Graham Parker

British singer and songwriter Graham Parker emerged in London in 1976, rising to prominence with a sound that was steeped in Rock and Roll tradition – Dylan, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, and classic Soul music were obvious influences – but that crackled with a ferocious energy and an angry edge that presaged the Punk explosion.

Parker came more or less out of nowhere – a resident of the London suburb Deepcut, he was working at a gas station and writing songs on his own when he placed an ad in the British music newspaper Melody Maker seeking backing musicians. The ad led him to manager Dave Robinson, who was struck by Parker’s powerful songs. Robinson and Parker began recording demos, and before long Parker – who had virtually no professional experience – had signed a deal with Phonogram. Robinson recruited a group of musicians who would form the Rumour, Parker’s backing band, all of them veterans of London’s “Pub Rock” scene of the early 1970s, which offered a laid-back, country-tinged, slightly hippie-ish antidote to the Glam Rock and Prog Rock that predominated. The combination of the Rumour’s professionalism and Parker’s passionate vocals was a potent one, and the band’s live performances began attracting notice.

So did Parker and the Rumour’s 1976 debut album, Howlin’ Wind, which was a critical favorite, but not a huge seller. That became a consistent theme as Parker released a string of highly regarded records, including Heat Treatment, Stick to Me, and most notably, Squeezing Out Sparks. The latter, a terse, stripped-down set of songs produced by industry veteran Jack Nitzsche, topped many year-end “best of” lists and is often cited as Parker’s highwater mark.  Despite strong FM airplay, the record failed to generate any hits, however, peaking at No. 40 on the Billboard Pop Album chart.

After 1980's The Up Escalator — which featured guest vocals from Parker admirer Bruce Springsteen and production by Jimmy Iovine, who had just finished work on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ breakthrough album Damn the Torpedoes – Parker disbanded the Rumour. He soldiered on with various backup bands, signing deals with some half-dozen labels, and scoring a few moderate hits in the 1980s.

Since then Parker – who’s lived for several decades in upstate New York – has continued to issue well-regarded records and tour sporadically, both as a solo performer and with the Power Pop band the Figgs. In 2011, he reuinited the Rumour for a new album, Three Chords Good, and a tour; he and the band also appeared, as themselves, in the Judd Apatow film  This is 40, released in 2012.

Related Lessons

Punk as Reaction

Grades: High, Middle
Subjects: Art/Design, Social Studies/History

How was Punk Rock a reaction both to the commercialization of Rock and Roll and to the social climate in late 1970s Britain?