Monday, June 28, 2010

Had the Flame But No Candle

It's a Gauntlet, You Gotta Run It

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this.

Graham Parker thought he should've been the next big thing when he was on Mercury Records and a lot of people agreed. He had a great pub-rock sound, amazing songs, the sneer that redefined "angry young man" for the era, and an incredibly strong backing band in the Rumour.

But Mercury didn't know how to put him over the top, so he left them (leaving behind one of the best bitter-record-company-kiss-off songs in rock history "Mercury Poisoning"), signed to Arista, and released the brilliant Squeezing Out Sparks. The album was adored by critics and expanded the cult audience he'd been building for years.

He was on the brink... and surely the next album would make him a superstar.

So the record company turned to Jimmy Iovine, who'd been an engineer on Springsteen's Born to Run album and had produced Tom Petty's breakthrough record Damn the Torpedoes.

The songs were strong. The Rumour was at their peak. And Bruce Springsteen publicly announced that Parker and the Rumour were the only band he would pay to see live. (Springsteen would duet with Parker on "Endless Night" for the new album -- hear it here.)

But the album didn't quite sound right. The performances on record were off and the production sounded muddy and flat.

Arista left "the Rumour" off of the cover and when they album wasn't enormous, the band was soon gone as well.

But the songs were great -- and the band still sounded amazing live.

Parker would chase the superstardom that should have been his for the next decade, signing with (and being dropped by) every major label in existence, making some great videos, and hiring superstar producers who never quite managed to capture lightning in a bottle.

In an alternate universe, Parker would have sold as many records as Springsteen or U2 or Prince. Or maybe he'd be hosting that talk show on the Sundance Channel instead of Elvis Costello.

Sadly, it wasn't to be... at least not in this universe. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)


jb said...

Amen. Nice to know I wasn't the only one stupified when "Stupefaction" bombed. Still sounds wicked good.

Alex said...


Although the hopeless romantic in me is more than willing to make the case that "Jolie Jolie" is the standout of the album. (I would've posted it but I couldn't find a link.)

ejw said...

Yeah. Just saw GP at Jammin' Java here in NoVA. He and the Figgs were a lot of fun - playing well and although never long enough. He could play for hours and hours and not get through all his good stuff!

I have to appreciate the fact that he's creatively handled being a "working musician" - releasing live albums and small run recordings.

I don't know that he could have been Bruce or U2 - but he certainly could have been Costello or Joe Jackson. (Speaking of which, what the heck happened to JJ? I don't hear or see anything of him these days.)

Holly A Hughes said...

Although as Graham himself says -- "I don't appeal to the masses, and they don't appeal to me." I don't think that chasing stardom was ever in his make-up. it's the public's loss, that more people don't know how great his later albums are! (And he just keeps on making good ones -- check out his latest, Imaginary Television).

Alex said...

I've heard that Joe Jackson is mostly living in Berlin these days. His 2008 album Rain was wonderful -- piano/bass/drums with 75% of the Joe Jackson band.

Holly, you're spot on -- Graham's later albums have been quite good and Imaginary Television is pretty wonderful.

Jon said...

The past ain't even worth livin' in, but man, super hot performance of 'Empty Lives' there. Great album all the way through, I thought.