Posts Tagged ‘Howlin Wind’

One thing Graham Parker appreciates when discussing his earliest work is to not call him or his lyrical output “angry.” Says Parker, “When I’m writing, I don’t write angry or think angry. Sadly, all critics see or hear is anger.  There are many such laughs to be had talking with most of the team behind “Howlin’ Wind”, the smart, snarling, roughly soulful and reggae-tinged 1976 debut by Graham Parker & The Rumour. “When you have a good time, you get a good record,” says organist/pianist Bob Andrews. You can’t get to Parker’s grouchy, skanky, literally horny Howlin’ Wind, with its smugly sarcastic lyrics, scuffed-up vocals and scorched-earth soul-garage demeanor, without the Rumour. And the Rumour remains dormant without Parker, a great backing/collaborating band without a front. “I think back, and yeah, it was, and is, a pretty symbiotic relationship,” says Parker.

Post-pub rock and pre-punk (a matter of months in between; mid-1975 to January 1976), Howlin’ Wind closed the door on one relaxed-fit movement and popped the top on the ragged, spiky rage of another, with topics such as lousy schoolmasters, God, social justice and bad romance on the tips of their lips. “Punk rock in England doesn’t really occur without pub rock,” says guitarist/bandleader Brinsley Schwarz. “If we hadn’t pushed these places to be available for gigs—because there wasn’t anywhere to play save colleges and arenas then—where would punks have built their nests?”

The aggressive rebellion of punk, its untutored musicianship and its anarchistic everything, was never really a draw for Parker and the Rumour, as Howlin’ Wind wasn’t recorded by a bunch of snot-nosed youngsters. “When punk really hit and those kids were spitting out of so-called appreciation, I wasn’t having that,” says Parker with a laugh. “I didn’t get that far to be spit upon.”

One thing Graham Parker appreciates when discussing his earliest work is to not call him or his lyrical output “angry.” It’s a word never uttered by this writer in regard to the now-66-year-old, East London-born Parker’s writing: a cliché forever bandied about by hollow critics who probably haven’t really listened to Parker beyond his often blistering vocal delivery.

“When I’m writing, I don’t write angry or think angry, so I appreciate that you noticed this, and thank you,” says Parker. “Sadly, all critics see or hear is anger. Not me, though. ‘With a little humour, always with a little humour,’ There are many such laughs to be had talking with Parker, guitarist/bandleader Brinsley Schwarz, organist/pianist Bob Andrews and drummer Steve Goulding: most of the team behind Howlin’ Wind, the smart, snarling, roughly soulful and reggae-tinged 1976 debut by Graham Parker & The Rumour. “When you have a good time, you get a good record,” says Andrews, talking about not only the laughs shared with long time friends in Brinsley Schwarz (the band named after the man, which ended in 1975 only to become the Rumour later that year) but also recording with Nick Lowe, Howlin’ Wind’s producer and one-time Brinsley bassist/singer.

You can’t get to Parker’s grouchy, skanky, literally horny Howlin’ Wind, with its smugly sarcastic lyrics, scuffed-up vocals and scorched-earth soul-garage de-meanor, without the Rumour. And the Rumour remains dormant without Parker, a great backing/collaborating band without a front. “I think back, and yeah, it was, and is, a pretty symbiotic relationship,” says Parker. The Cajun-Jamaican flavouring of the rhythm section was the cherry on top.

See the source image

Considering Schwarz and Lowe were in bands since 1966 such as Sounds 4+1, which morphed into Kippington Lodge, the immediate predecessor to the epic Brinsley Schwarz; that Andrews played organ for U.K. soul/pop songstress P.P. Arnold around 1967-68 before joining Kippington Lodge, etc.; and that Goulding and Rumour bassist Andrew Bodnar met in 1970 before becoming Skyrockets, then the reggae/Cajun-inspired Bontemps Roulez before hooking up with Schwarz, Andrews and Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont, this crew of seasoned vets had been around the block.

Maybe they were seasoned but not well-trained. “We definitely always needed to get much better, until we actually did,” says Schwarz, recalling the debacle of a disastrous, over-hyped Manhattan gig at its start and hauling his namesake band into one house where they rehearsed all day out of necessity.  “We studied album sleeves closely, but we weren’t trained musicians at all,” says Goulding of playing with Bodnar in Islington and forming local bands. “We spent most of our time playing along to records and lusting after expensive instruments.”

Still, when it came to 1975, the just-broken-up Brinsleys—as musicians—were well-worn-in with their chops handsomely sharpened, and known for their abilities (and propensity for having a good time) in the pubs of London. Lowe even told GQ in 2011 that manager Dave Robinson “saddled (Parker) with this band that had just broken up and came with all their in-jokes and were fully formed in a way.” That’s Lowe’s dour outlook.

The fully formed vibe Lowe spoke of is what gave Parker’s prickly poignancy a sage authority, its weight, its “soul shoes” glide when set in the company of the then newly anointed Rumour. This team of players’ well-rounded, often sloppy, brutal but buoyant, genre-babbling musicianship gave Parker’s debut—from the stinging groove of “White Honey” to the confessional gospel of “Don’t Ask Me Questions”—might and bite. “Pub rock” as a tag was nothing more (and nothing less) than combine-churning boozy music boiled into one frothy, funky mess—the Band meets the Meters meets the Wailers meets the Famous Flames meets the Faces—made by hungry men no longer at the beginning of their careers. “I didn’t know anything about pub rock, but I did know that these guys had been around,” says Parker of his collaborators.

Parker, however, was also no spring chicken (25!) when he got to the soon-to-be-rechristened Rumour and Dave Robinson, Brinsley Schwarz’s manager. “Morocco, Gibraltar, Channel Islands, the whole of Europe; I’d been all over by the time I was 18, as that’s what you did at 18, because you didn’t need money to live,” says Parker of his restless youth. When he did need cash, he worked while home at his parents’ house in Sussex at the Chichester rubber-glove factory, or breeding mice and guinea pigs. “Between traveling and odd jobs, I had a fantastic time meeting people and harvesting ideas,” he says. “Then I’d fuck off and go to Morocco because that’s where Burroughs and Kerouac went; hippies, too, the whole Marrakesh Express.”

Though Parker had instruments as a kid, he’d never thought much of music. Suddenly, though, buying an old acoustic guitar in Guernsey, totaling up the sum of his experiences in squats and sands, allowing the youthful influences of Eddie Cochran, the Supremes, Van Morrison (“a true poet who happened to be a phenomenal white soul singer”) and the latter-day inspiration of Bob Dylan (“honestly didn’t get into him until Blood On The Tracks”) to take root turned his head around.

“Something came out the other side, and nobody of my generation was doing that particularly, or at least I didn’t hear it: the soul, the rock, the poetry,” says Parker. He confesses a love, too, for “the early singer/songwriter types” such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Neil Young. “That’s the only thing that I took from the hippies,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t like their noodling music, but some of their writers were devastating.”

Parker got the writing fever and, by 1974, songs came pouring out. To him, the melodies were based on old tunes that he loved, that mix of which he speaks. Along with his then-fresh feel for Dylan (“I was upset with myself for not getting him sooner”), Parker was inspired by elements of social justice and class in his U.K. homeland and began developing a lyrical style and subject matter. “I had no interest in politics, per se, but I knew what justice—and injustice—looked like when I saw it, being part of the working class and with England being a classist country,” he says. “It’s still based on class there—if the ruling class could break the working class, they would.”

Parker sought to integrate the poetry of disgust, discrimination and inequity into his first tunes such as “Back To Schooldays,” which wound up on Howlin’ Wind. “Even the love songs, I wanted them to have that taste, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, really,” he says. “What I came up with was ‘Don’t Ask Me Questions,’ which I think makes love into a social issue.” As for the burgeoning Dylan influence, Parker insists that you can hear him grappling with that on “You’ve Got To Be Kidding,” with its compact chords and emotional output.

Parker wanted to point fingers, but he did not want to preach. “I can’t stand that,” he says. “Preaching is the last thing I wanted to do.” Caustic humour, often subtle, became his guide, a lyrical flip he’s used ever since. “I still don’t think that people get the jokes, but there you go,” he says.

Either way, Parker believed that he was truly on to something in 1974, as at that time (the era of prog rock and post-glam), “there were certainly no new acts doing something original with this,” he says. In this case, something tough, soulful and social. “That felt good,” he says. “I just had to make the right connections, meet musicians who weren’t hippies. Go to London.”

This is where Brinsley Schwarz, Bontemps Roulez and Dave Robinson come in.

By 1974, Schwarz, Lowe and Andrews had just begun conquering the pubs of London with a mélange less like the country rock of Brinsley Schwarz’s eponymous 1970 debut and its immediate follow-up, Despite It All, and more like the Kippington Lodge of their youth. “Motown, ska, reggae, Beat Invasion bands—it was all one thing with no delineation,” says Schwarz of Kippington-Lodge. By the time Brinsley Schwarz set itself into motion, the Band had become Schwarz and Co.’s deepest influence.

“I had already been in love with groove-jazz organists like Jimmy Smith and Charles Earland, but Garth Hudson and his rich, aggressive attack really turned my head around,” says Andrews of the Band’s often frightening but still funky keyboard tones. Schwarz recalls a Melody Maker story with Robbie Robertson where he revealed the Band’s favourite artists: Lee Dorsey, Clifton Chenier, Professor Longhair. “All New Orleans,” says Schwarz, enthusiastically. “We were overjoyed, Andrews in particular, who eventually moved to New Orleans and became ‘Piano Bob’ there. That’s quite an accomplishment for a boy from Leeds.”

Andrews, who joined Schwarz and Lowe at K-Lodge (“because I could play and sing Blood, Sweat & Tears’ ‘I Can’t Quit Ya’—a big deal for a 19-year-old,” he says), was only enhanced by the New Orleans sway. “There’s a feel, a spirit to that music—even when funereal—that’s gleeful,” he says.

As their regimen intensified and practice became perfection, the Brinsleys began adding the dirty-yet-precise funk of James Brown to their repertoire. “We’d rehearse until we nailed it, until that swing, that backbeat, was right and tight,” says Schwarz. Mix all that in with the Brinsleys’ shambling country thing, and you got pub rock.

“I didn’t listen to pub rock,” says Goulding, who, with bassist Bodnar, began a “rhythm section for hire” gig, putting ads in Melody Maker for whomever came along. “At that point we had more ambition than experience,” says Goulding, recalling jams at Iroko Country Club in Hampstead run by African drummer Ginger Johnson, and a Bodnar/Goulding band—the bluesy Skyrockets—with a slide guitarist and a harmonica player for pub gigs. “Then, pubs still charged in old money, pre-decimal money, which could get confusing after your third pint.”

When Skyrockets splintered, Goulding, Bodnar and keyboardist Tony Downes used their R&B and reggae background—their love of Leon Russell and Burning Spear—and became Bontemps Roulez.

“Me and Andrew had always played reggae—I suppose living in South London, which had a big West Indian population, had something to do with it,” says Goulding. “I always loved the rhythm of it, ska, blue beat, rocksteady, whatever was around.” Goulding credits Charlie Gillett’s show on Radio London for playing a huge variety of American music (“like Lee Dorsey”) that sounded so different from the U.K. stuff that was around in the early 1970s.

Bontemps Roulez needed gigs, so they went to different pubs near the King’s Head, as that was the area where they tried hardest to get booked. “The Hope & Anchor up the street from there was quite a well-known music pub, and Dave Robinson, Fred Rowe and John Eichler seemed to all run it together,” says Goulding. “They’d built a recording studio upstairs and had bands playing in the basement. Dave put the word out among friends on the pub-rock scene that we were OK, so we got gigs in other pubs, too.” Along with gigs, Bodnar and Goulding became the go-to rhythm section of that studio, the Sly & Robbie of the Hope & Anchor. “Because we were cheap and willing,” says Goulding with a laugh. “And we weren’t old and jaded. My dad would drive me up there with my drums is how not old.”

Two of the artists whom Goulding and Bodnar recorded with were shouter Frankie Miller and Declan McManus, a guitarist/singer who had just left his pub band, Flip City. “I remember Dave being very impressed with the quality and quantity of his material,” says Goulding of the soon-to-be-renamed Elvis Costello. The rhythm boxers eventually recorded—with Lowe as producer—Costello’s My Aim Is True together in 1977, but not before they got involved with one old find of Robinson’s and the manager’s newest acquisition.

Dr. Feelgood, Ducks Deluxe (where Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont hailed from) and Brinsley Schwarz—none of those guys was I familiar with,” says Parker. “That is, until Dave (Robinson) brought them to my attention, and by then Brinsley was breaking up. I didn’t know from pub rock or knew anyone who had seen them. All I knew was that these were the good songs that would live forever. When you know it, you know it.” And Parker had his own songs, and he wanted them done right.

See the source image

Parker, who had just become a managerial client of Robinson’s based on a collection of acoustic demos, was responsive to the Brinsley boys on a more tonsorial level. “I was very encouraged by them because they all had short hair,” says Parker, laughing. “That was exactly my attitude about fashion, as I actually had even shorter hair, sometimes too severe.”

For Parker, the Brinsley hair thing played into Schwarz and Co.’s fashion-ability as far as he was concerned (“Really?” says Schwarz when told of Parker’s praise), as a London band. “That’s good and that’s bad,” says Parker. “They had a London following, which means no one in the provinces knew them. Then again, things took awhile to get to us. I mean, we were just getting Uriah Heep in 1974. My uncle suddenly had long hair. It was terrifying. Ah, to be young.”

Robinson was impressed with Parker’s cleverly worded ire and heard something forceful and melodic in his demos. All they needed was a taut, knowing band to play to Parker’s blend of the aggressive and the chilled (yes, he, too, was a big reggae fan). “They were great but didn’t have focus,” says Parker. “With me, Robinson saw a direction, something that couldn’t be stopped. Which was true. I was revved-up. Now, the Rumour at first, I don’t know that they wanted to play with me; I’m sure they had misgivings. But they were smart enough to know that up until that point, they hadn’t really gotten anywhere.”

The Brinsleys broke up in 1975, and I went to play with Ducks Deluxe, where I met Martin (Belmont), until they broke up, so I just stopped for a minute and started learning to play saxophone,” says Schwarz, whose studies were interrupted by a call from Robinson to say, “I got this guy.” “Dave so has the gift of gab that he convinces me I’m the only one that can bring out the best in Parker. I call Martin and Bob—remember, Nick had left when the Brinsleys split—and I needed a rhythm section.”

Goulding states that, yes, Bontemps Roulez had splintered at that time but that Bodnar and he had played on Ducks Deluxe singer Sean Tyla’s demos, as well as at gigs with the last incarnation of Ducks Deluxe, “which Brinsley was also a part of, so I suppose we met then,” says the drummer. “The pub-rock bands were all splitting up, the scene was changing, and Dave had the idea of putting me and Andrew together with Bob, Martin and Brinsley to see what happened.”

What happened is that they made the demo above the Hope & Anchor that everyone loved, said, “Why don’t we do this again?” and commenced to play at a pub, Newlands Tavern, owned by Belmont’s friend in Peckham. “Bob and I were suspicious after all that had happened with Robinson in the past, but this sounded amazing,” says Schwarz. “Next thing you know, Dave wanted us to be Parker’s band and record the first album properly with Mercury as the label.”

Goulding continues that Schwarz came up with the Rumour name (“after the Band song, but with an English spelling”) and that after the Newlands Tavern gigs got this bassist and drummer in on the action. “We learned a few of his songs and did covers with him, and he would come on halfway through our set, do five or six songs with us and go away again,” says Goulding. “At first, a lot of the audience went to the bar or bathroom during his bit. But we liked him, his voice and songs went with the style of playing we were slowly developing, and he was a better singer than any of us, so it seemed like a good fit. Pretty soon people stuck around for his bit, so we knew we were on to something.”

Recording at Eden Studios, London, in early 1976, Parker and the band smoked a bunch of pot and drank a lot of beer while recording his debut album. “See, with GP and us, that could be every album,” says Goulding. “It was the first time I’d recorded in a nice studio with a kettle and fridge and biscuits. They even had a TV. Everything sounded a lot more like I’d always imagined it should—like a record.”

For Andrews, the sessions provided his first opportunity to arrange not only a band now armed with an arsenal of guitars (“Having Graham, Martin and Brinsley made for a complicated sound, one that I wanted to keep separate, defined and equal”) but also a six-piece brass-and-reeds section and additional musicians such as Dave Edmunds and slide guitarist Noel Brown. “Nick wasn’t doing it, so I did,” says Andrews of Lowe’s production. “He was great but quick—just there to tidy up a bit.”

“That’s why they call Nick ‘the Basher’—one or two takes, bash ’em up, in and out,” says Parker.

Schwarz even manages a brief impersonation of Lowe at the mixing board during the height of the Howlin’ Wind sessions. “Nick’s production method was to ask the engineer to get the sound, make sure everybody was happy with it, make sure they were comfortable—and play,” he says. “So, in the studio with Nick, he’d yell, ‘Fantastic, amazing, marvellous, maybe one more.’ And that was it. He made you feel good. That was his method.”

Remember, though, here was Lowe—chosen by Robinson—just months away from leaving Brinsley Schwarz (the man and the band) after playing with them since their collective teens now producing them for his behind-the-boards debut. “It was an odd situation because [Parker’s] group was made up of so many people from the group I had just left,” Lowe told GQ in 2011. “It was sort of strange: One minute I was tripping down the road, you know, I’m free! And the next moment, I’m in the studio with these guys again. But Graham was, and is, fantastic.”

“Fantastic” seems to be the buzzword regarding Parker songs such as “Back To Schooldays,” “White Honey” and the title track, a mini-epic in both Parker’s mind and that of his Rumour. “‘Back To Schooldays’ was punchy, very tight and rocking, and I have a soft spot for ‘Gypsy Blood,’ as I always like the slow ones,” says Goulding. “Good singers who write powerful songs are obviously easier to play with, and Graham is one of those. He also had an onstage energy that matched ours very well.”

Parker recalls that “Howlin’ Wind,” dense and unforgiving, truly set the tone for the rest of the album. “Look, I couldn’t imagine any of this in the top-10”—it wasn’t—“but I wanted to be an albums artist, not a pop singer.”

Schwarz, Goulding and Andrews all agree: Going into and coming out of Howlin’ Wind, Heat Treatment (released later in 1976) and the rest of the annual album-then-tour pace they kept until 1981, when Parker dismissed them—and even now, going into recent collaborative albums such as 2015’s Mystery Glue—they all saw Parker as an extraordinary talent. “He had a raw energy that was very attractive and brought out the best in us,” says Schwarz. “Steve and Andrew had not seen what we went through as Brinsley Schwarz. We were on the laidback side. Graham’s words and aggression lit a fire under our ass and still does.”

As for Parker, lighting fires is one thing, but then and especially now, he’s hoping to do something more.

“I’ve always tried to be playful, starting with Howlin’ Wind,” says Parker. “Not dumb, not goofy, but playful. I’m a fan of humour. People have always thought I was pissed off, but really, I was just joking around. They don’t get it or they’re not hearing me. I have always loved to tickle people.”

The Band:

  • Graham Parker – vocals, acoustic guitar, Fender rhythm guitar
  • Brinsley Schwarz – guitar, Hammond organ, backing vocals
  • Bob Andrews – Lowrey organ, Hammond organ, piano, backing vocals
  • Martin Belmont – guitar, backing vocals
  • Steve Goulding – drums, backing vocals
  • Andrew Bodnar – Fender bass

Related image

After he emerged in the pregnant pause between pub rock and punk, stardom never quite happened for the Camberley rocker, although his band’s spiky sound has echoed through artists from Elvis Costello to REM.
A few months before punk, the first sign a new order on the way was an awkward little rocker called Graham Parker. he appeared on the bill at Dylan’s concert at Blackbushe Aerodrome in 1978, only a few miles from his Camberley stamping ground, it was already clear by that time that the superior sneer, machine-gun delivery and catchy tunes of Elvis Costello

He was a skinny, T-shirted figure in shades; rough, honest, and angry. Heat Treatment has a Dylanesque snarl to it; a thirst for revenge in the light of the lost years mentioned above, and a sense of cutting to the chase, that there was no more time to waste.

One of the finest English songwriters of the past several decades, Graham Parker made a name for himself as the “angry young man” before the flurry of punk rock took over his native U.K. Sailing in on the smouldering embers of the pub rock scene, Parker came armed with attitude, amplification and an armload of great songs. From his first classic LP ‘Howlin’ Wind’ (produced by Nick Lowe) and right up to his most recent outing with the reunited Rumour, ‘Three Chords Good,’ GP has never stopped traveling his own unique road. Caught between the preceding wave of Bruce Springsteen and subsequent rise of Elvis Costello, GP, through no doing of his own, somehow got lost in those waters.

Howling Wind

‘Howlin’ Wind’ (1976)

For most intents and purposes, Graham Parker emerged fully formed on his debut album, Howlin’ Wind. Sounding like the bastard offspring of Mick Jagger and Van Morrison, Parker sneers his way through a set of stunningly literate pub rockers. Instead of blindly sticking to the traditions of rock & roll, Parker invigorates them with cynicism and anger, turning his songs into distinctively original works. “Back to Schooldays” may be reconstituted rockabilly, “White Honey” may recall Morrison’s white R&B bounce, and “Howlin’ Wind” is a cross of Van’s more mystical moments and the Band, but the songs themselves are original and terrific. Similarly, producer Nick Lowe gives the album a tough, spare feeling, which makes Parker and the Rumour sound like one of the best bar bands you’ve ever heard. Howlin’ Wind remains a thoroughly invigorating fusion of rock tradition, singer/songwriter skill, and punk spirit, making it one of the classic debuts of all time.

‘Don’t Ask Me Questions’ put the lid on Parker’s debut, ‘Howlin’ Wind,’ with a perfect swagger. Employing a reggae inspired backdrop, GP delivers an attitude-laced gem. Lines like, “Well I stand up for liberty but can’t liberate /Pent up agony I see you take first place” are delivered with pure venom as GP has this little conversation with God. Often accused of being too much the “angry young man,” Parker used that anger to his benefit. Meanwhile, the Rumour never let up from their rocksteady groove. A live version of the song was released as a single in the U.K. in 1978 and made it up to No. 32.

Heat Treatment

‘Heat Treatment’ (1976)

On his second album Heat Treatment, Graham Parker essentially offered more of the same thing that made Howlin’ Wind such a bracing listen. However, his songwriting wasn’t as consistent, with only a handful of songs — like “Pourin’ It All Out” and the title track — making much of an impression. Unfortunately, the record was also tamed by the production of Mutt Lange, who polishes the record just enough to make the Rumour sound restrained. Which means, of course, the sheer musicality of the band can’t save the lesser material. Heat Treatment still remains an enjoyable listen — at this stage of the game, Parker hadn’t soured into a curmudgeon, and his weaker songs were still endearing — but it’s a disappointment in light of its predecessor.

In Parker’s early years, the influences of soul music and Van Morrison were a constant presence. ‘Heat Treatment’ is a perfect merger of those influences and one of the highlights of his second LP. The jumpin’ R&B feel of the song is complimented by the horn section, a staple of his early records. The song’s chorus is so irresistibly catchy that if your toes aren’t a tappin’, you better check your vitals. The other great track. ‘Fool’s Gold’ from Heat Treatment is again indicative of Parker’s affinity for soul, and while producer Mutt Lange would go on to fame and fortune after aligning himself with pop-metal sounds of Def Leppard, his production here is crisp, direct and well suited to the sounds Parker was dishing out. A soul classic.

Stick to Me

‘Stick To Me’ (1977)

Released in the fall of 1977, ‘Stick To Me’ was Parker’s third LP in less than two years. The album was recorded once again with Mutt Lange at the board, but a problem with the tapes forced a re-recording with Nick Lowe back in the hot seat. The result was a more stripped-down approach that, despite critical indifference, ultimately suited the album perfectly. ‘Watch the Moon Come Down’ is as perfect a GP song as you’re likely to stumble upon. The air of despair never sounded so beautiful. Graham Parker and the Rumour’s third new studio album to be released in 18 months finds the bandleader running short of top-flight material; “Thunder And Rain” and “Watch The Moon Come Down” are up to his usual standards, but songs like “The Heat In Harlem” find him dangerously out of his depth. As a result, although fiercely played, this star-crossed release (it had to be re-recorded when the first version suffered technical problems) is a cut below Parker’s first two albums.

The Parkerilla

Parkerilla (1978)

In 1978, Graham Parker & the Rumour’s career was on the rise in the U.K. but going nowhere in America, despite rave reviews for his first three albums and a growing reputation as a powerful live act. Most observers, including Parker himself, blamed his U.S. label, Mercury Records, for failing to give him the promotion he needed Stateside; eager to find a more suitable corporate partner, Parker opted to finish off his contract with Mercury via that time-honored form of contractual obligation filler, the double-live album. In many respects,

The Parkerilla practically screams “Let’s get this over with,” from the skimpy running time (54 minutes, including a studio re-recording of “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions” that filled side four) and unimaginative set list, to a slightly dodgy mix that keeps losing track of the horn section, and a sequence that has a hard time keeping one of the most exciting acts of the day in forward gear. However, Parker and the Rumour were too good on-stage for The Parkerilla to feel entirely like a throwaway; Parker’s vocals are tough and soulful at every turn, the Rumour get more of a chance to show off their instrumental prowess here than they did on their studio recordings, and when the players connect with the right song, as they do on “Back to Schooldays,” “Soul Shoes,” and “Gypsy Blood,” it’s hard not to wish this hadn’t been such an obvious rush job, since the potential for a great concert set was clearly there. (The live take of “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions” is also superb, and makes mincemeat of the silly disco-influenced studio recut that closes out the album.) The Parkerilla has a reputation as a tossed-off disaster, and while it’s a lot better than that, you don’t have to know the back story to hear a band biding their time until something better comes along on this set.

Squeezing Out Sparks

‘Squeezing Out Sparks’ (1979)

Generally regarded as Graham Parker’s finest album, Squeezing Out Sparks is a masterful fusion of pub rock classicism, new wave pop, and pure vitriol that makes even his most conventional singer/songwriter numbers bristle with energy. Not only does Parker deliver his best, most consistent set of songs, but he offers more succinct hooks than before “Local Girls” and “Discovering Japan” are powered by quirky hooks that make them new wave classics. But Parker’s new pop inclinations are tempered by his anger, which seethes throughout the hard rockers and even his quieter numbers. Throughout Squeezing Out Sparks, Graham spits out a litany of offenses that make him feel like an outsider, but he’s not a liberal, he’s a conservative. The record’s two centerpieces  “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” and the anti-abortion “You Can’t Be Too Strong” — indicate that his traditionalist musical tendencies are symptomatic of a larger conservative trend. But no one ever said conservatives made poor rock & rollers, and Parker’s ruminations over a lost past give him the anger that fuels Squeezing Out Sparks, one of the great rock records of the post-punk era.

With the 1979 album ‘Squeezing Out Sparks,’ Parker and the Rumour were finally starting to make headway in the American market. Ironically, the band was capitalizing somewhat on the success of acts like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, both of whom came late to the party Parker helped establish. Regardless, this new-found “spark” was full of charge, making one of GP’s finest all-around albums. The R&B influences had been usurped by an urgent, straight-ahead pop approach. This proved to be a good move commercially, as well as artistically, as the songs here are all vibrantly full of life. The Rumour are rock solid throughout what may be Parker’s finest LP. ‘Saturday Nite Is Dead’ is a real raver this full-on rocker stands as a testament to the power and urgency of the Rumour in their prime. Straight ahead, no frills, traditional rock ‘n’ roll, delivered full steam ahead, ‘Saturday Nite Is Dead’ was one of many high points on the fourth GP album. The Rumour tear it up while Graham spits it out. Perfection in action.

‘Squeezing Out Sparks’ ranks as one of Parker & the Rumour’s finest hours, and ‘Local Girls’ is one of their catchiest singles. The sound of 1979 is in full bloom here as Parker does his thing amid a pure pop setting. It was released as a single in America with video to accompany it, but failed to even make the Top 100. It’s a shame, since to this day, there’s pop gold to be mined from these grooves.

The Up Escalator

‘The Up Escalator’ (1980)

‘The Up Escalator’ (1980) would be the final album Graham would make with his legendary backup band, the Rumour, until their fine reunion effort ‘Three Chords Good’ in 2012. Produced by mainstream mainstay Jimmy Iovine, the album was an attempt to push Parker more into the mainstream, which worked modestly, as the album barely dented the U.S. Top 40. Chock full of great songs like the classic ‘Stupefaction,’ the album kicked off a rough decade for Parker artistically, as ’80s production values often clashed with his style. Not so on this one though, as the pure pop washed with grit here ranks as one of Parker’s best.

While it was something short of a hit, Squeezing Out Sparks did win a measure of richly deserved American recognition for Graham Parker & the Rumour, and for the follow-up, Parker’s American record label, Arista, paired him up with hotshot producer Jimmy Iovine. The idea looked good on paper; Iovine had produced or engineered great sounding hard rock records for Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Patti Smith, and his tough but vibrant sound would seem the perfect match for Parker and his band. But one listen to The Up Escalator reveals that Iovine’s trademark sound somehow escaped him for this project; the recording and mix are flat and poorly detailed (Brinsley Schwarz’s lead guitar and Stephen Goulding’s drums suffer the most), and the often mushy audio manages the remarkable feat of making the Rumour, one of the most exciting rock bands of their day, sound just a bit dull. But Parker fights the muddy sound every step of the way, and if his batting average as a songwriter is a shade lower than on Squeezing Out Sparks, he certainly offers up his share of A-list material, including the incendiary “Empty Lives,” the passionate “The Beating of Another Heart,” and “Endless Night,” which features one Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals. Parker’s singing is sharp and commanding, and even though the mix lets them down, the Rumour’s performances are tough and precise throughout. The Up Escalator failed to catch the ears of the mass audience, and Parker would soon part ways with the Rumour, but if this album doesn’t present them in the best light, it shows that they could play tough, passionate rock & roll that could survive even the most adverse recording conditions.

The Real Macaw

The Real Macaw’ (1983)

Parker’s 1983 album ‘The Real Macaw’ was another solid offering, stocked full of instantly catchy tunes and a solid crisp production. Despite all the checks in the plus column, no one was taking the bait. The album wandered up to No. 59 in the U.S. charts, but fell as quickly as it arrived. ‘Just Like A Man’ is another in a long run of dead-on, glowing pop songs from GP. Street-smart lyrics over a power-pop backdrop should have gone a long way to turn people’s heads, but by 1983, Parker sadly at this point was yesterday’s news to most.

Also check out the “Live at Marble Arch” album, On this promotional live album, Graham Parker and the Rumour combine selections from their just-released debut album, Howlin’ Wind, and their upcoming second album, Heat Treatment, with such influential oldies as “Chain Of Fools” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

1977 BBC Top of the Pops with their version of The Trammps “Hold Back the Night” from The Pink Parker EP