"The Usual Thing" / Marshall Crenshaw
Hey wait, what? I forgot Marshall Crenshaw's birthday? Damn. I was planning to dedicate a whole week of entries to him, just like I did for all my other musical heroes. Marshall's birthday was November 11th, which was Sunday this year, and also Julie's birthday (happy birthday again, Jools!), and somehow he got lost in the mix. But better late than never.
One of the great mysteries of rock and roll, to my mind, is why Marshall Crenshaw isn't absolutely a huge star. What's not to like? He's an appealing singer, great guitarist, and a severely underrated songwriter. Nobody does power pop better than MC, carrying on that noble tradition that goes back to Buddy Holly, Bobby Fuller, and the Everly Brothers. And yes, he's influenced by the Beatles, like all of us who were born in 1953 -- he even played John Lennon in a road company of Beatlemania in the early 80s. But through the years he's honed his craft and gone ever deeper into that classic mode of songwriting, working in a little rockabilly and jazz and R&B and anything else that'll make these songs sparkle.
This guy had it right from the beginning, on his 1982 debut titled (duh) Marshall Crenshaw. It's packed with instant classics: "Someday, Someway," "There She Goes Again," "She Can't Dance," "Cynical Girl," "Rocking Around In N.Y.C" -- even if you don't recognize the names, once you hear them, you realize, yeah, I know this song.
"The Usual Thing" is particularly contagious, shot through with rockabilly guitar licks and Everly-worthy harmonies and a giddy tempo like a joyriding teenager on a Saturday night. It declares itself with a burst of youthful energy: "Don't want to know about the usual thing / I never bother with the usual thing / And I only wanna shout / Wanna shout / Wanna feel alive / Do whatever I wanna do." I love how those "shouts" skip up the scale, building to thrilled yelp of "feel alive." This song makes me feel seventeen again, every time I hear it.
We all know what it's like to feel that way -- but when you're in that impetuous teenage moment, you also have to feel different, new, SPECIAL. At least, that's how I felt when I was seventeen (in the same vein, I love the Kinks' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and the Replacements' "Bastards of Young"). Marshall catches this nonconformist spirit, too. "Just forget about the usual thing," he advises the girl he's wooing, "I never bother with the usual thing / And if I didn't think you were a little bit out there too / I just wouldn't bother with you." Isn't that what we're all looking for -- someone who sees how we're different?
Hearing "The Usual Thing" back in 1982, I felt as if Marshall was somehow a close friend -- not just a rocker to admire, but someone completely sympatico. Over the next 25 years, he's just kept on proving it time and again. That's why his CDs sit on the special shelf in my collection; that's why he deserves a whole week here. And if you don't know his music, check in over the next few days -- I think you'll like what you'll hear.
The Usual Thing sample