Graham Parker/The Jackson 5: “I Want You Back”
Sometimes what I like about a cover is not so much the fact that the artist doing the covering has done something totally different with the song, but rather the fact that you’d never have pegged that particular artist to have covered that particular song. And for today’s Cover Friday, that’s definitely the case.
Graham Parker, who arrived on the scene in the same era as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and was grouped together with them as one of Britain’s pub rock/punk “angry young men,” is best known for his acerbic wit and scathing sarcasm, most successfully on albums such as Squeezing Out Sparks and Howlin’ Wind. The main reason that Parker is not generally as well known as either Costello or Jackson is that he has been less consistent: for every great album he has put out, there have been at least two that were just so-so or, even worse, a dud. To be fair, Parker also blamed his lack of success in America as the result of poor promotion from his label, Mercury, in his prime early years, while recording with the Rumour, his great backing band featuring guitarist Brinsley Schwarz. But regardless of those problems, at his best, Parker has been equal to the talents of his contemporaries.
When he put out The Real Macaw in 1983, he was just beginning his slide into this semi-mediocrity; there was still good music to come, but it was to be harder to come by. The Real Macaw is certainly not a bad album — in fact it was a step up from the sound of his previous two albums — but it was still not up to his earlier standards. His decision to cover The Jackson 5’s classic “I Want You Back” seemed odd, particularly since he had only done one other cover on all six studio albums that came before, but it worked: he instilled his cover with heart, owing up to the inspiration he had taken from the R&B of the ’60s and early ’70s. His version has a good energy, even if he didn’t do anything new with it — in fact, he might very well have known that it would be enough for it to be him covering it. Nothing more was needed to make it unique.