Sparks is the musical partnership of American keyboardist–songwriter Ron Mael and his vocalist brother Russell Mael. They first recorded as Halfnelson, a quintet with drummer Harley Feinstein and another set of brothers, guitarist Earle Mankey and guitarist–bassist Jim Mankey.

They signed to Bearsville for the 1971 release Halfnelson, produced by Todd Rundgren. Soon after, they changed their name to Sparks and issued A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing. Both albums mix vintage camp and quirky futurism with carnival sounds and comedic cultural references. After the original quintet parted ways, the Maels carried on the Sparks name as a duo with revolving backup.

Sparks headed to England and signed to Island Records for the 1974/75 UK Top 20 albums Kimono My House, Propaganda, and Indiscreet, which spawned the hits “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” “Amateur Hour,” and “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth.” Their sound mixed guitar-based glam with piano-driven Tin Pan Alley pop and English music hall, topped with Russell’s lilting, androgynous vocals.

Sparks returned to the US for the hard-rocking 1976 release Big Beat, produced by Rupert Holmes. After their humor-driven 1977 album Introducing Sparks, they went to Germany and linked with Giorgio Moroder for the 1979/80 releases No. 1 in Heaven and Terminal Jive, both exercises in space-age dance music that foreshadowed the coming synth duo format. The latter spawned their biggest-ever hit (in France) with “When I’m With You.”

Sparks linked with the new wave combo Bates Motel for the 1981/82 guitar-pop albums Whomp That Sucker and Angst In My Pants, each accompanied with early MTV videos (respectively) for “Tips for Teens” and “I Predict.” Their Billboard momentum peaked with “Cool Places,” a duet with Go-Go Jane Wieldin from Sparks’ 1983 synthpop album In Outer Space.

Members: Ron Mael (keyboards), Russell Mael (vocals), Earle Mankey (guitar, 1968-73), Surly Ralph Oswald (bass, 1968-?), John Mendelsohn (drums, 1968-?), Harley Feinstein (drums, 1970-73), Jim Mankey (bass, 1970-73), Dinky Diamond (drums, 1973-75), Adrian Fisher (guitar, 1973-74), Martin Gordon (bass, vocals, 1973-74), Ian Hampton (bass, 1974-75), Trevor White (guitar, 1974-75)

This page is currently in development and will undergo heavy editing and have added contents in the coming months (June 2023)


Brothers Ron (b. Ronald David Mael, Aug. 12, 1945) and Russell Mael (b. Russell Craig Mael, Oct. 5, 1948) were raised in upper-class Pacific Palisades, Calif. By the mid-1960s, the two were avid music-goers on LA’s Sunset Strip. With Ron on keyboards and Russell on bass and vocals, the pair formed the Urban Renewal Project with husband/wife team Fred (guitar) and Ronna Frank (drums). The band recorded four songs: “The Windmill,” “A Quick Thought,” “As You Like It,” and “Computer Girl.” (The last of those was released on the 2019 Sparks compilation Past Tense.)

In 1968, while the brothers were attending UCLA, they met guitarist–electronics whizz Earle Mankey. The three formed Halfnelson with Ralph Oswald (bass) and John Mendelsohn (drums) and recorded a clutch of demos with the working title A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing (not to be confused with the 1972 Sparks album). Ron, who was studying graphic design, envisioned an album cover with a subject wind-surfing above a crowd near the Eiffel Tower. (In wrestling, the half nelson is a move where the opponent is pinned from behind with an underarm hand press to the back of the neck.)

Of the more than 14 songs that were recorded, 12 were later collected on A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing Demo, an unofficial release more than thrice bootlegged since 2002. It features two songs later recorded for their first album (“Saccharin and the War” and “Roger”) plus 10 unique early originals in the pop-psych vein, including “Chile Farm Farney,” “Johnny’s Adventure,” “Arts & Crafts Spectacular,” “Jane Church,” and “The Factory.”

Halfnelson’s offbeat music drew from diverse influences that were uncharacteristic of their time and locale. The Maels had become staunch Anglophiles, drawing heavily from The Kinks, The Move, The Who, The Zombies and (to US audiences) lesser-knowns like Tomorrow, The Pretty Things, Blossom Toes, and Syd Barrett‘s Pink Floyd. Still, the band retained certain aspects of their West Coast contemporaries, from the ominous strains of The Doors and Love to the off-kilter nature of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

Soon after the Halfnelson demo album was recorded, Mendelsohn and Owald were dismissed from the band. They formed Christopher Milk and released the album Some People Will Drink Anything! on Reprise in 1972. Mendelsohn also became a music journalist who famously championed The Kinks, writing the liner notes for their 1972/73 archival sets The Kink Kronikles and The Great Lost Kinks Album.

Halfnelson enlisted Earle’s brother Jim Mankey (bass) and Harley Feinstein (drums). The new five-piece cut a four-song demo that was sent to Todd Rundgren, who’d begun recording solo albums (as Runt) on Bearsville and doubled as the label’s in-house producer (American Dream, Great Speckled Bird, Jericho). Rundgren secured a deal for the band and produced their first album.



Halfnelson released their self-titled debut album in September 1971 on Bearsville. It contains four songs by Ron (“Wonder Girl,” “Fa La Fa Lee,” “High C,” “Fletcher Honorama”), two by Russell (“Roger,” “Saccharin and the War”), and three Ron–Russell co-writes (“Simple Ballet,” “Slowboat,” “Big Bands”). Earle Mankey contributed the otherworldly “Biology 2” and Jim Mankey collaborated with Ron on the closing track, “(No More) Mr. Nice Guys.”

Wonder Girl” (2:21) Russell has a “grand old time” with the daughter of a “self-made man who owned all that he had.” She’s “a wonder to her friends” who’s “always started trends” that (as Russell reckons) “make us contenders in the fall.”

Fa La Fa Lee” (2:53) Russell sees a girl with whom “anything between us is a felony” because (in a play on the Hollies title) “she ain’t heavy she’s a brother to me.” What he needs, “she can’t be” and apparently she agrees because “she thinks only of the higher parts of” him. If he were her, he’d set his “sights much lower.”

Roger” (2:37) Russell searches for a “justified balance between the wealth that [he has] now and the wealth that [others] want.” He turns to Roger and asks how Sue does it. Has she “got the balance right?”

High C” (3:13) Russell leaps “through your screen door” to meet “High C,” who’s been humble since she left the opera. He asks about “the times when [she was] so big in Vienna” and sees “press clippings hang from torn wallpaper” and “a dust covered phone [that] no one would ring.”

Fletcher Honorama” (4:15) Russell portrays Anti-Wrinkle Dew, who telecasts a salute to Fletcher, an aging singer “who’s on a limb” so they must “go easy now with him” as they “jolt him with a hymn” because “this is his final whim.” The main objective is to carry out the day’s Honorama with the guest of honor (“be sure that the boy don’t die before the morn”). They sing “the songs that made [him] scream” to “justify the eighty Junes [he’s] seen,” though Dew admits “that might be stretching things.”

Simple Ballet” (3:53) Russell partakes in a communal ballet that occurs simultaneously in “towns throughout the world.” The “crews will film it [and] add the music while the world has its feet engaged.” It started as a “a novel, next a movie [and] soon on T.V.” The simple ballet promotes “a new way of thinking” by the judicial branch of government (“Do a plie’ for the D.A.”).

Slowboat” (3:54) Russell takes the slowboat to his lover’s home everyday but now that she’s “found someone new [she’s] bid [him] adieu,” so he asks the slowboat to sail him “far away… off toward the seventh sea,” knowing she won’t come near him but still hears him.

Biology 2” (3:10) Russell invites Lisa to a “big party down at the Allele Pool,” where they’ll “do it.” He envisions the perfect conception with hand-picked genes (“put your good traits in… put your bad traits out”) of two identical alleles (“do the Homozygous as you shake them all about”). He invokes Gregor Mendel (“you are my one and only phenotype… together we could have a genotype”) and Darwin (“we [will] do or die; brains and brawn are both in great supply”).

Saccharin and the War” (4:02) Russell recalls a busload of “eye liner” girls that waited on the edge of town and took in doctors (one per girl) “through the night[s] the war was fought.”

Big Bands” (4:16) Russell portrays a Depression-era ballroom-goer who smiles “like Herbert Hoover when [big bands] play.” He dreams of the “banker’s daughters [and] better days” before the Crash. He sold his heater to “frequent the dance halls most every night into the day.” He knows “the name of every trombone player that exists” and “used to blow before the Crash” hit. He invites a lady over to see his “large collection, some on loan, of every big band record ever made.”

(No More) Mr. Nice Guys” (5:49) Russell profiles a holdout in a time when “sin is quite the thing.” People wonder “What’s his [sexual] outlet; what’s his secret. Is it something one can buy at some drug store?” Russell asks “Could he be enticed?” and insists on the old adage that “the Nice Guys will not win.” Soon, a woman “expressed a strong desire in relieving him of his anxiety” and “now she’s mother to a nice family.” However, it’s a one-sided win for her: he could be enticed but “he’s still quite nice” (a cuckold) because “she sees other men than him.”

Halfnelson was engineered by Thaddeus James Lowe, the former Electric Prunes frontman who worked with Rundgren previously on Nazz Nazz, the 1969 second album by Todd’s then-band Nazz; and Runt, Todd’s 1970 debut solo album. Most recently, he engineered the June 1971 Bearsville release The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, which features inner-gate photography by Ron Mael.

The original Halfnelson cover is a doctored 1959 Oldsmobile ad that shows a Grace Kelly lookalike (colorized) seated in the back of the automaker’s latest luxury model. The superimposed band members are seen looking in through the windows. The back cover shows the members grouped against a wall with the Maels seated.

Soon after this release, Halfnelson changed their name to Sparks, a pun on the Marx Brothers devised by label boss Albert Grossman, who first suggested “Sparks Brothers” (possibly as an ode to Ron’s Groucho-like mustache). Bearsville reissued the album in early 1972 as Sparks with revised cover art that shows a monochrome medium group shot against a red brick backdrop. This version has a foldout lyrical insert, backed with the brick motif.

Bearsville lifted “Wonder Girl” as a single (b/w “(No More) Mr. Nice Guys”). It became a regional hit in Alabama and reached No. 92 on the Cash Box Top 100. Sparks performed the song on ABC’s American Bandstand, exposing viewers to Russell’s camp, flamboyant manner and Ron’s demented robot shtick.

“Biology 2” appears on The Whole Burbank Catalog, a 1972 Warner sampler compiled by Barry Hansen (aka Dr. Demento) with cuts by Rundgren, Alice Cooper, Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Malo, Kenny Young, and T. Rex.

On July 3, 1972, Sparks played the Whisky-A-Go-Go club in West Hollywood with support from English rustic-rockers Heads Hands & Feet.


A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing

Sparks released their second album, A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing, in November 1972 on Bearsville. It features three Mael brothers co-writes: “Here Comes Bob,” “Angus Desire,” and the opener “Girls from Germany,” which later appeared as a UK single with “Beaver O’Lindy,” the only song credited to all five members.

A Woofer also features four Ron numbers: “Nothing Is Sacred,” “The Louvre,” “Batteries Not Included,” and “Whippings and Apologies.” His “Moon Over Kentucky” featured lyrics by Jim Mankey. Earle contributed “Underground.” The side two opener, “Do Re Mi,” is from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.

Girl from Germany” (3:26) Russell introduces his German girlfriend to his parents, who “can’t forget [the war and] they never will… they can hear the storm troops” on their lawn when he shows her in. He insists “it’s the same old country but the people have changed” and notes “its splendid castles and its fine cuisine… its lovely German women.” He also notes that the car he drives is German-made and points out the hypocrisy (“they resent [the car] less than the people who are German-made”).

Beaver O’Lindy” (3:44) Russell channels his inner-tween, who counts his age by the minute and notes his changing voice that “cracks like Arctic ice-flows [and] croaks like old-folks homes.” He’s hounded by his “wallet-sized friend” (sex organ) and how it reacts to thoughts of Beaver O’Lindy (“the girl in your head”). The organ says “you’ve seen me before, you’ll see me much more” and refers to itself as “the trash man’s valet” (tissue paper) and “as big as can be.”

Nothing Is Sacred” (5:31) Russell declares that “Madame Science wins again” and will soon unveil a cure for mortality (“We are now forever people, we’ll outlive our will to live”). He regrets it didn’t come sooner (“I remember when I needed you several billion years ago”) and makes a deadpan remark about eternity (“I am sure you will appreciate your new found leisure time”). He realizes he can now fit more women into his life (“if you know a honey, I’ve got time”).

Here Comes Bob” (2:09) Bob “ain’t subtle in [his] ways of making friends.” When he spots “a driver worth a second glance,” he goes “foot to floorboard” and crashes into the vehicle on purpose. He says he sometimes stoops “to hitting two-door coupes without the frills,” but only “for casual acquaintances.” For group encounters, he hits “busses, mobile homes or trains to Pittsburgh.” He knows that “someday they’ll put [him] away” but thinks he’ll go down in glory (“the judge will say to me Bob, You’ve got a bad means to a worthwhile end”).

Moon Over Kentucky” (4:08) Russell confides in a friend who’s eager to flee the Midwest (“they’re stamping, trampling all upon you”). He notes the young man’s sullenness (“your pocked face remains impassive”) and encourages him to “leave this mooring and seek some new rendezvous” and cut ties with his possessive mother. They each lose their virginity under ho-hum circumstances:

You’ve been waiting for your first encounter, what a letdown
I’m just finishing my first encounter, what a letdown

Do Re Mi” (3:38) Russell sings solfège syllables for the solfège syllables do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti, as sung by actress Julie Andrews in the 1965 film adaptation of The Sound of Music.

Angus Desire” (3:25) Russell attends public school, where the backdated sex ed avoids the “private parts” that “look so odd” and instead uses the bovine Angus Desire (a “stockyard femme fatale”) to demonstrate the facts of life. This leaves Russell with a lot of unanswered questions by the time he hits college (“let’s not admire Angus Desire”).

Underground” (2:59) Russell invites the listener “down under seas… where love is free and super groups can be found.” He wants to make a one-take basement tape and gain “world distribution by relevant means” to a teen market that digs “jazz folk-rock fusion.” After he goes “down under cities and the roots of the trees,” he wants to “sail off over rainbows [and] spy the lands that come together.”

The Louvre” (5:04) Russell sings translated French (a language he didn’t learn till 1980) from the point of view of an ancient marble statue, which stares at the door and dares Louvre patrons to lift it off its mantle. According to the statue, the museum will detonate in a few short hours (it witnessed the after-hours setup of a bomb rig that went undetected by museum staff).

Batteries Not Included” (0:47) Russell recalls a childhood toy that brightened his mood but failed to activate when he flipped the switch because it required batteries (sold separately).

Whippings and Apologies” (5:05) Russell caterwauls about a woman with “holy water running through her veins” who incurred “whippings and apologies over and over… when she disagreed.”

James Lowe assumed production of A Woofer from a now-busy Rundgren, who recently self-performed his chart-bound third solo album Something / Anything, a two-record set engineered by Thaddeus. A Woofer is the fourth and final album produced by James Lowe, who ended his career as a soundman.

A Woofer features cover photography by Larry Dupont. The two shots — motion blurred (front) and still (back) — are reminiscent of the Halfnelson back pic with the band grouped three-over-two against a wall. The album’s title is a pun on speaker frequencies: woofer (low-frequency sounds) and tweeter (high-frequency sounds).

“Moon Over Kentucky” appears on Days of Wine and Vinyl, a 1972 four-sided Warner comp with songs by America, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Incredible String Band, Jethro Tull, Roxy Music, The Section, Sharks, Steeley Span, Tír na nÓg, and an odd cut by David Bowie (“Can’t Help Thinking About Me” by his pre-fame band The Lower Third).

Bearsville sensed the band’s overseas potential and sent them on a 30-date tour of Europe, where Sparks were mobbed by fans in Switzerland. In Belgium, Sparks supported Slade with Vinegar Joe at Forest National, Brussels. Their setlist included “My White Bicycle,” a 1967 UK hit by Tomorrow. They mimed on the German music program Hits-a-Gogo and performed on The Old Grey Whistle Test, bemusing show host Bob Harris. In London, Sparks played four Christmas season gigs at the Marquee, including December 20–21 double-bills with newcomers Queen.


On January 29–30, 1973, Sparks played the Whisky-a-Go-Go with support from hard-rockers Stepson, a spinoff of NW prog–psych pioneers Touch.

In London, Island Records took an interest in Sparks, especially the songwriting and vocal talents of the Mael brothers. Weary of hosting a five-piece band, Island summoned the pair back to England, where the Maels stayed with their mother, Muriel, who recently moved there with their stepfather, Oscar Rogenson.

As the Maels auditioned UK musicians, Earl Mankey moved behind the boards. He engineered 1975–78 albums by the Beach Boys, Crane, Dennis Wilson, Eric Carmen, The Quick, and Paul Parrish (ex-Badger). He assisted producer–engineer Gus Dudgeon with six tracks on Blue Moves, the 1976 double-album by Elton John. In 1978, Earl made his solo debut with the BOMP! single “Mau Mau” (“Crazy!”), followed by a 1981 eponymous EP on Select Records.

Jim Mankey reemerged as an engineer on 1980–83 small-press releases by Stiv Bators, Bad Religion, Flyboys, Phast Phreddie, and Target On Demand. In 1983, he formed the new wave trio Dream 6, which morphed into I.R.S. recording artists Concrete Blonde.

Meanwhile, the Maels linked with John Hewlett, the former bassist of psychedelic mod-rockers John’s Children with future T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan. Hewlett became Sparks’ new manager and linked them with Island in-house producer Muff Winwood, the one-time bassist of the Spencer Davis Group, the launching pad of his younger brother Steve Winwood. Muff’s prior production credits included singles by Nirvana, Spooky Tooth, and three albums by Patto.

The Maels assembled a new Sparks with guitarist Adrian Fisher, bassist Martin Gordon, and drummer Dinky Diamond. All were newcomers apart from Fisher, who played in the unrecorded Toby, a trio activated by Andy Fraser between the bassist’s stints in Free. Ron traded his Wurlitzer electric piano — a mainstay of Halfenelson and Woofer that was deemed cumbersome on tour — for the compact RMI Electra-Piano model 300.


Kimono My House

Sparks released their third album, Kimono My House, in May 1974 on Island. It features two Mael brothers co-writes (“Hasta Mañana Monsieur,” “In My Family”) and eight Ron Mael originals, including the opening two numbers “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” and “Amateur Hour” (both released as singles) and the side-closing epics “Thank God It’s Not Christmas” and “Equator.”

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (3:05) Russell struggles internally with animal urges (“zoo time is she and you time”) and nerves (“heartbeat, increasing heartbeat”). As he hears “the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky tigers,” he realizes that “this town ain’t big enough for” his shyness and libido to coexist. He resolves to conquer his fear on planes (“flying, domestic flying… when the stewardess is near do not show any fear”) and in his daily routine (“dawdle into the cafe where you meet her each day”).

Amateur Hour” (3:37) Russell examines showbiz hopefuls and talent trainers (“She can show you what you must do to be more like people better than you”). He notes the blooming young song-and-dance girls (“girls grow tops to go topless in”) and their male counterparts who “count the hairs that blossom from [their] chins.” Growth and training run in tandem (“Our voices change at a rapid pace, I could start a song a tenor and then end as bass”). He says that “when you turn pro, you know, she’ll let you know” and insists that “the real thing” (talent) takes practice (“It’s a lot like playing the violin, you cannot start off to be Yehudi Menuhin”).

Falling in Love with Myself Again” (3:03) Russell portrays a teenager who internalizes the object of his desire. He imagines this alternate personality as an actual girl from a near-identical household (“similar mother, similar father, similar dog, cat and fish”). His birthday wish (never fulfilled) is to be her. When he looks in the mirror to see her stare back, his own reflection gets in the way (“I can’t see with you in front of the mirror staring”).

Here in Heaven” (2:48) Russell sings of his “panoramic view” and “lots of things to do” in heaven, where you “cannot buy souvenirs” or return to Earth. While fellow spirits “only sleep and awake to tell how gory and gruesome was their end,” he addresses Juliet, his living girlfriend who “broke [their] little pact.” Apparently, she used him as a fall guy in some plot and now he’s “that sucker in the sky.” From heaven, he tells her “it is Hell knowing that your health will keep you out of here for years and years and years.”

Thank God It’s Not Christmas” (5:07) Russell enjoys the “chit-chat and clinking glass; cheap talk [and] lady’s laugh” at “bistros and old haunts”… the “sunken hideaway[s]” where “people go to play” during afterhours and try “very hard to sin.” He also likes to “blend with the loud” at daytime “in-spots” and matinees. He’s glad it’s not Christmas when everyone stays home and “the rest is closed to public view.” However, with “the rain washing down the boulevard” (autumn), he knows “the popular day [is] fast approaching now.” He wonders “will the mood allow one dissent” from the “popular ways… popular rites” that he deems “not meant for me and you.”

Hasta Mañana, Monsieur” (3:52) Russell portrays a straight-laced young simpleton who dates a foreign girl from a nation whose “leading exports were textiles and iron ore.” To sound cosmopolitan, he tries to seduce her with “the only words that [he] knew for sure… that [he] knew [she]’d adore:” hasta manana monsieur… and therein lies the joke, presuming he intends to say “spend the night, babe” in a foreign language (hasta manana is Spanish for “see you tomorrow,” monsieur is French for “sir”). Her culturedness has him “thrown for a loss over gender and simple rules” — when she “mentioned Kant” he was “shocked” (due to malformed preconceptions of the German philosopher, but in his words because) “none of the girls [back home] have such foul tongues.” He again misuses foreign loan words — “Kimono my house mon amour” (robe my house, my love) — with the assumption “that this motion don’t need no accompanying words,” but it backfires and she flees, leaving him with a “half-empty foreign bed” and his “Michelin Guide” (an international hotel and restaurant guide published by the French tire company). He continues his three-word gaff as the song plays to its climax.

Talent Is an Asset” (3:21) Russell observes young Einstein (“watch Albert putter, an obvious genius”) and predicts that “someday he will reassess the world and… still have time for lots of girls.” The boy’s mother keeps “all the strangers off his back” as he postulates future theories (“everything’s relative”). As Albert scribbles “genius things” and grows “at the speed of light,” his mom keeps him isolated (“we are his relatives and he don’t need any non-relatives”), breaks all matters down to adjectives (“talent is relative, that’s hypothetical; we are his relatives, that’s parenthetical”) and orders everyone out of his space (“leave Albert’s study room… happy home… city… continent… hemisphere… planet… universe”) because “no one must see him now; only the medical.”

Complaints” (2:50) Russell works in the Complaints Department at a supermarket, where dissatisfied customers often “yell into [his] ear” about faulty items. He tells them “just give it back, no questions asked.” He notes the nature of complaining customers (“stereophonic.. ironic”) and “how they bore us [the department staff] like some avant-gardish chorus.” Soon, he complains that the job requires “too many hours” and says he’ll “dive off the mezzanine if one more [customer] points at crooked seams… a sign of shoddy workmanship, of Asiatic hands that slipped.” Eventually, the staff gain paid off-days (“two weeks free from all complaining, it was due to our complaining”).

In My Family” (3:48) Russell proclaims “that’s how it’s gonna be” in his family, where “you’re gonna see similarity… before and after me” as he manufactures “many, many me’s” and lives “to see post-senility” with “lots of time to spend with [his] family.” He namedrops distinguished individuals — American business magnate John D. Rockefeller, Hungarian nuclear physicist Edward Teller, American petroleum industrialist (and “splendid fellow”) J. Paul Getty, the world’s then-richest man (recently in the news for his tight-fisted, delayed response to the ransom demands of his grandson’s abductors) — but insists “none of them would be in my family.”

Equator” (4:42) Russell arranged a rendezvous for the spring equinox (March 20–21) but got the date wrong (“Surely, we said it was March the 10th”). Still unaware of his mistake, he circles “half way around this place” and exclaims “you must be just around the bend.” He notes “all of the gifts are now melted or dead” and derides her speed (“you always walked just as slow as you talked”). His confusion breeds distrust (“I wasn’t fooled for a second, girl”) and defeat (“I knew it was you who controlled our world”).

Kimono is their first of three albums recorded in the UK and the first where the name Sparks means the Maels with hired hands. Sessions took place between December 1973 and February 1974 at four London studios: Basing Street, AIR, Wessex Sound, and Ramport.

Winwood produced Kimono My House in succession with Beat of the Street, the fourth album by folksters the Sutherland Brothers and their second after merging with rustic-rockers Quiver. Kimono was co-engineered by Richard Digby-Smith and Tony Platt, who worked together on albums by Bronco and Mott the Hoople. Bill Price did the mix down after working on Man In the Bowler Hat, the third album by fellow music-hall popsters Stackridge.

Kimono My House features packaging by photographer Karl Stoeker and designer Nicholas De Ville, the team behind the album visuals for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music (Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, Stranded). The two women pictured on Kimono, Kuniko Okamura (left) and Michi Hirota (right), were actresses touring England at the time with Stomu Yamashta‘s Red Buddha Theatre. (Michi later did spoken-word parts on “It’s No Game” by David Bowie on his 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).) The back cover and inner-sleeve show the Maels posed against a dark wall in a white spotlight.

Island lifted “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” in advance of Kimono as the first single, backed with the non-album “Barbecutie.” It reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and hit the Top 5 in Benelux and Switzerland. Sparks mimed “This Town” on Top of the Pops (aired 5/9/74).

Barbecutie” (3:07) Russell profiles an explorer who abandons summer for the Arctic colds (“forsaken his whole tan; living in the snow advancing how much we will know”) while “his heart cries out” for Barbecutie, his tanned girlfriend who makes him warm. Back home, “the flies are making enemies of all” on the summer lawn as aromas rise “from the ancient coals” and make people “very bold.” He returns unharmed but “must defrost his frozen charm” and so he heads “to the barbecue.”

The second single, “Amateur Hour,” hit No. 7 in the UK and No. 12 in Germany, backed with the non-album “Lost and Found.” For the US, Island chose “Talent Is an Assent” as the second single.

Lost and Found” (3:19) Russell finds the wallet of a “careless man,” deemed a “Robin Hood by accident” because he (Russell) needs it more than its owner. He makes one feeble do-right attempt (“Is there anybody out there by the name of Mister Jones? No? No? Well, I tried”) and owns his find (“I ain’t gonna feel bad at all”). Russell and his girlfriend use the cash for a sail “across the Barbary Sea, with Nina, Pinto, and Marie.”

Kimono My House reached No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart. Sparks promoted the album with a 16-date June–July UK tour, culminating with a 7/7/74 show at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The Maels hired Scottish bassist Ian Hampton (ex-Jook) in place of Gordon, who formed Jet with ex-Nice guitarist Davy O’List and alumni of John’s Children.


Sparks released their second album of 1974, Propaganda, in November on Island. It features three Mael brothers co-writes (“Reinforcements,” “Thanks But No Thanks,” “Bon Voyage”) and eight proper Ron originals, including the melodramatic “Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her” and the opening pair on side two: “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” and “Something For The Girl With Everything,” both issued as singles. The titular opener is a brief demonstration of Russell’s falsetto prowess.

Propaganda” (0:23) is an a cappella prelude with rapidfire syllables. Russell (a soldier boy) identifies an opposition wartime woman who spews out propaganda. He thinks she’s poison to her side (“might makes right, though you are wrong, you’re right to fight her propaganda”). However, he wants to seduce her to his side (“I don’t need more competition for her affection; you should fight on, fight on over there”).

At Home, at Work, at Play” (3:06) Russell portrays a man who rationalizes his social limitations (“I ain’t a glutton for a lot of sweaty company”) and pines for a woman that he can only catch “while she’s still at home… at work… at play.” These time constraints cramp his grooming (“better shave half your face at a time… brush the front of your teeth, leave the rest”). She’s the subject of his oneitis (“there’s gotta be a million girls like her, though I can’t think of one”), so he skirts “the issue of her popularity” and avails himself “of all the time that she is free.” He’s oblivious to his friend-zone status: evident by the way she values him at home (a butler), at work (a typer), and play (a caddie). He claims he’s “gonna love [her] under incandescent light… fluorescent light… glaring sun” but doesn’t mention intimate dim light or private indoor scenarios. However, he ends with a sexual metaphor: “she’s unique… at play while she is dripping wet.”

Reinforcements” (3:55) Russell voices Denise, an army guard summed unprepared by “a potentate [who] ain’t so potent in his state.” Denise doesn’t understand “why the shrubbery moves” or “why there always has to be subterfusion.” He bungles a “costly seige” and the enemy mounts a “grand coup d’etat.”

B.C.” (2:13) Russell portrays Aaron, who lives with Betty and their son Charlie. The neighbours sing “hooray for ABC” until BC flees A (“so much for our ABC, say hello to instability”). A pursues BC (“Betty, Betty, get back here…Charlie, Charlie, get back here… you’re conveniently forgetting our little wedding… our honeymoon beside the sea”). He claims “three was never crowded; our little house did house three handsomely” and it’s unclear why they fled but “rumours spread like tumours, too too fast and too too true.”

Thanks But No Thanks” (4:14) Russell portrays an elementary schoolboy who’s parents forbid him from talking to strangers on his way home. He gets “the merry band of how are you’s in tweedy suits and pointy shoes.” Some offer him “a ride in style and something sweet to make him smile” but he says “thanks but no thanks, anyway.” As the boy explains (“my orders come from high above me; about a foot or two above me”).

Don’t Leave Me Alone with Her” (3:02) Russell and his “unwitting chaperons” attend a party hosted by a forboding woman who gives him chills (“the Exodus is on… the impetus is gone.. nobody’s having fun”). As the party slows and others leave, he begs them not to abandon him with her because “every home is Rome alone with” this woman that he characterizes as a Hitler wearing heels, a Hun with honey skin, a De Sade who makes good tea, and a soft Simon Legree (the brutal plantation owner in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” (2:28) Russell warns “don’t be tempted by her favours” or the “best behavior” of Mother Nature because sometimes she unleashes wrath (“towns are hurled from A to B by hands that looked so smooth to me”). He admits to infidelity by now promises to “be more faithful” to Mother Nature.

Something for the Girl with Everything” (2:17) Russell observes a spoiled girl that people struggle to please with candy (“another sweet my dear… a flavour you ain’t tried”) and fancy items (“here’s a really pretty car… I hope it takes you fast and far”). He presents “three wise men bearing gifts to aid amnesia” with “a partridge in a tree [and] a gardener for the tree” but tells them “careful with that crate, you wouldn’t want to dent Sinatra.”

Achoo” (3:34) Russell dreads an oncoming sneeze. He’s concerned about the germs (“what the wind’s gonna bring when the invalids sing”) and their impact on healthy individuals (“all winners will be also-rans”), because “achoo” is an equal-opportunity infector (“one size fits everyone”) that fills up hospitals (“grey hair and a dash and a flair, give your doctor an air”). He calls out for a remedy (“is there any cure for Hell?”) and resolves to tough it out (“one breath, the deed has been done… open wide and say goodbye, you’ll be ok”).

Who Don’t Like Kids” (3:37) Russell portrays a cigar-totin’ father who sees that his “offspring are springing through swinging doors into a world” and announces “here comes another… of that proof that I’m not just a vegetable” (that he can procreate), “that I’m more than a mineral.” He takes pride in conception (“living proof that I’m really sound”) and notes that he’s passing on his bloodline (“they’ll ensure I’m always around”). He suggests another to his wife (“your bit and my bit’ll do their dance to body rumblings”) and wonders “what’s it gonna be, sod or celebrity (boy or girl)?”

Bon Voyage” (4:52) Russell portrays a left-behind as two of each kind board Noah’s Ark. He notes the oncoming storm (“clouds forming on the gospel sky, trouble is about to brew on us”) and that he’ll be a casualty (“they can only take a few of us… the fins and the paws and hooves and feet”). He wonders if he could somehow stowaway (“wear a hood or… sneak aboard with you”). As the doomed millions see off the “randomest sampling” few (“they’re about to leave and we will stay, all governed by the rules of chance”) he laments “I wish that we could join you… two of you… two of them… two of those… safety for the few… they will start anew.”

Halfway through the sessions, Fisher cleared out for guitarist Trevor White, another musician in Hewlett’s hemisphere (John’s Children, Jook). Fisher surfaced in Boxer for their 1977 second-released (third recorded) album Absolutely.

Propaganda is their second and final album produced by Muff Winwood, who subsequently worked on 1975–78 albums by the Noel Redding Band, Milk ‘n’ Cookies, Russ Ballard (Winning), Dire Straits (self-titled), Fabulous Poodles, and Burlesque. His production on 2nd Honeymoon, the 1976 debut by the Liverpudlian nine-piece Deaf School, yielded Sparks-like music hall vibes.

Digby-Smith engineered Propaganda with Robin Black, who also worked on 1973/74 albums by Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull (A Passion Play, War Child), Laurie Styvers, Man, Spirogyra (Bells, Boots and Shambles), Taggett, Three Man Army, and fellow Vaudevillian popsters Sailor. Price mixed Propaganda in succession with 1974 work on albums by Badfinger, Camel (Mirage), and First of the Big Bands, the collaboration of singer Tony Ashton (Ashton Gardner & Dyke) and Deep Purple organist Jon Lord.

Propaganda sports cover visuals conceived by photographer Monty Coles (Taste, Twiggy). It shows the brothers bound and gagged on a running yacht (front) and stuffed in the back of a stopped car (back) at a repair station where Diamond, Fisher, and Hampton cavort by the driver-side door. On the monochrome inner-sleeve, the brothers are cuffed back-to-back on a bed, where Russell manages to free his mouth and access a nearby phone.

Island lifted “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” as the album’s first single, backed with the non-album “Alabamy Right.” Sparks mimed “Never Turn” on TotP (aired 10/24/74) and the Dutch music program Top Pop (aired 10/26/74).

Alabamy Right” (2:11) Russell announces that a heard of ‘Albamies’ (Alabamians headed home after work stints in big coastal cities) will flood the local supermarkets, where workers must hustle because “it’s nearly five… they’re coming with coupons they’re coming with kids; a hungry army soon will need to be fed”). He sees the aisles clean (“they’re scaling the mountains of frozen delights; there’s been an avalanche on aisle number nine”) and says “they’ll Alabamy right around the register” and adds that there’s “no need to go miles to Hollywood or pretend that you’re celestial.”

“Something For The Girl With Everything” became the second single, backed with the non-album “Marry Me.” The singles reached No. 13 and No. 17, respectively, on the UK Singles Chart. Stateside, Island lifted “Achoo” as the only single. Another song from the Propaganda sessions, “Profile,” appeared as the b-side to their later hit “Get In the Swing.”

Marry Me” (2:54) Russell wants “someone to bring me out, someone to let me in,” so he proposes to the local girl who draws “all the eager-beaver men [who] place themselves in place of me and face to face with you.” He notes that “each pretend, you’re loving him” but asserts “that’s not very true” and gets direct with her (“you’re not acting, nor am I, though I could use some proof”). He pops the question and doesn’t care that “a thousand hungry people [will] try to crash our story.” He wants a “happily-ever-after… with trees and tots and stucco walls and fountains in the back.”

Propaganda reached No. 9 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 63 on the US Billboard 200. Sparks promoted the album with a November–December tour that included 26 confirmed UK dates and a five-city swing through Europe. Their opening act on select English dates was Pilot, the Scottish pop band months away from a transatlantic breakthrough with the singles “Magic” and “January.”


Sparks launched a month-long North American tour on April 6, 1975, in Toronto. They supported Kraftwerk in Buffalo (4/11/75: New Century Theatre) and played back-to-back Ohio shows in Akron and Cleveland, then-epicenters of new, eccentric talent (Devo, Pere Ubu, Tin Huey).

In July, Sparks issued a new single: “Get In the Swing,” a Dixieland marching band anthem produced by Tony Visconti, known for his work on albums by Bowie (The Man Who Sold the World), Gentle Giant (self-titled, Acquiring the Taste), and recent titles by Carmen (Fandangos In Space), Osibisa, and Strawbs (Grave New World). The b-side, “Profile,” is a holdover from their last sessions with Muff Winwood. Sparks mimed “Get In the Swing” for the 7/24/75 broadcast of TotP.

Profile” (3:30) Russell complains that his girl always gives him the sideways glance (“I know you’ve got a left eye, I know you’ve got a right, but will they be appearing together tonight”) and asks “don’t your head include more than a profile?” He recounts how they’re “always cheek to cheek or cheek to face or face to cheek but never face to hey, what do you say?” (a face-forward question) and adds “you ain’t Whistler’s Mother.”


Sparks released their fifth album, Indiscreet, in October 1975 on Island. It features “Get In the Swing” among twelve Ron originals with a newly broadened vernacular that covers music hall (“Tits,” “Without Using Hands”), cabaret (“Miss the Start, Miss the End”), minuet (“Under the Table With Her”), big-band swing (“Looks, Looks, Looks”), guitar-based glam (“Happy Hunting Ground,” “How Are You Getting Home?”), and new wave blueprints (“In the Future”).

Russell’s songwriting contribution, “Pineapple,” is a music hall paean to the tropical fruit. Fiddler Mike Piggot (Gass, Paul Brett) guests on “It Ain’t 1918,” a knee-slapping tale of an old couple stuck in time.

Hospitality On Parade” (4:00) Russell serves as the Grand Marshall of a Colonial hospitality parade for the British aristocracy. He follows custom (“Hey Jenny, meet your master… be kind to our master”) but notes the discontent (“feeling is a-brewing that we don’t need any masters… we all can be a master and we all can be a king”). He prefaces with a revolutionary forecast:

Someday we’ll have one extra coastline (the Pacific)
We’ll tire of the Atlantic
By then we’ll be rid of your lot
A shot heard ’round the world will soon be shot

He also predicts that status in the USA will pass down from British ancestors (“you’re going to find their descendants in places all around you… [be] treated like a king [at] lunch counters, at banks and the theatre”).

Happy Hunting Ground” (3:44) Russell is a failing student who sees school as his “happy hunting ground” for smart and rich girls (“they don’t talk or act like you do”). He hates English (“who, what, when, where and why everyday”), Science (“identify every disease”), and Foreign Language (“Latin and Spanish and Greek”). After his expulsion, he’s “happy at first” but soon realizes he’s in trouble and begs for readmission to his “happy hunting ground.”

Without Using Hands” (3:20) Russell take his family on vacation to Paris, where he imagines 1920s frolic and “heterosexual thrills” under the canopy of the historic Ritz Hotel, which “served as a very large umbrella when the May rains fell” in an era when people made love “without using hands.” He takes a family photo at the site and scolds his son (“Jerry, let go of your sister, what is wrong with you today?”) and notes “the only way children are punished, unlike old times, is without using hands.” Later, after their trip, an explosion rocks the Ritz Hotel lobby. Everyone survives unscathed except the hotel manager, who is “going to live his entire life without using hands.”

Get in the Swing” (4:08) Russell (possibly a WWII naval man on an Asiatic break) rounds up his pals for swing time. He ponders desertion (“mind if you go out and not come back again”) while “the night is younger than the girl who’s got the touch.” He bypasses bars for the red light district, where girls “serve who sit and wait” and are “cheaper than painting and don’t need explaining.” He uses a salmon spawn analogy (“they go thrashing ’til their mission is fulfilled”) to get his pals in the swing. Later, in a lucid moment, the voice of God beams down with “this is your creator with a questionaire,” but Russell skips the survey.

Under the Table With Her” (2:20) Russell portrays a child at a formal dinner gala where “nobody miss[es] diminutive offspring, not when there’s big wigs there.” So the “dinner for twelve is now dinner for ten” adults now that the two children (him and a little girl named Laura Lee) are “under the table,” where “somebody pats her hair” and the adults are “nice to the subhuman species.”

How Are You Getting Home?” (2:57) Russell chats with a girl at a party and asks how she’s getting home. He thrice repeats the question and soft-pedals (“I’m curious”) then back-pedals (“No, I’m really only curious”). He gets bold (“Let’s get away from here”) and hopes the ride gives them lots of time (“I hope you live a million miles away; I could take you half way home tonight”). He presupposes kinship and makes an appeal to her ego (“We’re too good to be at this party”) and re-frames that line to his advantage (“We’re too good to be anywhere but inside my car”). He soft-pedals again (“It’s on my way”) and again (“Don’t let me push you baby”) and adds a quasi-feminist compliment (“What I like is your independence… real spunk”).

Pineapple” (2:45) Russell praises the “tropical air” that promotes “the vitamin C content” (and market demand for) his year-round pineapple harvest. He ships the fruit to city jails, where wardens like it “because it won’t conceal any… handmade weapons… baked right into their buns.” He’s “got a contract for all of the schools,” where cafeterias will serve pineapple each lunch. Yes, he knows that “kids will throw it real far, ’cause it ain’t a milk chocolate bar, but you know it don’t stain so bad.” He lists additional pineapple-friendly settings (ships at sea, English at tea) and invites the Alpine skiing team to his Hawaiian pineapple factory “where hula is life and luaus are for the wife.”

Tits” (4:57) Russell calls a round for his barfly confidant Harry. After some randy banter (“that little thing there’s fine from behind… they all look good after three or four”), he explains his domestic predicament: his wife’s breasts (“once a source of [sexual foreplay] fun and games”) are now reserved for their infant son (“to feed our little Joe so that he’ll grow”). He twice goads his friend (“drink Harry”) and urges him to the extreme (“drink ’til you can’t see no more, of anything, no more of anything”). Russell says he broached the topic of fishy phone calls (“Hey, who’s that on the phone?”) to his aloof wife, who handed him “the standard sort of line” (“Oh, that’s no one dear”). As drunkenness takes hold (“God, the room is spinning round”), he drops a bombshell (“Harry, I know it’s you who’s breaking up my home!”) and further pushes Harry’s over-consumption. The intent of his “no more of anything” remark (figurative jest or lethal command) remains ambiguous.

It Ain’t 1918” (2:08) Russell tells the tale of Johnny, a Missouri WWI veteran “with a fun side” who “liked to laugh a lot each day.” In 1918, he marries a beauty and they become Edwardian fashion–culture holdouts for the next six decades, as witnessed by befuddled St. Louis townsfolk:

Everybody seen their Stanley Steamer
Everybody knows It’s Johnny’s car
Wave as you see Johnny drive to market
Watch a bit of past go steaming by
Johnny and his bride
Johnny and his car
Without a change of any kind

A St. Louis socialite (Ms. Miller) arranges an intervention with wealthy locals, who purchase the couple updated wardrobes, a new car and a modern home. A saddened Johnny says he’d “rather stay as is” but the townsfolk lay down the law: “It ain’t 1918 for us or for you! If we can’t enjoy it… then neither will you!”

The Lady is Lingering” (3:40) Russell engages in “risky business” with a lady who lingers on every act for undisclosed reasons (“you cannot believe the reason why,” he hints). He notes the drawn-out nature of her speech (“no contractions, nothing slurred”), consumption (“every sip is of the smallest quantity”), and communication (“every question is a means to draw long answers”). He wonders how to handle the situation (“guide the evening, or do you await”).

In the Future” (2:12) Russell (possibly a World’s Fair Master of Ceremonies) presents a futurist showcase where he lauds “the sweep and the grandeur; the scope and the laughter” of upcoming appliances, furnishings, and innovations in aerospace (“Coming soon and everywhere, everyone will walk on air”). He promises the future will hold “lots of fun… lots of sun” and welcomes everyone with a common-sense PSA (“You’ll be there if you don’t do nothing foolish”) and tells the skeptics “You think you’ve seen it all; you’ve seen it all except the future.”

Looks, Looks, Looks” (2:35) Russell addresses a fashion designer (with “sense… style… cash galore”) and his trophy partner: a model he employed and dressed in “formal fashion.” However, she’s dispassionate due to his crooked nose, teeth, and “built-in seat that makes [him] look effete.” Consequently, the designer relies on books (“smart grow smarter”). Russell notes that “the eye to the brain’s just an inch or two” and “the eye to the heart’s only slightly farther,” but concludes that some people “still can’t compete” because “any place is laced with those who have [looks, looks, looks] and those who can only look.”

Miss the Start, Miss the End” (2:46) Russell gives sentience to the Start and the End (“’cause they’re such very good friends”) and lists off their similarities: “neither has an afterthought [or] takes their jacket off… they’ve never seen a curtain rise, a kick-off or the final gun… the titles [on] the rising sun.” He notes the general public’s indifference (“there are things to be loved and things to only attend”) and how some people think “the opening bars and the closing bars might as well not exist.” The Start and the End argue whether they “need more than just each other” or “just a drawing of each other.”

Visconti produced Indiscreet at his Good Earth Studio during March–April 1975. His Sparks liaison followed his reunion with Bowie on the 1974–75 releases David Live and Young Americans.

“Looks, Looks, Looks” preceded Indiscreet as the album’s second single (b/w “Pineapple”). A reunited Ted Heath Orchestra (minus Heath, 1902–1969) perform on the track, which Sparks mimed on TotP (9/25/75) and its short-lived competitor, the ITV music program Supersonic. US copies have an exclusive b-side, “The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael,” a comedic spoken-word phone exchange between Russell and the answering machine messages of “Jacqueline,” voiced by Visconti’s wife, Welsh folk-pop singer Mary Hopkin.

Indiscreet is the only Sparks album (barring compilations) housed in a gatefold sleeve. Richard Creamer, the photographer for the Christopher Milk album, took the Indiscreet cover shot, which shows the brothers descended on an airplane crash site. The actual crash occurred at a strip landing in the San Fernando Valley with the neighborhood backdrop superimposed. Creamer also photographed the right inner-gate: a monochrome shot of the brothers in tank tops holding grocery bags in a parking lot. Island pressed life-size cutouts of this image for promo-display purposes at US record stores.

Gered Mankowitz photographed the back cover, which shows Russell in jodhpurs on horseback with Ron at the harness and their backing group (Diamond, Hampton, White) lounged at a poolside table. Mankowitz also photographed covers to 1974–75 albums by Fox, Hummingbird, King Crimson (Red), and Murray Head (Say It Ain’t So).

Two additional songs from the Good Earth sessions — “Tearing the Place Apart” (a drunken, odd-meter music hall romp) and Russell’s “Gone With the Wind” (a whistle-laden 2/4 strumalong) — appear on the 1977 German Island comp The Best of Sparks with pre-released Island-era material. The Best of cover invokes Kimono imagery with a startle-eyed geisha who peeks through red blinds.

Tearing the Place Apart” (3:38) Russell tears up his home because he’s “getting rid of every memory” of his girlfriend now that she’s “gone to someone else.” He burns the linen they slept on and “each square of vinyl [she] stepped on.” He discards his collections and momentos of their travels (“stamps of all nations where we’d been… and we had been everywhere”). As the walls that enclosed them crumble, “down come the chandeliers that lit our cozy little dinners… I’ll grow thinner.” He rips “the doors off with the hinges” and opens the place for random pillage (“who needs a door at all the world can walk in and I’ll let them… go and take anything, they’re only things”).

Gone With the Wind” (3:07) Russell and his date attend a late-night screening of Gone With the Wind, the 1939 Civil War-period romantic drama starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Due to the movie’s serious nature (“it’s history, it drags on and on”) and 221-minute length (“it wasn’t my fault it lasted ’til dawn”), they barely watch the film that keeps her out till morning. He thinks of explanations (“it’s praised by the academy”) and appeals to the girl’s mother (“she’d rather [do] Gable than your dad, so tell her please, I’m an innocent lad”). They know that “there’s a lot to be said for” the film they “didn’t watch a lot” so they maul over basic plot themes to make it seem like they paid attention (“we could mention that the South might rise again”). Russell accepts that there’s no GWtW laymen’s guide for his callow synopsis (“they don’t tell my type the plot”) but quips “the South will rise again, they’re saying, but frankly, I don’t give a damn.”

Sparks promoted Indiscreet with a 48-city (Oct–Dec) tour, starting with a 10/2/75 show at the Culture House, Helsinki. The tour covered Scandinavia, the UK, Canada, and the US, culminating with a week of West Coast shows in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and California.

After the tour, the Maels dismissed their backing band and refocused on the US. White replaced O’List in a post-album lineup of Jet and cut the 1976 solo single “Crazy Kid,” which features Hampton. Diamond auditioned for Kiwi art-rockers Split Enz and played on two tracks (“Je Pense a Toi, Casablanca,” “Elle Est Fidèle”) on the 1977 self-titled release by Rachid Bahri on French EMI.



At the start of 1976, the Maels settled back in the US and reconnected with Earl Mankey. As a trio, Sparks recorded “England,” a musical tradeoff of cling clang percussion and fizzling sounds. Its lyrics contrast English and American culture with wry observations drawn from the brother’s two years overseas:

How was England weather?
Much like ours but with a moister sort of air
Their communication?
Much like ours but with a drier sort of air

“England” first appeared in March 1976 as the b-side of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” the mid-tempo Beatles rocker rearranged as a quiet storm ballad with Philly strings. The Lennon–McCartney cover marked Sparks’ first collaboration with singer–songwriter Rupert Holmes, a Tin Pan Alley purveyor with two albums to his credit: Widescreen (1974) and Rupert Holmes (1975). As a producer, Holmes worked with The Buoys and Orchestra Luna. Most recently, he produced Trouble, the 1975 second album by Sailor, whose mix of burlesque camp and ribaldry echoed Sparks.

The Maels assembled a new backing band with guitarist Jeff Salen, bassist Sal Maida, and drummer Hilly Michaels. Salen also played in the unsigned Tuff Darts, a resident act at CBGB’s on New York’s Lower East Side.

Michaels hailed from the 1969–71 shortplayer acts Joy (with future Blackjack singer Michael Bolotin, aka Bolton) and Peach & Lee. Concurrently, he played on Chestnut Street Incident, the 1976 debut album by Seymour, Indiana, hopeful Johnny Cougar, a recent discovery of onetime Bowie manager Tony Defries.

Maida hailed from Long Island popsters Milk ‘n’ Cookies, which made a 1975 album on Island with Muff Winwood. As a sessionist, Maida played on the 1975 UA release Lucky Leif and the Longships by future Hawkwind frontman Robert Calvert. He’s one of three bassists — along with John Gustafson (Quatermass, Ablution, Ian Gillan Band) and Rick Wills (Cochise, Parrish & Gurvitz, Foreigner) — credited on the 1976 live release Viva! Roxy Music.

The Maels secured a US deal with Columbia. Holmes produced the sixth Sparks album in August 1976 at Mediasound in New York City.

Big Beat

Sparks released their sixth album, Big Beat, in October 1976 on Columbia (US) and Island (abroad). It features eleven Ron originals with a decidedly American slant. Big Boy” opens the album with brimming open cadences (sizzling chordal sustain, remote echoing vocals) over a tight, pent-up rhythmic pattern.

Side One emphasizes mid-tempo numbers with hard-rock riffs and pop singalong choruses (“I Want to Be Like Everybody Else,” “Nothing To Do,” “Everybody’s Stupid”). They vary the approach with “I Bought the Mississippi River,” which imparts their cabaret signature on the newfound rockiness. On “Fill-Er-Up,” revved-up chords ride a polka tempo in prescience to the oncoming punk sound.

Big Boy” (3:30) Russell shakes with the ground below as Big Boy “throws his weight around.” It makes a dire situation worse (“We’re bored to tears until he comes and then we’re crying cause he’s come… if you don’t run, it’s suicide”). Russell finds himself intimidated (“He’s well-equipped, the girls are sure”) and curious (“Is that a guess, or something more?”).

I Bought the Mississippi River” (2:29) Russell portrays a dim frontiersman who just spent an untold sum on the Mississippi River, but “that don’t include the towns or the people.” The seller enticed him with a deal that includes “a boat with crew… I knew I’d better grab that river fast… it wouldn’t last.” He doesn’t understand the physical reality of river ownership (“couldn’t decide if I should leave it there or lug it out West”). He perceives the Mississippi as sentient (“Rivers ever need companions? Should I enquirer if the Seine is available? How about the Amazon?”). He hopes he “didn’t make an error.”

Fill-er Up” (2:20) Russell analogizes gasoline supply with sexual potency. One gallon gives him “that certain start”… two gets him “around the park”… five gets him “up the hill”… six and he “don’t need no pills.” Libido skyrockets at ten gallons, where “everyone’s a her.” At eleven gallons, he’s “a blur” and twelve gets him “out of town.”

Side Two is bookended with bold statements regarding the opposite sex: the nature’s-course assessment “Throw Her Away (And Get a New One)” and the self-explanatory “I Like Girls,” which Sparks performed live in 1973/74 and twice attempted with their UK band.

Throw Her Away (And Get a New One)” (3:15) Russell observes that “time wreaks havoc on every girl” (even those with “elegant taste”) and that “it’s only a matter of time [before] bowling (posture) or root beer (gut) or taking the train (legs)” appear. He presents the ideal 1976 girl: “Now may we present, she’s the top of the line… a 1959… in top notch shape,” but notes “it’s always the same.” He urges men to be selective (“better look at her waist… check out her face”) and get a new one when she’s faulty or because of a “change in your taste.”

Confusion” (3:27) Russell puts melodic vocal twists to an intricate playoff of clipped guitar, rattling hi-hat, staccato bass, and (momentary) alien synth sounds. The song, originally titled “Intrusion,” was conceived for an unmade movie by aging French filmmaker Jacques Tati, who imagined a plot where his signature comic character, the clumsy Monsieur Hulot, dies in the first scene.

Russell pays a visit to his girl but finds “an optical illusion” at her place where “the girl was familiar but he wasn’t me.” He says “pardon the intrusion” and retraces his steps in case he picked the wrong house. He defines confusion as situations where you “know where you stand” (or so you think) but realize “you’re not even standing, you’re flat on shaky ground” and that you really had “no clue then [because] everything you knew then was only true in specialized cases.”

Screwed Up” (4:20) Russell summarizes activities from each new decade (“In 1900 you held hands and felt like you’d scored, in 1910 you’d never need a horse anymore”). He brings things to base (“that was then, this is now”) and confronts a once-active person on his/her “down, down… unwound” trajectory. The individual is “wasting time seeking comfort from any sight or any sound” but Russell knew this person when he/she “weren’t a bit screwed up.” He notes that talent is only useful if you put it to action:

It really doesn’t matter if you know how to sing
The only thing that matters is the girl that you bring

White Women” (3:24) is an echoing mid-tempo number with caveman stomp-stomp beats. The arrangement recalls their oddball moments with the Mankeys. Russell proclaims that “what’s good enough for Adam is good enough for me.” He enjoys the Anglo-Saxon abundance (“always a replacement, anytime”) and manner (“walk without a swagger”) and notes their unique features (“see’em blush, at least by light of day”). He speaks as a man who’s “tried most every package from Peking to Berdoo.”

I Like Girls” (2:58) Russell declares that on the “day of wedding preparation, you must decide.” He’s tight on personal details (“I sweat in the daytime, I don’t sweat much at night”) but invites “all those who are with me [to] raise our hands high.” The punchline comes on line two: “Greece of old collapsed ’cause no one liked their girls.”

Holmes produced Big Beat just ahead of albums by Strawbs (Deep Cuts) and John Miles (Stranger In the City). The assistant, Jeffrey Lesser, produced Rupert’s upcoming third album Singles. Unlike other Holmes’ productions, which typically bear his orchestral pop flourishes, Big Beat is an uncharacteristically rock-oriented recording for him and Sparks.

Big Beat lists three engineers: Bob Clearmountain (Flight, Isis, Marlena Shaw, Synergy), Harvey Goldberg (Black Ivory, Les McCann, Lonnie Liston Smith, Stephanie Mills), and Michael Barbiero (Baby Grand, Fatback Band, Gonzalez, Mark & Clark). Clearmountain and Goldberg both worked on albums by Ace Spectrum, Genevieve Waite, Kay Gees, and Kool & the Gang. The mixing engineer, Godfrey Diamond, also worked on 1976 albums by Calender, George McCrae, Jun Fukamachi, and the Andrea True Connection hit “More, More, More.”

Richard Avedon — famed for his raw, intense grayscale photographs of human subjects — took the three photos that grace the Big Beat cover (front, back) and inner-sleeve. His photography also graces 1970s titles by Cheryl Lynn (In Love), Electric Light Orchestra (On the Third Day), Melba Moore, and Sly & the Family Stone. The graphic designer on Big Beat, Tommy Steele, also notched visual credits on 1976 albums by Earth, Wind & Fire, The Emotions, Freddie Hubbard, and the Canadian band Small Wonder.

Island lifted two singles from Big Beat: “Big Boy” (b/w “Fill-Er-Up”) and “I Like Girls” (b/w “England”). Sparks perform both sides of the first single in the 1977 disaster–suspense film Rollercoaster.

Sparks promoted Big Beat with a 17-city North American tour that included dates with Boston (11/6/76: Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara), Welsh rockers Budgie (11/29/76: Agora, Cleveland), and a double bill with Kraut rockers Nektar and English newcomer Graham Parker (11/27/76: Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ). After multiple bills with Patti Smith, the tour wrapped December 31, 1976, at Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium, where Sparks headlined over Flo & Eddie and hard-rock hopefuls Van Halen.

For these shows, guitarist David Swanson (The Pop) replaced Salen, whose band Tuff Darts were among multiple New York acts (Talking Heads, Richard Hell & the Voidoids) signed to Sire.

The Maels dismissed the band after the tour. Maida backed singer Lisa Burns on a 1980 single; they later formed the synth duo Velveteen. Michaels cut the 1978 album Radio Active as part of G.E. Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue, which featured (future Hall & Oates and SNL band) guitarist G.E. Smith. As a solo artist, Michaels signed to Warner Bros. for the 1980/81 albums Calling All Girls and Lumia; the former’s title-track became a first-day video on MTV.


Introducing Sparks

Sparks returned in October 1977 with their second Columbia release, the ironically titled Introducing Sparks, their seventh album overall. For the first time, the Mael brothers receive joint songwriting credit on all numbers: “A Big Surprise,” “Occupation,” “Ladies,” “I’m Not,” “Forever Young,” “Goofing Off,” “Girls on the Brain,” “Over the Summer,” and “Those Mysteries.”

Occupation” (5:17) Russell recalls the simpler life of the pre-industrial frontiersman (“cowboys are a hardy breed… we smell, but so does everyone”) and lists off modern-day career options (“soldiers, sailors, stuntmen, jailers, Jewelers, G-men”). He extols the virtues of athletes (“run around and round… moan and groan and hit the ground”), doctors (“open wide and we look in… throw in several aspirin”), and pilots (“take you anywhere… be your father in the air”).

Ladies” (3:06) Russell imagines the domestic physical presence of women from TV and food brands (“on the sofa next to me are Dinah Shore and Sara Lee”) and royalty and science (“in the backyard climbing trees are Princess Grace and Margaret Mead”). They dissapear as he welcomes home his “only lady.” They reappear (“Jackie’s in the powder room… Lois Lane will be here soon”) once he’s got the house to himself (“Eva Braun is cracking jokes while Joan of Arc just sits and smokes”) but vanish when he calls over his buddies (“the ladies hear me… they’re fading out now”). His illusions reappear with Betty Crocker “baking cake,” Dolly Parton “in my pool,” and Aunt Jemima “acting cool.” He claims “they’re really great in person” but if he’s “pushy” they “start a-fading.”

Goofing Off” (4:26) Russell survives “a week of crap and crud” and notes “the world has started spinning ’cause the weekend is beginning.” He says “goofing off” is his main talent (“I can do it, do it, do it perfectly… the only thing I gladly do for free”). After each work week, he becomes “a raving, raving, ranting fool… non-stop for 48 hours” and grabs “anything that moves… the whole entire body.”

Over the Summer (3:50) Russell observes how Karen turns “into a bombshell… over the summer [when she’s] under the summer sun.” She went from “kind of dead” (June) to “the plainest of Janes” (July), “rearranged” (August), and “not just a brain” (September). He notes that “heat speeds change in everything… the records that I got in June don’t sound good no more” and how (after a “three day hot spell”) she’s “a little redder, but much better.”

Those Mysteries (5:03) Russell’s inner-child ponders existence (“Why is there time… space”), life (“Why are there dogs and cats and trees and the human race”), religion (“Why are there nuns and why do they pray?”), death (“Where do we go when we pass away?”), and his parents (“Why, when I ask my dad does he say Go ask your mom or just go away!”). He concludes “O.K., I’ll go away, but they won’t go away.”

Sparks recorded and co-produced Introducing at Larrabee Sound, Los Angeles, a Columbia A&R whose small list of sound credits include the 1975 one-off by Zuider Zee and the second, self-titled album by Starwood. The credits list nine musicians from the LA studio milieu, including jazz drummer Ed Greene (Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine, Wired), guitarists Ben Benay (Goldenrod) and Lee Ritenour, and former Skylark keyboardist (and soon-to-be producer) David Foster. Two of the backing players — keyboardist David Paich (then in Boz Scaggs‘ band) and bassist Mike Porcaro — later surfaced in Toto. Concurrently, Greene and Ritenour played on the 1977 ABC Records release Aja, the sixth album by Steely Dan.

Introducing lists six backing vocalists, including three members of the California Dreamers (Ron Hicklin, Stan Farber, Tom Bahler), which sang on 1967 titles by Tom Scott and Gabor Szabo, both on the ABC jazz sublabel Impulse! Another vocalist, Marc Piscitelli, hailed from soul-psychsters Fresh Air. The vocal arranger was studio veteran Al Capp, also credited on 1976 albums by L.A. Express and Shandi Sinnamon.

The engineer on Introducing, Lenny Roberts, had assorted psych-era credits (49th Parallel, Merryweather, The Advancement) and subsequently worked with Dionne Warwick, Melissa Manchester, and Tony Sciuto. His assistant, Betsy Banghart, worked on 1978 albums by Gino Vannelli and Olivia Newton-John.

Photographer Bob Seidemann snapped the Introducing cover images, which show medium profiles of Russell and Ron in red shirts with matching hand positions and pinky rings. Both images list the name and title in the same place with no additional text, effectively making either the “front” cover. Seidemann also took cover photographs to 1977/78 albums by Dixie Dregs (Free Fall), Heart (Little Queen), Supertramp (Even In the Quietest Moments…), and Valerie Carter (Wild Child). The graphic designer, John Kehe, also did visuals for ELO (Eldorado, Face the Music), Fringe Benefit, Point Blank, and Sea Level.

Columbia lifted two singles, “A Big Surprise” and “Over the Summer,” both with “Forever Young” as the flipside. A red-vinyl promo pressing of Introducing Sparks contains a press-release sheet with a pink-tinted pic of the Maels. Abroad, the album appeared on CBS.

“Forever Young” appears on Sounds Like a Good Album to Us, the second installment of the UK CBS Sounds series with cuts by Café Jacques (“Meaningless”), Crawler (“One Too Many Lovers”), Kansas (“Paradox”), Kursaal Flyers, Lone Star, Mahogany Rush, Ram Jam, and The Vibrators.

Sparks demoed four additional songs in 1977 that surfaced in later decades. Two, “Breathe” and “Fact or Fiction,” appear on the 2009 Japanese reissue of Introducing Sparks. The other two, “Kidnap” and “Keep Me,” surfaced in 2014 on a newly discovered quadraphonic reel-to-reel demo of the album.

In 1978, the Maels parted with Hewlett. In an interview with a German journalist, they voiced their admiration for “I Feel Love,” a recent Donna Summer single that foreshadowed future trends in electro-dance music. The journalist linked them with his friend Giorgio Moroder, the Italian musician–soundman who produced Summer.


No. 1 in Heaven

Sparks returned in March 1979 with their eighth album, No. 1 in Heaven. It was produced by Giorgio Moroder and released on Elektra (North America), Virgin (UK), and Ariola (Europe). The album contains six songs: one Ron sole-write (“Academy Award Performance”), one Ron–Russell co-write (“Beat the Clock”), and four jointly credited to the Maels and Moroder (“Tryouts for the Human Race,” “La Dolce Vita,” “My Other Voice,” “The Number One Song In Heaven”). In a break from prior Sparks efforts, the album consists of lush electronic textures set to space-age dance beats.

Tryouts for the Human Race” (6:05) Russell portrays “a quarter million strong” sperm cells in search of an egg “from Burlington to Bonn” and “from twilight time to dawn.” The song fades in with synth-vocal tones and synth bass (in A) over a mid-tempo sliding hi-hat. Russell hits his high register on verse couplets like “It’s an angry sea we face, just to get the chance to join the race.” In the video, Russell (hair trimmed) and Ron (curly side bangs) walk about suited with stiff expressions in a haunted house. Gradually, they become werewolves.

Academy Award Performance” (5:00) Russell profiles a Hollywood ingenue “with a thousand faces to choose from” (shark, bride, Joan of Arc, Mrs. Hyde) whose “great performances only come with some inspiration.” She delivers “well rehearsed… defined… clever lines” and producers see a goldmine in what she brings to the screen. She takes “a golden trophy… on behalf of the guys” she’s known. As Russell hints, “Everyone’s in the dark when [she’s] in the room, those rumors.”

La Dolce Vita” (5:56) (The Sweet Life) Russell leads a group of Italian gigolos (“golddiggers are hungry guys”) in their search for wealthy women (“the only bank that’s open all night”). He says “Mira, mira (look, look) guys, there’s Lira (currency) in her eyes.” He admits he’s “overpaid but still [asks] for more” and tells his clients what they want to hear (“Baby you’re looking younger every day… I really mean it, it ain’t just the pay”).

Beat the Clock” (4:23) Russell portrays an intellectual wunderkind who “was born a little premature” because “mom just couldn’t take no more.” He “entered school when [he] was two” and earned his PhD “that afternoon.” He isn’t the physical type (“never entered any sports, didn’t look too good in shorts… Army then rejected me, said I had two flat feet”). Otherwise, he’s “seen everything there is” and done everything and “met everyone but Liz” (Taylor). By the next line, he’s met the actress but has “no time for relationship” (a back-handed reference to her publicized history of short-term marriages).

My Other Voice” (4:54) Russell speaks of a supernatural second voice with the power to “destroy this room” and capture people (“I’ll wrap my voice around you and I’ll drag you everywhere”). He’ll make it the only thing you “hear for years and years and years.” Even people “deaf to everything… won’t be deaf to me.”

The Number One Song in Heaven” (7:26) Russell narrates “the mightiest hand” whose angel Gabriel sings heaven’s No. 1 song, which comes as an omen on planet Earth (“Why are you hearing it now, you ask? Maybe you’re closer to here than you imagine”). People hear the song when they die in their sleep or “while crossing the street.” The song “filters down… through the clouds… reaches the earth and winds all around.” It becomes a hit via car radios and TV advertisements.

Sparks recorded No. 1 in Heaven in Munich at Moroder’s Musicland Studios, the recording site of albums by Deep Purple and related acts (Rainbow, Jon Lord, Paice Ashton Lord, Ian Gillan Band), ELO (Face the Music, Out of the Blue), Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher (Calling Card), and Scorpions. Moroder produced numerous soul-funk acts at Musicland, including Einzelgänger (his Berlin school pseudonym), Roberta Kelly, Suzi Lane, The Sylvers, The Three Degrees, and all of Summer’s output, including her 1977 double-album Once Upon a Time, a conceptual follow-through to “I Feel Love.”

No. 1 in Heaven features synthesizer programming by Dan Wyman, who collaborated earlier with filmmaker John Carpenter on music for the 1976 action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13. More recently, Wyman played on Moroder’s studio project Munich Machine and Summer’s 1979 magnum opus Bad Girls. He also worked with Paul Jabara, who wrote Summer’s 1978 hit “Last Dance” (from the disco comedy film Thank God It’s Friday); and Brooklyn Dreams, a blue-eyed soul trio that included Summer’s eventual husband, Bruce Sudano.

Moroder co-engineered No. 1 in Heaven with Jürgen Koppers, who worked with Giorgio on recent Kelly, Lane, and Summer titles, as well as albums by Claudja Barry, Eela Craig, First Choice, and a host of earlier Krautrock titles by Amon Duul II, Brainstorm, Embryo, Emergency, Kraan, Sincerely P.T., and Sunbirds. The assistant engineer, Jim Cypherd, subsequently notched credits with Berlin and Oingo Boingo.

No. 1 in Heaven lists three backing singers, including Chris Bennett, a member of Munich Machine. The album is packaged in a single sleeve with photography by Moshe Brakha. It shows two close-eyed, platinum haired nurses — one white (front), one black (back) — getting hair-raising electrostatic charges. On the inner-sleeve, the brothers fiddle with the Musicland soundboards. Brakha’s photography is also seen on 1976–79 albums by Al Jarreau, Auracle, Bobby Hutcherson, Boz Scaggs (Silk Degrees), Lenny White, Leo Sayer (Thunder In My Heart), Michael Quatro, Mr. Big (Photographic Smile), Patrice Rushen (Pizzazz), and Roderick Falconer (New Nation).

Beat the Clock” and “The Number One Song In Heaven” reached No. 10 and No. 14, respectively, on the UK Singles Chart. No. 1 in Heaven is often cited as a blueprint for the 1980s synth-duo format, as purveyed by Blancmange, Communards, Eurythmics, Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, and Yazoo.

Production: Nöel – Is There More to Life Than Dancing?

In 1979, Sparks teamed with Patricia A. Noel, a Los Angeles model and aspiring singer who performed as Nöel. The Maels wrote and produced her singular album, Is There More to Life Than Dancing? It features three lengthy disco tracks (“Dancing Is Dangerous,” “The Night They Invented Love,” the title-track) and two shorter cuts (“Au Revoir,” “I Want a Man”).

Musically, the Nöel album follows the electro-dance blueprint of No. 1 in Heaven with female mezzo-soprano vocals in lieu of Russell’s falsetto. Two tracks, “The Night They Invented Love” and “I Want a Man,” appeared as singles in the German market. The album appeared on Virgin Records in Europe, Canada, Oceania, and the UK, but not the US. However, “Dancing Is Dangerous” appeared as a 12″ in the US and abroad (but not Germany).

Nöel surfaced in Noel & The Red Wedge, a new wave rock band with drummer Thom Mooney (Nazz, Paris) and keyboardist–producer Mitchell Froom, a later soundman for Crowded House, Tim Finn, and Suzanne Vega (briefly his wife). Red Wedge’s singular album, Peer Pressure, appeared in 1982 on Scotti Bros. Records.

The Maels also produced Pas Dormir, the 1979 third album by the French rock trio Bijou. Sessions took place at Larrabee Sound Studios in Los Angeles with Zappa engineer Bob Stone, who worked on the Nöel album as well as 1978/79 titles by Loleatta Holloway, Pattie Brooks, Samantha Sang, and Shakti violinist L. Shankar. Pas Dormir appeared in France and Canada on Phillips.

Sparks and Stone also worked the boards on “C’est Sheep,” the discofied b-side of the 1979 Virgin novelty single “The Lost Sheep” by British classical composer Adrian Munsey. On the uptempo “C’est,” female “haahhs” interject the “baa” sounds of sheep, which are heard unaccompanied on the slow, string-laden, minor key a-side.


Terminal Jive

Sparks opened 1980 with Terminal Jive, released on January 28 on Virgin. The album was co-produced by Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer, a longtime arranger and frequent Giorgio collaborator. The Maels wrote the first five songs and co-wrote two with Moroder: “Stereo” and “The Greatest Show on Earth,” a four-way co-write with Faltermeyer, who co-wrote “Noisy Boys” with Ron, Russell, and Munich Machine drummer Keith Forsey.

Terminal Jive is bookended with space-disco numbers in the No. 1 in Heaven vein: “When I’m with You,” an echoey mid-tempo trance; and “The Greatest Show on Earth,” a fast-paced number similar to “Academy Award Performance.” Sparks set the disco beat to rock riffs on “Just Because You Love Me” and add perky clipped guitars to the new waveish “Noisy Boys.” One track, “Rock ‘n’ Roll People in a Disco World,” is a deadpan take on a then-raging dilemma. They revisit their Tin Pan Alley roots on “Young Girl,” where Russell’s questionable lust lines a tight piano figure.

When I’m with You” (5:45) Russell portrays an awkward man who’s “really well-adjusted” in the presence of a woman who makes him “never feel like garbage” and “almost feel normal.” When he’s with her, she boosts his activity (“I lose a lot of sleep”), social engagement (“meet a lot of people”), libido (“always hot and bothered… always need a shower”), and rawness (“never need a mirror”). He can’t summarize her effect on him; this becomes the punchline of the bridge:

It’s the break in the song when I should say something special
But the pressure is on and I can’t make up nothing special
Not when I’m with you

Just Because You Love Me” (4:36) Russell’s girlfriend puts out on rare occasions, but only because she “loves” him. He complains about her frigidity (“baby, baby, give it to me, give it”) and feels underwhelmed by the paucity (“is that all I get”) and brevity (“I’m not that quick but this is ridiculous”) of their rare sexual acts. He asserts that sex is “common courtesy” in a romantic relationship and hints at her other odd behavioral traits (“don’t be a nurse to me, you save your worst for me”).

Rock ‘n’ Roll People in a Disco World” (4:47) Russell addresses the gulf between disco enthusiasts and classic rockers. The latter “sing Hard Day’s Night… as high as kites… make L.P. records” and “a few make comebacks [while] the rest sell shoes to all the other” disco-hating rock fans.

Young Girls” (4:49) Russell lists the features that attract him to young females (legs, lips, widening hips) and his advantages as an older suitor (“I have a home, I have a car, they like that, they like that”) to barely legal women who still live with their parents or in dormitories. He quips about the inexperience of boys their age (“young girls, haven’t seen the whole night”) and appreciates their simplicity (“I like their talk, small little words”), raw beauty (“I like their style, less of the guile”), and uninhibited nature (“they’re straight with you”).

Noisy Boys” (3:55) Russell portrays a suburban family man (“candlelight music, the sound of the rain in the air”) who sometimes unleashes his inner-adolescent (“once in a while I just got to be riled”). Too much tranquility “makes [him] feel nervous” and prompts his need to “get edgy.” He breaks from his wife (“it ain’t nothin’ personal babe”) and daughter (“hush little momma, your daddy is going away”) to “let it out, get it crashing… smashing” with other “noisy boys” in his demographic.

Stereo” (4:01) Russell likens lifestyle choices (square vs. edgy) to the left and right sides of the radio dial. Some live “easy, simple, tidy, ultra-clean… smart professors, clean marines” but he has other ambitions (“good things come from just one side, in stereo… in a sandwich, in a vice, stuck with too much paradise”).

The Greatest Show on Earth” (4:17) Russell fixates on a high-demand streetwalker who he frequents daily because “she’s the greatest show on earth tonight and every night” and “worth it even when you gotta pay a heavy price.” He says that the biggest multi-act entertainment spectacle (“the Four Tops, MopTops, Boston Pops, and Art Laboe”) wouldn’t draw him because he’d “be up in [his] apartment with the greatest show.”

On Terminal Jive, Sparks employed the studio backing guitarist W. G. Snuffy Walden and bassist Richie Zito. Ron split keyboard duties with Faltermeyer, who did the lion’s share of production work. Forsey — a onetime member of Amon Düül II, Niagara, and the Ralf Nowy Group — drummed on numerous Moroder projects, including Giorgio’s 1979 Casablanca release E=MC². His brother, Laurie Forsey, sings backing vocals on Terminal Jive and Thunder & Lightning, the 1980 release by UK disco singer Dee D. Jackson.

Snuffy hailed from Stray Dog, which issued two 1973/74 albums on Manticore, a label run by Emerson Lake & Palmer. He also played on albums by Keith Christmas, Pete Sinfield, and deputized Paul Kossoff on one track (“Easy On My Soul”) on Heartbreaker, the 1973 swan song of Free.

Zito played on late-’70s titles by Brian Cadd, Carole Bayer Sager, Diana Ross (Baby It’s Me), Lisa Dal Bello, and Sutherland Brothers (Down to Earth). In succession with Terminal Jive, Zito played on 1980 albums by Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Peter Allen, and Teri DeSario.

Terminal Jive was engineered by Dennis Drake, a soundman for Derek & the Dominoes who worked on jazz records by Chuck Mangione, Oscar Petersson, and Wes Montgomery. The co-engineer, Brian Reeves, earned his first credit shortly beforehand on Carry On, the 1979 Warner release by onetime Return to Forever singer Flora Purim.

Terminal Jive is packaged in a single sleeve designed by Pearce Marchbank, who also designed 1979/80 sleeves to Virgin Records titles by Cowboys International, The Ruts, Skids (Days In Europa), and XTC frontman Andy Partridge. The monochrome front, back and inner-sleeve snapshots were taken in a shopping mall terminal by Indiscreet photographer Gered Mankowitz. They depict the Maels as a slaptick comedy duo in which Russell plays the straight man as Ron enacts psychosis and assumes slanted and horizontal play-dead positions.

Terminal Jive was released in the US, Europe, and Canada, but not the US. “When I’m with You” spent six weeks at No. 1 on the singles chart in France, where the Maels spent most of 1980, during which Russell became conversationally fluent in French (having already sung phonetically translated French on the 1972 song “The Louvre”). In the video to “When I’m with You,” Ron plays a ventriloquist whose puppet, Russell, lip-syncs against a vintage white backdrop. On the bridge (“It’s the break in the song”), a live Russell circles through mannequins against a black background, then arrives at a live model played by Perri Lister of Hot Gossip, a regular dance troupe on The Kenny Everett Video Show.


Whomp That Sucker

Sparks released their tenth album, Whomp That Sucker, in July 1981 on RCA (USA), Ariola (Germany), and Why-Fi (UK). Sessions took place at Musicland with producer–engineer Reinhold Mack for Giorgio Moroder Enterprise. Musically, Sparks re-embrace guitar-based pop rock but retain the recent integration of synthesizers. For this and their next four albums, the Maels employed LA new wavers Bates Motel as their backing band.

Whomp That Sucker features ten Mael brothers originals, including “Tips for Teens,” “Where’s My Girl,” “The Willys,” and “That’s Not Nastassia,” all marked by high-registered choruses in the Propaganda vein. Tracks like “Wacky Women” and “I Married a Martian” show a newfound penchant for comic and space age humor. Ron’s arsenal consists of Yamaha CS80, Polymoog, Roland JP4, Yamaha Grand, and Wurlitzer Electric.

Tips for Teens” (3:33) Russell portrays an “old and wise” relative of a teenage girl who needs the kind of beauty tips “you don’t see in magazines.” He shows the girl a vintage photo of her Aunt Maureen (still alive at 90) and shares the elder’s health, hygiene, and wardrobe secrets (“Keep that mystique up and wear a D cup”).

Funny Face” (3:24) Russell reads the memoir of a onetime supermodel who “looked a lot like a Vogue magazine, perfect and smooth… flawless and loveless… lived to be seen.” She spent “billions of dollars” on her face but was unloved (“nobody wanted me, only to look like me”) because people assumed there was “nothing behind the face.” One day, she “jumped off the bridge” and “barely lived.” Doctor Lamaar said “your face is a mess” and they granted each other “one request” (he reconstructed her face in exchange for her hand in marriage).

Where’s My Girl” (3:14) Russell makes a “plea to you listeners everywhere” for information on the whereabouts of his missing girlfriend. She’s been seen in multiple cities (London, Spain, LA with the Dodger team) and with actors Jean-Paul Belmondo (That Man from Rio, Borsalino, The Professional) and Toshiro Mifune (Samurai Trilogy). He shares “a photo [from a] couple of years ago” and claims she’s “quite a bit better.” He later gives up (“no one has that integrity nowadays”) right before she reappears.

Upstairs” (3:40) For inspiration, Russell goes “upstairs,” where the “dreamin’… jokin’… small ideas… big ideas” accumulate by the pound (.5lbs of dirty jokes). He wants to release this upstairs content (“why don’t you get out of my head”) When he’s “low on foreign words” he takes a “foreign girl upstars [for] a little enchante” (delight). He offers an upstairs map:

When you want the art to start
You cue the left side and the art will
Start to flow and flow and flow
And leave a stain on all your carpets
When you want the intellect
You cue the right side and you can
Collect the Nobel Prize in person
Or have someone mail it to you

Though upstairs is “crammed with common phobias” it’s still “a utopia” because it’s the one place you can “kill a guy and… know he’s still alive.” 

I Married a Martian” (5:12) Russell wed a woman who “came down from the sky” and “took human form” with a “European flair.” He “dressed her in ermine” and through she called him “Mr. Right” he “could sense something was wrong.” She did “studies of Earth” and “had tendencies to flirt.” Eventually, her arms and legs grew into an unearthly gruesome form. Now he’s “going to Vegas” for “a quickie divorce.” He doesn’t recommend Martian brides (“She only had loved me ’cause I was the first guy she saw”). Russell concludes that Martians are “good in the movies [and have] dramatic potential but they’re not so hot in real life.”

The Willys” (3:58) Russell gets the ‘Willys’ (jitters), possibly due to Tuesday’s lunch meat. It makes him “shiver and shake” and has him “doin’ Swan Lake” (a ballet with technically challenging moves). He wonders “Has everyone gone Christian? Well, glory Hallelujah, but I’m beyond salvation!” Like Citizen Kane, “it’s hard to explain,” especially “to someone who’s blind.”

Don’t Shoot Me” (3:56) Russell enacts an anthropomorphic rhino “plodding the jungle.” He announces “baby I’m home” and the rhinos snuggle. Then he smells vinyl and says “Darling, let’s run!” Russell then enacts a talking hippo “sloshing through mud” after work. Same thing: he gets home, snuggles up to “baby,” smells a Jeep and off they run. Third verse: Russell portrays the rhino and hippo hunter, “a poor slob from Reno, Nevada,” who returned tired and weary after “months in the bush,” only to meet the same fate (he catches his wife in the act with her lover, who shoots him).

Suzie Safety” (3:57) Russell receives sunglasses from an apparition who becomes his caretaker. He “almost [gets] mowed down” but she yanks him to “safer ground” from the cross walk. She doesn’t let him smoke, drink, speed, or eat “fats and starches.” He kind of resents her “safety first” message but he’s safe in her arms (and she in his).

That’s Not Nastassia” (4:57) Russell profiles “an influential little miss” who’s imitated worldwide. She’s the subject of numerous false sightings (“on the news again tonight… that’s not Nastassia!”) He reckons she must feel “a sense of power to have sway around the world… to control a billion girls” and influence their hair and nail styles. Her influence extends to “presidential wives and topless maids [who look] more or less identically the same.” Russell concurs (“If I wasn’t masculine, I would join the craze; dye my hair and take on those Nastassianic ways”). He concludes that “it’s a carbon copy world; when she starts to fade away, everyone will fade.”

Wacky Women” (2:47) Russell (who formally introduces himself with a muscle flex) shares his “Munchen wisdom” on the wacky women of Oktoberfest. He enters confident that “all they like is sex and sitcoms” and hard-learns that suave effrontery earns a kick “in the bonbons.” He’s dragged into court, charged as “under the influence of Wacky Women.” The judge orders him to stop “making muscles” and Russell pleads “Guilty! Guilty!”

Sessions took place in late 1980 with Mack, who produced contemporary titles by After the Fire, Billy Squier (Don’t Say No), ELO, Queen, Violinski, and Gary Moore‘s G-Force. Years earlier, he produced Krautrock titles by Abacus, Out of Focus, Subject ESQ. (self-titled), and Sahara (Sunrise). He’s credited with synthesizer programming and “glass shattering” on Whomp That Sucker.

Bates Motel consisted of guitarist Bob Haag, bassist Leslie Bohem, and drummer David Kendrick. They recorded one song (“Live Among the Dancers”) on Sharp Cuts – New Music From American Bands, a 1980 compilation on producer Richard Perry’s Planet label. As their Sparks involvement got underway, Bohem and Kendrick formed the Gleaming Spires, which issued the 1981 album Songs of the Spires on the new wave small-press Posh Boy.

Whomp That Sucker sports comedic images of the Maels as boxers in the lead-up (back) to a match where Ron delivers the knockout punch (front). On the inner-sleeve, Russell regains ground. The photos, by Liz Sowers, are embedded in graphics designed by Larry Vigon, the visual director on Rumours and covers for Bob Welch, Harriet Schock, Lindsey Buckingham, and Fleetwood Mac’s 1982 release Mirage.

Why-Fi (UK, Spain) preceded the album’s release with “Tips for Teens,” issued in April 1981 (b/w “Don’t Shoot Me”). The video chronicles the boxing match depicted on the cover. Russell wins the first round but Ron (as indicated) is the ultimate victor. Months later, “Funny Face” appeared as a second single (b/w “The Willys”). In the video, Russell mimes and Ron dons assorted animal masks in a prop-up valley setting, where three girls in prairie dresses form a chain dance.

In another non-Sparks credit, the Maels wrote the lyrics to Sex, the 1981 third album by Telex, a Belgian electro-pop trio led by keyboardist–composer Marc Moulin, formerly of Placebo and Cos.

Sparks played their first concerts in five years in November 1981 in France, where Whomp That Sucker sustained the chart success of its predecessor. They returned to West Hollywood for a three-night stand (Jan 29–31, 1982) at the Whisky-A-Go-Go with the opening acts Sheiks of Shake and Adore O’hara.


Angst in My Pants

Sparks released their eleventh album, Angst in My Pants, in March 1982 on Atlantic (North America, Germany, Japan) and Underdog (France). It features ten Ron–Russell originals, including the upbeat “Sextown U.S.A.” and the synth-laden “Instant Weight Loss,” “Tarzan and Jane,” and “The Decline and Fall of Me.” The cartoon theme continues on “Mickey Mouse” and “Eaten by the Monster of Love.”

Musically, Angst in My Pants continues the guitar–synth new wave pop-rock approach of the prior album. “Moustache” is a long-awaited ode to Ron’s defining feature. “Nicotina” conflates the respective lures of women and nicotine. Several tracks (“Mickey Mouse,” “Tarzan and Jane,” “Sherlock Holmes”) initiate the Mael trend of cultural namedropping. Sparks wrote two different sets of music for the title-track, which almost didn’t appear in any form. They wrote the second because they were short on material after discarding the first.

Sextown USA” (2:56) Russell tells his date to “drop the goody-goody look” because they’re heading to “that Metropolis without no taboos.” He calls it “the perfect place, and what a pace… better than” Pigalle or Peyton Place… where “no one has the time to eat… or to think… they’re way too busy doin’ Kama Sutra-y things.” He warns that “if you… come here and you try to abstain, they’ll send you to the prison for the criminally insane.”

Nicotina” (3:26) Russell argues that not all cigarettes are inanimate; “some have a mind and try to be other things… they crave some Virginia air.” He says they’re “born to fill the lungs of Jack, the lungs of Jill.” Sometimes, “a cigarette has a name.” He tells of “N-I-C-O-T-I-N-A,” who had a tiny voice that screamed when smoked (“but so much was filtered out”). Once exhailed, “Nicotina’s only a tiny cloud.”

Instant Weight Loss” (3:27) Russell interrupts a riff because it reminds him of a girl that called him “Fats.” This spurred him “in one night… instant weight loss.. [he’d] lose a kilo each hour.” Then she got distracted by a guy with chubby hands who abruptly lost his weight. To cope, Russell thought “erase the past if [I] can with ice cream, with coconut pie.” He regained his weight in under a week. Recently, he met a blond who said “hey Fats,” which prompted instant weight loss.

Tarzan and Jane” (3:18) Russell announces “a riot in Room 42” where the chemistry class is now “a zoo” starring Tarzan and Jane. They “kicked out the teacher, Ms. Prune, tuned the heat up to 102… ripping their shirts and their tights… swinging from fluorescent lights.” Staff “called in the men wearing blue… cameraman from Channel 2.” By tomorrow, the principle predicts “25 Tarzan and 25 Janes.” (Russell wonders if Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs will get royalties through the 11 pm news.)

The Decline and Fall of Me” (2:53) Russell in his dotage says “I stutter, now I dribble.” He’s prone to morbid clumsiness (“I just shaved my nose off, oh well”), lack of coordination (“If I had a hammer I would drop it and break it”) and strange hobbies (“I collect frozen pizzas”).

Eaten by the Monster of Love” (2:58) Russell avoids love’s jaws but hears the monster “drooling by the door” and admits “it’s hard to fight it off much more.” He says “it ain’t a pretty sight to see [how it] chews them up and spits out creatures with those goo-goo-ey eyes.” His father said “don’t worry, son” but the monster got him (“he should have run”). Russell argues that the love monster is “worse than war… worse than death” yet few avoid its claws. He recommends dogs and warns that “some really good, good people” (not him) get eaten “piece by piece” by the monster of love.

Angst in My Pants is the second of two Sparks albums produced and engineered by Mack, who also worked on 1982 Musicland recordings by Queen (Hot Space) and Squier (Emotion in Motion). On this and the subsequent album, Bates Motel have a fourth member, keyboardist James Goodwin, whose synthesizers are quieted in the mix. Goodwin (and Haag) joined the Gleaming Spires for their 1982 single “Life Out on the Lawn.”

Angst in My Pants sports cover photography by Eric Blum. It depicts Ron and Russell as bride and groom (front) and on a honeymoon at Niagara Falls (inner-sleeve). The back shows six heads (Sparks and Bates Motel) each affixed to a (duplicated) silver lamé-clad figure in a guitar-wielding Gene Vincent pose. Blum’s photography is also seen on albums by Elton John (The Fox) and the Tarney–Spencer Band (Three’s a Crowd).

As a single, “I Predict” (b/w “Moustache”) became their second entry (after “Wonder Girl”) on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 60). The video, set in a seedy strip club, extends on the themes of the album cover. Russell, the club impresario, lip-syncs in silver lamé while Ron, the stripper, writhes in burlesque lingerie.

Sparks performed “I Predict” and “Mickey Mouse” on the May 15, 1982, broadcast of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Danny Devito. Ron prefaced “Mickey Mouse” with a joke about mouse activities, such as “scaring women” and “ingesting… saccharine for laboratory experiments.”

Sparks promoted Angst in My Pants with Bates Motel on a 23-date April–June North American tour that included three Bay Area dates with The Units.

“Angst In My Pants” and “Eaten by the Monster of Love” are heard in the 1983 teen romantic comedy Valley Girl starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman. The original US soundtrack EP, released on Roadshow, contains “Angst In My Pants” and the film’s infamous closing number, “Johnny Are You Queer?” by Josie Cotton. In the UK, a nine-song Valley Girl soundtrack appeared in 1984 on Avatar Communications with tracks by Modern English, Psychedelic Furs (“Love My Way”), Gary Myrick (“She Talks In Stereo”), and Men at Work, but no Sparks. Both their songs appear on a two-album version of the soundtrack released in 1989 on the Japanese Nippon label with further tracks by Bananarama, Culture Club, The Clash, The Jam, Eddy Grant, Pat Travers, and Payola$.

“Modesty Plays”

In late 1982, Sparks wrote the theme song to Modesty Blaise, the pilot to a proposed ABC crime-drama based on the much-serialized 1960s comic about a titular spy–adventuress, portrayed by actress Monica Vitti in a 1966 big-screen adaptation. When the planned series fell through, Sparks released the song in France as a standalone single, retitled “Modesty Plays” to avoid a copyright complaint by English mystery author Peter O’Donnell, the character’s creator.

On October 29, 1982, Sparks played Rissmiller’s in Reseda, Calif., supported by rockabilly singer Levi Dexter and psychedelic popsters Three O’Clock.


In Outer Space

Sparks released their twelfth album, In Outer Space, in March 1983 on Atlantic. It features ten Ron–Russell originals, including two collaborations with Go-Go’s backing singer and rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin, a longtime admirer who once ran a Sparks fan club.

Musically, In Outer Space follows the new wave pop-rock blueprint of the prior two albums with a stronger emphasis on synthesized textures. “Cool Places” opens the album on an upbeat synthpop arrangement (in G major), where Jane and Russell trade lines and harmonize on the chorus.

A fast-paced, perky vibe pervades on tracks like “Popularity,” “All You Ever Think About Is Sex,” and the bleepy “I Wish I Looked a Little Better.” The two-chord riff and chanting chorus of “Prayin’ for a Party” recalls the prior album’s rockier moments. Danceable beats reign throughout, including the semi-ballad “Lucky Me, Lucky You,” a Russell–Jane duet with oscillating sounds. The cartoon sci-fi thread continues on “A Fun Bunch of Guys from Outer Space,” an upbeat song with hazy (alien) harmonies and trippy, echoey synth layers. Sound-wise, In Outer Space overlaps with the recent works of Devo and the B-52’s.

Cool Places” (3:23) Russell and Jane wanna go to places “where sometimes they refuse” to let certain people inside. Last Saturday, they were turned away but they’re “cooler now,” as deemed by the doorman.

All You Ever Think About is Sex” (4:09) Russell’s girlfriend initiates sex in public (she thinks about it “exclusively”). He recounts “the church at Christmas, busted by that nun” and “that museum, beneath the Mastodon.” They’ve even done it “on the White House lawn” and at a baseball game (“the Dodgers and the Mets… 50,000 people saw us and turned red”). Recently, they had a “faux pas” where her father came home, saw them and “dropped dead.” He admits they “don’t love each other much” because they’re “too busy.”

Please, Baby, Please” (3:42) Russell is a “sensitive guy” who dates a cold uppity girl. By his own admission, he makes “a fool” of himself “as the corniest guy in all of LA.” He sends her candy and flowers (“the things I detest… but I gotta impress”). He realizes that “no one’s worth all the stuff [he goes] through” but concedes “only you.”

I Wish I Looked a Little Better” (2:58) Russell hates the light because he looks “slightly worse than the Elephant Man.” He says that in high school he “majored in looking real bad” with “a real ugly mom [and] dad.” He can “dress for success” but he’s “such a mess that there just ain’t no way.” Despite his “sweetest” breath, his date rebuffed his kiss. At Newport Beach, he found his sole salvation:

I went to Balboa Island
And laid in the sand
I may be ugly as sin
But at least now I’m tan

Lucky Me, Lucky You” (3:26) Russell and Jane are “marooned on a tropical isle in the sun.” He reckons they’ll be rescued with a “dumb welcome home” and go their separate ways: him to a job and a “marvelous blonde.” Then again, “maybe the world has decided [they] died in that gale.” After all, they were “voted most likely to fail.”

A Fun Bunch of Guys From Outer Space” (4:00) Russell leads an alien pack from a planet where “war is even fun.” They’ve come to Earth “to infiltrate and get a tan.” They “arrived here from the sky on that cream pie parked outside.” He claims they “speak English real good” and that American “reruns come in fine… on their “TVs in the sky.”

The Maels co-produced In Outer Space at Synsound Studios, Brussels, where Moulin mastered the album ahead of his work on Tutu, the creative reinvention of Tokyo city pop singer Miharu Koshi. Reeves engineered the two Wiedlin tracks in succession with work on the Flashdance and Scarface soundtracks. The rest of In Outer Space was engineered by Moulin’s Telex bandmate Dan Lacksman, a onetime member of Mad Unity.

In Outer Space sports a Jim Shea cover photo where Russell stands straight as Ron gets plastered by a thrown cream pie. Shea — whose prior credits include album covers for Earth Wind & Fire (Faces), Deniece Williams, Joe Walsh, Robbie Dupree, and Starship Orchestra — also photographed the picture sleeves to “Cool Places,” which shows Russell and Wieldlin in lover’s embrace by an oceanside; and “All You Ever Think About is Sex,” where Ron jumps a sofa, startling a young Chynna Phillips (daughter of Michelle Phillips) as she sits in Russell’s lap.

The back cover features individual medium shots of the Maels and Bates Motel, all in matching black turtlenecks. Haag plays the Roland guitar synth and an Endodyne guitar, plus supplemental bass and “tab cans.” He also took the inner-sleeve photo, which shows the Maels in overcoats standing near the Atomium, a stainless steel structure of linked spheres constructed for Expo 58 (the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair). Concurrently, the Gleaming Spires signed to PVC for Walk On Well Lighted Streets, their first of two albums as a quartet.

“Cool Places” reached No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single contains the non-album b-side “Sports.” The Go-Go’s were between albums in 1983 when a remake of their biggest Billboard hit “Our Lips Are Sealed” — a 1981 co-write between Wiedlin and then-Specials frontman Terry Hall — became a UK hit for Hall’s current band, Fun Boy Three.

In the “Cool Places” video, they hold hands and frolic midair against changing green-screens (suburbs, cities, mountains) while Ron enacts various forms of strangeness, including a four-handed head scratch. Midway, Ron does his trademark running hunchback dance: a feature of Sparks’ live shows. The second half of the video finds both parties against a purple polka-dot toyhouse backdrop with framed photos of Dick Clark, John F. Kennedy, and Mary Jo Kopechne (the victim in Ted Kennedy’s 1969 Chappaquiddick incident).

The video to “All You Ever Think About is Sex” extends on the album cover. Russell (striped suit) dances in place as the brothers mime with Bates Motel in a dim studio where Ron, stiff at his keyboard, gets pied repeatedly.

Sparks played more than 80 US shows during 1983, starting with a March 30 concert at the Anaheim Convention Center, supported by an up-and-coming Bangles. They opened for Rick Springfield on June–July Michigan dates at Pine Knob Music Theater, Clarkston, and Wing Stadium, Kalamazoo. The tour wrapped on October 31 in Riverside, Calif.


  • Halfnelson (1971, reissued as Sparks, 1972)
  • A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing (1972)
  • Kimono My House (1974)
  • Propaganda (1974)
  • Indiscreet (1975)
  • Big Beat (1976)
  • Introducing Sparks (1977)
  • No. 1 in Heaven (1979)
  • Terminal Jive (1980)
  • Whomp That Sucker (1981)
  • Angst in My Pants (1982)
  • In Outer Space (1983)
  • Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat (1984)
  • Music That You Can Dance To (1986)
  • Interior Design (1988)
  • Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins (1994)
  • Plagiarism (1997)
  • Balls (2000)
  • Lil’ Beethoven (2002)
  • Hello Young Lovers (2006)
  • Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008)
  • The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman (2009)
  • Hippopotamus (2017)
  • A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020)
  • The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte (2023)


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