Music News

Happy Birthday, Graham Parker!

Like Elvis Costello, with whom he first shared the spotlight at the height of England's punk music revolution, Graham Parker drew his image as an irascible, rebellious rocker who was perpetually defiant and decidedly anti-authority. Born 61 years ago today, Parker may have since matured, but that cynicism and intensity have yet to subside. Parker and Costello have pursued parallel careers for the past 35 years or so, but they've also diverged considerably since their common beginnings. In truth, Parker has always been overshadowed by Costello's accomplishments and the divide between the two men continued to widen when Elvis broadened his palette and achieved both critical and mainstream success. Parker, for his part, continues to do what he has always done best -- namely to rail against the absurdities of society and spew his venom with wise, pointed and sarcastic observations. 

These days, Parker continues to ply his craft by taking that very same

stance, and though an abundance of archival live albums and the ongoing

tirades that mark his studio sets have kept him confined to his niche,

his music continues to ring with authority and conviction. In fact, he's

maintained excellent quality control and the records he's making now

measure up well to early efforts like Howlin' Wind, Heat Treatment and Squeezing Out Sparks,

true classics that still stand up more than 30 years on. His passion

and adrenalin have yet to subside, although his inability to break out

big time likely still haunts him.

Parker and Costello once sounded remarkably similar but over the past couple of decades their music now differs considerably. Still, it's worth noting just how closely bound they were when they were starting out. In the beginning, in fact, they pursued identical paths and it's not only ironic, but actually rather striking, just how much they paralleled each other's trajectory. Forget the fact that Parker's still brash and brazen and Costello's now warbling Americana and adding classical music, jazz and Burt Bacharach to his repertoire; it's uncanny how many details these two men once held in common. Here are half a dozen of the more obvious examples: 

* Both Parker and Costello recycled their respective backing bands from earlier incarnations. Costello's initial outfit, the Attractions, was spun from a band called Clover, which originally included Huey Lewis and John McFee, later of the Doobie Brothers. Parker relied on the Rumour, which drew primarily from a pub rock combo called Brinsley Schwarz, which took its name from its guitarist. 

* Nick Lowe was a also common bond. Lowe produced both men and contributed musically to their early albums. 

* Parker and Costello released their initial albums in the mid to late '70s and they both continue to tour incessantly today. 

* One of Britain's most revered record labels, Stiff Records, played a part in each of their early careers. Costello was signed to Stiff while Dave Robinson, one of Stiff's founders, gave Parker some initial encouragement and helped him assemble his first backing band. 

* Early on, both men released rare, limited edition EPS that quickly became much sought-after collectors items. Parker's was entitled The Pink Parker and it boasted four tracks -- two live, two studio -- on Pepto-Bismol colored vinyl. Costello's was titled Live at Hollywood High; originally consistently of three songs recorded live in performance, it was later re-released on CD and expanded to a full-length album. 

* Notably, they both tended to scowl a lot and generally give the impression they were pretty pissed off. Take a look at some of those early album covers. Parker still looks that way.

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Lee Zimmerman