‘Big Beat’ dare I say is Sparks most ‘AOR’ sounding album with heavy emphasis on guitars and straight forward songs.
Written by: Eric
ALBUM: Big Beat
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Russell Mael – vocals * Ron Mael – keyboards * Hilly Michaels – drums * Jeffrey Salen – guitars * Sal Maida – bass
TRACK LISTING: 01 Big Boy * 02 I Want to Be Like Everybody Else * 03 Nothing To Do * 04 I Bought The Mississippi River * 05 Fill-Er-Up * 06 Everybody’s Stupid * 07 Throw Her Away (And Get A New One) * 08 Confusion * 09 Screwed Up * 10 White Women * 11 I Like Girls
WEBLINKS: Site Link
There’s no group on the planet quite like Sparks. If you own any of their albums, you know what I mean. Their music comes from an alternate universe where comparisons to Queen and more importantly Roxy Music are often drawn but the Mael brothers; Russell and Ron have blazed their own glittery trail musically with a vast catalog of albums that stand alone as a testament to the creative power of pop music.
Their 1971 Todd Rundgren produced debut as Halfnelson, was re-pressed under the new moniker Sparks which gave way to a minor hit with the enchanting ‘Wonder Girl’. From there the band, unhappy with the Los Angeles music scene, picked up and moved to the UK where still enthralled with all things glam, their music was far more appreciated and with their third album 1974’s ‘Kimono My House’, they became the darlings of the British press and rightly so.
It was indeed a groundbreaking and influential recording but just a year later and true to form that very same, once adoring press turned their back on Sparks, leading Russell and Ron to move back to America where it all began. Starting from scratch, auditions for a new band took place with Cheap Trick‘s Rick Nielsen, a long time Sparks fan given serious consideration before Tuff Darts guitarist Jeffrey Salen got the gig along with Hilly Michaels on drums and fresh from stints with both Roxy Music and Milk N Cookies, Sal Maida on bass.
Very much a transitional recording between the eclectic art rock of the first five albums and the hugely popular synth pop band they would become in the 1980’s, ‘Big Beat’ dare I say is their most ‘AOR’ sounding album with heavy emphasis on guitars and straight forward songs.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still Sparks, fruity as fuck and nothing close to ‘Frampton Comes Alive’, but it has a commercial edge which left many fans wondering what the hell happened. Russell Mael’s unique tenor often described as ‘A lounge singing Freddie Mercury‘ is toned down and Ron Mael’s keys are buried in the mix.
The quirky and off kilter lyrics are still very much part of Sparks vocabulary on ‘Big Beat’ and songs like ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Nothing To Do’ are great rock ‘n’ roll while ‘White Women’ and ‘I Like Girls’ are just too weird for words. I think the bands label – CBS thought the same and decided not to release anything off ‘Big Beat’ as singles in the States which of course did nothing to help Sparks break free from the large cult following they had at the time and still hold today.
Undeterred, the obligatory U.S tour followed and as usual the band found themselves on all sorts of odd and strange billings with Boston and Dr. Hook to prog rockers Nektar and an ill-advised cross country trek with New York punk goddess Patti Smith.
By all accounts it was nothing short of disastrous while closing out 1976 with a new year’s eve headline gig at the Santa Monica Civic Center and young up and comers Van Halen as support. In 1979, Sparks pioneered the synth pop sound with the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘No 1 In Heaven’ album and even more creative sounds and minor hits well into the 80’s, including ‘Cool Places’ with The Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin.
These days Sparks are still at it, creating innovative music at an astounding level and in my opinion you can’t go wrong with any of their stuff, but if a newbie, start with ‘Big Beat’ or any of the first five LP’s. You’ll never be sorry.
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