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John Parr’s unforgettable rock rage

The one song where John Parr made a real mark in the rock world.
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By Ray Chelstowski

Within each decade, artists emerge who record a song that becomes synonymous with the period. These are often tied to movie soundtracks, and as a result enjoy a longer life than they might actually deserve. John Parr did just that in the mid- to late-'80’s. This happened first with the title track to the film St. Elmo’s Fire, and then with the closing tracks to Three Men And A Baby and The Running Man, films both celebrating their 30th anniversary. With these three song (along with his first single "Naughty Naughty") Parr surprisingly built a viable career. Over the years he continued to provide music to sound tracks and has trotted his handful of songs out on the road opening in support of Richard Marx.

However, it was with one other song where he made a real mark in the rock world. That song was "Under A Raging Moon," a tribute to Keith Moon by Roger Daltrey and the title track to his most successful solo effort outside of The Who. With the help of Julia Downes, Parr constructed a somewhat clunky single that attempts to do it all. There are references to Who classics like "Baba O’Riley," and a stitching together of drum parts provided by seven different musicians (including Stewart Copeland and Carl Palmer) that includes a remarkably impressive solo by Mike Brzezicki. The song is as thunderous as any Keith Moon-driven Who track, and delivers equal parts of Parresqe '80s impassioned vocals. Upon release it was both panned and praised – often within the same review.

Despite the mixed reception, and unlike Parr’s other musical contributions "Under A Raging Moon" was a song that earned a respected following of its own. Both fans and members of The Who alike found something of real value here. It’s been said that John Entwistle loved the song so much that he insisted that the band play "Under A Raging Moon" at Live Aid instead of "Won’t Get Fooled Again." When Pete Townsend shot that down, Entwistle decided to include the song on his solo album "Left For Live." And when Parr performed his final U.S. concert at Madison Square Garden, he performed "Raging Moon" as a duet with Daltrey, backed by Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon, John Entwistle, and Zak Starkey. It’s hard to imagine a roster of talent like this showing as much public support for a song from Three Men And A Baby.

When all is said and done, "St. Elmo’s Fire" will be the song that likely defines Parr’s career. Meant as a tribute to a paralyzed Canadian athlete the song came to define “The Brat Pack” and will forever remain the answer to multiple '80s pop culture trivia questions. But it was when Parr returned to his rock roots that he would develop his most meaningful material. And for fans of The Who, that will be the legacy that matters.