We tend to think of the ’80s as a time of synthesizers and performance-enhancing hair products, but the decade was also a time of musical revival. Record companies began reissuing their old vinyl releases on CD, and a new generation of artists discovered old favorites and obscurities. More importantly, they found ways to express themselves using the tools of rock’s past in a way that hadn’t really been done before. (Sha Na Na doesn’t count.)
Marshall Crenshaw is just such a revivalist. A Detroit native, Crenshaw got his big break playing John Lennon in a touring production of Beatlemania. He helped write a book about rock ’n’ roll and put together compilations of oldies for record companies. Crenshaw emerged in the early ’80s as a rock classicist, wearing Buddy Holly glasses and singing songs that sounded familiar without being derivative of anyone in particular. Where A Flock of Seagulls sounds forever dated to the early ’80s, Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” — a Top 40 hit in 1982 — seems nearly timeless today.
Crenshaw has not had another big hit under his own name, but the Gin Blossoms hit the upper reaches of the charts with his song “Till I Hear It from You” in 1995. And when the producers of the music-biopic spoof Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story needed someone to write the movie’s theme song, they turned to Crenshaw. The song was supposed to be a Johnny Cash parody, but what Crenshaw created was much better than that. The movie had John C. Reilly singing, and being very funny about it, but it’s easy to imagine Johnny Cash singing “Walk Hard” and really selling it.
MARSHALL CRENSHAW: AcousticMusicSanDiego, Wednesday, June 17, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $20.