Michel Pagliaro’s 1975 single “What the Hell I Got” wasn’t exactly a worldwide smash. But it was played on Windsor, Ont.’s powerful CKLW-AM and blasted across the Detroit River, where Marshall Crenshaw fell in love with the track. Now, he’s recorded a new version, premiering exclusively below, as a bonus track for the upcoming reissue of his 1996 album Miracle of Science.
“It was huge in Canada, and I always liked it,” Crenshaw tells Billboard about the song. “Michel recorded mostly in French over the years and got a couple of English language songs on CKLW. I just got this notion one day to record it — ‘What the hell, I like that thing,’ and that was it.”
Pagliaro was nominated for a Juno Award for male vocalist of the year the same year “What the Hell I Got” came out. He received a national achievement award at the Francophone SOCAN Awards in 2002 and a governor general’s performing arts award for lifetime artistic achievement six years later.
The new edition of Miracle of Science, coming out Jan. 17, launches a reissue series of the five albums Crenshaw released for Razor & Tie Records between 1994-2003. Sporting a new cover and coming out on Crenshaw’s own Shiny-Tone label via Megaforce, Miracle of Science has been remastered and is, for the first time ever, being issued on vinyl with a new analog master tape created by Crenshaw. “We tracked some of it on analog multi-track down in Nashville but we never had any mixes printed to analog tape,” Crenshaw recalls. “So I just took some DAT tapes to the studio and made an acetate. There’s always a difference when you get something on analog. It just kind of smooths it out. Some people don’t like to do that, but I think it sounds great.”
Crenshaw also took some license to “re-address” some of the album’s other tracks while he was working on the tapes. “If Francis Coppola can fool around with Apocalypse Now, I can fool around with Miracle of Science, right?” he notes. Mostly, however, he’s happy to have the Razor & Tie titles coming back into active circulation.
“It was quite a bit different from the first part of my career, when I was recording for major labels (Warner Bros. and MCA),” he notes. “There was no A&R department at Razor & Tie, so I was my own A&R department. I was completely autonomous. I think it worked out really well; I think the Razor & Tie records are really solid, artistically, so it worked out better for me, I think, being on my own.” There’s no schedule yet for the other albums, including the live My Truck is My Home (1994), the demos set The 9 Volt Years (1998), #447 (1999) and What’s in the Bag? (2003). “We’ll put things out when we want to put them out,” Crenshaw says. “There’s no set schedule or anything like that.”
In the meantime he’s busy developing a documentary about the late record producer Tom Wilson and touring with the Smithereens, who he’s hoping will record some new material in the near future.
“They want to do it, and they have two really good songwriters,” Crenshaw says. “I’m not going to be the one who drives the writing. My attitude is that to make it authentically a Smithereens record they should write most of it and get (producer) Don Dixon to help, since he’s a big part of their story. I’d just like to be one of the participants; Whatever I can do or they want me to do, I will. I really like this whole thing. They’re great people and it’s fun, and anything with that loud rock n’ roll band is really good for my spirit.”