Even in 1976, blue-eyed soul boy and ex-mod Graham Parker was seen as not quite of the top drawer, although he frequently came very close.
Born in 1950 in London, Parker grew up in Deepcut, a country village in southeast England. His mother worked in a cafe and his father was a coal stoker. Parker left school when he was seventeen and began working in the Animal Viral Research Institute, breeding mice and guinea pigs.
But he soon found that job, like most other aspects of working-class life in England, a dead-end.
In 1975, after a series of odd jobs and stints in several bands, Parker (then a petrol station attendant) sent a tape of some songs he had written to London’s Hope & Anchor pub.
Dave Robinson – who ran a recording studio there – heard the tape and matched Parker up with The Rumour, an all-star band of the then-waning pub rock scene, including ex-members of Brinsley Schwarz, Ducks Deluxe and Bontemps Roulez
The following year, Graham Parker and The Rumour released two albums – Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment – that contained some of the most intense music of the seventies.
Showing off a variety of influences from Bob Dylan and R&B to Van Morrison and reggae, and with Parker’s growling voice pulling everything together, it was clear that Graham Parker & The Rumour had risen above pub rock to create their own distinct brand of rock & roll.
But despite the critical acclaim, those first two LPs sold only 30,000 and 60,000 copies respectively. The group and its management put much of the blame on Mercury Records, their label at the time, who only initially pressed 8,000 copies of each album. Parker eventually wrote and recorded a diatribe against the label called (subtly) Mercury Poisoning.
1977 brought an EP, The Pink Parker, which provided Parker with his breakthrough courtesy of a cover of what was essentially a disco number – The Trammps‘ Hold Back The Night. The single reached the Top 20 in Britain.
The third LP – Stick To Me (1977) – was not as well-received by the rock press, which criticised Nick Lowe‘s production and some of Parker’s new songs. And the two-record live set The Parkerilla (1978) was a flawed attempt to capture the band’s powerful live presence on vinyl.
Parker’s erstwhile backing band also performed as an individual entity and released some enjoyable albums, including Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts (in retaliation to Fleetwood Mac naming one of their LPs Rumours).
1979’s Squeezing Out Sparks (his first album on his new label, Arista) was Parker’s best work. His still-bitter songs had a blossoming maturity and in Passion Is No Ordinary Word he had a) a point and b) his best song until Temporary Beauty.
When Squeezing Out Sparks failed to win the audience he deserved, Parker sank into creative confusion. The albums kept coming – The Up Escalator (1980) and – after The Rumour split up – Another Grey Area (1982), The Real Macaw (1983) and Steady Nerves (1985) – but no combination of producer and players seemed able to unlock Parker’s heart.
Consequently, Parker seized control of all aspects of The Mona Lisa’s Sister (1988). He co-produced the album with Brinsley Schwarz (one of The Rumour’s original guitarists), Andrew Bodnar – also from The Rumour – played bass, and when his label, Atlantic, began to suggest changes, Parker bolted to RCA and made them promise to release the album his way.
Parker moved to Woodstock in upstate New York where he continued to record and write fiction (he published a set of short stories in 2000 entitled Carp Fishing On Valium).