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Old 04-04-2015, 06:14 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Lady's Comprehensive Guide to Sparks

"So, what are some of your favorite artists?"

For the past 7 years, Sparks have been at the top of the list whenever I'm asked this question, and some of the most popular responses have been ...

"I've never heard of them."

Sparks are the weird duo you didn't know you needed to know. They're the cerebral, yet hilariously offbeat thoughts that run through your head when you see a film or watch people on the street. They're the respectably filthy things that roam your mind when you see an attractive person of your chosen gender(s). They're the lyrical equivalent of all the times you've accidentally dribbled on yourself or dropped toast buttered-side down, but never thought to share that it happened to you 'cause it's weird.

"What are some of their songs? Maybe I've heard them..."

Well, you've got 23 albums of varying genres to choose from, spanning a magnificent, ongoing career that began in 1972, two bizarre brothers at its core ... I don't even know where to begin, so I guess we'll have to do this one at a time.

Let's get the basics out of the way.

Sparks are essentially brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who have recruited several skilled musicians for each incarnation of their insanity. There hasn't been a constant line-up apart from the brothers.

This is Ron in his youth. (Earle Mankey to his left.)



This is Ron today.



Part of his whole shtick is just standing there looking bored or menacing. He just does it because it's just the Ron Mael thing to do.

This is Russell in his youth.



And this is Russell today.



Russell has essentially made a career out of looking like an innocent fawn that just gently walked himself out of the woods and now he's looking for a tasty snack.

Ron and Russell have most recently teamed up with Franz Ferdinand to form FFS (I really hope that was deliberate, for fuck's sake!) but if you're a newcomer to the Mael way, you've gotta know your Sparks catalogue.

Sparks is something best experienced by strange minds. If you're into DEVO, Frank Zappa (and anything he was ever involved with), or Weird Al, for instance, you'll be more receptive to Sparks than most people.

This journal will serve as an album-by-album, song-by-song (including demos, as long as I can find them) catalogue for inquiring minds.
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Old 04-05-2015, 04:06 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Hooray for Sparks! Can't wait 'til you get to "Kimono My House". Anyway, good luck with the new journal, it should be a lot of fun!
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Old 04-05-2015, 05:50 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I've been working through their discography (up to Kimono My House now), so this is perfect. I look forward to reading.
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:24 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I've been working through their discography (up to Kimono My House now), so this is perfect. I look forward to reading.
Awesome! You're the perfect example of someone who can really understand and appreciate Sparks.

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Hooray for Sparks! Can't wait 'til you get to "Kimono My House". Anyway, good luck with the new journal, it should be a lot of fun!
"Kimono" was a groundbreaking album, even with its similarity to the theatrical, glam stuff that was going on at the time.
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Old 04-05-2015, 05:12 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Great intro LIL and you'll be reviewing albums that I mostly still have on vinyl, I played this band to death back in the 80s and so know most of these albums song by song and in some cases lyric for lyric, I used to play my favourite bands to death back then until scratches appeared on the vinyl.

I would add though to your great intro, that Sparks were an extremely accessible band by the time of Kimono My House despite all their weirdness, as by that time they knew what their gimmick was and quickly exploited it. They also finally made their breakthrough which like with a lot of American bands was actually here in the UK and were really big here in 1974 and 1975 before they kind of disappeared.

Also when I got into them in the 1980s they were already regarded as an old band and also it was really easy to pick up all their earlier albums (mostly)
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Old 04-05-2015, 08:14 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Also when I got into them in the 1980s they were already regarded as an old band and also it was really easy to pick up all their earlier albums (mostly)
It was a semi-difficult feat for me when I started collecting their albums on vinyl in 2008. Some are incredibly difficult to find. I still haven't scored a copy of Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins but my first two were Angst in My Pants and Whomp That Sucker.
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Old 04-05-2015, 08:40 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Sparks were originally called Halfnelson in their home of Pacific Palisades, CA. It was Todd Rundgren that thought they'd someday be something really special, thus willing to give them a chance - as long as they changed their name. They were signed to the Bearsville record label for their debut.



That's the most common album art you'll come across, but there's one other (that I've only seen one copy of in my entire life - and couldn't afford at the time).

Spoiler for Gross pic of me at Easy Street Records, 4/22/13, West Seattle:


Sparks' lineup in 1972:

Ron Mael (keyboards)
Russell Mael (vocals)
Earle Mankey (guitar)
Jim Mankey (bass)
Harley Feinstein (drums)

Insider tip: Harley's a really nice, down to earth kind of guy. He's enjoying life in southern CA and updates his social media just like anyone else - of course, he's still highly supportive of the Maels' career and is kind enough to talk openly of his experiences with Sparks in the right situation.

Sparks (debut album) track listing:

Side A

Wonder Girl
Fa La Fa Lee
Roger
High C
Fletcher Honorama
Simple Ballet

Side B

Slowboat
Biology 2
Saccharin and the War
Big Bands
(No More) Mr. Nice Guys

The album begins with "Wonder Girl", of course. It's a cutesy little pop song. Wait, no, it's not. It's just best that you listen and not question what you're listening to until you've heard it. Just know that this track is hardly indicative of what you'll hear on the rest of the album.



Can you guess why this girl was a "wonder girl"?

The same concept is touched on in a later track in the catalogue, "Amateur Hour".

Spoiler for LYRICS BELOW:
She was a wonder girl (some girl, that girl)
She was a wonder girl (some girl, that girl)
It was a grand old time we had
She was there and I was pretty glad about that too
Knowing that she knew a thing or two
She was a wonder girl (some girl, that girl)
She was a wonder to her friends
It's a wonder that she always started trends
And after all, trends make us contenders in the fall
Wonder girl, do me right at this ungodly hour
She was a wonder to her dad
A self-made man who owned all that he had
And after all, self-made men have daughters
who just won't ball
Wonder girl, make me a wonder boy
She was a wonder girl (some girl, that girl)


If you thought the concept of a seemingly innocent girl knowing her way around a man was a little cheeky (or perhaps slightly inappropriate) but cleverly delivered, you're gonna love what's coming up next.
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Old 04-06-2015, 05:19 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I'll be keeping an eye on this thread. I love Kimono My House but have never heard anything else by them. That song above is great, gonna have to check out the albums as you go.
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Old 04-06-2015, 10:55 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I'll be keeping an eye on this thread. I love Kimono My House but have never heard anything else by them. That song above is great, gonna have to check out the albums as you go.
"Kimono" was part of what's commonly referred to as the Island Era, as the following albums were recorded under that label with a traditional 5-piece band before the bros switched it up once more in 1977 (but we'll get to that later) - Kimono My House (1974), Propaganda (1975), and Indiscreet (1976). I think you'll enjoy that series.
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Old 04-06-2015, 11:03 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I hope you'll talk about the live show we saw. They certainly know how to put on a good show.
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