Graham Parker & The Rumour: Heat in Harlem
How could I be so wrong? I consider myself a reasonably discerning critic, and I like this song, “Heat in Harlem,” by Graham Parker and the Rumour. No, it isn’t the greatest song they ever did, but it is perfectly fine and fits our theme. So, when I decided to write about it, I did some research and found out something troubling—two of the most well-known and respected rock music critics, Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh, absolutely hate the song. Not as in “don’t like it,” but “hate” it.
Understand that the critics absolutely loved Parker’s first two albums, and there was a time that some believed that he was going to be huge, instead of becoming the cranky brilliant cult figure that he ended up as. But his third album, “Stick to Me,” was somewhat of another story.
In his Consumer Guide in 1977, Christgau gave the album an A-, but still called it a “disappointment.” And he said that “Heat in Harlem” was “vapid and overblown.” Marsh, in his Rolling Stone review in December, 1977 referred to the song as a “dire failure.” Marsh, who is a huge Springsteen fan also said, though, “Graham Parker is unquestionably the most exciting new rock performer since Bruce Springsteen,” and that “Stick to Me” was the most anticipated rock record since “Born to Run.”
Read that paragraph again. In 1977, the man known as the Dean of Rock Critics gave “Stick to Me” an A-, even though it was a disappointment, and a major rock critic for the most influential music publication in the country put Graham freaking Parker in the same league as Springsteen, and said that "Stick to Me” was the most anticipated album since “Born to Run.” I understand that those two critics have many critics of their own, but my point is that these two leaders in the field of rock music criticism loved Parker but hated “Heat in Harlem.”
I listened to the song again today, and to me, it still doesn’t stink. It shows Parker trying out a little more of an R&B inspired sound, but I don’t really see it as that much of a stretch from his prior album, “Heat Treatment.” And I agree that the production is muddy, but the album, as we know it, was re-recorded in a week after the original master tapes were damaged. But the song really isn’t bad. Maybe it goes on a little long, but “vapid and overblown”? A “dire failure”? I beg to differ.
So, what’s the point? Either Christgau and Marsh, famous professional critics, considered to be leaders in the field, are wrong about this song and I, J. David, unknown, amateur blogger, considered to be the best music blogger named J. David, is right. Or people should listen to music and make their own decision. Or both.