It always seemed that Marshall Crenshaw was genetically engineered to be a cult hero. Even though his very first single, the utterly wonderful “Someday, Someway,” made it into the Billboard Top 40, it was hardly a thunderous success, peaking at #36. That seems simultaneously appropriate and a little tragic. Crenshaw created songs that were made for the radio, albeit maybe a different era than the one he was in. This was the early nineteen-eighties, when new wave was ascendent, punk was morphing from broad-ranging alternative to almost myopic jackhammer anger, and electronic was still trying to find its footing in the aftermath of disco exploding into a messy useless heap like one of the less fortunate figures in David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Crenshaw was made for transistor radios and not boomboxes. His best songs are so suited to be classic singles that they sound like they emerged spontaneously right on the 45s.
Crenshaw was so suited to 45s that full-length albums didn’t always work that well, not because there wasn’t good stuff there–there always was–but because it just felt wrong. Music like this needed to be parceled out one three-minute-ish dose at a time, with a necessary flip in between, just enough time to let the chiming hooks fully settle in before moving on to the next offering. For that reason, my favorite Crenshaw songs are those that are loosest, most playful, feeling even a little tossed off. I don’t want well-considered mini-epics. I want something that sounds like it was generated in the studio and Crenshaw recruited anyone nearby to play because of an urgency to get it down on record as soon as possible, before the magic faded.
For that reason, my most treasured Crenshaw album is the 1998 collection The 9 Volt Years, which offers up home demos, quick studio riffs, and other material that has the happy whiff of whim to it. It is, or so it seems, Crenshaw in his natural habitat. And there’s no better song on the collection than “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time,” which starts with a fabulous title and only gets better from there.
Listen or download –> Marshall Crenshaw, “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”
(Disclaimer: It appears to me that The 9 Volt Years is unavailable as a physical artifact that can be procured from an actual store, the sort that has a human being behind the counter willing to take money or things that we’ve collectively agreed represent money in exchange for a object, probably circular, containing music. It can be bought digitally, but I remain highly skeptical about that form of commerce providing due compensation to the artist. Therefore, I truly believe that sharing this song in this space in this way causes no undue harm to anyone who is innocent from blame in the ongoing deterioration of the music industry. Indeed, it is my hope that I will cause some to buy some different Marshall Crenshaw music because they’ve heard this song and want more, more, more of what he has to offer. Regardless, I will gladly remove the song if asked to do sue by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)