Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Heat Treatment"
By time word got to America, there were already two Graham Parker albums. The debut, "Howlin' Wind" and the follow-up, "Heat Treatment."
The cognoscenti will say "Howlin' Wind" was the best. That it had the best songs. "White Honey," "Nothin's Gonna Pull Us Apart," "Soul Shoes," "Lady Doctor" and "Don't Ask Me Questions." And I challenge almost anybody to name a track from "Heat Treatment," but it was always my favorite, still is, despite having inferior material. Why? MUTT LANGE!
At this point we had no idea who he was. There was some press about City Boy, but it would be almost half a decade before "Back In Black" conquered the airwaves and the under twenty five community's collective heart, at this point he was just the guy with the funny moniker on the back of albums, "Robert John 'Mutt' Lange."
And after "Heat Treatment," Parker returned to Nick Lowe and recorded the half-baked, stillborn, "Stick It To Me," blamed it all on his label and then signed with Arista and despite Clive Davis's best efforts, never had a hit. The tsunami of press eventually evaporated. Labels were switched, yet Parker not only didn't live up to his promise, he faded away and certainly didn't radiate.
But if you listen to "Heat Treatment" today it sounds as fresh as it did back in '76.
Oh, the opening cut sounds like you've just opened the door to a nightclub where a band of well-oiled musicians is already deep into their third set of the night, that's how tight they are. Oh, "Heat Treatment" is not a hit song, but it's energetic and powerful and gets you tapping your toe and nodding your head. And at this late date, listen intently and you'll see it's the horns and the mix, the little flourishes that come up and grab you.
And "That's What They All Say" has got this same togetherness, this same tightness, but it's even a worse song than "Heat Treatment." But it sounds so good!
But the first side truly starts to resonate with "Hotel Chambermaid." Positively English, it's a mini-movie with a jaunty production that will not be denied. You find yourself singing along with the chorus.
And then comes "Pourin' It All Out," this is where the album truly begins to swing. Oh, Brinsley Schwarz gets all the credit, and he's a good guitar player, but isn't it really about the producer, who gets the band to lock into this groove and maintain it? This is when you realize "Heat Treatment" is no run-of-the-mill LP, this is when you start to believe the reviews were right. Really, listen to the verses, especially the second, when the guitar starts to sing and the organ subtly plays...but still, it's all about the FEEL!
And "Back Door Love" sounds like it's transported straight from the fifties. And it too swings, despite being second-rate material.
And then comes the killer, the white reggae triumph, "Something You're Goin' Through." Oh, Bob Marley was finally breaking through, the Police were on the horizon, every white band, especially from the U.K., was toying with the Jamaican sound, but no one does it better at this point than Graham Parker. The band is so tight, the production is so seamless, that you're enraptured.
And then comes the piece-de-resistance, the album closer, "Fool's Gold." Imagine if Def Leppard were a pub rock act instead of a light metal band, that's what the track sounds like, it's just that powerful. Oh, it starts slow and relatively quiet and then builds, builds, builds! By the end of the track, you're marching in place, singing along, KEEP SEARCHIN'!
And absolutely nothing happened. Maybe because the band itself was not as good as the record. Oh, the Rumour could play and Parker could sing, but "Heat Treatment" was a monolithic production, it'd be like asking Tom Cruise to act out "Mission Impossible" at the Roxy.
But if you had this album at home you were instantly a Graham Parker fan. Because it was such a delicious listening experience. Never to be equaled. Oh, Lange did his best to salvage the band's live album, but at this point no one knew who he was, and he was not given credit for what he added to the act as everybody continued to lionize Nick Lowe and focused on the failings of Mercury.
And isn't it funny all these years later, even Judd Apatow couldn't resurrect Parker's career, Nick Lowe plays clubs to the few who remember and Mutt Lange is nowhere in sight, hiding behind closed doors as he basks in the financial security of the proceeds from being the best record producer of the modern rock era.
P.S. Oh, "Fool's Gold" is so heavy that when it breaks down and gets subtle a bit after 1:50, it's like the most desirable woman in the world just winked at you, she's been dancing on the stage for everybody, but now she's singled you out, and then at 2:30 it becomes positively sexual, you can feel the build-up, and like the best rock and roll it just keeps amping up and up, it never releases, whew!