Friday, June 17, 2011

Radio Girl / Marshall Crenshaw

This is just a reminder -- tomorrow night (June 18th) at 10 p.m. EDT, the inimitable Marshall Crenshaw premieres his new Saturday night radio show on WFUV FM out of Fordham University, here in New York.  Too far away to catch WFUV on your radio dial?  Not to worry -- you can listen to a live stream of the show on the internet.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I'd like to share with you a little tune off of Marshall's unjustly neglected 1989 album Good Evening (which apparently can be bought for next to nothing on It's not the same thing as John Hiatt's "Radio Girl" by the way, which is also a great song . . . just sayin'....

One thing that computers have taken away from us -- the pleasure of listening to the radio, late at night, when nothing else is going on and your attention is focused one-hundred-percent on that audio experience.  As a kid, sneaking my little transistor radio under my pillow so I could listen after light's out, it was a lifeline to something cool and distant and impossible hip.  Yeah, I know radio's not like that anymore, at least not most of the time.  But you find a good station, like WFUV, and you can still recapture some of that magic. 

That's at least part of what Marshall evokes here, in this ode to a female nighttime DJ ("from one a.m. to four").  I love how the song just sort of tunes in, with a slide guitar (played by David Lindsey) homing in like a radio signal. (Sonny Landreth's on there too, playing something that the liner notes call "weird experimental guitar").  She may just be a disembodied voice, but there's something deeply sexy about his connection to her -- "I take her into my bed each night."  And he's not just an anonymous listener -- he does phone-in requests to her too, asking for vintage James Brown ("It's a Man's Man's World," of all things.)  Yeah, she probably flirts with him when he phones in, and she faithfully plays the song, every night.  Who's to say that's not a real connection? 

I could use a little help from you, dear readers -- what's this reference in the third verse? "Hey, what's that sound? / What do you call that sound?" The only thing I can think of is the Replacement's "Alex Chilton," so it may be a reference to some Box Tops or Big Star song (how cool that I got to see Marshall sing at the City Winery Alex Chilton tribute, by the way). 

As opposed to today's narrowly defined radio channels, Marshall's radio girl plays an eclectic range of music, just like my buddies on the Sirius/XM station The Loft.  I'm thinking here of Meg Griffin, my own favorite radio girl, whose musical tastes are uncannily like my own.  But I digress. "I like the stuff you play / and the things you say," Marshall croons to his radio girl; "Come on, give me some rock music, / Or some rhythm and blues / Or anything you wanna play-yay / Anything you choose."  That's the peculiar satisfaction that radio listening gives you, as opposed to clicking through an iPod playlist or surfing YouTube: You surrender to the DJ, let him/her select what tune to come up next, and if you can escape the inevitability of Top 40 radio -- the same narrow range of new tracks recycled endlessly, shoot me now!! -- there might even be a few total surprises coming your way.  To reflect that eclectic mix, this track's sound is a little boogie-woogie -- dig that Jerry Lee-like piano in the bridge (Steve Conn) -- and yet a little cha-cha-like too, the drums swiftly  ticking along.

That eclectic musical taste is what I expect to hear on Marshall's radio show tomorrow; the man has an enormous musical catalog in his head, and he's likely to pull out stuff you've never heard before -- and you'll be glad he introduced you to it.  Me, I can't wait.  He'll be on every Saturday night from now on, following the classic sound of Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight.  (So tune in earlier for that as well.)  What else were you planning to do with your weekend?


NickS said...

I have the same reaction to this song that I had to "Cynical Girl" and it confuses me. I start listening, I love it, and then, at some point it loses my attention and I'm surprised that the song is still playing.

In this case it follows the moment at 1:36 when he says (as far as I can make it out), "ooh, wind it up man." The slight fade out made me think that the song was heading towards a conclusion. But even after I listened the first time, and I knew that the song continues for another 2:30 after that, it just loses me. I can't get excited when the third verse starts.

I don't want to be negative about everything, and I would have assumed that it was just me and not said anything except for the fact that I felt the same way about "Cynical Girl" -- I thought the opening 40-50 seconds were brilliant, but it started to feel repetitive, and I found myself tempted to either go back and listen to the opening 50 seconds again or to turn it off, and that feels like a strange reaction that a 2:40 song starts to feel tired by the end.

(FWIW, I have enjoyed the Marshall Creshaw songs that you've posted, and my favorite, by far, is the live performance of "Someone Told Me" which is great).

scottmandu said...

@NickS Speaking of FWIW, the first half of Holly's mystery quote sounds suspiciously like the chorus hook of the famous Buffalo Springfield song (they've "reunited" I hear) which also has achieved a resurrection on a Schneider's coldcuts commercial. Oh, brave new world!
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Holly A Hughes said...

Yup, I think that may be the reference. Now I can sleep!

I wouldn't worry, Nick -- this track is one of Marshall's minor ones; I enjoyed listening to it as a prelude to his radio show, but I'll agree, it does lose steam partway through. I'm more troubled by your failure to "get" Cynical Girl, which to me is a marvel of power pop. As a burst of joyful emotion ("I've found the girl for me!") it can't be beat, and subtlety, storytelling, etc., would bog it down. To me the sound is fresh for the time, an artful mix of r&b whomp, samba-like sashay, and reverbed New Wave vocals. OTOH, there's an overlay for me of the time and place when I first listened to that album nonstop; I can't pretend total subjectivity for Cynical Girl!