“Little Wild One (No. 5),” a captivating ditty from 1983, was introduced Saturday by its author, Marshall Crenshaw, as “one of my failed hit singles.” Indeed, he could have said the same of 10 or 11 of the 16 potent songs he performed for a house full of loyal devotees.
Crenshaw, a former “Beatlemania” cast member and Buddy Holly in “La Bamba,” made a name for himself in the 1980s for wickedly catchy pop tunes, songs that drew on the hooks and harmonies of the Beatles and the Fab Four’s predecessors.
He trimmed the wise guy antics of late 1970s singer-songwriters such as Graham Parker and Elvis Costello and dealt with love and dreams and girls without fading into the wimpy folk-rock tendencies of the early 1970s. Somehow he got sold short — the then-new MTV was not too receptive to his cool nerd-in-glasses look — and the just-released Rhino/Warner Archives “best of” compilation, “This Is Easy,” demonstrates exactly how much Crenshaw deserves his membership in the upper echelon of pop songsmiths.
Performing solo on acoustic guitar, Crenshaw brought in an overlooked element, i.e., his dexterity on the instrument, and gave his songs shadings both familiar and fresh. Items in a true treasure trove of American song, “Someday, Someway,” “Cynical Girl,” “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” and “What Do You Dream Of?” stated his case eloquently, his chordings and fingerings running between jazz and Chet Atkins country.
He also rolled out a pair of instrumentals and three covers: Jody Reynolds’ “Endless Sleep”; Lee Hazelwood’s movie tune for Duane Eddy, “Girl on Death Row”; and Dave Alvin’s “Wanda and Duane,” all of which found him working the story format–something he rarely does in his own writing — with aplomb.