With the re-release of Marshall Crenshaw’s fantastic 1999 album #447 fans can dig into an LP full of undervalued gems like “Television Light,” “T.M.D.” and “Right There in Front of Me.” The new re-issue also includes Crenshaw’s most recent new recording, a double A-sided single of “Santa Fe” and “Will of the Wind.” Just listen to the smooth hookyness and ace guitar playing on the latter tune. Damn, Marshall has still got it!
Revisiting Crenshaw’s work from the 1990s got me wondering just why others have not mined his catalogue for covers in the way we’ve seen people do with other comparable acts from his era. I mean, Nick Lowe has got FOUR separate tribute albums and an LP of Los Straightjackets’ instrumental versions. Where’s the Crenshaw love? So far, it seems mostly focused on his early work and by early I mean his pre-major label singles and the self-titled debut album. So in honour of the deluxe re-release of #447 I decided to work up my own tribute album by gathering together what covers I could find, avoiding the really obvious ones (sorry Bette!) in favour of less well known versions. It’s basically a ‘taking liberties’ version of that first album I’ve dubbed Reinventing Marshall Crenshaw.
We kick things off with sometime Beach Boy pinch-hitter Jeffrey Foskett. He’s just the guy with the vocal chops to cover “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” The results are a slightly tighter updating of Marshall’s own great take on the tune. Ronnie Spector sings the hell out Marshall’s perfect paean to the early 1960s girl group groove “Something’s Gonna Happen.” And she would, wouldn’t she? Sweden’s Mom takes the opening cut from Marshall’s debut in a new direction, amping up the guitar slashes and bass guitar lines on “There She Goes Again.” Musically it’s very Cars at times. Next up we head to Argentina for Gatos Pandilleros‘ spirited version of “Someday Someway.” It’s got a charming stripped-down feel that lets the song’s joy shine through. Red Hot take “The Usual Thing” into a more rockabilly and country direction vocally while retaining Marshall’s distinctive guitar aura. The Unswept step on the jangle pedal for their reworking of “Cynical Girl” and it works, adding something special to a song already pretty dear to the hearts of Crenshaw fans. Though ultimately featured on Field Day, demos of “Whenever You’re on my Mind” also come from the same period as the debut album. Thus I think we can sneak it into this tribute. As it is my fave MC tune I’ve got two covers. One is a wonderfully shambolic DIY take from Michael Fiore that comes off like a deep cut from a Replacements live album. The other is a more spartan guitar pop treatment from The Kavanaghs. Both manage to coax the magic out of this irrepressible classic.
There are other covers of Marshall’s songs. Sometimes they come from co-writers like Don Dixon and Bill DeMain, or from big name acts like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, or country artists like Lou Ann Barton and Kelly Willis. But come on people, this hardly scratches the surface of Crenshaw’s amazing catalogue! We are long overdue for an MC tribute album, one that draws from the full breadth of his impressive recorded output. Let’s see someone take the lead on this project … now.
You can order your new, refurbished and expanded copy of #447online and keep up with the latest Marshall news here.
I didn’t grow up in the Christmas pageant tradition. December 25th was more a social than religious sort of thing around my house. But is that going to stop me from launching my own poprock holiday pageant? No way. Get ready to feel the season with a righteous review of some off-the-beaten-path holiday tunes.
Let’s begin by setting the scene with Fascinations Grand Chorusand their Spector-ific proclamation of the season on “Holidays Are Here.” It’s from the Silent Stereo Records Christmas Spectacular collection but sounds like a great lost missing cut from Spector’s classic seasonal LP A Christmas Gift For You. Rochester’s The Hi Risers attempt to throw off their past Christmas blues in favour of getting into the spirit of things with the hooky “Christmas Lights.” The lovely melodic twists and turns make for a great tune and standout chorus! I almost feel like Juliana Hatfield “Christmas Cactus” was some sort of late night drinking game challenge. “Write a song about a Christmas cactus,” someone slurred after a few too many rum and eggnogs. But Hatfield delivers. The song is a subtle earworm, decorated with a host of endearing musical adornments. I loved Mike Doughty’s “I Hear the Bells” the first time I sort of heard it in the background of a Veronica Mars episode. It’s got an addictive dirge-like quality. It was so captivating that I only just noticed there’s hot make-out scene two-thirds of the way through. Definitely PG 13 Xmas tune-age. The late Frank Lee Sprague put a bit of Mersey into everything he recorded, most obviously on his Merry Merseybeat Christmas album. “Christmas Carol” draws on obvious influences but somehow makes it all sound timeless. Dave Woodard put me on to Dil Bourbonridge and the amazing story of his song, “The First Christmas Snow.” Based on a story written by his grandfather during WWII a teenage Dil fashioned it into a DIY holiday single in 1965. Despite being 56 years old, the song sounds like some new indie jangle-band release. Glasgow’s The Martial Arts add some much needed hooky drama to our proceedings, channeling some 1970s pop vibes on “Stockings.”
Speaking of drama, can’t be a holiday without some dysfunctional family dynamics. That means it’s time to bring the family, in song of course. Laura Cantrell and Michael Shelley go all nuclear family with their cover of George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.” It’s a delightful rendition that conjures up an idyllic 1940s Christmas movie. Martin Newelltakes us out of the city centre with “Christmas in Suburbia” from his amazing 1993 album The Greatest Living Englishman. The record was produced by XTC’s Andy Partridge who clearly contributes to teasing out the melodic genius of the song. I somehow missed a gem of a seasonal song from power poppers Sloan in 2020, “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas.” But it’s never too late to catch up on holiday hooks. Getting a bit more specific, Eux Autreshighlight the adolescent impact of all things merry on “Teenage Christmas.” It’s from their charming 2009 holiday EP Another Christmas at Home. Hm, sounds more like 2021 … The Krayolas add some gravity to this pageant on “Christmas with my Dad,” a bittersweet testament to loss, laughs and memory. The song title really should be “Christmas without my Dad” – that’s what they sing and sing about. The impressive thing here is how the sadness of loss is made to sound so uplifting.
Now it can’t be holiday event without some traditional tune-age, but we’re taking a rather broad interpretation of ‘tradition’ here. I spent my twenties listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas, that’s my holiday tradition. Game Theoryadd just a hint of menace to the familiar bop of “Linus and Lucy” in a creative re-interpretation, defined by some loud guitars. On the 1960s Ventures Christmas album they meld their holiday faves with distinctive riffs and guitar rhythms from other songs. For instance, their take on “Sleigh Ride” mashes the tune with their own hit “Walk, Don’t Run.” Mucho fun! I don’t know which is funnier, the album cover of wiaiwya’s 50,000 Elves Fans Can’t be Wrong or the girlish chatter in the middle of The Weisstronauts otherwise instrumental “Silent Night” listing off everything in the store and then some. Here’s another classic: David Woodard gives the power pop treatment to the traditional hymn “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and it works. Meanwhile Peggy Sue put the brakes on the Elvis classic, “Blue Christmas.” More Orbison than Presley really. Last up, Canadian teen rock and roll sensations The Rockyts pull the melody to “Winter Wonderland” in all sorts of new and creative ways. Full marks for managing to do something different with an old reliable.
One last gasp of holiday spirit, that’s what our final clutch of tunes offer. The Kavanaghs love holiday tunes and want you to love them too, providing “A Song We All Can Sing.” It’s from their 2019 Complete Christmas Singles package, for those looking for more. Another ‘full marks for Christmas tune creativity’ winner is Marshall Holland with his inventive “Laughing All the Way.” He manages to create a wholly new song from something old and familiar while also interspersing a “Charlie’s Angels Theme” motif here and there. I did not see that coming. Taking an even more creative leap, Münster, Germany’s The Fisherman and his Soul (featuring The Radio Field) crank up the amp and expand our sense of appropriate holiday topics on “Santa’s Bat.” I love the punky elan coming off this tune. My holiday post tradition very much got started with The Rosebuds’ Christmas Tree Island album. It reinvents the sound, sounding old and contemporary simultaneously. This year I went back to the island, specifically the “Oh It’s Christmas” track digging its swinging, breezy feel. Ok, time for the show closer and this year is has to be the title track from David Woodard’s fab new holiday EP, Rocking Around the Power Pop Tree. If this pageant really had a story it would somehow lead to this hooky denouement – David really says (and plays) it all.
John Lennon famously made up a lot of nonsense words and phrases, like our post title, so it seems an appropriate send off for this bit of nonsense. Happy Crimble everyone! Don’t forget a present ($) for your fave musical artists this season.