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Baker's Dozen

Three Chords Good: Graham Parker's Favourite Albums
Ben Graham , October 8th, 2015 09:36

As Graham Parker & The Rumour prepare to play their final ever shows later this month, the prolific singer-songwriter talks Ben Graham through the 13 albums that have had the biggest impact on him as a musician


Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
It's a weird thing for me, with this record. I was with this weird group of friends back in the suburbs of England, living with my parents, working in a petrol station, and I was starting to pick around with songwriting and starting to lean towards the soul singing voice. I didn't hear this in 1968 when it came out, I heard it more in '71, '72. So I missed it, like a lot of people did. And these guys were playing it, and I wasn't sure. I didn't know what it was; it was too bluesy for me. I think I was still more into trippy stuff and trippy lyrics, so it didn't quite do it for me. But they played it a lot, mixed with other records, and I was usually glad when it was off. It was very weird, and somehow or another after that I must have heard it again, and absolute light bulbs went off. It all came together for me, listening to this record. It was a bit like Bowie again: it was a big arrow pointing, this is where you're going pal, you know? Songwriting, but at the same time this guy is a soul singer. The greatest white soul singer perhaps, along with Lowell George, to me, of all time. And my goodness, I think on my first album I'm a little overly influenced by Van Morrison's singing. I had no shame in it, but it's there. There are a few inflections, you know.

His records didn't really sell that well. They were fantastic and they taught me a huge amount and definitely gave me a lot of direction in my songwriting, but they weren't big; they went up to the middle of the charts, crept into the top thirty and dropped out. I thought that was absolutely commendable; I thought boy, if I could have a career like that, where you're free to make your own music and you actually saw your name in the charts but you didn't have to be part of the circus. You could do that then, you could get a record deal that lasted for four albums or more, and not sell millions. You didn't have to. They believed in you and they believed in the music and they just let you do it. It didn't sell huge amounts, but they said let's keep this artist on, because he's good. It was a different world. And that was influential on my career; I thought god, if I could just do that for a living, it'd be something. And the music is just fantastic obviously; the songwriting. You can take those other records, Saint Dominic's Preview, Hard Nose The Highway, and you can put them right over there, and then you can take Astral Weeks and put it in a whole different place. It's this deep, dark story going on in this record; I don't know what it is and I don't need to know what it is. It's one of those records where they don't come along for many people. There's this mixture of creativity that's flying off in all directions, but it's rooted in some deep emotional thing that you don't know what it is. It's so powerful. The pictures that he's painting for you of what's happening to him, or what's happening to somebody, in this song 'Madame George'; it sounds like this absolutely crippling situation, and some young guy is caught up in it. It comes out in this stream of consciousness with soul and three chords. How do you do that? Three chords: that's all it is. He doesn't have to go to the minor, so it's blues! It's almost like blues or folk, there's this rich tradition in there, but it goes to places where I think any of us who are songwriters will admit we haven't managed to go there. We try, but we don't get there. That's the difference between Hendrix and Van Morrison, and people like me. They just went somewhere else a few times that was like, okay, that's above it all. This is what we can strive for, but that's about it, okay? Get used to it.