Picture sleeve for Marshall Crenshaw's "Whenever You're on My Mind" single
Marshall Crenshaw was born on November 11, 1953 in Detroit, Michigan and was raised in the northern suburb of Berkley. He began learning guitar when he was ten; in 1968 he began fronting the band Astigfa (an acronym for “a splendid time is guaranteed for all”). In 1971, he graduated from Berkley High School. He continued his tenure with Astigfa for a time, but eventually moved to New York, where he got his first break playing John Lennon in an off-Broadway touring production of “Beatlemania” (he was an understudy). After purchasing a four-track recorder, Crenshaw began making demos whenever he was home, and he was soon armed with a set of demos he gave out to his show business connections. By the late 1970s, he was fronting a trio that consisted of himself on guitar, Chris Donato on bass and his younger brother Robert on drums. The band made an impact on the burgeoning New York City club scene. One fan was Alan Betrock, who had just founded Shake Records, and released Crenshaw’s debut single, “Something’s Gonna Happen”, in 1981. Retro rocker Robert Gordon recorded Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway”; it reached #76 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. Soon Crenshaw was signed to Warner Bros. Records, which released his debut self-titled album in 1982. The first single, Crenshaw’s version of “Someday, Someway” was an even bigger hit than Gordon’s version, peaking at #36. To some popular music observers, Crenshaw appeared to be the next big thing, and his second album, “Field Day” (1983), was eagerly anticipated by fans. The album’s first single was “Whenever You’re on My Mind” b/w “Jungle Rock”. This is today’s featured single.
“Whenever You’re on My Mind” is an elegant piece of power pop about how the song’s protagonist can’t get the girl of his dreams out of his mind. It is built around an intriguing ascending guitar riff (A/G/D/F#/D/A) which just enough of an ethereal sound to provide appropriate backing for Crenshaw’s lyrics: “I think about you and forget what I’ve tried to be/Everything is foggy and hard to see/It seems to be, but can it be, a fantasy?” It is hardly an original idea for a song, but Crenshaw is enough of a craftsman to turn the song into a mini masterpiece, and one of the better songs of 1983. Although it was not the hit that “Someday, Someway” was, this likely had more to do with a few high-profile bad reviews of “Field Day” rather than the actual merits of the song, because the song is a gem.
The B-side of the single, “Jungle Rock”, is a non-album track; “Someday, Someway” also had a non-album track as the flip (“You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”). While most of the time Crenshaw sounds like Buddy Holly filtered through Elvis Costello and updated for the 1980s, here Crenshaw indulges in creating a slab of rockabilly retro-rock. The song opens with an insistent drum beat, soon joined by a bass guitar, and Crenshaw’s vocals: “Well I was walking through the jungle just the other night/Well I heard a big rumble and I thought it was a fight/But then I started listening and began to move my feet/It was a jungle drummer doing a knocked-out beat”. The drums on the track provide such a thunderous beat, with a synthesizer barely audible above the din (until the end, when it finally rips through the musical tapestry). Although this is not essential Crenshaw listening, fans of the genre will find it more than worthwhile.
The single was released on Warner Bros. Records in 1983. A picture sleeve was issued with the single (shown above). “Field Day” was a commercial disappointment after the relative success of the first album, although it did reach #52 on the Billboard album chart. “Downtown” (1985) was Crenshaw’s first album without his backing band of Chris Donato and Robert Crenshaw; it received generally favorable reviews, but sales were down from the first two albums. “Mary Jean and 9 Others” (1987) followed, with a more stripped-down sound than the previous albums. While Crenshaw’s audience has waned considerably since his salad days in the 1980s, he retains a strong core following, and his albums still score high marks for their power pop craftsmanship.