By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
JOHN PARR – JOHN PARR (1984)
A little over five years ago, I wrote about John Parr’s second album Running The Endless Mile. In that piece, I mentioned that my plan had been to write about Parr’s self-titled debut album instead but the player ate the tape before I could hear the whole album.
Wouldn’t you know it, I tracked down a new copy of the album on cassette (at long last) and can finally do the article I had planned on five years ago. The funny thing is as I was preparing to listen to the album, even with the deadline looming, I wasn’t sure if I was quite ready to do the piece. I had considered pushing the article back and just write about a different album. And then Parr’s monster hit “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” came on the radio station I have to listen to at work. I took it as a sign to cowboy up and get busy listening and writing.
There were three songs that were released as singles from the John Parr album and the sequencing was such that they are the first three songs on the album as well.
I think anyone that was listening to Top-40 radio in the 1980’s is likely quite familiar with the song “Naughty Naughty”, but before we get to that one I thought the other two singles would be interesting to talk about. Neither “Magical” or “Love Grammar” made much of a dent on the singles chart so it’s not surprising that I can’t recall ever hearing either song.
But they do both prove worthwhile some 38 years after they were originally released. “Magical” was co-written by Meatloaf (who Parr had worked with on the former’s Bad Attitude album. It’s a lively little number drenched in part with sexual imagery and a pretty strong vocal take from John Parr. It took me a couple of listens but I really got into the song’s rocking tempo.
As for “Love Grammar”, I found it to be an interesting yet weird song. It starts off as a ballad but as the song launches into the chorus, Parr almost seems like he’s yelling that part of the track. Keyboards play a big role throughout the album but their presence here is immense. It’s also the first song I can ever remember hearing that used actual rules of grammar as song lyrics (not counting “Weird” Al Yankovic’s song “Word Crimes”). While the song overall was decent, I thought it worked much better when the pacing was more uptempo.
And now we can talk about “Naughty Naughty”. The odd thing is that while I’ve heard this song many times over the past four decades, I thought it was a bit more successful than it actually was. Sure, it was a Top-40 hit, but I never realized that it only hit #23 as a single. Given how much I liked the song then and still get a charge whenever I hear it now, I was surprised to say the least. The song has a great hook to it and a solidly rocking driving beat. Even as I was listening to it for this article, I got a charge when the opening part of the song started playing. It’s just a damn good song that brings me back to a particular time and place when I listen to the track.
The last two songs on the first side of the album proved to be another kind of challenge for me. That’s because the start of both “Treat Me Like An Animal” and “She’s Gonna Love You To Death” started out in kind of a mid-paced groove. And neither song was proving all that intriguing to me. But a funny thing happened along the way. Each track got more upbeat as it progressed and the soundtrack for each one started drawing me back in. It took a little work but I ended up liking each track.
And then you flip over the cassette for Side Two and come to a screeching halt right off the bat. While the song “Revenge” is pretty much a rocking style of song, this one simply never came together for me and it would definitely be a skip track for me on any future plays of the album.
As for the song “Heartbreaker”, I liked a good majority of the song. The main lyrical passages really grab your ear. But I was left utterly cold by the song’s chorus. It falls flat largely due to the way John Parr’s vocals are performed. They seem entirely too soft in comparison to the rest of the song. I should point out that I did love the guitar solo in “Heartbreaker” though.
Call me crazy but if I’d heard this album back in 1984, I would’ve been all over the song “Somebody Stole My Thunder”. The intro is a very driving rock sound. As the vocals kick in, the pace slows down a bit before getting a little more fiery for the chorus and packing another great rock punch. I’d call this one of my favorites for sure.
The album closes with the song “Don’t Leave Your Mark On Me”. This track really seemed to be going on a different path than the rest of the songs on the album. It’s got a slightly darker tone to both the music and the lyrical content and as the song plays, Parr’s vocals enliven the song that much more. I’m not quite sure I know what the intent of the song and the lyrics were, even after looking them up online. But what I do know is that the song definitely made its mark on me.
While I wasn’t crazy about the whole package that was the Running The Endless Mile album, John Parr’s self-titled debut album sure seemed to have a lot going for it. It may have run completely under the radar save for the hit single “Naughty Naughty” but there’s plenty of solid music throughout the album and I think fans of 80’s pop rock will find it time well spent if they give this album a spin.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The 1985 UK release of the John Parr album added the “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” track to the album. It doesn’t appear on the US release that I have given that the song wasn’t even recorded at the time, so far as I know.
Toto’s Simon Phillips plays drums on two songs while his bandmates Steve Lukather, David Paich and Steve Porcaro all make guest appearances as well.