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Old 10-09-2022, 07:56 AM   #1 (permalink)
Join Date: May 2022
Posts: 1
Default What makes a SPARKS song different?

Does anybody else enjoy those moments when you first understand a song? Not emotionally, but literally. What sounded like a slogan becomes a story and what sounded abstract becomes concrete. If you listen to Sparks, this is a built-in feature.

There’s a kind of precision to their work that I haven’t seen in other artists. They have an uncanny ability to thread running jokes through their music, and there are so many examples.

Let’s start with songs featuring foreign love interests:

- Girl from Germany
- Hasta Mañana, Monsieur
- Onamata Pia
- Good Morning
- Lawnmower
- As I sit down to play the organ
- Johnny Delusional
- Suburban Homeboy
- White women
- (Baby baby) Can I invade your country?
- Sõ Desu Ne
- I like girls
- Upstairs
- Aeroflot
- Kiss me quick
- Hollywood welcoming committee
- All the girls
- I Married a Martian
- The Dictator’s son

It seems to be there on every album, and often well hidden. Johnny Delusional (who tries his luck with girls that are out of his league), “knows yes and no in a couple dozen other languages”, a subtle yet beautifully crafted joke that can only be fully appreciated when you’ve heard enough Sparks.

Then there’s dialogue with God / the afterlife:

- What the hell is it this time?
- Get in the swing
- The Number One Song in Heaven
- As I sit down to play the organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral
- Good morning
- Here in Heaven
- The Angels
- Rosebud
- Oh my god
- The Ghost of Liberace
- Just got back from heaven
- Bummer
- I will haunt you

All great artists dwell on certain themes, but there seems to be more going on here. These songs have virtually nothing in common - each has its own self-contained story and meaning yet they cross over in really specific ways. And I mean REALLY specific.

- Good Morning follows on from As I Sit Down To Play The Organ chronologically, and both feature a one-night stand with a foreign girl, dialogue with God and drinking.
- Barbecutie and Left Out In The Cold are both about someone doing hard, thankless research in Arctic conditions
- The Number One Song in Heaven and Stravinsky’s Only Hit both have a higher power turn their hand to commercial pop music (much like Sparks).
- Funny Face has a male model who’s glad to be made uglier following plastic surgery, which is like Photoshop, where a celebrity is made to look “as though I were in Hell” through image manipulation software. Both are processes more commonly associated with beauty.
- Reinforcements and (Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country both portray a relationship in terms of military rank, first using the perspective of an out-flanked infantryman, and then as an invading superpower.

This is more than a repeat - it’s a complete reimagining of what’s come before, and they do it a lot. In fact, you could pick literally any song from the late 70s ‘till now and connect it to another in interesting and surprising ways. Without exception, every piece has one or more counterpart. It’s as if everything they do is fulfilling a songwriting challenge set to their own secret yet ambitious set of rules.

I believe that they have a strict creative process. Early in their career they published a short guide on “how to jam proof your composition”, which served as a kind of definition of what Sparks did. What if they’re still working this way, but haven’t shared the updated rulebook with us yet?

Their music has a big focus on creativity, not least with so many songs about making music:

- The Number One Song in Heaven
- Stravinsky’s only hit
- When do I get to sing “My Way”?
- Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than me)
- Music that you can dance to
- As I sit down to play the organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral
- How do I get to Carnegie Hall?
- I’m an Accompanist / The Conductor
- Collaborations don’t work
- I can’t believe that you would fall for all the crap in this song
- It’s a knockoff
- When I’m with you
- A song that sings itself
- Strange Animal
- I Predict
- The Japanese have come and bought my number one
- What are all these bands so angry about?
- When I kiss you (I hear Charlie Parker playing)
- Upstaged
- The Rhythm Thief
- The Ghost of Liberace
- Two hands, one mouth
- It’s a Sparks show

It all has a cryptic quality, so it’s plausible that many other songs are about creativity too, but in a less direct way. Take Metaphor, which gives the impression that it’s about the use of smart language to attract women - that could easily by applied to songwriting. Then in Hippopotamus, everything listed in the song could be drawn from Ron’s pool of ideas, rather than a literal swimming pool. This is reinforced by the final verse, where the full list is neatly summed up in a few words - “Throw in a hippo, a little Dutch art, an actor performing a Shakespearean part”. It’s as if they’ve written a new song from the contents of the preceding verses - Isn’t it grand? Ron has set himself a songwriting challenge to express this crazy mix of ideas in two completely different ways.

It doesn’t just fall out of Ron’s head like this: It’s crafted. This is a process that’s described in Strange Animal, about a creature that wanders into a song and takes it over. It’s Ron fighting to imbue that Sparks essence into a composition, placing an idea from an old song into a new context. It doesn’t work at first - “There's something 'bout him that is frightening”, but then inspiration strikes - “and right on cue, a bolt of lightning”. It takes patience - “I'll just sit over here, till the chorus appears, would you think it a sin if I start chiming in?". The music reflects the battle to make the two ideas work together, with lyrics that are enormously self-critical - “this song lacks a heart, comes off overly smart”, and it’s ultimately rejected: "You're in need of a fix, or a total remix, so I must kill you all, start again, have a ball”. All that’s kept is the chorus, and if you listen to the background falsetto at 26 seconds in you even hear an overwritten, discarded verse!

This is what I think makes Sparks so different to their contemporaries. Ron doesn’t write songs just because an interesting idea popped into his head. It’s always about pushing that extra level of meaning in an academic way as much as it’s art and entertainment. At it’s core each song somehow tells you something new about Sparks, be it their creative process, performance, public perception, setbacks or ambitions. These are the base ingredients that spawned hundreds of stories about Heaven, Hell, gigolos, falling in love with yourself, God, audiences, France, aliens, film directors, marriage, one night stands, home and, of course, ladies from abroad.

Thanks for reading, and check back for more There are lots of really exciting things hidden in this music. I have a blog but am a new member so will share soon. All the best.
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Old 10-14-2022, 12:09 PM   #2 (permalink)
mongoose's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2022
Posts: 3

Long read...
I did this with Classical.
It's kind of hard to understand a baroke symphony from the standpoint of electronic performance.

After I got it, everything got alot easier!

I've never heard Sparks. should have included a link.
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Old 02-03-2023, 05:57 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Maybe it has something to do with Ron's scowl.
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Old 02-04-2023, 06:25 AM   #4 (permalink)
...here to hear...
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Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: He lives on Love Street
Posts: 4,444

Welcome to echodeck, mongoose and oldcurmudgeon: all effectively new members if we go by your post counts

Yep, that's a long list of Sparks tracks, echodeck: you clearly know your material well, while I, on the other hand, only know This Town Ain't Big Enough, which doesn't even feature

Selected rather randomly, here's a Sparks song to give mongoose and me a hint of their sound:-

"Am I enjoying this moment? I know of it and perhaps that is enough." - Sybille Bedford, 1953
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