To the rock and roll cognoscenti, how does the band "Sparks" measure up?
February 25, 2017 6:18 PM   Subscribe

I've been a serious classic rock fan since before it was classic rock, and have always sought out lesser-known or more esoteric bands in the hopes of finding a hidden gem. Having been at it since I was teenager in the late 1980's, I thought by now I had heard of pretty much every band of the 1960s and 70s that was even the least bit successful or famous. Sparks had a #1 single in 1974, yet had never heard of them before a couple weeks ago. I've been listening to them a lot since then, and really like what I've heard so far. In fact, they kind of impress the hell out of me, which makes me wonder why they aren't better known. Please inform. gracias
posted by BadgerDoctor to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My wife introduced them to me. She grew up in SoCal in the eighties, and saw them live at the Hollywood Bowl. They have lots of great goofy songs, but I never heard of them growing up in Ohio.
posted by rikschell at 6:33 PM on February 25, 2017

In all fairness -- I've just learned about Sparks by hearing about them from you and then checking out that which is available on the first page of YouTube: are they not disco/new wave? That's a tricky genre in which to make it to common attention in the "classic rock" sense, I think.

I do not belong to the cognoscenti, that being said.
posted by mr. digits at 6:33 PM on February 25, 2017

*cough cough*
posted by humboldt32 at 6:40 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

This kind of sums them up for me. I knew a lot of musicians who had a Sparks album or two but would only play a couple songs and run to pick the needle up.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:41 PM on February 25, 2017

Mr.Digits: This is the song that reached #1
posted by BadgerDoctor at 6:42 PM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sparks don't really measure up to anyone: they've done entirely their own thing for going on 50 years. They clearly have a great time doing what they do, and love interacting with their fans. If you like bits of their catalogue, great! Their style has changed a lot, but the brothers themselves barely seem to have changed. They've never tried to be cool, they don't mind being laughed at; they're sui generis.
posted by scruss at 6:42 PM on February 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

They never stuck with one genre; I'm sure that hurt them.
posted by rikschell at 6:48 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is my favorite.
posted by rikschell at 6:53 PM on February 25, 2017

They are really one of a kind and hard to categorize, and that confuses the music industry apparently. They also have been living in England since the 70's so I think they were more popular/well known in Europe.

I stumbled across Sparks last? year after a late-night Youtube music video binge. More specifically I got on a Les Rita Mitsouko kick (if you like unique you should check them out too!) and they did a cute music video with Sparks, whom I hadn't heard of at the time. Cue watching every Sparks video ever.

David Lynch actually directed one of their music videos in 1982 - I Predict.
posted by littlesq at 6:59 PM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

A millennial friend of mine turned me on to Angst In My Pants last year, and I swear it sounded to me like it could've been released last year by snarky trust fund Brooklyn kids.

And yeah, they're still active. They teamed up with Franz Ferdinand a couple years back, making some delightfully weird stuff e.g. Collaborations Don't Work.
posted by billjings at 7:05 PM on February 25, 2017

Tosh Berman is probably the world's biggest Sparks fan, and even wrote a book about it, which may help fill in the gaps for a new listener.
posted by Scram at 7:14 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Good 2009 thread from the invaluable about this: Sparks is easily one of the top ten most influential pop bands of all time
posted by escabeche at 7:15 PM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kimono My House was integral to my college experience (78-82, Los Angeles vicinity). Michael Silverblatt of Bookworm adores them and I think if you search his archives you can find his interview with then from maybe 5 years ago, where he discusses some of their lyrics.
posted by janey47 at 7:40 PM on February 25, 2017

Oh look here it is
posted by janey47 at 7:44 PM on February 25, 2017

When I was in high school in L.A. in early 80s I considered them state-of-the-art for the new wave, alongside Thomas Dolby and the Wall of Voodoo, for instance. I liked Angst in my Pants, the album and the song. I haven't really listened to them since, though. My impression was they became more of a novelty act; don't know if that's fair.
posted by bertran at 7:45 PM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Reading Mr. Yuck's link; I had no idea they had been around through the 70s.
posted by bertran at 7:52 PM on February 25, 2017

When I was in high school in the 80s, not in California, being a Sparks fan was very deep-dive high-art stuff. Agreed, like Wall of Voodoo or The Judys or the sort of bands that we all heard were super underground cool in LA but you had to get their albums in the Imports section.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:54 PM on February 25, 2017

Classic rock was known widely as classic rock in the 80s, and lots of people I knew listened to Sparks--they were definitely considered new wave by then.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:01 PM on February 25, 2017

Sparks on the blue! And previously.

(MeFi's own, sorta.)
posted by rewil at 8:40 PM on February 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I agree with what bertran said. I think there was more crossover and wider appeal (at least in the LA area) since you definitely heard a lot of new wave at gay dance clubs. Also, having KROQ back then probably helped.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:43 PM on February 25, 2017

I feel like Sparks transcend typical concepts of "making it" in the music industry. They seem to simply be who they are and do what interests them.

A friend of mine (who directed the play that was the source of this question) was in a staged reading/concert production (with video) of a rock opera Sparks developed called The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. The reading was directed by Guy Maddin. I got to meet the brothers after that event, they were endearingly strange yet down-to-earth and engaged.

I became aware of them in the early 80s, forgot about them, then rediscovered them in the aughts. I think a lot of their music could get them pigeonholed as a novelty act. But it seems that their influence on other artists far outstrips their fame, and they've been creating and evolving for so long that they really just have to be taken as a singular instance of a pair of lives expressed in music. You can like them or not just like any band of course, but I think they've earned a place among the constellation of great acts.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:57 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think Sparks were always sort of adjacent to various pop and rock styles – from glitter pop and Queen-style baroque rock to disco and new wave and indie rock. But they were too cheeky, complicated, and frankly weird to fit into any subculture, let alone catch on with the masses, even as they had a few hits. (I heard about them in junior high in the '80s when they did "Cool Places" with Jane Wiedlin, which I loved, but even then they seemed sort of new wave and sort of not.) They gained enough devoted fans along the way to keep going, and didn't need radio play or magazine features. I think they're one of those bands that, even now, people keep stumbling upon and think, "Wait, what? Where did this come from?"
posted by lisa g at 10:27 PM on February 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Ummm... they are amazing, one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
posted by Cosine at 10:58 PM on February 25, 2017

Hah! The first comment on that video:
Keith Peters1 year ago
I've been listening to everything from left and right field... anything different ... for a long time.... And I didn't discover Sparks until last week... Where tah hell have I been??? I love them... I just bought their new CD and I love it.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:17 PM on February 25, 2017

My youth pastor (who was training to be a priest) turned me onto Sparks because I was the only kid he knew who was into Devo. They're that kind of band.
posted by murphy slaw at 3:53 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sparks were always yeoman middle-relievers. Never starters and never closers.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:43 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Lifetime rock music nut, onetime professional musician, and if you want my opinion (which is implied) they just aren't really that good. Like a New Wave version of Styx.
posted by spitbull at 5:14 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think Sparks kind of fall between all cracks - not immediate enough to be memorable, not poppy enough to be pop not rock enough enough to be art-rock, not weird enough to be Devo... If you wanted something good or something weird, there were plenty of other more accessible options.
I think not giving a shit about that was a big part of what they are. A lot of acts kind of compromised a little (or a lot) into making themselves more marketable, and as far as I know, they didn't, because they were Sparks and that would be enough.
(seconding their collaboration with Franz Ferdinand a few years back - it made #1 in my 2015 chart because contrary to what one of their singles suggest, it does work)
posted by lmfsilva at 6:17 AM on February 26, 2017

from glitter pop and Queen-style baroque rock to disco and new wave and indie rock.

My favorite of the Queen style. Anyone who has ever worked in a boring job can relate.
posted by JanetLand at 6:26 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sparks is one of my favorite bands ever. They were always ahead of the curve, but it's probably more accurate to say that they don't care if there is a curve at all. "So Important" is one of my all-time favorites. I got to see them finally play live at the Highline Ballroom a few years ago, and it was AMAZING. They are touring this year. Don't miss it!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:46 AM on February 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sparks are one of my all-time favorite bands, too, a la computech_apolloniajames

Musically adventurous, ahead of their time and some of the most witty and intelligent lyrics ever written.
A couple of great examples:
-- "Suburban Homeboy"

-- "I Predict"
Music video directed by David Lynch, if I'm not mistaken.

I would also recommend the following two books about the Brothers Mael -- "Number One Song in Heaven: The Sparks Story" by Dave Thompson and "Talent Is an Asset: The Story of Sparks" by Daryl Easlea.
posted by DougieGee at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really just wanna say that Sparks was the They Might Be Giants of the New Wave. Two dudes and assorted helpers recording quirky, goofy pop songs. Occasionally they'd try to rock out but they're really just too inherently goofy to really Rock Out.
posted by egypturnash at 11:40 PM on February 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

« Older OMG DID YOU SEE THAT CHICK JUST TRANSFORMED INTO...   |   Can a mechanic charge me for trial & error... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.