If you’ve only just come across Sparks then you’ve got a lot to look forward to – they have straddled the worlds of pop, rock, opera, and electronica for four decades now, keeping generations of fans entertained. These days they’re a duo, made up of singer Russell Mael and his brother Ron Mael, and they’re still going strong.
Constant masters of reinvention, Sparks first hit the charts in 1974 with This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us, slowly faded away and then became a huge electronic act in 1979 with The Number One Song in Heaven. For their third career they became masters of Europop with When Do I Get to Sing “My Way” in 1994, and then over the next couple of decades finally gained the critical recognition they deserved.
Where to start
There’s plenty to choose from, but most of the key hits are included on the double disc New Music for Amnesiacs – The Essential Collection, which should be a good place to start.
What to buy
Essential moments are probably the defining Lil’ Beethoven (2002) and No. 1 in Heaven (1979). Dip into their early career with the hit-laden Kimono My House (1974), and by this stage you should have a good enough idea of which parts of their career are most of interest to you.
Don’t bother with
For a band as eclectic as Sparks this is always going to be a matter of opinion. Speaking personally, I’ve never really understood Whomp That Sucker (1981) at all, but you might disagree. Tread carefully among the less commercially successful releases.
There are numerous treats hidden away on obscure releases. If you can find the deluxe (black) version of Lil’ Beethoven then Wunderbar is brilliant.
- Preview for Sparks – Shortcuts / Extended (August 2012)
- Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven (March 2013)
- Sparks – Early 1990s Demos (March 2013)
- Preview – Sparks for Two Hands, One Mouth (Live in Europe) (April 2013)
- Gemma Ray with Sparks – Gemma Ray Sings Sparks (May 2013)
- Sparks – Two Hands One Mouth (Live in Europe) (April 2014)