Posted July 5, 2006 by Mike Mineo in Features

Introducing… Sparks

I can’t think of many bands who still make good music after almost forty years. I am generally not referring to solo artists though, as band members often and necessarily need to have a certain chemistry to maintain their careers for that long. Brothers Russell (vocals) and Ron (keyboards) Mael of Sparks have been working well together for these 40+ years. One of the reasons why I own all twenty Sparks albums is my love for their hilarious lyrics and album covers, along with their musical ingenuity and melodic grasp. Sparks was originally a five piece band in the early 1970s but it quickly evolved into only the duo who are well known to make most of their music entirely by themselves, with little to no contributions.

Few artists can be called “musical chameleons” by critics without causing a stir. David Bowie or Frank Zappa are two of the few artists who are adaptable to the phrase, and don’t count Sparks out to it as well. In the early 70s, their sound was much in the tradition of Beatles-like 60s pop, while the latter ’70s were seen as a bit of a more alternative period, embracing the new comings of arena rock and punk. The ’70s were considered their best era, producing such classics as Kimono My House, Propaganda, and Indiscreet. The ’80s were a time of synth and electronic experimentation for Sparks, which resulted in mixed reviews and emotions. There were some rough edges in Sparks’ experimentation with the genre, but a few gems and good albums came out of it, such as Angst In My Pants. When the ’90s came, Sparks decide to revert back to their old sound of the ’70s, but with the addition of modern production and technological elements. What resulted was a mixture of every era since the ’60s with a touch of contemporary relevancy. Their 1994 album, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins was considered their best in years, and they kept with the formula and stick to it today. Their most recent release, Hello Young Lovers, released a few months ago and is quite fun.

You can see in the first three songs that Sparks had a strong sound reflecting the popular sounds of the 70s, as influences from glam to punk can be heard. “Beat the Clock” and “Sherlock Holmes” took the band in an entirely different direction, with strong synths reflecting their release in the 80s. “Now That I Own The BBC” was one of their first entries in the 90s, and it is one of their catchiest songs in addition to their usual witty wordplay. Sparks’ current sound is in the mold of “The Rhythm Thief” and “Rock Rock Rock” and I have no complaints. I hope this introduced you to Sparks a bit. If you enjoy the songs below, I highly suggest checking out their respected albums.


Sparks – Thank God It’s Not Christmas (from Kimono My House)


Off of their breakthrough album, which is my favorite Sparks album. This song is a classic, along with most of Kimono My House‘s other tracks.

Sparks – Achoo (from Propaganda)


I’ve showed friends of mine who knows nothing about good music (aka emo kids), and they just fell in love with the “cuteness” of this song. Chicks dig sneezing, I guess.


Sparks – Tits (from Indiscreet)


“How well I know tits were once a source for fun and games at home, and now she says tits are only there to feed our little Joe so that he’ll grow,” are a prime example of witty lyricists before the age of Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey.


Sparks – Beat the Clock (from No. 1 In Heaven)


A catchy song from Sparks in 1979 as they were preparing to enter the 80s. This is a fun though, and it’s easy to respect their adaptability to synth.


Sparks – Sherlock Holmes (from Angst In My Pants)


Another song based around synth, Angst In My Pants is one of their few respected albums from the 80s, and it is the only one I would personally recommend.


Sparks – Now That I Own The BBC (from Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins)


A muse on fame and fortune, this is one of the catchiest Sparks songs. Obviously not very deep or innovative, but it’s fun… so get up and dance.


Sparks – The Rhythm Thief (from Lil’ Beethoven)


I’m sure the Red Hot Chili Peppers can appreciate this song poking fun at plagiarism. This gives a better idea of their current sound.

Sparks – Rock Rock Rock (from Hello Young Lovers)


Off of their most recent album, the song’s title should explain the general sound of this one. The interesting combination of guitars and strings over Russell Mael’s falsetto vocals provide an interesting twist of an album full of surprises.

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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].