When skinny, curly-haired Graham Parker burst upon the British pop scene in 1976, he caught both the music world and himself off guard. On their first album, "Howling Wind," he and his band the Rumour cranked out tasty tunes with catchy melodies, scoring a hit with "Don't Ask Me Questions," and a couple of years later made the classic record "Squeezing Out Sparks," getting plenty of airplay with "Local Girls" and "Passion Is No Ordinary Word."

When skinny, curly-haired Graham Parker burst upon the British pop scene in 1976, he caught both the music world and himself off guard. On their first album, "Howling Wind," he and his band the Rumour cranked out tasty tunes with catchy melodies, scoring a hit with "Don't Ask Me Questions," and a couple of years later made the classic record "Squeezing Out Sparks," getting plenty of airplay with "Local Girls" and "Passion Is No Ordinary Word."


Parker isn't heard much on the radio these days, but with a couple dozen albums under his belt with different bands behind him and solo, his songwriting prowess is as strong as ever, and as a singer, he's developed into a fine interpreter of his own and others' material.


Three and a half decades into his career, Parker has composed countless songs for all of those records. The ones on "Imaginary Television," which are supposed to be theme songs for TV shows that Parker invented, came easier than usual.


"I think there's a certain amount of craft you pick up over the years that cannot be denied," he said. "When I wrote the first songs for my first album, I was also writing songs that were thoroughly rejectable. At the time I wasn't sure whether they were or not, but now I know when I'm writing. Now it's a much quicker process, but it doesn't get any easier.


"Yet this was a good experience. I became somebody writing for imaginary TV shows. It was surprising to me that the songs weren't completely vapid and shallow. It turns out that they're not; they're very much GP (Parker often refers to himself in the third person as GP) songs. But for some reason it helped me to have this idea of these TV shows to hang it on."


GP fans not yet familiar with his newest material won't have to worry about being lost among unrecognizable music. He understands that people still want to hear the tunes that made his name.


"I can't leave anything behind because those songs are as good if not better than the new ones," he said, laughing. "And to play the old ones solo brings out very new life in them. It's not so intense and gnarly as the old versions, and you can realize how good the melodies are when you play solo."


Though Parker only made three albums with the Rumour, the last in 1980, he still speaks fondly of them and of those days.


"The Rumour were my first real band, you have to realize that," he said. "People think I was playing with lots of bands that failed, in pubs and stuff. But no, I wasn't. In 1975, I was working in a gas station in Surrey, and doing other menial jobs. I did have a band when I was 13, but we were a pretend band. We had Beatles haircuts, but we couldn't play. The first real band I had were the Rumour. I went from being a complete amateur, a nobody, to having incredible crack musicians behind me who had had experience. I really didn't know what I was doing then, and thankfully they were there to help me with arrangements, and we had producers like Nick Lowe and Mutt Lange who helped out. That gave me the experiences I now have."


After Parker's initial success, there were many ups and downs. He had creative differences with various record companies (just listen to the lyrics of his 1979 tune "Mercury Poisoning," about Mercury Records), and then both the times and tastes in music changed. He recalls the highs and lows very clearly.


"I felt like I'd become successful as soon as I signed a record deal," he said. "I mean, if you're a nobody in the music world, and suddenly the first article about you in a music paper says could this be the new Bob Dylan, and you've made an album called 'Howling Wind' and it's critically acclaimed, and it's, to me, the freshest thing that came out in 1976, apart from the Ramones ... well, I felt very happy with myself. 'Squeezing Out Sparks' was no different for me. I felt like I was on the same roll. We were out touring and we were at our absolute peak, and we had absolutely raving nights onstage. The whole thing was just a loop of energy, from the audience to the band. It was an amazing period.


"But by the '90s, when it felt like clubs were closing everywhere and live music might be dying and CD sales were dying, it was like, what the hell is going on with music for artists like me? In the '90s it seemed like it was over. Fair enough, I've had an amazing run, it's been good, and now I am really peripheral. Then suddenly people started going, 'Where are those artists from the '70s? Their music was extremely good.' Suddenly the live scene picked up for artists like me. Things have opened up a bit in the 2000s, and artists like myself have gotten a lot of respect, which is very gratifying."


Then Parker dropped a bomb, the kind that dedicated fans like to hear.


"Me and the Rumour have just done an album," he said, sounding excited. "The whole original band. There was no great plan involved. I work on whims basically. It was just a whim and it suddenly grew and the next thing I know I've got the Rumour and they were all saying, 'Yeah, let's do it.' So the whole thing came together in a rush."


Parker and the Rumour recorded a batch of new songs in June and July, and before the dust settled, the phone rang.


"A week later the director Judd Apatow called me and told me about a new film he was about to start making called 'This Is 40.' And the next thing I knew I was acting in this movie in August and September. It's all been a bit mad. The Rumour was flown to L.A. to do a shoot in the movie, and we did a two-day shoot in a theater so that scene should be in it."


Parker stopped talking, taking time for a brief, oddly dramatic pause, then added, "But there's always a place called the cutting room floor, don't forget that."