April 10, 2009

NT's greatest hits, No. 11 (of 34)

And we're back. On tap for this volume of my favorite songs of all time: something you probably don't know, but should...
"Local Girls" by Graham Parker and the Rumour
When I was in college, I hosted a radio show (most semesters titled Noise Annoys) that focused on my favorite subgenre of rock & roll: punk and new wave of the late '70s and early '80s. All your favorites: Blondie, the Jam, the Cars, the Buzzcocks, the Ramones; I could get as arty as Roxy Music and as poppy as Men at Work.

At least from a rock geek's point of view, this is a pretty broad swathe of the rock idiom. (Go here for an especially savvy sampler.) It wasn't just punk and new wave; we also had power pop, new romantic, mod revival, ska, protopunk, the early glimmerings of electronica…and pub rock. Pub rock was a British style that sought to return the music to its basics: four or five sweaty young drunks bashing out good music for a small room of felow drunk hipsters. And the king of the pub rockers was Elvis Costell…er, Graham Parker.

Costello was the patron saint of my radio show, sure; I was obsessed with the guy in college (and my favorite of his songs will be featured in this series anon). But Parker, along with his band, the Rumour, released the single best album of the idiom—not just of the pub rock subsubgenre, but all of new wave, and perhaps all of rock music entirely: 1979's Squeezing Out Sparks. While I've since come to recognize broader differences between Costello's and Parker's music, I used to refer to Sparks as "the best Elvis Costello album ever." It's a simply blistering rock & roll album—arch, angular, exciting, dripping with both venom and self-aware humor, with hardly a weak song, and several stunningly excellent ones. And "Local Girls" is the unquestioned highlight.

Rarely has a rock recording featured a better performance. Watch and listen; this band is incredible:

Great video; that delicious charm that so many of the pre-MTV videos had, when simply playing music on camera was still a novelty. The song is a Kinksian slice of British life—Parker finds the ladies in his workaday British world to be both irresistible and tiresome, profressing his lack of interest as he subliminaly begs for their attention. The lyrics are good—"Don't bother with the local girls/They don't bother me" is a frequent refrain during my bitterest moments—but the band's performance is incredible. Curdled vocals, flawless support from the interdependent rhythm section, and that astonishing call-and-response between Brinsley Schwarz's lead guitar and Bob Andrews keyboard. All beautifully packaged as yet another "tension-release" song, with the song collapsing off the cliff as the chorus hits.

I played the shit of this song on my radio show; it so perfectly summed up what my show—what my favorite music—was all about. Angry but self-deprecating, awkward by cool, powerfully rocking but with a sense of humor. If every rock song sounded like this, I'd find this a much, much better world.

Earlier editions of NT's greatest hits:
"Don't Let's Start"
"Suffragette City"
"My Name Is Jonas"
"Mr. Tambourine Man"
"Reelin' in the Years"
"Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover"
"OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"