January 4, 2006

Records You Should Own

It's that time again, friends - time to focus on another Record You Should Own. These are albums that may not have gotten the attention they should receive - or, at the very least, are albums that are pretty damn cool.

Flashback to 1985: based on a Smokey Robinson-sounding single, I purchased a record called Steady Nerves by Graham Parker. However, every review I read about this album had the same theme - "It's good, but it's no Squeezing Out Sparks."

After that, I purchased a used LP copy, and...well, the rest is history. Our record this week is the expanded Squeezing Out Sparks (the expanded part I'll explain in a minute).

Pop Culture Gadabout has a wonderful overview of Parker's career, and Mr. Parker himself has a web site, but suffice it to say - this album came at a crossroads. Even twenty-six years after its initial release, it is a crackling good album, mixing R & B swing with straightforward rock. I don't think there's a bum track in the entire album, from the dramatic "Discovering Japan" to the anthemic "Passion Is No Ordinary Word", from the sneering "Local Girls" to the otherworldly "Waiting for the UFOs". This is a solidly written album, one of the first of many in Parker's career...but it showed a songwriter and band meshing completely.

(Plus, Parker is one of the most quotable songwriters. Unlike his contemporaries Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, he doesn't seem infatuated with his cleverness. Every clever turn of phrase services what Parker's trying to say. In a way, Parker is to songwriting what Quentin Tarantino would later be to screenwriting).

Around the same time, a promo-only Live Sparks album was released to radio stations, complete with live versions of the songs on SOS, with two inclusions - a live "I Want You Back" that smokes the Jackson 5 version, and Parker's own "Mercury Poisoning", decrying his treatment by a former record company. Luckily, this album was included in a release of SOS, resulting in an "expanded edition". The live tracks only prove the power of Parker's then-backing band, the Rumor, show Parker's onstage ability, and really help provide you, the home listener, value for the money.

So, if you want a balls-out album, or even a great starting point to explore Parker's career (be sure to check out Pop Culture Gadabout's other recommendations ), then Squeezing Out Sparks is definitely a "Record You Should Own."

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