Some of us never laughed when Jerry Lee Lewis kicked his piano. We knew he wasn’t doing it for laughs; we knew that if Mozart himself had walked into the concert hall, Lewis probably would have kicked him, too, and the president and the pope or whoever else had the balls to step into the squall of Lewis’s rock-and-roll rage.
That’s what’s at the heart of a certain strain of rock: rage. Lewis got it. But the honor of perfecting it went to Graham Parker, in “Nobody Hurts You” from his snarling “Squeezing Out Sparks” LP (1979). “Nobody Hurts You” remains today a song that quickens the pulse, raises the blood pressure, makes the arm hairs dance. After you hear it, you’re bulletproof.
“Sparks” was the record where Parker became Parker, even though his earlier discs — “Heat Treatment,” “Howlin’ Wind” and “Stick to Me” — were very good records by any standards. Parker still was trying on different musical personas on those records, though, as evidenced by their mix of soul, reggae and rock. “Squeezing Out Sparks” was the disc where Parker grabbed all of those influences, stepped to the front of the stage and forged them into a single-minded — fury? No, “fury” is too mild a word. “Squeezing Out Sparks” is a blast of defiance, a testament to razor-wire guitars and an equally dangerous attitude — and “Nobody Hurts You” is the pinnacle of that album.
Hey, baby, he sings, I’m out of favor.
You can’t always be the right flavor.
It just seems that no matter what you do,
Somebody somewhere’s suddenly gotta punish you.
But this isn’t a self-pity trip, because
Nobody hurts you harder than yourself.
Self-pity trip? This ain’t the blues — it’s a blitz against pity. Parker’s vocals are a howl for self-reliance, an unblinking dismissal of weakness:
No one’s going to illuminate you
All the odds are stacked against you
You’re just cavin’ in, right there in front of me
It’s a picture I don’t ever want to see.
Not tough enough? he asks. Then take a hike.
It helps that the lyrics’ power is boosted musically by The Rumour, Parker’s superb backing band, with guitarists Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont leading the song’s urgent way. By the end of the song, the “harder than yourself” has been dropped from the chorus, and Parker is simply singing “Nobody hurts you/nobody hurts you/nobody hurts you” as the band, morphed into a supersonic steamroller, flattens any remaining disbelievers.
Rage and salvation, drums and guitars, and a song that exorcised the word “quit” from Parker’s vocabulary — and that of his listeners. Maximum attitude for maximum decibels: Nobody hurts you.
Turn it up.