Graham Parker (born November 18, 1950 in London) is an English rock singer and songwriter.
Early career (1960s-1976)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Graham Parker sang in small-time English bands such as the Black Rockers and Deep Cut Three while working in dead-end jobs like a glove factory and a petrol station. In 1975, he recorded a few demo tracks in London with Dave Robinson, who would shortly found Stiff Records and who connected Parker with his first backing band of note.
Graham Parker and the Rumour (Parker, with Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont on guitars, Bob Andrews on keyboards, Andrew Bodnar on bass and Steve Goulding on drums) formed in the summer of 1975 and began doing the rounds of the British pub rock scene. The band was also augmented at times by a four-man horn section known as The Rumour Brass: John "Irish" Earle (sax), Chris Gower (trombone), Dick Hanson (trumpet), and Ray Bevis (sax).
The band's first album, Howlin' Wind, was released to acclaim in 1976 and was rapidly followed by the stylistically similar Heat Treatment. A mixture of rock, ballads, and reggae-influenced numbers, these albums reflected Parker's early influences (Motown, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan,Van Morrison) and contained the songs which formed the core of Parker's live shows -- "White Honey", "Soul Shoes", "Lady Doctor", "Fool's Gold", and his early signature tune "Don't Ask Me Questions", which hit the top 40 in the UK.
Parker and the Rumour built a reputation as incendiary live performers: the promotional album Live at Marble Arch was recorded at this time and shows off their raw onstage style. Like the pub rock scene he was loosely tied to, the singer's class-conscious lyrics and passionate vocals signaled a renewal of rock music as punk rock began to flower in Britain.
In terms of establishing a recording career in early 1976, Parker preceded two other "new wave" English singer-songwriters to whom he is often compared: Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Costello's first single was released in 1977, and Jackson's first solo single in late 1978 -- although Jackson had also been a member of Arms & Legs, which released three non-charting singles beginning in April of 1976, just a month after Parker and the Rumour released their debut single "Silly Thing".
Early in his career Parker's work was often compared favorably to Jackson's and Costello's. For decades afterwards journalists would continue to categorize them together, often labelling them with some variation of "Angry Young Men", even long after the artists' work had diverged. Characteristically, Parker would not hesitate to criticize this habit with caustic wit.
A New Direction (1977)
The first 2 albums' critical acclaim was generally not matched with LP sales. Graham Parker and the Rumour appeared on BBC television's Top of the Pops in 1977, performing their version of The Trammps' "Hold Back the Night" from The Pink Parker EP, a top 30 UK hit in March 1977.
At this point, Parker began to change his songwriting style, reflecting his desire to break into the American market. The first fruits of this new direction appeared on Stick To Me (1977). The album broke the top 20 on the UK charts but divided critical opinions, particularly with numbers like "The Heat in Harlem" -- the band's longest song at the time. Nick Lowe's production also came under fire: some critics complained that the band sounded thin and Parker's voice was mixed down, when in fact a studio mishap had compromised the original recordings and forced the group to remake the album on short notice.
Squeezing Out Sparks (1978-1979)
An official Graham Parker and The Rumour live album called The Parkerilla, issued in 1978, showed that the Rumour's vibrant live style remained strong, though some critics saw Parker in a holding pattern 2 years after Heat Treatment. It was a crucial juncture for the young musician.
Parker had long been dissatisfied with the performance of his US record company, Mercury Records, finally issuing in the 1979 single "Mercury Poisoning", a public kiss-off reminiscent of the Sex Pistols' "EMI".
Energized by his new label, Arista, and the presence of legendary producer Jack Nitzsche, Parker followed with Squeezing Out Sparks, widely held to be the best album of his career. For this album, The Rumour's brass section, prominent on all previous albums, was jettisoned, resulting in a spare, intense rock backing for some of Parker's most brilliant songs. Of particular note was "You Can't Be Too Strong", one of rock music's rare songs to confront the topic of abortion, however ambivalently.
Squeezing out Sparks is still ranked by fans and critics alike as one of the finest rock albums ever made. Rolling Stone named it #335  on their 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In an early 1987 Rolling Stone list of their top 100 albums from 1967-1987, Squeezing Out Sparks was ranked at #45, while Howlin' Wind came in at #54 . The companion live album Live Sparks, sent to US radio stations as part of a concerted promotional campaign for Parker, showed how well the songs worked on stage, and included another snapping r&b cover, the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back".
The jettisoned brass section, incidentally, would continue to play on other people's records credited as The Rumour Brass, most notably on Katrina and the Waves' 1985 hit "Walking On Sunshine".
The End of The Rumour (1980)
Bob Andrews left The Rumour in early 1980, and was not officially replaced. However, in studio sessions for the next album, Nicky Hopkins and Danny Federici (of The E Street Band) sat in on keyboards.
Although marginally less intense than its predecessor, 1980's The Up Escalator was Parker's highest-charting album in the UK and featured glossy production by Jimmy Iovine and guest vocals from Bruce Springsteen. Significantly, the front cover of the album credited only Graham Parker, not "Graham Parker and The Rumour".
The Up Escalator would prove to be Parker's last album with the Rumour, although guitarist Brinsley Schwarz would reunite with Parker in 1983 and play on most of the singer's albums through the decade's end. As well, bassist Andrew Bodnar would rejoin Parker from 1988 through the mid-90s, and drummer Steve Goulding would play on Parker's 2001 album Deepcut To Nowhere.
Commercial Success (1981-1990)
The 1980s were Parker's most commercially successful years, with well-financed recordings and radio and video play. Over the decade, the British press turned unkind to him, but he continued to record and tour the world with top backing bands. His followup to The Up Escalator, 1982's Another Grey Area, featured noted session musicians Nicky Hopkins and Hugh McCracken in the backing band; this album charted at UK #40 and US #51, and spun off a top 40 UK single in "Temporary Beauty".
1983's The Real Macaw, featuring drumming by Gilson Lavis of Squeeze and the return of Brinsley Schwarz to the guitarist's spot didn't fare quite as well, hitting US #59 on the album charts but missing the UK charts altogether. However, Parker's 1985 release Steady Nerves (credited to Graham Parker and The Shot) was a moderate success and included his only US Top 40 hit, "Wake Up (Next to You)". The Shot was a four-piece backing band, all of whom had played on either The Real Macaw or Another Grey Area: Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), George Small (keyboards), Kevin Jenkins (bass), and Michael Braun (drums).
Steady Nerves was recorded in New York City, and Parker began living mostly in the United States during this time.
An uncompromising attitude toward his music ensured that Parker would clash with the changing priorities of the major label music business, and the label changes came quickly after the mid-1980s. This situation partly accounts for the remarkable number of compilation albums in Graham Parker's discography. Particularly unproductive was Parker's tenure at Atlantic Records, where he has said he was told to collaborate with other songwriters and to focus on "a big drum sound." Instead, Parker ended the deal (without releasing anything on Atlantic) and signed to RCA Records. He began producing his own recordings and stripping down his sound with The Mona Lisa's Sister, which gained him renewed critical attention and was a success in the new "modern rock" format. The backing band for this album included former Rumour-mates Schwarz and Bodnar; keyboardists James Halliwell and Steve Nieve; and ex-Rockpile and Dire Straits drummer Terry Williams (replaced on one cut by Andy Duncan, and two others by Pete Thomas who, like Nieve, was a member of Elvis Costello and the Attractions).
Parker contined to record for RCA through the early 1990s, typically receiving critical priase but little in the way of chart success. Long-time guitarist Schwarz once again parted company with Parker after the well-reviewed 1990 album Human Soul.
Parker's 1991 offering, Struck By Lightning, had a slightly rootsier flavour than previous Parker releases, and featured bassist Bodnar and Attractions' drummer Pete Thomas in the backing band, as well as a guest appearance from The Band's Garth Hudson on keyboards. However, the album's chart peak of US #131 wasn't enough to keep RCA happy, and Parker was dropped from the label.
He rebounded quickly. Parker, Bodnar and Thomas were joined by keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council, and this unit recorded 1992's Burning Questions for the US major label Capitol Records. Unfortunately, this record missed the charts completely, and once again Parker found himself label-less.
A 1994 Christmas-themed EP release (Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker) was issued on Dakota Arts Records, before Parker found a more permanent home on American independent label Razor & Tie. After the movingly personal 12 Haunted Episodes, and 1996's Acid Bubblegum (featuring Jimmy Destri of Blondie on keyboards), Parker grew quiet in the late 1990s. However he continued to play live fairly regularly, often working with backing band The Figgs (who, like The Rumour, when not backing Parker also issued records as a discrete unit).
Into the 21st century
Parker began an extraordinarily active period in 2001, with the UK rerelease of his early Rumour work, and with his third studio album for Razor & Tie, Deepcut to Nowhere, a penetrating collection of new songs that seemed intended to reflect comprehensively on the singer's life and aims. It also marked a reunion of sorts, as Parker recorded with ex-Rumour drummer Steve Goulding for the first time in 20 years.
In 2003, Parker collaborated with Kate Pierson of the B-52's and Bill Janovitz to record an album of lesser-known John Lennon/Paul McCartney compostions that had never been recorded by The Beatles. The album, called From A Window: Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney, was credited to "Pierson, Parker, Janovitz".
New solo work continued with 2004's Your Country, which saw Parker switch labels to Chicago-based indie Bloodshot Records. While presented as a flirtation with country music, Your Country had only marginally rootsier sound than Parker's norm.
Following in 2005 was Songs Of No Consequence, an uptempo rock and roll collection quickly recorded with sometime backing band, the Figgs. A show from the ensuing tour with the Figgs broadcasted on FM radio became a live album in 2006. In March of 2007, a new full-length, Don't Tell Columbus is due, marking Parker's fourth album in three years.
In addition to his records, Parker published an illustrated science fiction novella, The Great Trouser Mystery in 1980. He published a set of short stories, Carp Fishing on Valium, in June 2000. His third book, a novel, The Other Life of Brian, appeared in September 2003.