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Graham Parker

Stereotyped early in his career as the quintessential angry young man, Graham Parker was one of the most successful singer/songwriters to emerge from England's pub rock scene of the early '70s. Drawing heavily from Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones, Parker developed a sinewy fusion of driving rock & roll and confessional folk-rock, highlighted by his indignant passion, biting sarcasm, and bristling anger. At the outset of his career, his albums crackled with pub rock energy, snide witticisms, and gentle insights, earning him a devoted following of fans and critics, who lavished praise on his debut, Howlin' Wind. Despite all of the positive word of mouth, Parker never managed to become a star, and he was soon overshadowed by the emergence of Elvis Costello, a singer/songwriter who shared similar roots. After delivering Squeezing Out Sparks in 1979, Parker attempted to make a few crossover albums before settling into a cult following in the late '80s, continuing to garner critical acclaim.

After spending much of his early adulthood working odd jobs, ranging from breeding mice and guinea pigs to working at a gas station, Parker began seriously pursuing a musical career in 1975. Until that time, he had played in a number of obscure pub rock groups, including a cover band that had spent time playing in Morocco and Gibraltar. But it wasn't until 1975 that he began shopping his demos. That year, Dave Robinson, one of the co-founders of the new independent label Stiff, heard one of Parker's demo tapes and encouraged the songwriter, helping him assemble a backing band called the Rumour. Robinson rounded up several stars of the pub rock scene -- guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and keyboardist Bob Andrews, both formerly of the leading pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz, former Ducks Deluxe guitarist Martin Belmont, former Bontemps Roulez drummer Steve Goulding, and bassist Andrew Bodnar -- to form the Rumour, and the band was soon supporting Parker on the dying pub rock scene. With the assistance of DJ Charlie Gillett, the group landed a record contract with Mercury by the end of 1975.

Graham Parker & the Rumour headed into the studio to cut their debut album with producer Nick Lowe, who gave the resulting record, Howlin' Wind, an appealingly ragged edge. Howlin' Wind was greeted with enthusiastic reviews upon its summer release, as was the similar Heat Treatment, which followed in the fall. Despite the positive press, Parker was growing frustrated with Mercury, believing that the company was not properly promoting and distributing his records. His third album, Stick to Me, had to be re-recorded quickly after the original tapes were discovered to be defective prior to its scheduled release. As a result, Stick to Me received mixed reviews upon its fall 1977 release, which derailed Parker's momentum slightly. Furthermore, Elvis Costello, a fellow pub rock survivor who possessed not only a more pop-oriented style of songwriting, but also a more dangerous persona, soon eclipsed Parker in popularity. Frustrated by his career hitting a standstill, Parker released the live-double album The Parkerilla in the summer of 1978 in order to get out of his contract. Following a short but intense bidding war, he quickly signed to Arista Records, where he released "Mercury Poisoning" -- a blistering attack on his former record label -- as the B-side of a promotional single as his first record for the label.

Squeezing Out Sparks, Parker's first album for Arista, put a halt to that decline. Sporting a slicker, new wave-oriented production -- it was the first of his records not to have any involvement from Nick Lowe -- the album was greeted with terrific reviews and, on the strengths of radio hits like "Local Girls," it became his most successful album, reaching number 40 on the American charts and selling over 200,000 copies. Parker was poised for a major breakthrough, but that didn't happen. He followed Squeezing Out Sparks in 1980 with the Jimmy Iovine-produced The Up Escalator, which was considerably slicker than its predecessor. The Up Escalator didn't sell, and Parker decided to ditch the Rumour, who had already begun a solo career. For 1982's Another Grey Area, he hired producer Jack Douglas and a team of session musicians, resulting in a radio-ready production that received mixed reviews, yet managed to peak at number 51. The Real Macaw, which followed in 1983, suffered a similar fate. For 1985's Steady Nerves, Parker moved to Elektra Records and formed a backing band called the Shot with guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, who helped him deliver his most radio-ready collection. This time, the pop move paid off. "Wake Up (Next to You)" became his only Top 40 hit, and the album stayed on the charts for nearly as long as Squeezing Out Sparks.

Despite his moderate commercial success with Steady Nerves, the album wasn't widely praised, and he also ran into trouble with Elektra, leaving the label after just one record. He briefly moved to Atlantic, which dropped him without releasing a single record. Consequently, Parker wasn't able to deliver another album until 1988, when he signed with RCA and released The Mona Lisa's Sister in the spring. Hailed as a comeback by several critics upon its release, the album generated a college radio hit with "Get Started (Start a Fire)" and spent 19 weeks on the charts. Instead of being the beginning of a comeback, the album turned out to be a last gasp: it was the last time Parker was able to crack the Top 100. Live! Alone in America (1989) received positive reviews but was ignored, and 1990's mild worldbeat experiment Human Soul received mixed reviews and peaked at number 165 on the charts. Parker's final album for RCA -- and his last album to chart -- was the stripped-down Struck by Lightning (1991), and while it was critically praised, it didn't find an audience outside of his cult. The following year, he switched to Capitol and released Burning Questions, which was ignored.

Following the release of 1993's double-disc anthology Passion Is No Ordinary Word, Parker made the leap to independent labels -- he had spent time at all but one of the major labels (Columbia/Sony) with little success. In 1994, he released the Christmas Cracker EP on Dakota Arts, and then he signed with Razor & Tie, where he released 12 Haunted Episodes in the spring. Like The Mona Lisa's Sister and Struck by Lightning before it, 12 Haunted Episodes was hailed as a comeback, and it sold in respectable numbers for an indie release. Parker followed it with two albums in 1996, Live from New York, NY and Acid Bubblegum, which appeared within two months of each other late in the summer. Early in 1997, he released yet another live album, the double-disc The Last Rock N Roll Tour, which was recorded with the power pop quartet the Figgs. Parker continued to issue a steady stream of archive and live releases into the mid-2000s, and moved into singer/songwriter mode for the albums Deepcut to Nowhere and Your Country, the latter a roots rock-influenced affair released by the Chicago-based Bloodshot Records. The Figgs were back for 2005's Songs of No Consequence, an album that Parker declared "rocks like safari park chimp" in pre-release publicity. Unreleased material, rare edits, and remixes were featured on Official Art Vandelay Tapes, Vol. 2, which appeared two weeks after Songs of No Consequence. Don't Tell Columbus arrived in March 2007. The clever Imaginary Television appeared in 2010, along with the DVD Live at the FTC.

Parker unexpectedly reunited his original backing band the Rumour in 2011, recording a new album that became 2012's Three Chords Good. The reunion album appeared in November 2012, around the same time Judd Apatow's This Is Forty -- a movie where Graham Parker & the Rumour provide a plot point -- hit the theaters, thereby pushing the singer/songwriter into the mainstream spotlight for the first time in years. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

nicko252008
don't tell Columbus cover, very Hunter S Thompson ish LOVE IT!!
tsb11361
...did he die or something?.. .
elvis costello, joe jackson, graham parker - man, the late 70's were great and the concerts were incredible.
I LOVE GP's early 90's Effort called Burning Questions. Every song is a gem, from rockers with poetic lyrics to intense love ballads. Includes a total acoustic remake of Substitute by PT & the Who. Excellent pop/rock commentary for any period. BEST ALBUM YOU'VE NEVER HEARD. promise. In my humble opinion.
I like some of Parker's stuff
nicko252008
This guy should run a country.
bbapt1
Elvis Costello should send GP a thank you card for having a career.
bbapt1
bobo- you're mixed-up alright
I always get Graham Parker and Graham Parsons mixed up. Graham Parsons was better. Parker is highly over rated.
Adam Carolla sent me here.
Going to see him with ian hunter this sunday!
GP and John Hiatt should collaberate. . . . .
sascher2
As recently as the late 80s, he had two of the top 20 albums of all-time according to Rolling Stone. Now I think he has 1 in the top 500. He did deserve better.
My all-time favorite! A great song writer.
heckart5, cuz Graham Parker has been blessed by the Good Lord Himself....
listening to sugaree this tune is a real sweetee
listening to it takes a village idiot great song writing and feel i never tire of the great singer songwriters.
I can't figure out why Pandora slipped this into my Hymns station.
Good lyrics (in other words, poetry). Generally agree with the angel of anarchy (even though generally libertarian) . Go.
Look for "Alone in America", a live set without the band. Stupendous.
It is a pity Graham Parker never went anywhere comercially. . h e so desperately craved it ( ie crying for attention ) those first two albums (Howlin Wind, Heat Treatment) are amazing and rock hard..great bass and horns..oh well i kinda like the fact he was a critics darling with a cult following. Keep rockin Graham!!
I'm amazed "Nation of Shopkeepers" didn't become a huge cult classic. It should be.
Why is his Hit the Spot so hard to track down. Love that tune. GP is definitely underappreci a t e d .
I can't believe more people have heard of GP. A genius.
What a pity this guy wasn't more successful.
Didn't this guy get lots of MTV video airplay in the early/mid 80's? I liked MTV then. MTV sucks now.

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