Monday, June 25, 2012

Obsessed With Aretha /
Graham Parker

Maybe this popped into my head today as an antidote to yesterday's soul-centric post. I swear, I reallly do love all those 60s soul singers -- and so does Graham Parker, honest. But the man just can't help but unleash his snarky acerbic wit, and I for one love him for it.

Hard to believe that Graham wrote this in 1996, for his album Acid Bubblegum, way before the wannabes of the current neo-soul revival jumped on the bandwagon. But Graham saw it all coming, as well as the rise of the religious right and self-righteous conservative pundits. And Graham Parker is definitely an equal-opportunity satirist -- why not train his laser beam of scorn and derision on everybody all at once?

I was thrilled to find this on YouTube (who but a true Parker fan would take the time to craft such a detailed video?) True, it jumps ahead in time a bit -- you'll see as you watch it that the objects of scorn are totally up to the minute -- but I have a feeling that GP would thoroughly approve of adding them to his list.

From the very start, notice how deftly Parker cuts his own soul groove, owning his debt to R&B tradition without being hamstrung by it. Graham Parker has always been a moving target when it comes to musical labels. Blend punk attitude, New Wave braininess, and pub rock looseness with R&B hipness, rockabilly swing, and protest folk topicality -- I can't think of anybody else who hits so many marks, and hits them all superlatively well.

"You get a lot of girl singers," GP launches into it, "obsessed with Aretha." Aretha who?  Come on, we ALL know the Queen of Soul, we've all belted out R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the back of a car at some time or another -- we're already implicated. But surely we're not the girl singers, the "little swingers" that Graham is condescending to. And then he generously admits, "Some of those girls can rock and roll / All God's children got a little bit of soul" -- but then he snatches it away:  "But not that much, / Oh no no no, not that much."  I have to say, I burst out laughing the first time I heard that lyric. I can just picture him, shaking his head with musing regret as he sings the no no no no's.
And on he presses. In verse two, he shows no mercy, excoriating "a lot of fat Christians / you want to throw to the lions / Put 'em in a barrel / Roll 'em off of Mount Zion." Parker is famously agnostic, or, to be more precise, opposed to organized religion, and he never misses a ripe target for derision.  In verse three, it's back to the musical scene, with newly-minted pop stars -- the video shows us Justin Bieber, but he's only the latest in a long string of half-talented headline-grabbers that seem to gall Graham Parker. (Pete Doherty, anyone?)  Verse four gets us back to right-wing political commentators -- hello, Fox News! -- who trample rough-shod over journalistic truth. "You don't have to tell the truth to get paid / Well not that much..." Zing!

The tough part of this song is the chorus, where GP looks at Aretha herself, bedecked in her jewels and fur stole, still belting out the hits on her rare concert appearances. "You might even say the girl's still got soul," Graham concedes, but then he has to add, "But not that much." This cuts close to the bone, man. Sure, Aretha's gotten old, and her weight has ballooned -- there's a lot of sorrow and insecurity under those sequins. And who could blame her? Personally, I think that's Aretha's gift to mankind -- she still feels lost and hurting, despite all the fame. And isn't that the definition of soul?  I still feel incredibly moved by her performances, every time. Cut Aretha some slack, Graham!

But wait -- am I saying that because I'm obsessed with Aretha?

Ah.  Checkmate, Mr. Parker.


Alex said...

The definitive version of this song (IMHO) is on "The Last Rock 'n' Roll Tour" album (with the Figgs)... where he just tears this up with a million times more energy than on the studio version.

Just f***ing great.

Accountant named Bill said...

Great song from a great but in the GP repertoire somewhat under-rated, album.
I prefer my GP electric and acerbic and Acid Bubblegum delivers in name and content.
GP played all the guitar on this album (as he did on the softer 12HE), and appeared to re-discover his inner rock-god.
The sentiment from AB carried over into the tour and the resulting "The Last Rock 'n' Roll Tour" album. IMO his best live album.
Loved the video, good choice for an obsessed GP fan.
Daily posts are good Holly, three corkers in row.

Bill said...

Thanks for introducing me to a Graham song I didn't know! What a songwriter.