Graham Parker and the Rumour definitely disappeared for a while, a fairly long while, so it seems like it should be okay to look at one of their most successful albums as our Then-album to compare with the new one, Three Chords Good(2013). That would mean that we could review Squeezing Out Sparks (a five-star album) or The Up Escalator, both of which charted well and were in most dorm rooms back then. That doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of this site though, so let’s take a look at the first Graham Parker and the Rumour album, 1976’s Howlin’ Wind.
This was indeed a crossroads for many of the musicians who formed this band, not least of which is Brinsley Schwarz, with Bob Andrews, coming off ten years as front man for his own groups, Kippington Lodge and Brinsley Schwarz. They were joined by Martin Belmont (rhythm guitar, ex Ducks Deluxe), Andrew Bodnar (bass), and Steve Goulding (drums) . They got together and put out an album in 1976, a year in which the number one song was McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” in which Wild Cherry had their fame, in which funk and disco ruled. Take a look at the top ten; Graham Parker and the Rumour weren’t part of their times that year.
It wasn’t that they were punk or new wave; they were accused of being pub rockers and so forth, and later tasked with like-punk and like-new wave. They were just a very good band, though. They sound more like The Traveling Wilburys than anyone else, and good Traveling Wilburys at that. And that’s what they were, a retread club of musicians, forming in 1976. They were sometimes joined by a horn section made up of two saxophone players, John "Irish" Earle and Ray Beavis, and Chris Gower on trombone and Dick Hanson on trumpet. That’s not punk or new wave.
Howlin’ Wind did not chart at all and ironies are a wonderful aspect of musical history. It is clearly one of the best albums of 1976—especially for those of us who are no longer listening to Johnnie Taylor, Starland Vocal Band, The Manhattans, or the combo of Elton John and Kiki Dee—and was well ahead of its time. It’s out of its time, actually.
“Back to Schooldays” is two minutes and fifty-four seconds long and starts like an Elvis tune from 1956, presaging much of The Clash and even The Sex Pistols. The difference is that these musicians had some years, many in fact, with their instruments; it’s part of a return to roots, in which the punk crews of the era were green and raw at once.
“Soul Shoes,” “Not if it Pleases Me,” and “Don’t Ask Me Questions” are all classics that underachieved in their time. There are many of those songs out there, of course, but these few by Graham Parker and the Rumour deserve a good current listening. They certainly cannot be dismissed as 1970s pub rock. These tunes sound good as MP3s and will sound great in the next medium as well.