[Review] Graham Parker: Howlin Wind (1976)

The debut album from the best new band of 1976, according to Rolling Stone.

Kronomyth 1.0: Twas brinsley, and the schwartzy toves did gyre and gimble in the wind.

With Van Morrison on some sort of mystical sabbatical and Bruce Springsteen struggling with his former manager and his newfound fame, Graham Parker’s Howlin Wind arrived like a breath of fresh air. Rolling Stone crowned Graham Parker and the Rumour the best new band of 1976, and no less a figure than Springsteen himself gave them his benediction by saying “Graham Parker’s the only guy around right now I’d pay money to see.” Not bad for a guy who was working at a gas station just a few years earlier.

Howlin’ Wind is a remarkably consistent record from a major talent. That said, its consistency has a lot to do with The Rumour, a working band built from the ashes of Brinsley Schwarz. Add in the fact that former Brinsley Schwarz bassist Nick Lowe was the album’s producer and Brinsley Schwarz manager Dave Robinson its executive producer, and it wouldn’t be completely out of order to call Howlin Wind Brinsley Schwarz’s finest hour.

Graham Parker and The Rumour deliver the sort of R&B and white soul music that makes the hair on the back of your neck bristle. It’s electric, defiant, sometimes surprisingly tender, punk in attitude but pristine in execution. In some ways, the songs aren’t far removed from Dave Edmunds (e.g., Back to Schooldays). In other ways, particularly in Parker’s sardonic wit, it feels light years removed (Don’t Ask Me Questions).

Howlin Wind was supported with two singles, Silly Thing and Soul Shoes. They’re two of the most fun tracks on the album, with catchy choruses and punchy horns. Other highlights cut in the same mold include Lady Doctor and White Honey. Parker isn’t just a rocker, though. He’s got a sensitive side that shows up in the ballads (Gypsy Blood) and even a streak of optimism (Between You and Me). The more you listen to this record, the more each song grows on you, and the more convinced you become that Parker couldn’t write a bad song if he tried.

Consistency has been a hallmark across Graham Parker’s career, so I’ll leave the beknighting of “his best album” to some other pundit. Howlin Wind is simply a great start to a career that should have received greater attention outside critical circles, but one that produced albums which were worth every penny. Except for The Parkerilla, which if I recall was kind of the point.

Original elpee version

A1. White Honey (3:38)
A2. Nothin’s Gonna Pull Us Apart (3:21)
A3. Silly Thing (2:56)
A4. Gypsy Blood (4:36)
A5. Between You and Me (2:26)
A6. Back to Schooldays (2:56)
B1. Soul Shoes (3:16)
B2. Lady Doctor (2:51)
B3. You’ve Got to Be Kidding (3:25)
B4. Howlin’ Wind (3:59)
B5. Not If It Pleases Me (3:12)
B6. Don’t Ask Me Questions (5:39)

All selections written by Graham Parker. All tracks arranged by Graham Parker and The Rumour.

CD reissue bonus track
13. I’m Gonna Use It Now

The Players

Graham Parker (acoustic guitars, lead vocals, Fender rhythm guitar on B4), Bob Andrews (Lowrey and Hammond organs, piano, backing vocals), Martin Belmont (guitar and backing vocals), Andrew Bodnar (Fender bass), Stephen Goulding (drums, backing vocals), Brinsley Schwarz (guitar, Hammond organ, second tenor sax, backing vocals) with Noel Brown (slide guitar on A6, dobro guitar on B5), Dave Conners (first tenor sax), Ed Dean (slide guitar on B1), John “Viscount” Earle (baritone sax), Dave Edmunds (rockabilly guitar on A6), Danny Ellis (trombone), Hershall Holder (trumpet), Stewart Lynas (horn arrangements, alto sax on B2). Produced by Nick Lowe; executive producer: Dave Robinson; engineered by Michael Gardner.

The Pictures

Front cover photography by Eric Howard. Back cover photography by Steve Joester. Front cover typography by Geoff Halpin. Art direction by Sue Dubois.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in April 1976* in the UK (Vertigo, 6360 129), the US (Mercury, SRM-/MCR-4-/MC-8-/1-1095) and Japan (Vertigo, BT-5186). (*First appeared in 5/1/76 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1989 in the UK (BGO, BGOLP48).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Mercury, 826 273).
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2001 in Europe (Mercury, 558 667-2) with one bonus track.
  4. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Universal, UICY-93378) with one bonus track.

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