10 Best Graham Parker Songs
One of the finest 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. His loyal fans have always championed his work, and we do likewise with this list of the 10 best Graham Parker songs.
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.
Released in the fall of 1977, 'Stick To Me' was Parker's third LP in less than two years. The album was recorded once 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.
'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.
'Fool's Gold' 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.
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.
With 2007's 'Don't Tell Columbus,' Parker issued one of his finest albums in a long time. Not that those released in the previous decade were anything to scoff at, but this one was rock solid, and 'I Discovered America' is simply brilliant. The lyrics, the tune and the spirit are all prime GP. Elements of Bob Dylan, always an influence, creep in without ever overshadowing the Parker identity. From top to bottom, it's a solid LP, and this is only one of many highlights.
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 was sadly yesterday's news to most.
'Don't Ask Me Questions' put the lid on Parker's debut, 'Howlin' Wind,' with 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.
A real raver from the 'Squeezing Out Sparks' album, 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 those grooves.