freezes over
Why do I always think with the wrong head?

And maybe things aren’t really as bad as they seem
I keep trying to think of the positive
And maybe I’ll hear back from her today
It’s been almost four days
And maybe I’ll go to the bar this afternoon
If this weather clears up a little
And maybe we’ll all be received in Graceland
Paul Simon had reason to believe
Does he know something we don’t?

And maybe someday I will get back out on my own
It seems like I’ve been in this rut forever
And maybe I should be more worried about global warming
But all I know is I’m freezing and could use the heat
And maybe one day all my dreams will come true
Well, at least as soon as I have a dream
And maybe I should be doing something else
Besides sitting here writing this poem
Isn’t there something more important I could be doing?

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“NRBQ: Long Live the Q”

April 28, 2010 at 9:07 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

NRBQ is a good-time rock ‘n’ roll band. NRBQ is a Beatlesque pop band. NRBQ is a wacky novelty act. NRBQ is a Sun-Ra-inspired discordant, free jazz band. NRBQ is a roots-rockin’ bar band combo. NRBQ is a goofy comedy act. NRBQ is a serious musicians’ band.

Wait, which one is it? The answer is: all of the above.

NRBQ is, simply put, one of the all-time great, eclectic rock ‘n’ roll bands – masters of every style and genre of music, but never happy settling for just one. Ask any number of fellow musicians, such as Bonnie Raitt or Dave Edmunds, both who have covered the Q’s songs over the years, just how special and unique the Q is. They have been entertaining audiences and record buyers (including myself) for over forty years now, and they have never had one single Top 40 hit in their career – though in an alternate universe they have had several.

Every time I hear “Ridin’ in My Car,” I am instantly transported back to being 7 years old again, sitting in the backseat of my parents’ 1972 white Plymouth Duster, on some drive through the country, listening to some long-forgotten AM station (probably WWCO). I didn’t know at the time that I was listening to Big Al Anderson and the Q. I had no idea it was their song until many years later. But unwittingly, from that moment on, I was a lifelong Q fan.

There’s an old adage about them that goes, “If you don’t like NRBQ, then you simply haven’t heard them yet.” That pretty much sums it up. They are sometimes referred to as “the world’s greatest bar band,” but they are so much more than that. This is a band, for which the term “eclectic” was invented. One minute they are tearin’ the roof off the sucka with some barnstorming rock ‘n’ roll, the next minute they are jamming on some ridiculous novelty song that only they have probably ever heard, and then in the next breath, they are blowing you away with a beautifully played Duke Ellington piece. They never play the same set twice, and they will play any request thrown at them – sometimes making it up on the spot if they don’t actually know the song. You never know what they’ll do next on stage – probably because they aren’t sure themselves. It makes for a wild and unpredictable show every time. Many fans will recall being in some out-of-the-way dive, totally blitzed, dancing on tables, while the band tore it up, Q-style. I, myself, remember seeing them in downtown Waterbury, CT, circa 1990, at a free outdoor show. I don’t remember much about the concert, except it was one hell of a good time.

NRBQ have serious chops but never bore you with them or make a big fuss about it. They are probably the most unpretentious band that ever lived. They have played hundreds, probably thousands of songs over the years, yet they have written many classics of their own, all the while flying under the radar of MTV, pop radio and any kind of mainstream acceptance (“appearances” on The Simpsons notwithstanding). The biggest reason why they haven’t become as big as they should have, or had huge pop hits, is the reason why they are so special and unique. They simply do things their own way, and have never been beholden to any one musical genre. They are the type of band that gives record company A&R executives ulcers.

The New Rhythm & Blues Quartet (formerly Qunitet) has been kicking around since 1967 in one form or another. They started out down in Florida, but eventually settled in New England, where some of the members are actually from. From 1974 to 1994 they consisted of their most famous lineup – original members Terry Adams (born in Louisville, KY, by way of Sun Ra’s rocket #9) on vocals and keyboards, and Bronx native Joey Spampinato on vocals and bass; plus former Wildweeds (of “No Good to Cry” semi-fame) leader Al Anderson (from Windsor, CT) joining in 1971 on vocals and guitar, and drummer Tom Ardolino (from Massachusetts) coming on board, full time, in 1974. Once Big Al left in 1994 for a successful second career as a Nashville songwriter, Joey’s brother Johnny joined on guitar, after spending several years in The Incredible Casuals. There were other members in the early days of the band: Steve Ferguson, Frank Gadler, Tom Staley and Kenny Sheehan. Not to mention their auxiliary members, The Whole Wheat Horns (Keith Spring and Terry’s brother Donn). Over the last few years they have been, more or less, on hiatus, only playing the occasional reunion gig, sometimes featuring all past and present bandmembers. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this band though, or so we hope.

Main songwriters Terry, Joey and Al have all written first-class songs. Terry could write great rock ‘n’ roll ravers (the cruising anthem “Me and the Boys”), and then write the wackiest, out-there number you could think of or the most childlike reverie on a toy piano; while Joey is a master of writing very melodic, Beatlesque ballads that are sweet, but never cloying, such as “Mona” and wedding favorite “I Love Her, She Loves Me.”

Big Al has always amazed me with the fact that, one minute, he is writing and singing one of the most wistful, exquisite pop songs to ever be written – the Beatlesque “Ridin’ in My Car” – and then he is tearin’ it up with the ultra-confident, macho swagger of the barnstorming, “so many women, so little time” rock ‘n’ roll shouter “It Comes to Me Naturally” And he sounds totally convincing in either song. On top of that, he can portray the lovable cad in the humorous, reggae-tinged “It Was a Accident.” Al can come on either vulnerable (as on ballads like “Never Take the Place of You” or “A Better Word for Love”) or macho (as noted in the songs listed above), and yet it’s always done with a sense of fun and style. It was certainly a sad day in Q history, when he decided to leave the band.

It’s still one of the bigger tragedies in music history that “Ridin’ in My Car” was not the number one hit it so clearly deserved to be. It had everything you could ever want in a single: pop hooks galore, simple, yet effective lyrics that were wistful and poignant, showing unrequited love at its more heartbreaking; it had a short and simple but very melodic country-tinged guitar solo, and exquisite Beach Boys-styled harmonies. Every second of the song was absolute perfection. They simply don’t come any finer.

Yet, success eluded them. Luckily, I grew up in Connecticut, where the song happened to get lots of airplay (and in Massachusetts, as well) in the winter of ’77, so I just assumed the song was a huge hit throughout the world, when I was a kid. It wasn’t. Why it failed to break out nationally is probably due to lack of sufficient promotion and distribution. It may also be because NRBQ is a band that record companies have never been able to figure out what to do with. You can’t promote them as a pop band because they aren’t a pop band (several songs notwithstanding). You can’t promote them as a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll band – they are, of course, but they are much more than that. You can’t even promote them as a Weird Al-type novelty band – oh sure, they have had their share of wacky novelties (“Who Put the Garlic in the Glue?,” the marijuana ode “Wacky Tobacky” and “Rats in My Room”) – but that is just one side of their eclectic personality. They can play, with absolute skill and conviction, 1950s-style rock ‘n’ roll, outer-fringes jazz, country, pop, ballads, R&B, and everything in between, including, of all things, polka. There is no style they are not willing to try at least once. And they always do it with a sense of joy. They are never afraid to make complete fools out of themselves on stage, and their fans love every second of it. The Q clearly has one of the most devoted fan bases in all of music, next to The Grateful Dead and Phish.

For a short while during the 1980s, they were managed by wrestling champion “Captain” Lou Albano – even going as far as to make an album with him (1986’s Lou and the Q) and recording the ultra-catchy and downright goofy 1983 single “Captain Lou” in homage to him (he sold the single at wrestling matches). It’s 2 ½ minutes of tuneful madcap fun, with the good Captain going psycho at the end. It will leave you humming, not to mention smiling, for weeks afterwards.

I can list tons of songs that should have become huge hits for them: the aforementioned songs, “Ridin’ in My Car,” “It Comes to Me Naturally,” the rockin’ shoulda-been classic “Me and the Boys,” and “It Was a Accident,” as well as “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Workin’,” “It’s a Wild Weekend,” “Rain at the Drive-in,” “Green Lights,” “Flat Foot Floozy,” not to mention the utterly delightful, Brian Wilson-inspired, toy piano-enhanced, childlike holiday standard “Christmas Wish.” I could list more great songs but I’d be here all day.

There’s not much more to say about them. They are, simply, in a class of their own, and always will be. They may have never tore up the charts, had a cool image or had videos in heavy MTV rotation, but they had something much greater than that. They had respect, love and devotion from their fans, and have turned their passion for all types of music into a career that is almost half a century old. May they keep tearin’ it up on stages, worldwide, for many more years to come. Long live the Q!

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The Orange Peels – “So Far” (2001)

April 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Music works in mysterious ways, as do most other things in life. It’s funny how a song, or in this particular case, an album can evoke memories of a specific time and place that actually happened before the music even existed. I bought this album in the summer of 2001 and for some unexplainable reason it reminded me of a trip I had taken to Cocoa Beach, Florida with my then-wife the summer prior. Not only did it remind me of the trip but it actually felt like I had been listening to the album during the trip. The album hadn’t been recorded yet, though, so how is that possible? Who knows – again, just the power of music to recall memories from our past. The funny thing is, every time I listen to this album, I can still vividly recall that summer vacation as if I was still there – the hot, steamy weather, the ocean, the beach.

The reason why I fell in love with this album has nothing to with memories though. It has to do with the music itself, and simply put, this might be the best pure-pop album since the first Marshall Crenshaw platter, 19 years prior.

Allen Clapp, the mastermind behind The Orange Peels, possesses Crenshaw’s knack for writing sweet, innocent, catchy pop tunes reflecting matters of the heart – mainly the subject of awkward, unrequited love, and failed romance. Clapp sings in a voice that’s even more innocent and pure than Marshall once did. He sings for every teenage boy that was ever too afraid to walk up to a girl and ask her out, knowing that, at that age, there is no worse feeling than being rejected. The last singer to actually convey this feeling to such an amazing degree was The Hello Strangers leader, Michael “Spike” Priggen on the song “Anna Karina,” from 1987’s unjustly-obscure Goodbye.

This is another one of those albums where every song is a winner, and so, therefore, it’s better to experience it as a whole, rather than singling out individual tracks, as they are all of a piece. The band produce all sorts of interesting guitar tones, throughout the album, that make every song a bright and shining, diamond-cut gem. Album-opener “Back in San Francisco” sets the tone, and it’s probably the best song of a very high-quality bunch. Like the remainder of the songs, it’s a power pop number that manages to be wistful without being twee. It evokes 1960s Beatlesque pop, as well as the sounds of early-‘70s AM radio. Other great songs on this album include “Girl for All Seasons,” “Mystery Lawn” and “West Coast Rain,” but they are all equally great.

The band also throws in surf music influences (such as the early Beach Boys, and the guitar work of Dick Dale) without ever being beholden to that genre. They take all of their influences, though, and make them sound brand new. It’s not that they are doing anything original – they just manage to do it extremely well. Many power pop songs tend to sound the same after awhile, succumbing to the same tired formulas, but when someone knows exactly what to do with those clichés, and can make something new out of them, the results can be wonderful. Allan Clapp is one of those guys. And he proves it here in song after song.

Jay Mucci

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The Rolling Stones – “Plundered My Soul” (Video – 2010)

April 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm (Music, The Rolling Stones)

The newly-unearthed song from the Exile on Main Street sessions from 1972, finished in 2010, and coming out on the upcoming deluxe edition of this classic album (due May 18th). Great song — even though it was finished now, it still sounds exactly like The Stones circa 1972. Too bad it wasn’t finished and released back then… 

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President Obama’s Weekly Address (April 24, 2010)

April 25, 2010 at 7:55 am (Life & Politics)

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Marshall Crenshaw – “Downtown” (1985)

April 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)


Roots-Rock Moves


The old adage states that you have your whole life to write your first album and then six months to write the second, which accounts for the so-called “sophomore slump.” I’m not sure what the average is for writing songs for third albums, but it’s usually known as the “difficult third,” meaning that most artists have to right whatever wrongs were committed with their sophomore efforts. Well, in the case of popmeister Marshall Crenshaw, he really didn’t experience that dreaded slump. Oh sure, Field Day did not get quite the same reviews as his self-titled debut (which, by the way, is one of the most perfect pop albums in the history of recorded music), and yes, due to the somewhat sterile production by Steve Lillywhite, it has always lived in its predecessor’s shadow. Plus, who the hell was responsible for that album cover? Was Warner Bros. hoping to only sell records to 8th grade science teachers? No wonder why the album stiffed. Cheesy artwork notwithstanding, though, Field Day was an exceptional effort, filled with everything that made Crenshaw’s debut so well-loved – memorable songs, terrific singing and playing, and pop hooks to die for. He proved with both albums that he was an extremely gifted songwriter, who truly understood and mastered the craft of composing. To put it simply, this man knows his way around a song.

Still, what can seem exciting and fresh the first or second time around can quickly turn into a tired formula if an artist isn’t careful. Crenshaw seemed to understand this, and sought to head in a slightly different direction with his next release, 1985’s Downtown. With the help of roots-rock producer/songwriter/singer T-Bone Burnett, and without longtime bandmembers, Chris Donato on bass and brother Robert on drums (though he turns up on two songs), Crenshaw loosened up, and went for broke, as it were, with the help of several studio pros. He may have also known that chart-topping hits were, unfortunately, not in his future, and mostly refrained from writing such ultra-commercial tunes. These songs may have lacked the innocent charm and catchy melodies of the first two albums, but they rocked with greater intensity, went more introspective and quiet on the ballads, and showed more of his influences (roots-rock and country). He also seemed to lose some of that boyish vulnerability in his singing, but he grew more mature, which is just part of the aging process; not to mention a bit darker in mood.

The album kicks off with the rockabilly-leaning “Little Wild One (No. 5)” – somewhat subdued on the verses but speeding up in the chorus – growing more intense and rocking toward the end of the song. He seems looser here than on albums past and let’s his 1950s rock ‘n’ roll side shine through more forcefully than he has up until now. Perhaps Burnett is responsible for pushing Crenshaw in this direction. Perhaps not. Either way, it works wonderfully. Without pulling a Mick Jagger macho move, he sounds a bit tougher and less geeky than we’ve heard him sound prior to this, but it never comes across in a contrived manner. It’s simply another side to our ol’ boy.

The next song, “Yvonne,” has a cool rockin’ feel to it and features members of NRBQ helping out. It’s not as memorable as a lot of his songs but it sounds just fine nonetheless. Then comes the one song not co-produced by Burnett, the power pop delight, “Blues Is King,” and it’s probably the closest he comes to sounding like the Marshall of the first two albums. It’s an extremely catchy song with a soaring, anthemic chorus, co-produced by Mitch Easter, and should have been a major league hit. After a couple of listens, it will burrow its way into your brain forever, with Marshall showing once again that he is the master of the pop hook. It sounds a bit out of place on this album, though, due to the difference in Easter’s production style, but considering it’s the best song on the album, we’ll gladly overlook that.

“Terrifying Love” is another winner, which surprisingly, for Crenshaw, features Burnett playing an understated electric sitar. It adds a slightly new dimension to his sound.

The remainder of the album doesn’t feature as many memorable songs, but there’s still some winners, to be sure. “Like a Vague Memory” (with its country underpinnings), “Lesson Number One” and Ben Vaughan’s “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)” all show Marshall in a more subdued, introspective light. They are each heartfelt and moving ballads. He rocks out a bit more on “We’re Gonna Shake Up Their Minds” and “Right Now,” again showing off his 1950s roots-rock influences to fine effect.

The album might not contain as many memorable songs, or outright classics, as on its predecessors, but every song here is a winner, and with its warm, organic production style (always a Burnett trademark), it’s certainly another must-have for any Crenshaw fan. It was probably his last thoroughly enjoyable album – at least until 1996’s indie-released Miracle of Science. On his next few albums, he seemed to lose his way a bit, relying heavily on cover songs, and perhaps trying too hard to get that ever-elusive hit (though that’s probably more Warner Bros. fault). This album didn’t sell – no news there. It’s more than held up over the past 25 years, though, and proved Crenshaw was here to stay. In my book, that beats instant, fleeting chart success any day.

Jay Mucci

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Common – “Be” (2005)

April 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Over the past fifteen years or more, the quality of most hip hop (as well as rock, R&B and pop) has gone down considerably. Most of what passes for rap these days is just recycled beats, watered-down pop choruses and a lot of negative, empty posturing. One of the major bright spots during this time, though, has been Chicago native Common, and this album, released in 2005, is his most focused, concise and entertaining record. Even the title is about as concise as you can possibly get.

Expertly produced by the talented but always-insufferable Kanye West (with two songs helmed by the late, great J Dilla), Be is strong from start to finish, and puts most other rap albums in the past decade to shame, and a lot of other releases, as well.

Kanye might not be the genius that he constantly reminds us he is, but he shows excellent taste in samples, and is clearly one of the most imaginative producers in today’s music scene. He, along with the sadly-missed Dilla, creates a soulful, melodic musical stew to which Common adds his considerable rhyming and verbal skills. Common proves in album after album that he is much more intelligent, thoughtful and “real” than all the cartoonish gangsta-wannabes out there who just perpetuate negative stereotypes and values, and endlessly flaunt their wealth. Hip hop could use more good men like Common, who hearkens back to the golden age of the genre, when De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were creating highly-inventive platters of wax. Then again, Common has been around since the early ‘90s, when he was going by the moniker Common Sense (shortened later in the decade), so he came of age during that era, and carries some of that spirit, if not the humor, into the present day. He does it without sounding like an anachronism, either.

Be was the follow-up to his wildly uneven, highly-criticized but fascinatingly adventurous 2002 release, Electric Circus, which had a strange, psychedelic Hendrix vibe at its core. Coming after the highly-lauded Like Water for Chocolate, though, it just seemed to puzzle most of his fans. Be seemed to mark somewhat of a retrenchment for him, yet it yielded absolutely nothing in the name of creativity. Kanye and Dilla simply brought Common back from the wilderness, and focused him, with often amazing results.

Picking out individual songs on Be is pointless – this album is better experienced by listening to it as a whole. Still, certain songs stand out; “They Say,” featuring a memorably-sung chorus by John Legend (one of the leading lights of R&B these days) is one highlight; “Testify,” featuring a great sample from Honey Cone (of early-‘70s “Want-Ads” fame) is another. “The Corner” benefits from an appearance by proto-rap legends The Last Poets, waxing nostalgic. “Faithful” finds Common struggling to stay faithful to his woman, but clearly determined not to blow his last chance at true happiness. Unlike most rappers, Common is not afraid of showing a more sensitive side to his personality (talking about finding love from within, for example), without coming across as a wimp.

Only the finale, “It’s Your World Part 1 & 2,” featuring an appearance by Common’s father (as on albums past), and poignant statements made by several school children, gets a bit overblown but still ends the album on a strong and touching note.

This was one of those albums that I listened to once or twice, at the time of purchase, and then filed away, without giving it much of a thought. Two years later, I pulled it out and listened again, and all of a sudden it hit me like an earthquake. How I didn’t see its greatness the first time around is a mystery. Once it hit me though, it became a frequent visitor to my car stereo – where it remains to this day. Some albums don’t reveal their greatness on first listen. This is definitely one of them.

Jay Mucci

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Marshall Crenshaw – “Field Day” (1983)

April 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)


The Imaginary Sophomore Slump

Sometimes the stars, the moon and the sun all align perfectly for a songwriter and they write a batch of songs that make you stand back in amazement at their utter brilliance. This is what happened when Marshall Crenshaw recorded his perfectly-realized, once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-equaled, self-titled debut album in 1982. Every song was an instant classic, with not a false note on the entire record. Songs like “Girls” (with its exquisitely-rendered harmonies), “There She Goes Again” and my own personal favorite, “Mary Anne” (to name just three), were wonders to behold, with melodies so logic-defyingly catchy, once lodged in your brain, they can never be forgotten. Yet, the album was unleashed onto a mostly-unimpressed listening public (though the critics ran out of superlatives when praising it in the music press). Remember, this was the age of Duran Duran and Culture Club, and Crenshaw, with his nerdy Buddy Holly look and sound, simply didn’t fit in with the whole burgeoning MTV ethos. He simply looked too clean-cut, boyish, and nice.

In a perfect world, every song on Marshall Crenshaw would have burned up the charts. Even the home-demo recording, “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time,” relegated, unfairly, to a B-side, would have found a home on the radio (at least in a more polished version). But it wasn’t to be. And so in 1983 Crenshaw got down to the business of recording his sophomore album with big shot producer Steve Lillywhite (who helmed the first three U2 albums, among others) and made Field Day.

So how does this album compare to his debut? Well, if this is his so-called “sophomore slump,” then wouldn’t every songwriter like to be in a slump such as this? No, the album is not as perfect as the first. Lillywhite’s production is a bit heavy-handed at times, and clearly not the best choice for someone like Crenshaw (the production on the debut was always sympathetic to the song); clearly the drums could have been turned down in the mix – they are a little too loud for these types of songs – though compared to most of the over-produced, sterile albums coming out during the ‘80s, this one is almost minimally produced. And yes, some of the songs don’t quite equal the ones from the previous album. On top of that, there are only ten songs this time around – two less than before – though that’s mostly due to the longer running times of each.

Still, if the first album hadn’t existed, Field Day would have been looked at as what it was: a brilliant, melodic opus, filled with more than its share of perfect pop songs. Instead, it will forever, unfairly, have to live in the shadow of its slightly-superior predecessor. For anyone who first heard Crenshaw through this album, though, they would have been heaping the same kind of praise on him, as he was showered with the year before. This album had everything the debut had: great songs, wonderful performances, top-notch singing and arrangements. And looking back now, even the production doesn’t seem all that much different than the previous album – it just merely sounds like a slight concession to then-current radio considerations. Still, Field Day seemed to miss that last little extra bit of indefinable greatness that Marshall Crenshaw possessed in abundance. You find yourself humming these songs for weeks afterward, as opposed to months. But when it comes to songwriters and albums this good, it really does come across like mere nitpicking. Saying Field Day is not as good as the debut is like saying The Godfather Part II is not as good as the first Godfather – when it comes to that level of quality, nobody but the biggest fan would even notice.

First off, the album begins with one of his all-time greatest songs, “Whenever You’re on My Mind,” a song that had been kicking around since 1979. This is another one of his perfectly-written creations that should have made him a star. The song has everything you could want in a single: a memorable, catchy chorus, simple but effective lyrics, and absolute conciseness. It blew most of the songs that were clogging up the airwaves out of the water. Still, hit-making stardom eluded him nonetheless. Why this song didn’t make it to his debut is unexplainable. It’s just as good as any of the songs on there, and better than a few (as good as his version of “Soldier of Love” was, he should have relegated it to a B-side; he had enough good songs of his own).

“Our Town” is another winner, with a memorable chorus and great singing by Marshall, that could have been a hit (if only…). “One More Reason,” “For Her Love” and “Monday Morning Rock,” also, make very strong impressions. There clearly isn’t a bad song in the bunch, and despite the slightly gimmicky production on album closer “Hold It,” it’s almost impossible to say anything bad about this album.

It’s very easy to eventually run out of superlatives when writing about Marshall’s first two releases, and cross over into “gushing” territory. When it comes to Crenshaw, and this album, though, I’ll gladly gush. He really was that good. And if every artist goes through the so-called “sophomore slump,” nobody got the message to Crenshaw. Thank God.

Jay Mucci

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Roky Erickson – Interview w/ Will Sheff (2010)

April 20, 2010 at 1:59 am (Music)

From January 2010. New album coming out this month…

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