In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Eclipsed by Elvis Costello in the late 1970s and relegated to the cut-out bins by the late 1980s, Graham Parker probably ranks as one of the most overlooked and unappreciated singer-songwriters of his era. It’s impossible to review Parker’s career without repeatedly stumbling over the same adjectives: passionate, bitter and sarcastic are common; or the same clichés: “angry young man”, “Mercury poisoning”, or even “own worst enemy.” Apparently radio only had room for one quirky, bespectacled, British pub rocker (Costello) and Parker probably was correct in his summation regarding his label, “their promotion’s so lame, they could never take it to the real ball game.” There were seemingly many factors conspiring to keep Graham Parker stuck in his cult status.
However, 2012 is shaping up as a redemption year for Parker. It appears that after thinking it over for a couple of decades, Graham really does want the recognition that eluded him during his prime. He’s been pushing his publishing company to place his songs in advertisements and he’s allowed director/producer Michael Gramaglia (End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones) access to create a film. Gramaglia’s overdue documentary will finally be released next year, the delay due to a series of increasingly interesting events that Gramaglia wishes to include; most noticeably, the reunion of Graham Parker & The Rumour. That happy news was announced late this summer with Gramaglia’s film a catalyst and another film, Judd Apatow’s follow-up to Knocked Up, cementing the reunion. Turns out that Apatow is a huge Graham Parker fan and one of the subplots of his new movie involves Graham Parker & The Rumour as the unlikely potential savior of a struggling independent record company. 2012 also promises a full Graham Parker & The Rumour album: Three Chords Good.
Graham Parker & The Rumour – Hold Back The Night (The Trammps cover)
Graham Parker & The Rumour – I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (Ann Peebles cover)
To tide us over until the two films and the new album, let’s review some notable Graham Parker covers from his career. Parker definitely had a weakness for American soul and even disco, and would feature covers of everything from Sam Cooke to Michael Jackson in his live shows. Parker’s first cover to be committed to vinyl came out on 1977’s Pink Parker EP, though it’s now easier to find as a bonus track on the reissued Heat Treatment. “Hold Back The Night” was a big UK hit for The Trammps. Graham & The Rumour along with The Rumour Horns give the track a rich, full sound. “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” was a minor 1973 R&B hit for Memphis soul singer Ann Peebles who wrote the song along with her husband. Parker dug it up and released his cover on 1977’s Stick To Me, beating out the better-known Paul Young version by 7 years.
Graham Parker – Bad To Me (Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas cover)
In 2003 Parker along with Kate Pierson of The B-52’s and Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz collaborated on an interesting tribute album, Lost Songs Of Lennon And McCartney. The concept was to cover songs that John and Paul wrote and either gave away to other artists or never bothered to record as The Beatles. Perhaps the best Parker performance on this collection is “Bad To Me,” a song that The Beatles gave to another Brian Epstein Merseybeat act: Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.
Graham Parker – Sugaree (Grateful Dead cover)
Just because The Rumour only recently reunited doesn’t mean that Parker has been away from music since the 1980s. He’s faithfully released a solo album (either studio or live) roughly every year for the past two decades. One of the biggest surprises of that period was 2004’s Your Country; consider it Graham’s country-rock ode. The lone cover is a comfortable version of the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree” that is about as far away from Parker expectations as you can get. Graham later would confess total embarrassment to singing “when they bring that raygun ‘round” instead of “when they bring that wagon ‘round.”
Graham Parker – Substitute – (The Who cover)
Parker phased himself out of London in the mid ‘80s, eventually making his home in Woodstock, New York. In addition to being a fan of American soul music, Graham has his Yankee television favorites as well, most notably Seinfeld. Cover fans and Parker fans get a gold mine with The Official Art Vandelay Tapes (named after George Costanza’s sometime alias). Graham compiles some rare tracks and adds several covers, including a Smithereens-backed “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” and a riveting version of The Who’s “Substitute” that takes the tempo way down and further enforces the mood with soft, fuzzy guitar work.
Keep posted on the coming Graham Parker developments at Graham’s official site.