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When Sparks formed a band with Franz Ferdinand: The best of FFS live

Wait a moment. Hold it. Just back up a second. Let me see. Nope, we haven’t as yet covered FFS on Dangerous Minds. So, okay, let me sort this little oversight out right now.

FFS is the group formed by Sparks and Franz Ferdinand circa 2014 when they started recording their scintillating and perfectly formed eponymously titled album together. This glittering 24-carat nugget was released in June 2015 to rave reviews and promoted with a series of sell-out, headline concerts all across Europe and in parts of America.

So far so good.

But let’s hold on a second. For you see, in a way, FFS really all began back in 2004 when Franz Ferdinand, a four piece out of Glasgow Scotland, released their second single. This was a little number called “Take Me Out” which kinda put the band on the international playlist and hit the number three spot in both the UK pop charts and on Billboard’s Alternative Songs listings.

Apart from all the admiring reviews and sudden expectations, Franz Ferdinand’s single was heard by two brothers living out on the west coast of America in Los Angeles. Nothing too unusual about that except these two brothers happened to be pop royalty, Ron and Russell Mael, who for over forty have been producing some of the greatest most original and utterly delicious art pop/alternative music as the legendary band Sparks. Ron and Russell liked what they heard and decided Franz Ferdinand were creating a similar kind of original and utterly gorgeous music to themselves.

Sometime shortly after this, Ron and Russell (or Russell and Ron) read in the music press that Franz Ferdinand were big, big, big, big fans of Sparks. Now, this all happened around the time Franz Ferdinand were gigging in LA. So, word went out from one band to the other and a meeting was arranged “for no particular reason.” Well, probably other than to share a little mutual admiration. They met in a coffee shop and at the end of their little conversation together came the suggestion “We should do something together some time.”
Now, Ron Mael describes this kind of coda as “Usually, that’s an empty kind of expression between bands.” But Sparks really got on with Franz Ferdinand and they liked what they were doing. So Ron and Russell wrote the song “Piss Off” which they sent over to Franz Ferdinand.

But like life, promises tend to drift with the pull of work commitments and personal relationships and well, you know. So, nothing happened until one day, almost a decade later…

Franz Ferdinand were playing in San Francisco at the very same as time as Sparks. The band’s lead singer Alex Kapranos was out wandering the streets looking for a dentist—Huey Lewis’s dentist to be precise—who he sought to fix some broken teeth. Looking for the right address, Kapranos suddenly heard a voice ask, “Alex is that you?” And lo, almost miraculously, there was Ron and Russell (or Russell and Ron) standing right behind him. And then they said, “Whatever happened to that project?”

Franz Ferdinand were about to release their fourth album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action while Sparks had released their epic live album Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe. This time Kapranos decided not to let things slip, “I remember sitting down with the others and saying, ‘It doesn’t matter how busy we are, we have to make this happen.”
Watch highlights of FFS on tour, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
KISS, Sparks, & rock ‘n’ roller coasters: The legendary ‘Magic Mountain’ theme park of the 1970’s
12:21 pm


theme park
Magic Mountain

On an incredibly hot memorial day weekend in 1971, Magic Mountain opened in Valencia, California just 18 months after construction began. The “theme” of this theme park was not entirely clear and it only had one roller coaster, however the park’s other offerings—the fireworks, rides, laser shows, arcade games, and nightly concerts—made “fun, magic, and rock ‘n’ roll” the name of the game. By the time the park was sold to Six Flags at the end of the decade, Magic Mountain had cemented a place in rock ‘n’ roll history by giving many young Southern Californians their very first live concert experience. Its three venues (7-Up / Dixi Cola Showcase Theatre, The Gazebo, and Kaleidoscope) were home to many great acts such as Fleetwood Mac, The Carpenters, Sonny & Cher, The Jackson 5, The Everly Brothers, and KISS who attracted a long-haired, beer can drinking parking lot crowd that didn’t meet Disneyland’s strict dress code and could afford the $5 admission price.

Sonny & Cher performed nightly from Sept 2nd-12th, 1971 at Magic Mountain’s 7-Up Showcase Theatre
When it first opened Magic Mountain secured a short-term deal from Warner Brothers to use their Looney Tunes characters, however when that agreement expired in 1972 a lineup of very unmemorable troll characters were introduced: Bloop, Bleep, King Troll (aka King Blop) and the Wizard. These bizarre, colorful, psychedelic looking walk-around characters became the most recognizable symbols of the park throughout the ‘70s. They greeted guests, posed for photographs, and appeared on all manners of merchandise and advertising before being discontinued in 1985.

“Trolls & Fountain” 1977 Magic Mountain postcard
By the mid-1970’s the park begun introducing faster and scarier rides such as The Electric Rainbow, Galaxy, and Jolly Monster. However, it was the Great American Revolution (the first modern, 360-degree steel looping coaster) in 1976 that gave the park its first real thrill factor. At the time Universal was filming a disaster-suspense movie called Rollercoaster about a young extortionist (played by Timothy Bottoms) who travels around the U.S. planting bombs on roller coasters promising horrific casualties to those who don’t meet his one million dollar ransom. The film’s climactic final sequence takes place during a huge rock concert celebrating the grand opening of Revolution. While teen-idol fan magazines Tiger Beat and Sixteen reported to their readers that the Scottish glam-rock band the Bay City Rollers were to perform in this film it was actually Los Angeles’ own Sparks who accepted the role having just relocated back to L.A. from England.
Sparks were documented on the big screen prior to their breakthrough commercial success during a strange transitional period for the band when they briefly dropped their quirkiness and demanded to be taken seriously. Concerned at the time that their music may have become stale, the Mael brothers left their synthesizers behind for a more “American” guitar sound on their Rupert Holmes produced album Big Beat. Although Rollercoaster was a modest success despite fierce competition from Star Wars at the box office that summer, Ron & Russell Mael of Sparks now look back upon the film with embarrassment. “Yes, you did see Sparks performing ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Fill’er Up’ in the film Rollercoaster during your last airplane trip,” said Russell Mael in the September 2006 issue of Mojo Magazine. “No, we didn’t know that the film was going to turn out like that. Rollercoaster movie proves that you have to be continually careful of what you do… You never know what’s going to last and what’s going to fall by the wayside, and man, does that last!” Sparks’ cameo in Rollercoaster is brief but fun and energetic, especially when Ron Mael gets rowdy and smashes his piano stool on the stage.

Russell Mael of Sparks performing in front of Revolution in the 1977 disaster film ‘Rollercoaster’
In 1978 at the height of KISS’ massive popularity, Hanna-Barbera Productions produced a made-for-television movie for NBC titled Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Filmed on location at Magic Mountain, the film’s poor script revolved around an evil inventor living underneath the theme park whose nefarious plans are thwarted by an other-galactic rock ‘n’ roll group with superpowers (played by KISS). Despite the fact that all four members were given crash courses on acting, much of the dialogue recorded was unusable and had to be re-dubbed in post production. Ace Frehley was said to have become increasingly frustrated with the long periods of downtime normally associated with filmmaking and stormed off the set one day leaving his African American stunt double to finish his scenes (which made for perhaps one of the most noticeable and unintentionally hilarious continuity errors in the history of cinema). KTNQ’s “The Real” Don Steele (one of the most popular disc jockeys in the U.S.) gave away 8,000 tickets to see KISS perform live at the Magic Mountain parking lot which was filmed for the movies big dramatic rock ‘n’ roll concert ending.
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Leave a comment
‘Kimono My House’: Sparks’ audio guide to the Los Angeles rock scene of the Sixties
09:31 am


Los Angeles
Sixties Rock

Before they were Sparks, brothers Ron and Russell Mael were teenagers growing up in Pacific Palisades. More than the sunbeams, they bathed in the sound waves of the mid-to-late Sixties’ rock product, nourishing themselves on the transcendent and the trash alike. A decade later, after Sparks had achieved champion status on the international rock market, Russell Mael went on the radio to play his favorite songs from that period and talk about his LA adolescence.

The broadcast is about two hours long. According to the blog stranger than known, where I came across this remarkable recording, it’s a tape of Russell Mael’s appearance on BBC Radio 1 around November 1979. If the date’s correct, Mael would have been promoting Sparks’ collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, No. 1 in Heaven.

Mael sets up each song with a cultural observation, bit of rock lore, or a memory: seeing the Doors at local dances, auditioning bass players for garage bands with the ascending line from “Hey Joe,” driving up to San Francisco to see Moby Grape, watching surfers put lemon juice in their hair, playing the “Louie Louie” single at 33⅓ rpm in the hope of hearing a secret, lewd message, and so on.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Sparks fly: A brief trip through Ron & Russell Mael’s appearances on German TV over the years

You know you’re getting old when your love for a band hits middle age. Yikes. It’s forty-two years since I was first heard Sparks’ single “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us” on the radio. A couple of weeks later I caught them on Top of the Pops—the bottom-wiggling Bolanesque lead singer Russell Mael and the stern, strange, Hitler-mustachiod pianist Ron Mael. The differences of the brothers’ iconic images very much suited the joyous one-upmanship of their performance—the battle between Russell’s impressively soaring vocals and Ron’s cleverly structured music.

Sparks evolved out of another band called Halfnelson (which was the Mael brothers and guitarist Earle Mankey,  bassist Jim Mankey and drummer Harley Feinstein) formed in 1968. They were mainly popular with the brothers’ relatives and friends, though they did attract the attention of musician Todd Rundgren who produced their brilliant eponymous debut album. It didn’t sell well. A problem of perhaps having too small an extended family or a limited number of friends. But still there was enough interest to give the brothers a new record deal.

The record company suggested the band rename themselves the Sparx Brothers—in reference to the zany comedy troupe the Marx Brothers. Ron and Russell agreed to to keeping the “Sparks” but dropping the brother bits. It was obvious enough anyway.

A second album (the rather superb A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing), a move to England, a new band line-up (Martin Gordon on bass, Adrian Fisher on guitar and Norman “Dinky” Diamond” on drums) led to the the superlative album Kimono My House and a legendary career began.
With age comes maturity and sometimes good sense. I’ve stopped evangelizing about the utter genius of Ron and Russell Mael sometime ago. Well, about an hour ago—to be exact. As sadly there comes a point when attempting to convince other people to listen to something you like becomes a bit like the well-meaning Hare Krishna pestering a passersby to shout “Gouranga!”

Sparks don’t need a plug. They’re too good, too brilliant, to need anyone shouting their genius from the rooftops. If you are a fan (or have been paying attention) then you’ll know what I mean. Sparks have kept evolving, developing and progressing—their music today is as great, if not greater than the work they produced forty-five years ago.

Most bands after their fifth decade together just hash out the greatest hits for the stadium audience. Not Sparks—they are still writing, producing and performing new, audacious and original material. Last year the Brothers Mael collaborated with Franz Ferdinand to form the supergroup FFS—one of the best (if not the best in this reviewer’s opinion) albums of the year. Their show was certainly the best gig I saw in 2015.  I know you’re busy but if you could just say “Gouranga..!”

This little selection of Sparks’ live appearances on Musikladen show the big shift in the brothers progress from classic Kimono My House and Propaganda-era art-rock-pop to the minimalist-experimental-electronica of the Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins album—that eventually led to their masterpieces of Lil’ Beethoven and The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. As a band Sparks are tight—something they never quite got the credit for—and as a way of life—hell, there’s nothing to beat ‘em.

Track Listing: “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both Of Us,” “Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil,” “Something for the Girl with Everything,” “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’,” “Frankly, Scarlett, I Don’t Give a Damn,” “BC,” “(When I Kiss You” I Hear Charlie Parker Playing” and “Senseless Violins.”

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Maelstrum’: Ronald and Russell Mael star in their own Sparks comic strip
10:02 am


Ron Mael
Russell Mael

For a three-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the official fan newsletter for the marvelous band Sparks, known as Sparksound, ran a regular comic strip about the witty pop duo that was drawn by a fan—and it’s not bad at all. The full title of the strip is “Maelstrum: A Sparkling Tune of Ron & Russell Mael.”

On the website of Xavier Lorente-Darracq, the fan who was responsible for the strip, one can find the following explanation, translated from the French and a little curiously rendered in the third person:

From 1988 up to 1991, Xavier Lorente-Darracq was member of the Sparks official fan-club and one day he sent secretary Mary Martin a caricature of Ron Mael & Russell Mael (on the bottom right). As this cartoon was published in the newsletter, Xavier Lorente-Darracq released a comic strip named “Maelstrum”.

Maelstrum strips were drawn in a assumed naive graphic style and many Sparks’ songs were hidden into the dialogues. A good knowledge of the history of the band and Maels’ hobbies and practices is sometimes necessary to the good comprehension of some of these strips.

Then Xavier Lorente-Darracq provided the fan club newsletter with crosswords puzzles and some illustrations. Xavier Lorente-Darracq definitively ceased his collaboration with Sparksound in December 1991 because of his regular job. About fifteen strips of “Maelstrum”/The Sparkling Tunes Of Ron & Russell Mael were released.

It’s not really surprising that a rock and roll duo as witty and talented as Sparks would boast a fan base capable of such creative cleverness—indeed, the real question is why we haven’t seen any fan-generated comic strips for Ween and Steely Dan......

The Mael brothers have never curtailed their artistic endeavors, releasing eight albums since 1994, without any noticeable decline in quality from their 1970s heyday. Sparks’ most recent release was FFS, their 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand.

Of the fifteen strips, six are available on Lorente-Darracq’s website, which we’ve reproduced here (click on any strip to see a larger version).

More “Maelstrum” strips after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Sparks would fly: Ron Mael’s fantasy ‘dream band’ would have Mingus, Gershwin ... and IKEA
11:51 am


Ron Mael

Yesterday on the Sparks official Facebook presence there appeared a picture of an item that was published in the Independent (UK) newspaper on February 13 of this year, as part of a feature called “My Fantasy Band.” The selected musical superstar that appeared in the paper to announce his dream lineup that day was Ron Mael of Sparks, and in true Sparks fashion, his selections were hilarious, not without insight, and just a touch bizarre.

Here’s the lineup:

Vocals: Marvin Gaye, Maria Callas
Drums: Tony Williams
Guitars: Link Wray, Dick Dale
Bass: Charles Mingus
Synths/Keys: George Gershwin
Backing Vocals: The Swingle Sisters
Merchandise: IKEA

Quite the jazz-heavy lineup, eh? Mael describes Tony Williams, a longtime drummer for Miles Davis, as “the Keith Moon of jazz drummers.” Wray and Dale are “totally incompatible and thus perfect for the ideal band.”

Mael’s reasons for picking Mingus on bass are refreshingly non-musical, in that he is “the only musician, as far as I know, who co-wrote the liner notes for one of his albums with his psychiatrist.” George Gershwin’s talents as a performer are largely unknown, but he is one of the 20th century’s greatest composers, and also he’s, ahem, “equally great at playing piano and throwing parties.” Personally, I chuckle at the notion of Gershwin playing “synths,” an instrument that, with his perishing in 1937 and all, would have made difficult for him to master. Switched on Gershwin, anybody?

It’s doubtful whether the other personages taking part in the Independent’s musical parlor games have isolated who should be responsible for merch, but Mael has given the matter some thought, opting to replace the usual T-shirts with perhaps a MALM nighttime slumber apparatus (bed) or an EKTORP multi-posterior placement device (sofa) from IKEA: “As you struggled to assemble the monstrosity, you would reflect back on what a great time you had at the gig.”

Come to think of it, MAEL sounds suspiciously like an IKEA product line, doesn’t it? And aren’t Sparks big in Sweden?

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Big Beat:  Watch a complete Sparks concert from 1976
10:01 am


Ron Mael
Russell Mael

Sometimes a band’s best recorded work is never truly appreciated until long after its original release. This has long been the case for brothers Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks, whose god-like output is still being discovered, rediscovered, and praised many years after it first made vinyl.

Forty years ago this week, the brothers Mael offered up their fifth studio record Indiscreet to a seemingly indifferent public. Produced by Tony Visconti Indiscreet should have been a crowning moment for Sparks, as the record seamlessly developed themes from their previous hit LPs Kimono My House and Propaganda to create a beautiful sonic concoction. Alas, the music press were overly harsh in their reviews, being too busy finessing their hyperbole for the next big thing to appreciate the quality of riches on offer from Ron, Russell and Tony. The album punctured the UK’s top 20 chart, while the two singles “Get in the Swing” and “Looks, Looks, Looks” haunted the lower regions of the top 30 for a few weeks. Disappointed, the Maels disbanded their latest incarnation of Sparks and decided to return to their hometown Los Angeles.
Sparks’ superlative fifth album ‘Indiscreet’ produced by Tony Visconti.
However, the return to the nest was interrupted by a stopover in New York, where the brothers had picked-up on the buzz over punk rock. With a briefcase full of unrecorded rock songs—a few of which were staples of their live set—Ron and Russell decided to record their sixth album Big Beat in the city. Stripping down their lush, instantly recognizable sound to a more basic strum and bang of guitar and drums—a return of sorts to the sound of their early Todd Rundgren/James Thaddeus Lowe-produced albums Sparks and A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing. To augment the sound, the brothers considered signing-up David Bowie’s “Spiders” guitarist Mick Ronson to join the band. A series of demos were then recorded with Ronson on guitar, but Mick had to pull out due to his other commitments—recording with former Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter and playing as part of Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue.” The Maels therefore signed-up a group of talented session musicians as their backing band and set about recording a more raunchier, rockier more muscular Sparks.

Sparks hoped their slightly harder sound would give them another hit album in the US, and plans were hatched for a tour with the Patti Smith Band (which never came off) and they signed up for an appearance in the blockbuster movie Rollercoaster, where they performed two songs—the album’s opening track (and first single) “Big Boy” and (its B-side) “Fill ‘er Up.” There were also plans for a recording of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” with Marianne Faithfull, who dropped out at the last moment leaving Russell to sing it on his own.
After the Marx Brothers, the Sparks Brothers.
Big Beat is undoubtedly more appreciated today than on its first release. It may have been a transitional record of apparent off-cuts, B-sides and startling outstanding originals, but there was enough toe-tapping thrills to write home about. The opening track “Big Boy” is a delightful crowd pleaser, while “Fill ‘er Up” and “White Women” poke a tongue at certain elements of the traditional white rocker’s love of women and speed—with a pointed aside about the racism therein. The doozy is “Confusion” which was intended for a film the boys worked on with great French comic Jacques Tati. “I Bought the Mississippi” harks back to very early Sparks, while “I Like Girls” and “I Want to be Like Everybody Else” could have sat comfortably on Kimono My House or Propaganda.

I clearly recall the week Big Beat came out and when my brother brought it home how we spent many hours listening to this leftfield record, marveling at the manner in which Sparks had once again produced something wonderfully unexpected, original, challenging yet utterly engaging. I suppose my brother and I were the odd ones out, as everyone else in the UK seemed to be preoccupied by ABBA, Rod Stewart, Frampton Comes Alive! and the imminent arrival of punk. Similarly, the kind of clever, ironic social commentary the Maels dished up to the delight of Europe was not going to find an instant audience with an America enamored by Kiss, The Eagles and MOR. Sparks were not to have another hit until their teaming up with Giorgio Moroder for the album Number One in Heaven in 1979.

In November 1976, Sparks appeared at the Capitol Theater, NJ, where they ripped through a powerful set of hits and tracks from their latest album Big Beat. Track listing: “Nothing To Do,” “I Want To Be Like Everybody Else,” “Something For The Girl With Everything,” “White Women,” “Talent Is An Asset,” “I Bought The Mississippi River,” “Everybody’s Stupid,” “B.C.,” “Equator,” “This Town Isn’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us,” “Amateur Hour,” “Big Boy,” “Fill-er-up.”

The whole of Sparks concert plus bonus newbie track for Udo Kier movie ‘The Forbidden Room,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
That time Peter Cook plugged Sparks with a hidden message on their singles

There is a well-worn myth about Peter Cook that his career went into sad, alcoholic decline after his longtime comedy partner Dudley Moore, who became a famous Hollywood star, ended. Poor old Cook supposedly spent his days pissed out his brains, counting his millions, bemoaning the loss of his once great talent while raging with jealousy over Moore’s success. Of course the truth is never quite as simple or as boring—in fact Cook rarely stopped using his talents to amuse, entertain, experiment or just fuck about for the hell of it—albeit at times on a somewhat smaller stage.

In 1979, while bringing down the house as the judge in The Secret Policeman’s Ball—where he ruthlessly lampooned the dubious summing-up in the infamous trial of Liberal politician Jeremy Thorpe for the attempted murder of his alleged lover Norman “Bunnies” Scott—and hosting the chaotic punk music TV show Revolver, Cook squeezed in time to record two improvised adverts for Sparks’ album No. 1 in Heaven. These ads were hidden on the inner grooves of the twelve inch singles for the Mael brothers’ hits “Beat the Clock” and “Tryouts for the Human Race.”
Picture discs, colored vinyl, 12-inch singles and alike were all part of the many gimmicks used to sell records in the late 1970s, and credit must be given to whoever it was that thought up the jolly wheeze of hiding a wee plug from the subversive Mr. Cook on the latest toe-tapper from Sparks—it was certainly a novel way to shift merchandise.
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sparks, Christian girls, drugs & lemon meringue pie: Meet obscure new wavers Gleaming Spires
09:10 pm


Gleaming Spires

Re-Dux album art work for
As much as the mainstream clamors for something truly unique and edgy, the minute they get it is the minute that they typically do not want it. It’s this cultural miasma where cult artists are born and a perfect example of this is the early 1980’s band, Gleaming Spires. The seeds of the Spires were first planted in a Los Angeles new wave rock band called Bates Motel, but it took the fertile ground of joining Sparks in 1981 to help sprout one of the better—albeit obscure—cult bands to have emerged out of the post-punk musical landscape.

While they were together for only handful of years, ending with 1985’s Welcoming a New Ice Age, new label Futurismo have been working with the two brilliant minds behind Gleaming Spires, vocalist and bassist Les Bohem and drummer David Kendrick on a re-release and remastering of their first album originally released on the legendary Posh Boy label, Songs of the Spires. Available as both a digital download, as well as 180 gram vinyl album (colored either lemon meringue or blue movie, depending on your preference), Songs of the Spires has never looked or sounded this good. It’s a pitch-perfect debut album with that mix of quirky humor, emotional angst and sonic layers that could have only come from the dynamic duo of Bohem and Kendrick.

So in honor of this release, here is an exclusive interview with the Spires themselves, the first since their final album in 1985.

What was the big inspiration early on to get into music? Was it anything encouraged or discouraged by your family?

Les Bohem: Well, I took guitar lessons when I was a kid – my mom’s family was deep into Pete Seeger and I saw him at a Unitarian church when I was maybe seven. I had a subscription to Sing Out and an older cousin who was very cool and knew about Bob Dylan. In fact, I can remember that we thought it was lame that Peter, Paul and Mary covered “Blowin In the Wind.” My first performance was said “Wind” at my grammar school graduation. Aldous Huxley was in the audience. He told my Mom I had a nice voice. This either means he was old and deaf, not paying attention, or was on Psilocybin.

The Beatles during my first year of Junior High and that was it. The Kinks, Them, the Stones, the Who – We did “Substitute” in my first band at the 8th grade talent show – American lyrics ‘cause we didn’t know any better. Then my folkie roots began to show and I wore striped T-shirts and a vest and glasses, which I didn’t need, so I could look like the Lovin’ Spoonful.

My mom was always forgiving and she tried hard to like what I was doing. My dad never really got it. I broke his heart a bit when I left college to become a rock star. Having both worked as writers in the movie business, they had a healthy suspicion of any career in the arts.

David Kendrick: Both of us had artistic families. My father was a sculptor. I won’t say I was “forced into music” but was definitely encouraged. I mean, I had a very loud drum set in my bedroom. I was in bands outside of school.

How did you two meet? What events led to the formation of Bates Motel?

Les Bohem: I formed Bates Motel with Bob Haag and Alan Slater somewhere around 77-78, and we added Bob Beland somewhere right after that. We had a drummer who was a friend of Alan and Bob Haag’s. He left to join another band and then Bob Beland left. We were playing around L.A. and I don’t remember how we put the word out for drummers. I feel like I’d met David once at the Troubadour before that. He wore funny shoes. He was the first really good drummer and still far and away the best that I have ever played with. I remember how good the songs sounded the first time we practiced with him. Alan was gone by now, by the way, since he formed another band, and we had added another guitar player, Dave “the Rave” Draves. He and Bob Haag were from Lancaster, a town about 60 miles into the desert from L.A. We practiced there in a studio space that was in an arcade, which had been owned by Judy Garland’s father. On the long drives up and back, David and I become friends quickly. We’d bring tapes of favorite songs. We’d talk about books, music. We were still young. We’d get heavy.

David Kendrick: Bates already existed. I joined after they fell for my lamppost drummer propaganda. I liked the film reference name too
Les Bohem playing behind the Mael Brothers. Note Ron's smile.
It’s been written that the Mael Brothers discovered you after becoming familiar with Bates Motel. Where you fans of Sparks beforehand?

Les Bohem: It all begins with a screenwriter named Bill Kerby. I liked their album covers but had only heard a few songs. David, I believe, was the bigger fan. In those days, there was no place to get espresso in Los Angeles and the thing that David and I really bonded over was espresso. I had been going to the Belgian Waffle stand at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax for years to have coffee with Bill, a writer who I’d met through my friend Miranda when they were dating. So this actually all begins with Miranda. Anyways, I would meet Bill for coffee mornings. Then, in the Bates days, a whole bunch of us would go in the afternoons and we would see Ron and Russell, who hung out there most afternoons. It was a celebrity sighting. “Look, it’s those guys from Sparks.” After a while, we developed one of those nodding relationships. One day, I went over to their table. We were trying everything to get signed and I thought that maybe they’d produce us. I said, “You guys are supposed to be the fathers of New Wave, how about you come see your kids,” or something equally lame and gave them a flyer to a show we were doing at Blackies, a club in Santa Monica. They came. They did not want to produce us. They asked us to be their band.

More after the jump…

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
Sparks: This karaoke bar ain’t big enough for both of us
11:00 am


Russell Mael

I have to admit that Sparks are my most favorite band in the whole wide world. But you don’t really need to know that. All you need to know is that Russell Mael visited a karaoke parlor in Tokyo last year during Sparks tour of Japan, when he noticed they carried the Mael brothers’ classic hit “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.” What else could Russell do but have a go?

Mr. Mael’s rendition is certainly superb, and would definitely pass any audition for a Sparks tribute band. He may also have hit upon a new trend for touring bands: visit karaoke bars and sing along to their hits. Russell Mael has certainly thrown down a gauntlet that will be difficult to better with this performance.

With thanks to Michael Gallagher

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
First Class Mael: Sparks release ultimate box set collection ‘New Music For Amnesiacs’
12:23 pm



I’m rather delighted to hear that Sparks are to release New Music For Amnesiacs, a five-disc “ultimate box set collection” on October 21st.

The Brothers Mael themselves have curated this definitive guide to Sparks’ extraordinary career, which includes a four-CD set, containing 81-songs from 21-albums that “are the most significant in terms of their career (which spans four decades) or that resonate with them on a more personal level.” There is also a 64-page hardbound coffee table book featuring photographs and memorabilia (much of it from the band’s own archives), which in accompaniment with the music tells Sparks story from the late 1960s (when they were first the Urban Renewal Project and then called Halfnelson) to present day.

Think of it as a mixed-media autobiography, as told by Sparks.

The box set also includes some of Ron’s never before seen handwritten lyrics; an oversized envelope stuffed with a proof-sheets of photo outtakes of the Big Beat photo session shot by renowned photographer Richard Avedon; and a second envelope filled with memorabilia that “you can proudly pin on yourself or stick on your wall to flaunt your fandom and totally irritate your still-not-converted friends.” If all this weren’t enough, there is a bonus CD containing new studio tracks commemorating two of Sparks’ unique live events, “Islington N1” from the Sparks Spectacular (21 albums in 21 nights), and Two Hands One Mouth from the tour of the same name.

All this goodness is currently available in the UK at £99.99 (GBP). US release soon.

New Music For Amnesiacs coincides with Sparks tour of America and Europe. And if you haven’t already, I thoroughly recommend you do go and see them—they are truly brilliant. Then maybe you can ask Santa to bring you the box set.


More classic Sparks after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sparks: Ron Mael says he’s a better song-writer than George Harrison

Fun with Ron and Russell Mael, interviewed by Julie Brown on Music Box in 1985. Ron (as one commentator notes) is particularly “perky,” perhaps due to the excellent review in Sounds that claimed he was a better song-writer than Lennon and McCartney. Ron disagrees, but admits he is maybe a better song-writer than George Harrison.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Excellent Sparks live footage from 1974

When Sparks Met Comedy genius Jacques Tati in 1974

Ron and Russell Mael: Documentary on Sparks made from found footage

Bonus interview plus vintage Sparks comic strip, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Paul McCartney spoofs Ron Mael of Sparks, 1980
06:05 pm


Paul McCartney
Ron Mael
Music Video

I never knew this existed until now, and I wonder what Ron Mael thinks of it?

I assume McCartney is a Sparks fan if he is willing to spoof Mael in his own video, or maybe it was just an easy impression, even if he does it well. He also does Hank Marvin, but not so well, and I assume some of the other “band” members—they’re called The Plastic Macs, geddit?—are spoofs of other musicians from the period, too.

I’m not a McCartney fan really, but this IS a cracking tune:

Paul McCartney “Coming Up” (1980)

H/t too Wallace Wylie.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’: Sparks on French TV, 1974
03:49 pm



Sparks with their sleazy anti-Yuletide number, “Thank God It’s Not Christmas,” on French television in 1974.

From their classic breakthrough album of that year, Kimono My House.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sparks do ‘When I’m With You’ on a French kids show, 1980
03:13 pm


Giorgio Moroder

Sparks, the great brothers Mael themselves, performing “When I’m With You” on a French kids show in 1980. Odd that the set shows the duo standing in front of a “sex shop.” The French!

The number, from their underrated Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer-produced Terminal Jive album, spent six weeks at the #1 spot, but only in France (The album was largely ignored everywhere else, so Sparks spent a year there promoting the album).

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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