The Life of John Parr

English Pop Rock Solo Artist

John Parr made a splash in America with his debut, self-titled 1984 LP.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

John Parr was born on November 18, 1954, in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England, and though he gets little credit for being a major '80s rock singer, the English mainstream rocker made a significant mark on the era's pop music. Based solely on the strength of the film soundtrack smash "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)," Parr's career was a hugely successful one. 

Luckily, the man also happened to possess a powerhouse, clear-voiced tenor that put him squarely alongside — and sometimes perhaps a bit too parallel to — iconic ​arena rock singers like Foreigner's Lou Gramm and Loverboy's Mike Reno.

Certainly, these comparisons served as a double-edged sword that may have dulled Parr's chart impact. Nevertheless, his pair of mid-'80s LPs and series of bombastic soundtrack power ballads stand up as instantly recognizable and often beloved relics of a bygone musical era.

Early Years and American Success

Parr formed his first band before he reached his teen years, eventually working his way into a number of touring bands in the Yorkshire region of northern England. The latest of these, Ponders End, was a bit of a supergroup in the U.K. — even if Parr failed to secure a record contract as a member of a rock band.

Instead, he continued to pound away as a songwriter, nabbing a publishing deal and an invitation to write songs for arena rock mainstay Meat Loaf. This association linked Parr with an influential music industry executive who eventually helped the singer enhance his growing American popularity by signing with Atlantic Records in 1984. This set the stage for a couple of whirlwind years that would take Parr to the top of the charts and into the '80s music canon on a permanent basis.

Parr's impact in America was immediate, as his 1984 self-titled debut LP would ultimately yield three Billboard Hot 100 charting singles. While two of these stalled in the lower recesses of that all-important chart, the mildly raunchy "Naughty, Naughty" peaked at Number 23 as a pop single but went all the way to Number 1 on Billboard's niche mainstream rock chart.

The song features booming drums and a powerful post-new wave fusion of keyboards and electric guitars, but without a doubt, the primary appeal of Parr as an emerging solo artist remained his powerful pipes. Astoundingly dated sound notwithstanding, the song packs an impressive punch — fueled by unshakable riffs and an inescapable chorus. Still, this was only the beginning for Parr's sudden stardom.

Smashing Through the '80s and Beyond

Admirers of Parr's accessible, fun-loving sound didn't have to wait long for a worthy follow-up. Highly successful pop producer David Foster had noticed Parr's debut record, and when he began to prepare the soundtrack for 1985's coming-of-age yuppie landmark film "St. Elmo's Fire," he sought Parr to write and record a suitable rock anthem.

Ultimately, the pair co-wrote a song inspired by the inspirational story of Canadian wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen. However, by incorporating the film's title into the lyrics, the composers found a way to make it seem like the tune complemented or at least loosely tied into the film. The rest is quirky pop music history as the combination mid-tempo rocker/power ballad dominated U.S. pop radio during the fall of 1985, becoming a worldwide Top 10 smash along the way.

Parr released only one more full-length record during the 1990s in the form of 1986's "Running the Endless Mile." However, he remained highly active during the decade's latter half as a film soundtrack specialist, recording recognizably anthemic theme songs for films such as "Quicksilver," "Three Men and a Baby," "The Running Man," and "American Anthem."

In this way, Parr's signature tune guided and shaped his later career without necessarily defining him as an artist. After all, he's also known among commercial jingle aficionados as the co-composer of Gillette's long-running theme song "The Best (A Man Can Get)." In recent years, Parr's music has occasionally made pop-culture appearances in TV and film, but as an artist, he has never really stopped recording and touring.