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THE LOW DOWN

BEHIND THE THREATENING MOUSTACHE AND THE FAUX-OPERATIC WORDPLAY, SPARKS WERE – AND, THANK HEAVENS, STILL ARE – GLEEFUL, MISCHIEVOUS AND ENDLESSLY IMAGINATIVE INVERTERS OF THE ACCEPTED POP TEMPLATE…
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SPARKS

In 1973, Island Records managed to secure a slot to push their latest signing Sparks’ latest single This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us on Top Of The Pops. But there was a last-minute hitch: the band were not members of the Musician’s Union. Sparks’ slot was cancelled, and awarded to The Rubettes instead – whose single Sugar Baby Love shot to the top of the charts, denying Sparks the No. 1 slot.

Two weeks later, with MU membership in hand, Sparks appeared on the programme, delivering one of the most iconic performances in the show’s history. With the band’s vibrant, theatrical frontman Russell Mael and his keyboard-playing brother Ron (whose Charlie Chaplin-inspired moustache and dour demeanour led John Lennon to proclaim “Bloody ‘ell, Hitler’s on the telly”), Sparks’ introduction to the British public was brilliantly bizarre… and the phrase could be applied to the career they have sustained ever since.

Beginning life as Halfnelson, a Californian rock outfit produced by Todd Rundgren, selfconfessed Anglophiles Russell and Ron Mael had already released two albums in their native US before signing with Island Records, changing their name to The Sparks Brothers (a reference to The Marx Brothers) before settling on Sparks, and moving to London to record the album that would become their breakthrough, Kimono My House.

That album would herald the beginning of a career which would span over four decades and establish Sparks as the ultimate genreblending art-rockers, experimenting with everything from Beethoven to B-movies, horror to house, Mozart to Monty Python, punk to pop and everything in between. More than that, this bawdy bunch of musical misfits would go on to influence a pantheon of pop greats including Pet Shop Boys, Morrissey, Björk, New Order, Pulp, The Killers and the Human League, among many others.

With the release earlier this year of their 23rd album FFS, a collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, the eclectic Mael brothers – the core members of Sparks – remain as creative and inspired as ever. Whether it is through their own music or the many acts they continue to inspire, Sparks are interwoven through the DNA of classic pop as we know it.

THE MUST-HAVE ALBUMS

KIMONO MY HOUSE

1974

Increasing heartbeat

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About Classic Pop

The results are in! The latest issue features the Classic Pop 'Top 100 Albums of the Eighties' - as decided by our readers - including the classics of the decade, some cult favourites and a few wildcards to boot. PLUS! We give the Classic Pop verdict on David Bowie's new album 'Blackstar'… Elsewhere in the issue we investigate the classic pop of Christmas, delve into Sparks' weird and wonderful back catalogue, survey Simple Mind's classic album 'Once Upon A Time' and take a closer look at the leftfield sleeve art of John Foxx. Interviews include Visage's Steve Barnacle, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Susanna Hoffs, McAlmont & Butler and modern synthpop duo Hurts.