The Sparks Brothers (2021) Movie Script

The opening film fanfare
Documentary film fanfare
Edgar Wright film fanfare.
-And look right in the camera?
-Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
-Okay. Okay, great.
-Just talk to me through the camera.
-Beck. Take one. Mark.
Throughout all the years
that I've been making music,
if you get on a tour bus
and you sit on a long drive
with a bunch of musicians,
eventually, the conversation
will go to Sparks.
My good friends, Sparks.
-Sparks. -Sparks.
-Sparks. -Sparks.
I remember just seeing them all the time
and like, "Who are those guys?"
They are an anomaly.
I don't feel like they purposely
have been
trying to be mysterious, right?
They don't really look like a band.
They do just look like people
who've been sort of
let out for a day.
And it ain't me
who's gonna leave...
Look into camera.
-You want to look in the lens.
Damn you and your three-quarterness.
It's a damn mole!
Two members of like mind,
and they're conspirators.
It's a very clever thing
they've got going on.
They really tiptoe through the tulips
between beauty
and revulsion.
What's going on? Oh, my God.
It's insane, but it's fantastic.
They would make really good Muppets.
Daily, except for Sunday...
You have this snaky lead singer...
You know, something for the ladies.
And then you got Adolf Hitler
on-on the keyboards.
It is a little strange.
Why has that bloke got a Hitler mustache?
That's a good look.
Dean Martin was hanging out,
and he would always, like,
look at Ron like,
"What the...?"
When I first discovered Sparks,
I never thought of them
as being American at all.
I thought of them
just being this, like... Sparks.
They're otherworldly.
I always thought
Sparks were a... a British band.
They're the best, uh, British group
ever to come out of America.
Je suis amricain.
Everywhere, heartbeat,
increasing heartbeat...
They are a total enigma to me.
They are a band who
you can look up on Wikipedia
and know nothing.
Who the fuck are these guys?
Ron has a huge snow globe collection.
Like... Really?
It's quite special and, um...
If you try to describe them to people,
it's like, what do they
sound like? Sparks.
The work speaks for itself,
so I don't have to know them.
All pop music is rearranged Vince Clarke
and rearranged Sparks.
That's the truth.
So we have influenced everyone.
Honestly, I don't want to see this movie.
I don't want to learn too much about 'em.
Um, I'll watch it because I'm in it.
What do you think about me
calling the documentary
The Sparks Brothers?
-Um, in lieu of anything better...
-Yeah, yeah.
We hate that name.
We are Sparks.
Sparks are a band.
Next question.
-We are not an English band.
I'm the singer.
I'm not the singer.
We are not identical twins.
We are brothers.
We are brothers.
We do not live together.
We are from a middle-class background.
My sexual persuasion is slightly horny.
There are 25 Sparks albums.
With advances in medical technology,
hopefully there will be
200 to 300 more Sparks albums.
Sparks... how did this glam rock anomaly
become a band with a career
spanning five decades?
How can Ron and Russell Mael
be successful, underrated,
hugely influential and overlooked
all at the same time?
How do two brothers survive
in a rock and roll world
without killing each other?
And where does one even start
with 25 studio albums
and nearly 500 songs?
Join us as we pull back the curtain
to shine a light on the brothers Mael
and crucially offer
a window into the psyche
of these extraordinary musicians
and, through their music,
paint a long overdue portrait
of them as real artists.
Our story begins
not in gloomy old England
but in sunny California.
Gonna tell Aunt Mary
'bout Uncle John
He claim he has the misery,
but he has a lot of fun
Oh, baby, yeah, baby
Whoo, baby...
To a kid seeing them on TV,
they just came from another world.
Well, long tall Sally...
They weren't supposed
to come from anywhere.
I think, originally, I did
think they were a British band.
I'm still not convinced
that they're American.
I always sort of thought of them as like.
Cheap Trick in a way, like,
oh, they're probably
from the Midwest somewhere.
We're kind of the rare breed
of native-born Californians.
I was born in Santa Monica, California.
He was born in Culver City, California.
Our father was an artist, a painter
and was also a commercial artist
for theHollywood Citizen-News.
Well, I saw Uncle John...
Some of the images that he painted were
places that we would go to quite a bit.
One of them was the Santa Monica Pier.
We would spend days fishing for perch.
And kind of... the pier, to me,
looks like that painting,
not like the real thing is.
Have some fun tonight...
He always had these records from Elvis
and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
Him introducing us to cool music
was something that we kind of retained.
One, two, three o'clock,
four o'clock rock...
It really was an amazing time
because we were exposed to the
first seismic shift in music.
I remember the first time I went to see.
Blackboard Jungle.
One instance of hearing the title music
changed my whole DNA.
This kind of music was really overturning
that staid Eisenhower-era lifestyle.
This was wrong but in
all the kind of right ways.
If you want to understand
Ron and Russell, you need to see them
through one prism, and that-that prism is
cinema but specifically Hollywood.
I remember spending
a lot of time at the movies
with Russell and our father.
We would go see a lot
of Westerns and war films.
I really cherished those
Saturday matinees.
It was a rich experience.
It was more than just a movie.
It was a... a total afternoon
with popcorn and cartoons and newsreels.
Why don't you try a juicy, good hot dog?
Our parents didn't care
if a movie had started,
so we would just come
in the middle of the movie
and try to imagine
what the beginning of it was.
And I think part of our, uh,
jagged sense of narrative in the songs
might have been, uh,
initiated in some way by that.
Um, when our father died, uh,
obviously, it was
a really traumatic experience.
You don't even understand,
really, how that's possible
or that he's not gonna
ever be there again.
And-and, uh, it's something
that's so abstract,
just the concept of death.
And, uh... and it's when...
when it's your father,
and then especially at that age, too,
that you're so young that you never
got to ask the questions
that you would now like
to have asked to him
and to have known more about him.
And I think that's kind of
part of the sad thing, too,
is that, uh, so much
you'll never find out
about, uh, your own father.
We were both very, very young.
I was... I was 11,
and Russell was eight, and...
kind of everything changed
at that moment for us,
and I think it did
bring us closer together.
'Cause it was all very unexpected,
the three of us were then kind of
forced to be stronger as a unit.
Um, Ron and I would,
you know, do everything that we could
to help out our mom.
Our mother decided that
I should have piano lessons.
I didn't want to admit that I enjoyed
taking the piano lessons
because, you know, there...
always a rebellious streak in me,
but piano lessons were actually
something I really enjoyed.
And they would have talent
shows at elementary school,
and I would get up there
in a pink sport jacket
and a... a tie, and my hair
really kind of greased and everything,
and performing those talent
shows was an addictive thing.
You really saw the audience reaction,
and you thought,
"This is kind of cool."
And it-it also
blended in with our interest in sports.
Both music and sports were
things that garnered attention.
Going out when the rest
are coming home
Coming home when the rest
are going out
And when I'm broke
and really down, I'm down...
It's an odd thing that our huge passion
when we were growing up
in school was-was athletics.
Hard to believe that, uh,
this scrawny body
once played against, uh, 250-pound guys.
I sometimes equate the experience
of going out onto the field
on Friday night
as the same sensation
as when you go onstage.
There's the same adrenaline rush.
I want to be, I want to be
I want to be,
I want to be
I want to be like
everybody else.
- Ooh, ooh.
- Over the summer
- Over the summer.
- Ooh
Over the summer
We lived always near
the ocean, so both in Venice
and then Pacific Palisades.
You've got to trust
in summer
Miracles can happen
if you do...
In the summer, we would walk down.
There's a little bluff
that you have to walk
from our house in the Palisades,
and it led down to the ocean.
It took maybe a half an hour.
We'd do that routine every day.
We'd stay from
like 9:00 in the morning
to maybe, you know,
7:00 at night.
So that was our life
for three months every year.
July, you were
the plainest of Janes...
People say that
they don't see any Los Angeles
in what we're doing,
and I think that, actually,
they're missing a lot of
what the influence was on us.
We had our transistor radio,
and, uh, AM music
at that time in Los Angeles
was really incredible.
It was just one big mass of pop music.
Ladies and gentlemen, the beat goes on.
More music.
The Real Don Steele.
93 KHJ.
Please, please, please...
There was no distinction between
British bands or soul groups,
Black groups, white groups.
It-it didn't really matter.
Like, no one cared or
questioned the genres of music.
You would always want
to go see any British band
that would come to Los Angeles.
The high point of our lives...
Uh, we can actually say
we've seen The Beatles twice
because we had a cool mom.
The Beatles,
on their way to the Hollywood Bowl.
Some of the youngsters
don't give up easily.
For whatever reason,
she agreed to drive us to Las Vegas,
where they were playing a concert.
So there we were in our little
Fiat Multipla that our mom had
and had this sort of bad
futuristic shape to it.
And, uh, we're putting along
the highway to Las Vegas
just to see The Beatles.
That's a mom.
While we were at UCLA,
everything coalesced for us
as far as soaking in all of
these things from the outside.
We played in bands
early on with ridiculous names.
I don't know, we were in Moonbaker Abbey,
and we were in The Urban Renewal Project.
I mean, how successful
could a band ever get
calling themselves Urban Renewal Project?
The first two songs that we ever recorded
were "Computer Girl" and, uh,
the other one... what was this?
-What was the second one?
I'm ashamed that I forgot that,
but "W-Windmill."
-So classic that he forgot it.
It's really strange
to have a song in 1966
called "Computer Girl,"
because we didn't even
really know what
a computer was at that time.
Computer girl
My computer girl
This is a recording
She's got no arms
She's got no legs
For computers
Have no limbs...
-Pre-Kraftwerk. Yes.
Yeah, we predate Kraftwerk
when it comes to computer songs.
The first time that we really got
serious about music
was when we met Earle Mankey
and the three of us got together
and had similar musical taste.
They seemed pretty much
just like normal college students.
But once we got into
the recording process,
they-they turned out to be different.
You have three people in a room
and a two-track tape recorder,
and you want to emulate,
let's say The Beatles.
Well, uh, first,
you might think you need drums.
Well, we didn't have any drums.
So, uh,
bang on some boxes
and find a table that had a nice tone,
and if you needed a cymbal,
that was harder.
But as I recall,
there was a brass lampshade
that, uh, didn't really ring
like a cymbal,
but it would give us a nice clank.
When I joined the band,
it was called Halfnelson.
I was contacted by Russell,
and he explained to me,
"Well, we're not just getting together
"to drink beer,
meet girls and play music.
We're actually gonna
become big."
That sounds like the scene
from our biopic
that's, uh, upcoming soon.
Fa-fa-fa, fa-fa,
I think, at the
beginning, I was trying to be
as much like Mick Jagger or Roger Daltrey
as I could possibly be.
I kind of missed the mark
by a few thousand miles,
but something else emerged.
From champagne
And I have never
met the queen
And I wish I could have
all he has got
And I wish I could be
like David Watts...
I think there was
sometimes a conscious
and sometimes an unconscious attempt
at trying to emulate the early Who songs
and the early Kinks songs
that really felt
in tune with what
we really wanted to be doing.
I'd lead the school team
to victory...
I remember I liked
bands that they didn't like.
And I remember one time
I made the comment that,
"Hey, Blood Sweat & Tears,
they're great, huh?"
All the eyes rolled back simultaneously.
It could've been worse.
He could have mentioned
Chicago or somebody like that, and...
then he would have been
out of the band immediately.
When you're
a French director...
There was a sense at the time
that if you were kind of a hip person
that you would also
automatically be interested
in French New Wave films and Bergman.
It kind of went hand in hand
with liking the British bands.
It was just kind of a badge of honor,
liking nonmainstream things.
When I first met Ron,
we were all deeply,
deeply rooted in film.
As far as Russ was concerned, uh,
he wanted to be a filmmaker.
Early on, I was dabbling
in French New Wave cinema
and, uh, made a film when I was at UCLA.
Um, and I don't know if it's...
I-I wouldn't call it a great film,
-but it wasn't...
-Oh, don't be so modest.
I starred in Russell's student film,
Trs Srieux, which means, I guess,
Very Serious or something like that.
My name in the movie was
Jean-Paul Mankey.
You know, it was poking fun
at, uh, French art films.
That's the cool thing about them.
You know, they take something
that seems to be
really great and arty,
and then they shoot it in the pants.
Other times, people think
they're making fun of something
when they're deadly serious.
They're kind of inscrutable, those guys.
Well, I had
a chance to meet Ron and Russell
when I worked at, uh, Universal Records.
They brought their demo tape in,
and I was taken by the creativity,
the artistry, uh, the individuality.
And it was something
that you just knew was something.
And I lobbied my brains out
to have them get signed.
Every office
we'd go into was all excited.
They'd call their friends in
and say, "Listen to this stuff.
Isn't this weird?
Isn't this great?"
Uh, and then they wouldn't sign us.
The thing that marked them
was their unwillingness
to give up on rejection.
They just wouldn't give up.
There's always just been
one person throughout our whole career
that would kind of get what it was
that we were doing
at any one particular time...
And the first one was Todd Rundgren...
When everybody else at every
record label rejected us.
If it hadn't been for him,
there wouldn't have been a Sparks now.
Well, without me,
there would be no Halfnelson.
Sparks was something
that happened a little later.
Todd Rundgren first discovered Sparks
and produced their debut album.
We sent the demo album
to Todd Rundgren.
I had some notoriety
in the business, so he took my call.
My memory was that, uh,
Russell's, uh, girlfriend,
part-time girlfriend,
girlfriend on and off, uh,
was Miss Christine from the GTO's.
Miss Christine was like
my girlfriend for a while,
and then she became Russell's
girlfriend for a while.
We became friends
with-with, uh, Miss Christine as well.
And so, um, at that time, I, uh...
-We did?
-We did. We did.
Let me... let me, uh...
yeah, we were...
So I became... I became friends
with Miss Christine.
I think Russell thought it was weird,
but I didn't consider it
any sort of affront,
but I think I knew Miss Christine
better than he did.
Yeah, I'm sure Miss Christine
played Todd the demo.
She was... she and Todd
were together quite a while,
um, and she loved Sparks.
Christine said, "Oh, Todd",
"you've got to hear these guys.
It's so great.
You're gonna want to sign 'em."
I was struck by
the fact that it wasn't like
anything else
that I was normally getting.
It is sometimes like butterfly hunting.
You're looking for some species
that nobody has ever discovered before.
So they set up a demo
as if it was like a whole venue.
They had this rehearsal space
out in the Valley.
They called it the Doggy Factory,
which implied that doggies
were made there,
but it was actually doggy beds.
Yeah, that's...
it was all left-handed.
It was... I mean, this band,
you're gonna go see 'em
at a doggy bed factory.
I thought they were joking.
I thought it was a club.
We all sat down in some folding chairs,
and they put on a whole show.
The biggest number, uh,
I guess it would have to be the song.
There was a papier-mch boat.
Russell would sit in this boat
and be towed across the floor
by the roadie.
I got in it as if it
was like a Rose Parade float,
and I was waving to the audience
as the captain of this slow boat.
And about three feet
later, he'd have to stop
because it would be the end of the stage.
My wife thought
Russ was, uh, very cute,
and I kept asking her about the music,
but she kept telling me
how cute Russ was.
Russ was really cute.
I was
well proud of the effort
that they put out
and said,
"We'll make a record."
Slow boat, bring me back
another day...
Of course, everything
that happened after that was...
was evolutionary.
Sorry, Sam, can we
take that back a little ways?
We'll pick it up.
We really were elated that now things
seemed real for once.
It was really amazing.
It was really surreal.
It was like, "My God, this is...
How did I get here?
This is incredible."
It just, uh, seemed like
we were soon gonna be at
the Hollywood Bowl ourselves.
The making of the album was so much fun.
It was great.
Uh, we had what seemed like
an unlimited amount of time
in a good studio.
All will join in
In the
big scene...
To Todd's credit,
he really made us feel at home
and more importantly
made us feel at home musically
because he really wanted us
to keep to the essence
of what the demos were.
Take a tall one,
take a small one...
I didn't want to mess with
this latent outsider genius.
I'm just gonna figure out
how to make it
a little bit more high-fidelity,
and that...
and that will be fine,
I think.
This album was gonna be
just phenomenal,
just really good.
We released the Halfnelson album,
and it didn't really get
the commercial success
that I think Todd was hoping for.
With Sparks, you have this
strange combination of...
almost creative recklessness
because they don't follow
the conventional path,
which is what makes them great as a fan.
There's this force of creativity
that goes into that experimentation,
but the culture isn't there yet.
And then you find yourself
in the real world
where you have to sell records.
Well, you did it again.
You look at Sparks,
they're-they're just
blazing this trail, um,
because there's just no...
It-It's the ultimate experience
of what you want from your artists.
There's just no connection
to what is actually going on
in the world.
The album didn't sell very well,
so the, uh, marketing geniuses
at the record company said,
"Well, maybe a different name
and a different album cover
would make the difference."
And he goes,
"You guys like comedy.
You like the Marx Brothers.
You're brothers.
So the Sparks Brothers."
And that met with one of those
pregnant pauses from us
where we both stare at-at him,
uh, kind of aghast.
I think we negotiated out
the word "brothers"
and ended up with just Sparks.
She was
a wonder girl
Some girl, that girl
She was a wonder girl
Some girl, that girl
It was a grand old time
we had
She was there
And I was pretty glad...
We're driving around,
and the radio is kind of on,
and I hear this voice, and I yell,
"Yo, turn that up!
"What is that? Turn that up.
"Who is that?
"Turn it up louder.
That's amazing."
To her friends
It's a wonder that
She always
started trends...
All the bells and
whistles went off in my head.
The radio announcer
never got back on and said who that was,
and it haunted me for years.
Ooh, wonder girl...
We had made our first appearance
onAmerican Bandstand,
which was pretty much
the equivalent of being, like,
onTop of the Pops in the UK,
but we still had no... no money
and we were on food
assistance plans, food stamps.
And so we went into
a supermarket the next week,
and the checker said,
"Hey, I saw you on television last week.
You guys were great."
And then we have
to pull out our food stamps
to the nice lady, and then she's going,
"Can we get approval for these poor guys
"on aisle six, please?
Poor people over here
who are on a television show."
Ooh, wonder girl...
-Being humiliated in public.
-Yeah. Yeah.
-Good training.
I'm immune to humiliation after that.
Hey, Lisa,
they're having a big party
Down at
the Allele Pool tonight
Ooh, let's do it
It was a struggle
finding gigs for the band.
So the thing that happened is
the band went far afield.
It's just ridiculous.
We played some just terrible places
where they all hated us.
They went to Redding, California.
It's like, why the hell Redding?
But Houston got off to
a bad start and went downhill.
So, there we are
playing for this redneck audience
that had been there to come see
a band called Cold Blood.
Needless to say, uh,
they did not like us very much.
I used to, as part of the stage act,
have this giant wooden sledgehammer,
with this, like,
really heavy mallet on it.
He'd throw the sledgehammer up in the air
and catch it, but this time,
he didn't catch it.
Came down... slam!...
On his head.
And I won't say it knocked him out,
but he was extremely bloody.
And I had this giant gash on my head,
and I'm bleeding
and blood's flowing down.
But the audience seemed to think it was
part of our show,
like it was... you know,
it was Alice Cooper with a blood capsule,
but this was no blood capsule.
This was my kind of brain, uh,
oozing out onto the stage.
We're all laughing
up until we see Ron's reaction.
And Ron's reaction is a combination of,
"How dare you laugh?"
and, "Oh, my God,
Russ is gonna die."
I didn't even know
he hit himself in the head
until after it was over.
Then we went backstage,
and I saw he was bleeding,
and big brother Ron,
of course, was very concerned.
-Was I?
Oh, times change.
The next album
that we would come up with,
which was called
Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing,
was produced by Jim Lowe.
They were what I thought
rock and roll was supposed to be.
And I thought, "If this doesn't happen,
what am I gonna go do next?"
What would you produce
after you did Sparks?
The fact that the second album
was more experimental
than the first album,
I think, was just a natural progression.
It might have been better.
It was certainly
more complex, more artistic.
I thought that made for
a more interesting album.
In a way, that album is
even more eccentric,
I think, than...
than the first album.
And so, you know, it was
really inspiring to us to know
that they were giving us this permission
to kind of commit self-destruction.
Whippings and apologies...
Those two records are
my two favorite records
that I've been involved with.
And I told my wife
after the Wooferalbum,
I said, "If this album doesn't..."
"doesn't make some noise or do something,
I'm gonna go into
another business."
It was just, "I-I don't know
anything about music.
If people don't like
this stuff, it's crazy."
And so I started, uh,
directing television commercials.
It didn't create the spark
that they...
that they had hoped for.
They said, "Well, it's not really"
"clicking here in the States,
but the sensibility
"seems to be something that we think
would go over better
in the UK."
And all of a sudden, one day,
we're on a frigging airplane to London.
How I wished my folks
were gracious hosts...
Getting to see,
you know, Buckingham Palace
and riding on the tube, and we were
living the good life
in our small little way.
Back in the Doggy
Factory, we had a picture
on the wall of John's Children,
and they were really cool-looking guys.
When we got over there,
John was our manager.
The idea was, would I look after them
and try and secure TV,
et cetera, and, uh,
some shows in London and press,
which we did.
What a war, some war
Lord knows
she's from Germany
Well, it's
the same old country
But the people
have changed...
The only TV we did, I think,
was theGrey Whistle Test,
which Bob Harris said
was, like, the worst band
he'd ever seen.
Old Grey Whistle Test
was dark and underground,
and it was a bit worthy.
And the-the presenter
Bob Harris didn't like Sparks.
That was actually a-a real turn-on
because whatever Bob
didn't like, you kind of liked.
Great stuff.
Everybody saw us
on Old Grey Whistle Test,
and being on the telly was a big deal.
So, when we then got the follow-up gig
at the Marquee Club,
the place was packed.
Almost in that first moment,
when you see something like Sparks,
which is just so distinctive
and sounds so distinctive,
everything that you ever feel about them
for the rest of time is in there.
Oh, my word,
she's from Germany
Well, it's
the same old country
But the people
have changed...
"Girl from Germany"
was kind of a harbinger
of things to come for us
in a lyrical way, I think.
It's about a guy
who's defending his girlfriend,
who happens to be from Germany,
to his parents who are Jewish.
Well, the car I drive
is parked outside...
They come out with this song,
and it's like, are you kidding me?
They're, like, talking about
how people still hate Germans and stuff,
and it's so sick and so funny.
My favorite lyric from a Sparks song is
from "Girl from Germany," which is, uh...
"My word, she's from Germany.
It's the same old country,
but the people have changed."
Which is, like, well played, well played.
With its splendid castles
and its fine cuisine
Its lovely German women
And you and me.
There's a better than even chance
that it would've continued
moving onward and upward
had the record company
at that point not decided
that, "Well, we've invested enough."
"We're gonna pull the plug,
and we're gonna bring 'em
back to America."
They literally were
thrown out of England.
It was like one day's notice,
you're on an airplane,
you're out of here.
"Pack your gear
and get out of here."
We had built up way more momentum
in London than we had in L.A.,
but whatever momentum
we had built up in L.A.
had completely died out.
My memory of what the mood was like
at that time was,
"Well, you know, this thing
may have run its course."
We were kind of stuck in a way,
knowing that there was
this promised land that was...
that was there for us
if we could only figure out
how to get there.
They called and said
they'd like to come over
and, um, yeah, could I help?
Which I could and did.
I talked to David Betteridge
at Island Records,
and David said,
"Yeah, go for it."
As soon as I saw the pictures
of Ron and Russell...
This was before I'd met them...
Just looking at the pictures
and listening to those first two albums,
straightaway, it all made sense.
It seemed to me that the only way
that we could get this happening
is if we made it
a little bit more rock and roll
and get an English
backing group with them.
A friend of mine said,
"I saw your old band buddies.
"They're having a garage sale.
And they told me that
they were moving to England."
And I said, "What?
They're moving to England?
News to me."
A yard sale in anybody's yard
in Los Angeles means
bad news for somebody.
It was an agonizing decision
for Ron and Russ to-to, uh,
cut the band loose and go to England.
To betray the other people
was a really difficult thing,
but also knowing that being
a British band
was a lifetime dream of ours.
They were on the horns of a dilemma.
Obviously, I think
they made the right decision.
The rest is history.
The bands that we had admired,
these English bands
that we liked so much,
we always thought of them
as being glamorous
and-and bigger than life.
So, when we put out
these ads for band members,
we were kind of trying to find people
that would fulfill that image
of ours of this England
that was maybe just in our minds.
Straightaway, it worked.
It just worked.
Each time you'd go to the rehearsal room,
there'd be something new there.
I'm like, "Shit, that's good."
Um, you know, then the next rehearsal.
"Wow, that song's good."
We found a momentum very quickly,
and when we got enough tracks
to make an album,
then we said,
"We've made an album."
Well, everybody at Island was
really ecstatic about the album
and really supportive.
And-and especially in picking.
"This Town Ain't Big Enough
for Both of Us"
to be the first song, 'cause it was...
you know, it was taking a chance,
it was going for something
that was really extreme.
"This Town Ain't
Big Enough for the Both of Us"
was the first record I heard
by them on the radio.
I remember I-I had a, uh...
a darkroom in my home,
and that came on in the dark.
I nearly dropped my tongs,
as they say in the photography world.
The first thing
that I ever bought was, um,
"This Town Ain't Big Enough
for the Both of Us."
I just played it nonstop
until the grooves wore out
pretty much, you know.
My granddad was a wedding DJ, and he had.
"This Town Ain't Big Enough
"for the Both of Us" by Sparks.
I remember hearing, uh,
"This Town Ain't Big Enough for
the Both of Us" and just going,
"I've never heard
anything like this."
Everyone at the record label said,
"It's gonna become a big hit
if we can just
get you
on theTop of the Pops."
The producer of the show was
a very dapper gentleman,
and he said, "Oh, hello.
My name is Robin Nash.
Nice to meet you."
I said,
"Hi. My name is Russell."
He was taken aback a bit
that I was an American,
and he went and made a phone call
and had taken us off the show
because we hadn't gotten work permits.
So everyone at Island was
just distraught.-
It allowed another band,
one of the greats of all time,
The Rubettes,
to take our place,
and so they sadly reached number one.
You know, all through
our career, there have been.
The Rubettes in-in some form or other.
I love "Sugar Baby Love" by The Rubettes.
Ron will hate you for that.
But where are they now?
Finally, the British
Musicians' Union relented,
and there we were.
"This Town Ain't Big Enough
for the Both of Us."
I loved his voice.
You know, I-I guess it was
kind of like a bit...
I don't know what it was...
Quite feminine, I guess.
Quite sort of...
possessed or something.
It definitely wasn't like rock and roll.
Zoo time is
she and you time
The mammals are
your favorite type
And you want her tonight
increasing heartbeat
You hear the thunder
of stampeding rhinos
Elephants and tacky tigers
This town ain't big enough
for the both of us
And it ain't me
who's gonna leave...
I think there were 60 million people
at that time in the UK, and...
and 15 million of them were
watching Top of the Pops.
When I was growing up,
I never knew anybody
that went to university,
but I never knew anyone
that didn't watch Top of the Pops.
When I saw them
onTop of the Pops for the first time,
I instantly wanted to be
the keyboard player.
I wanted to be the quiet one
that didn't say anything.
I remember sitting there
probably with my parents
in front of Top of the Pops
on a Thursday night
and seeing these two guys on there,
thinking, "What is that?"
Daily, except for Sunday
You dawdle into the caf...
Everyone came
to school the next day saying,
"Did you see that guy?"
The-the man who looked like Hitler.
A lot of people say,
"Why the Charlie Chaplin look?"
And a lot of people say,
"Why the Hitler look?"
And both of those people
seem to me to be
cartoon characters in a way.
The next day, when you talk about it,
the word of mouth begins
in a way that is viral...
Like we now have, obviously,
on everything...
But back then, that was a rare thing.
And you start to make things up slightly.
One of my favorite anecdotes
about thatTop of the Pops
appearance is...
is John Lennon ringing up
Ringo Starr and saying...
-You won't believe what's on the television.
-Marc Bolan is playing a song with Adolf Hitler.
But that's how,
unfortunately, we all thought.
We all thought
Adolf Hitler.
Two years ago, there was somebody
dressed like Hitler
playing the piano on the BBC.
She's talking about Sparks.
He-he was born
looking like Hitler, that guy.
From then on,
every single piece ever written
about the group would just say
"Adolf Hitler," which also
really kind of weirdly tangled up
in the myth of the group.
You know, the shock to the system
as a piece of choreography,
let alone his appearance,
was so remarkable that immediately
it started to grow in your imagination.
They're playing this upbeat,
energetic, fantastic music,
and he just stood there.
I think it's really clever.
The following day, I remember going in
and one of the sales guys saying,
"We've done 200,000 singles
today already.
"The vans are out everywhere,
and there were people
buying boxes of them."
That is a fantastic feeling.
John and I have said,
"Always judge an album
by its cover."
Um, so if something has
a dreadful album cover,
don't buy it.
The cover's amazing, with the two
kind of Geisha girls
with the smeared makeup on.
Here, you have this image
which should be and could be
perfect and pristine, and if it had been
another band of the period,
it would have been...
There would have been...
They would have been more objectified.
They're doing... even with the visual,
they're doing something interesting,
but you can't quite put
your finger on what it is.
I was like, "Oh, my God,
this is fantastic."
At once like fashion photography,
and at once making fun
of fashion photography.
And I think that is something
I love about Sparks is that
they are the ones
they were to mock,
you know, in a weird way.
The art direction's just superb.
Imagine, you know, us trying
to convince our record label,
"No, no, no, we don't want
the name of the band,
"uh, uh, and the title
of the album on the front.
No, that's going on the back."
The joy of actually having this fantastic
12-inch vinyl in front of you,
and it had the lyrics on it as well,
and then you're reading
through the lyrics,
and you're thinking,
"This band are amazing."
I had to know everything about them
and threw myself into being a fan.
The first tour was really exciting.
The audience would just go crazy.
I mean, it was just fandom.
We were now thrown into kind of
what we thought was the...
sort of the big league,
having the success ofKimono My House.
The concerts we were doing
at that time were just
really wild events.
And I remember one in Liverpool,
we were pressed against the glass
of the exterior of the hotel,
just smashed against
the front of the building,
and then finally somebody
helped rescue us
and we went through the kitchen.
You know, it was a really special period.
Amateur hour goes on and on,
and when you turn pro
You know,
she'll let you know...
I remember vividly seeing them
at Hammersmith Odeon.
And I remember being really
excited about seeing them.
There was a lot of screaming
'cause of cutie-pie on vocals.
It was a given after they'd
been onTop of the Pops.
Our voices change
at a rapid pace...
I lived in Beckenham,
and, uh, that's where I saw
Ron and Russell walking down the street.
And that was a very strange experience.
I thought they didn't really exist.
You know, they existed onstage,
they existed on the TV,
and, you know,
they were from other lands.
I remember sort of wanting to hide.
Amateur hour goes on and on
And when you turn pro,
you know...
We knew when they were
gonna be at the BBC.
We knew when they
were gonna be at Capital.
We knew when they were getting
off a plane at Heathrow.
We were detectives in terms of actually
finding stuff out about them.
You know, it was a full-time job
to make sure we were on top of it.
We'd been to see them
quite a few times in London.
The excitement never, ever went away.
It was always just a-a thrill.
Somebody cut the budget
the morning of the show,
so they canceled security,
so it was really insane.
Oh, God, there I am, yeah.
Obviously, Russell was beautiful,
but I always loved Ron.
He was different.
He was a little bit more challenging.
I really felt like I could
kind of go places with Ron.
Oh, that's me.
That's me. That's me.
I've just put my arm round him.
I kind of got to him
and sort of really did realize
in that moment
that this was a terrible thing to do.
This was a disaster.
I'm never gonna be able to talk to him
on a serious level now about, you know,
his love of French cinema
or The Beach Boys.
I was doomed forever
to be a child to him.
For everyone's safety,
I think we should have
a little restraint in the hall, okay?
I mean, I've always been, like,
a believer in just... go for it, you know?
If you've got material,
Tour, record.
Just keep doing it.
When she's on
her best behavior
Don't be tempted
by her favors
Never turn your back
On Mother Earth
Towns are hurled
from A to B
By hands that looked
so smooth to me
Never turn your back
On Mother Earth...
For two years, we toured the world,
and we had a great time.
It was very, very hectic
touring withKimono
and then recordingPropaganda
kind of at the same time.
But it was good fun.
To my friends
To my friends...
Ron's like a writing machine.
He wasn't, you know, one for
drinking in the bar with the guys,
and in some ways, he was quite aloof,
but that's what Ronnie would be doing...
Thinking and writing.
And so the material kept coming.
Obviously, that was a demand upon him
but one that I think
he kind of thrives on.
On Mother Earth.
There's always massive pressures
if you've been successful the first time
because, first of all,
everybody tells you
you're a genius, and then they say,
"Now do it again."
Eins, zwei, drei, vier.
Eins, zwei, drei, vier.
Something for the girl
with everything
See, the writing's
on the wall
You bought the girl a wall
Complete with matching
ballpoint pen
You can breathe another day
Secure in knowing
she won't break you yet
Something for the girl
with everything...
I'm not exactly sure
how we were able to come up
with Propagandaso soon
after Kimono My House, and especially
with all the touring.
I mean, I think
part of the thing was just being
in that milieu.
Yes, everything
Hey, come out and say hello
Before our friends
all go...
There was pure excitement
knowing that you're on this,
you know, fast-moving train
and-and kind of you had to kind of
keep up with that
by coming up with the material.
Great, boys. We'll have
to put the piano on again
'cause Ronnie fell off the stool.
Is that a train?
And now, as all good things
come to an end,
we must say goodbye to Zurich,
auf Wiedersehen to Zurich,
uh, ciao, Zurich,
and bon voyage, Zurich.
Bon voyage...
When the idea was presented
for the cover, there was no question.
I mean, it was like, "These
guys know what they're doing.
You know, we'll go along
with whatever you want."
Yet again, this is that thing of theirs
where somehow they marry their music
and their visuals
so brilliantly together.
This is me holding up the front of it
so that you can cut to it.
This is me holding up the back of it.
They're obviously being kidnapped.
Probably, they're gonna be
thrown overboard and drowned.
Then you go to the back,
and they're tied up
in the back of the car.
And the inside cover,
they have somehow not been drowned,
they haven't been thrown out of a car,
and by working together,
you think maybe they are
phoning the police.
And I love the fact that
there is some kind of story.
It could be in the other order.
It could be that
the hotel one is the start,
then they're put in the car,
and then they're killed on the boat.
That's why you're a director.
When you make successful records,
there's always a moment in time
where you've got to say,
"Do we carry on using the same formula,
or do we change the formula?"
You've got to make changes.
You've got to move things on.
And, uh, I was one of
the things that was moved on,
but that's okay.
Get in
the swing, pal
Get in the swing
With everybody
and everything...
I loved what Muff did
onPropaganda andKimono,
and the next album went to Tony Visconti,
and it changed rapidly.
Everything changed.
When salmon spawn...
They certainly got Tony Visconti
at the height of his powers,
when he was working
with Bowie a lot and T. Rex,
uh, making amazing-sounding records.
But on they go...
They didn't want to make it necessarily
a strict, straight-up band record.
They wanted
kind of the equivalent of.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Bandfor themselves,
which was difficult for
the other members of the band.
And have a warm bed
We're not gonna be fooling
either ourselves or anybody else
if the thing just sounds like
it's going through the motions.
We're willing to take the chance,
however many people are...
feel alienated.
With everybody
and everything...
I know that feeling.
Maybe that's just the-the instinct
of somebody who's coming
from a place of art,
not necessarily trying to make a hit.
All for one, one for all...
We just let our imaginations
soar on every song in it.
You know, it does sound
like Sparks, but I mean,
it's so far out.
One, two, three, one, two
I never understood any of it, actually.
Things like
"Under the Table with Her."
My God, what's that about?
Nobody misses
Diminutive offspring
Not when there's
big wigs there...
"Dinner for 12 is now
dinner for ten because I'm
under the table with her."
-I mean, it... I...
-That's just so funny.
With her...
You had Russell singing songs
with lyrics that I always suspected,
as a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old, were dirty.
What made it even weirder
was the only song of theirs
that I was convinced wasn't dirty
was called "Tits."
The minute, I think, a lot of people
see that or saw that song title,
which was asterisked, think like,
"Oh, this is, like, a, you know...
a sexy, rockin', hyper-masculine song,"
if you didn't know Sparks.
If you knew Sparks, you probably
should have known better.
It's about a drunk in a bar
grumbling about the fact
that his wife's tits
are no longer recreational
pleasure objects for him
but she's using them
for feeding the baby.
God, these drinks...
And by the way, you realize
he's also, uh, complaining that
the guy that he is drunkenly
telling this to is also having
an affair with his wife.
Fine from behind...
That one, at least,
I-I figured I got to decode properly.
Harry, drink
till you can't see...
And normally, the codes
were not that easily cracked.
You can look at the title,
you can look at the idea and laugh,
or you can go deeper
and grow and maybe have a good time,
maybe a sense of humor.
And... cue Sparks.
Something that's always
kind of confounded me
in popular music
is people's inability
to take humor seriously.
And I think that's
one of the things, like,
why a band like Sparks isn't as big
as the biggest bands in the world.
'Cause they're fucking funny.
Looks, looks, looks
You had sense, you had style,
you had cash galore...
A lot of critics and some fans,
uh, sometimes denigrate bands
that show their sense of humor.
Like, "Oh, it's a comedy band.
It's a joke band."
I just don't get that.
I don't know why it has
to be so stinking serious.
You got a built-in seat
that makes you look effete...
I thought it was
gonna be a smash hit album
because it was so different
and anyone could see
that we spent hours of work
and put detail in it
and the songs were so great
and Russell's singing
was amazing.
The world just didn't
agree with us, you know?
It did well but not that well.
We were so irate at just
the lack of acceptance
for what we thought
was an amazing album
that we were seriously considering
recording "Louie Louie"
as our next single,
you know, just for spite.
Someday we'll have
one extra coastline
We'll tire of the Atlantic
By then, we'll be rid
of your lot
A shot heard round the world
will soon be shot
Will soon be shot...
When that tour ended,
Ron and Russell put it in
that they don't want
to live in London anymore.
They want to go back to L.A.
Totally understandable.
Um, after, you know,
some years away and touring.
But to ditch the band
needn't have been part of that.
They didn't actually sack me.
It was mutual, really.
That was it.
Band over.
Certainly, it gutted me.
I mean, I was really upset.
I mean, it was just folded,
and that was it.
You know, people went
their separate ways.
It was a shock, of course, you know,
but Ian, I think, just accepted it.
I could understand why.
They don't care about
the money or the fame.
Art for art's sake...
I respect them for it.
I am the king.
Thank you! Thank you!
I've always admired
French directors like Godard
that were kind of rebellious
against the whole system
and the whole idea even
of what cinema was
that they were almost
slightly standing outside
of filmmaking while
they were making a film.
It was kind of inspirational to us.
Ron and Russell always had a desire
to write music in movies,
and they love movies and
wanted to be a part of movies.
In the '70s, one of
our favorite filmmakers
was Jacques Tati.
Tati, at that time, was looking
to expand his audience
to younger people,
and somehow he thought that
maybe connecting with a band
would be a way for him to broaden
the appeal of his films.
Well, how was that, uh, film project
with, uh, Jacques Tati?
-Whoa. There. You got it.
-Lost the cake.
Did you get it? Did you get it?
That's a film project, that is.
Did you get it?
Our-our film project with Tati is...
could relate to that cake,
what just happened to it.
It's just fallen to bits.
His health was not
as good as it had been,
and so the project
just sort of dissipated.
You know, we have very few things
that we regret not having happened, but,
you know, I probably
would have retired after that.
Evolving their concept of art is
paramount to them.
That's what they have always
striven for and believe in.
I think, when we didBig Beat,
we really just wanted
to change the sound yet again.
We're trying to be a little less British,
in a certain sense.
In any sort of art form, you need to keep
pushing yourself forward.
Otherwise, you just sort of...
you're a shark,
and you stop moving,
and you just... you die.
Ron and Russell had come to New York
to do this hard rock record
and change directions
and try to break America.
Russell says, "Well, look",
"we don't have a band
anymore, so do you know
a great drummer?"
Sparks is musically
an enigma to begin with.
Indiscreet doesn't sound
likeKimono My House,
and Big Beatis completely different.
I remember Big Beat coming out
and sort of considering it,
like, more as this kind of part
of the new punk records.
Sparks are always pushing new boundaries
and changing their sound,
often to the deep frustration
of their fan base.
I'm coming and I'm going...
You know, I think
the fans ofKimono My House
and Propaganda,
I imagine they felt
a little bit let down.
And that's great... you shouldn't pander
to the expectations
of the conservative element
of your fan base.
Because if you did, you-you'd
make conservative music.
That record is written by
the anti-Sparks.
Lyrically, they'd just go mental.
"Everybody's Stupid," right?
When I first heard that record,
I found it kind of shocking
because the songs were
so angry and kind of bitter.
What's he saying? What's he...
No, you know what he's saying.
It's clear as a bell.
Everybody's stupid
That's for sure.
I could visibly see
the audience being confused.
You're stupid,
you're stupid.
Everybody's stupid
That's for sure.
There's probably two of the most
politically incorrect songs
on that record,
which are "White Women"
and "Throw Her Away."
uh, you got to have a sense of humor
and know the ironic intent on both those.
Throw her away
and get a new one...
We want to shake up people,
and we think that pop music at its best
has always been something
where you-you hear it
and you go,
"Oh, my God, what is that?"
Sparks often do that kind of thing
which has, I think,
a punk sensibility to it.
A desire to stir things up
and shake things up and make you think.
My first experience of Sparks
was watching the film Rollercoaster.
I assumed that they were a made-up band
because I'd never heard of them before.
And then years later, I came across.
"This Town Ain't Big Enough for
the Both of Us" and thought,
"Oh, it's those guys
from Rollercoaster."
I had never been
on a huge movie set like that.
And I didn't know what to make of it.
And I was looking to Ron and Russell,
and I remember Ron...
I'll never forget this...
Ron said...
"This might be great.
"Maybe this is gonna be the one
that breaks the band
This disaster movie.
I-I mean, you know,
the movie is what it was.
It was kind of like...
it-it was pretty lame,
but how else was I gonna see them?
They're connoisseurs, and this was just,
you know, "a disaster movie"
in more ways than one.
I-I think I leaned over to him
at one point, I said,
"I guess this is not
a Jacques Tati movie."
Big boy...
Rollercoaster is kind of
theCitizen Kane of disaster movies.
I mean, the disaster was that
nobody went to see the movie.
I was in high school,
and I had a friend who was
the first friend in my group
to have his own apartment.
We used to just get in all kinds of crazy
drugged-out states at this guy's house.
I remember, like, stumbling
into his bathroom all the time
to either throw up or pee,
and on the wall,
there was a picture of Sparks.
And I remember just
seeing them all the time,
like, "Who are those guys?"
And I was kind of in love,
and they were sort of like
these mysterious, like, icons,
like patron saints.
I looked at that picture,
like, kind of marveled at it
a thousand times before I heard them.
Why is there time?
Why is there space?
Why are there dogs and cats
And trees
and the human race?
I was sitting in my motel room
doing nothing, thinking,
"No matter what happens,
I'm sticking with you guys."
And then we got a phone call saying,
"Party's over, guys.
"Big Beat didn't do
what it was supposed to do.
We're flying you guys
back to New York."
That was the end of it.
I was really brokenhearted.
And, uh, they came out with a new record,
Introducing Sparks.
Ooh, those mysteries...
Here you have Russell,
and here you have Ron here.
This is a great fucking album.
"Those Mysteries," most poignant song,
like, that's funny as hell
but also a question...
This kind of yearning, searching,
trying to make sense
of, like, the awkwardness
and the pain of being a human being
and doing it in a funny, smart way.
Cool. I'm into it.
I think so much of their music requires
not taking it on face value.
If you want to work with them
and think about the music,
you can get more out of it.
If you want to just absorb it,
you're going to be
missing the point entirely.
That's what hurt them, I think.
It hurt Sparks that they came of age
at a time when people could
only take things at face value.
One of the snottier
metal/punk magazines,
the review was:"Introducing
Sparks, dot-dot-dot.
we've already met."
From the adulation
that they had been receiving
to the non-adulation around.
Big Beatand Introducing,
it was just obvious it wasn't working.
It became very difficult,
and I really liked Ron and Russell.
I still admired their abilities,
but I couldn't be 100% behind
what they were doing.
I mean, Ronnie was really
desperate, too, at this time.
I mean, he knew it wasn't working.
I want a big surprise
The record comes out in the heat
of punk rock,
and an album
that could not sound
more out of sorts with that.
Where is that
Yankee ingenuity?
The whole passion and energy
and kind of statement of punk
seemed like it was
almost partially directed
towards what we were doing.
So we thought, "Is this, like,
kind of dinosaur music?"
We never felt that before,
and we've never felt that since.
- Big surprise tonight.
- Big surprise
A really big surprise
I want a big surprise
The Sex Pistols' album is one of
the greatest albums of all time,
but that wasn't where we should be going,
so we had to find a proper direction
so that we would feel unthreatened.
After we did thelntroducing Sparks album,
we did an interview with
a journalist in Los Angeles.
She said, "Well,
what's next for Sparks?"
And then we said,
"Oh, well, we're going to be
working with Giorgio Moroder
on our next album."
She said, "Oh, that's funny."
"Giorgio didn't mention that to me.
"I'm really good friends
with him." And we went,
"Uh, eh, uh..." Gulp.
'Cause it was a total lie.
We wanted to work with Giorgio Moroder,
and we had heard "I Feel Love"
on the radio,
the great Donna Summer song
that Giorgio produced,
but we didn't know how
to contact Giorgio.
And then she said,
"Well, I could introduce you."
The number 30 song
this week on the Top 30,
the young man called Giorgio,
who's with us here
on Top of the Pops this evening.
Let's give him a nice
Top of the Popswelcome.
Thank you.
And he was really,
surprisingly to us, up for the challenge
of working with a...
you know, a band.
It really was pretty brave of him.
We did the recordings in Los Angeles.
Interesting studio because
it was totally electronic
with a massive amount of Moog modular
and Roland synthesizers
and thousands of sounds.
We were aware that we were
kind of reinventing ourselves
as we were making that,
but we knew that we were doing something
that was totally new.
For me as a fan, it would be hard to know
if it's willful
or if it's the innocence of:
"Wouldn't it be a great idea
if we just made
a synthesizer record in 1979,
before the '80s?"
You're the only bank
that's open all night
La dolce vita
Now that that's clear,
can you give me a light?
La dolce vita...
We all went in it with this kind of
naive spirit to just do
something that we thought
was really fresh-sounding.
And we think it was
something really special.
Can I have another plate
of your la dolce vita?
It took one year
after that album was recorded
before a label wanted to sign it.
Gold diggers are we
Step up, follow me...
Someone at Virgin Records in Germany
saw the tape sitting there and said,
"Hmm, Sparks, Giorgio Moroder.
Let me give that a listen."
And said, "This is pretty amazing,"
and shipped it off
to Richard Branson and company
in-in the UK, and they agreed.
WhenNo. 1 in Heaven came out,
it was two years after the
massive failure of Introducing,
and you're kind of seeing
the DNA of so much
of what would come later on.
This was probably one of the first
electropop dance records
of all time.
That, to me, was
such an astounding record.
It seemed really audacious.
It just takes you on
this incredible, hypnotic trip.
Just belied and denied anything
else that was happening.
It just rose above it.
We're just gleams
in lovers' eyes
Steam on sweaty bodies
in the night
But one of us
might make it through
All the rest
will disappear like dew
Pressure building,
getting hot
Give it, give it,
give it all you got
When that
love explosion comes
My, oh, my,
we want to be someone
Tryouts for
the human race...
It was a huge influence
on-on our early material.
Uh, we were already big Moroder fans,
but this combination, uh,
it was just perfect.
We just want
to be someone...
That's why I ended up
working with Vince...
'cause those synths,
they just drove me.
Sparks, "Beat the Clock,"
uh, Millaney/Grant, sixth of June.
You gotta beat the clock,
you gotta beat the clock...
Sparks... well, they're back in Britain,
they're back in business,
and they're currently trying
to beat the clock.
You gotta beat the clock,
you gotta beat the clock...
As a synthesizer duo,
I guess you could say that
they sort of set a template.
You gotta beat the clock,
you gotta beat the clock...
I became first aware
of Sparks in their 1979 period.
Just seeing them on, like, Top
of the Popsaround that time.
You know, it's a very
sort of stark dynamic image...
Russell singing, Ron on the synths.
He had his '79 kind of hipster hair.
Sparks and their new single
called "Beat the Clock."
I think it was real great.
Well, I've seen
everything there is
I've done
everything there is...
There's myself, uh, there's
the guy from the Pet Shop Boys,
there's the guy from Duran Duran.
I mean, we were all
miserable fuckers, you know?
It's a look, isn't it,
which we just stole
from Sparks.
I was desperately searching
for music to put in my DJ sets
at the Blitz Club.
I came across
"Number One Song in Heaven."
It's just one of those songs
that gives me goose bumps.
What I loved about it
was the first four minutes,
and it was all synthesizers
and sequences.
And I was like,
"This is great."
This is the number one song
in heaven
Written, of course,
by the mightiest hand...
In Joy Division, when we were doing.
"Love Will Tear Us Apart,"
there were two records
that we were listening to.
Uh, one was.
Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits,
and then the other one was
"Number One Song in Heaven."
"Number One Song
in Heaven" just sort of, like,
moves in this crazy way.
And there's even a moment of silence
pretty early on in the song.
It's, like, this cut
and then it starts back up.
It's wild.
One, two, three.
And it goes, like, I don't know,
180 BPM or something.
Oh, my God, that's...
that's too fast.
This is the absolute apogee
of electronic pop music
for me.
I can't think of anything better.
We can only, with Heaven 17,
kind of aspire to it.
It's number one
all over heaven
It's number one
All over heaven
It's number one
all over heaven
The number one song
all over heaven...
If they would
release nowNo. 1 in Heaven,
they would say,
"Wow, geniuses."
I mean, they were geniuses
then, but now even more
because this could be
the second sound of the future.
Gabriel plays it
God, how he plays it
Gabriel plays it
God, how he plays it
Gabriel plays it
God, how he plays it
Gabriel plays it
Let's hear him play it...
I really liked seeing them stripped down,
and in a way, it made the image
more impactful.
It was shortly after
that period, I guess,
that Paul McCartney did
that video "Coming Up."
You want a love
to last forever...
It was all Paul McCartney doing loads of
very instantly recognizable characters.
And, of course, he did Ron.
I mean, I know how much Ron and Russell
are fans of The Beatles,
and so I suspect they were
really excited to see that.
That's amazing, like,
that a Beatle would pretend
to be all these...
like, Buddy Holly
and all these different people,
and he's Ron Mael.
I started respecting Ron a lot more
after Paul McCartney, uh,
gave his tribute to Ron...
Then I realized,
"God, I'm working with somebody
that Paul McCartney likes."
How cool is that?
It is the ultimate.
And it's Paul McCartney.
Just incredible.
After doingNo. 1 in Heaven
and working with Giorgio Moroder,
which was such an inspiring experience,
it was the time for the follow-up album,
but Giorgio wasn't, uh, available,
so it was kind of farmed out.
I think, for that reason,
the album became more generic.
To Giorgio's credit, he was
involved with the selection,
and there was the song
"When I'm with You."
He thought that that song
was really something special.
"When I'm with You."
That bass line,
that beautiful string line.
It wasn't anything
that we kind of planned on,
but it became, uh,
the biggest-selling song
that we've ever done.
When I'm with you
I never have a problem
When I'm with you...
Most of those sales were in France,
and the song was kind of
the soundtrack of the country
during that whole period.
"When I'm with You," the Sparks.
When I'm with you...
The video for "When I'm with You"
was Ron being the ventriloquist
and me being the dummy,
and some things never change in life.
It's a love song.
Someone's in love.
Okay, I know what's going on.
And then the more he sings,
you realize that-that you're
listening to somebody panic.
It's the break in the song
When I should say
something special
But the pressure is on
And I can't make up
nothing special
Not when I'm with you
When I'm with you...
There is never a "June, moon, spoon"
aspect to their lyrics.
There is always a three, four,
five times removed aspect of:
So, is the narrator...
This is clearly not the singer.
He's playing a character,
and then the... and you kind of
work out what
the character's biography is.
Each song has such a personality to it.
That middle eight is
the thing that I think,
for some listeners who might be investing
in, like, a love song, will say, like,
"Oh, hold up. Is this a joke?"
It could be seen as being insincere.
In reality,
it's the thing
that makes them more memorable.
The thing of doing TV shows that we did
in a period of, like,
"When I'm with You" in France...
And we did a lot
in Germany at that time...
I think, you know, we realized
that the appeal of Sparks
was going to an area that wasn't
where we wanted to be going.
And so, um, that was why
we wanted to start having
a band context again.
Please, uh, can you smile?
Uh, cheese.
Merci. Thank you.
My relationship to Sparks,
like most everything else,
is based on coffee.
I am an avid, to this day,
coffee drinker.
And in 1980, it was pretty rough.
The one place you could go in Los Angeles
was the Farmers Market.
They had a Belgian waffle stand
with one espresso machine.
People started to say,
"I saw the Sparks brothers
at Farmers Market."
And we're like, "What?"
-Small soy cappuccino, please.
-And for you?
Uh, what's a red-eye?
So, a coffee with a shot of espresso.
-Yeah, double caffeine.
-Wow. I'll try that.
-You want one?
-Yeah. Yeah.
I'll... I hope I live
to tell the tale.
I started noticing
Ron and Russell at this other table.
They were there almost
every day that we were there,
and then after a while,
we-we started saying
sort of a grudging hello to each other.
One thing led to the next, and we, uh,
poached their entire band,
and, uh, that was the end of Bates Motel.
But it was the start of
the '80s version of Sparks.
We went to S.I.R....
Studio Instrument Rentals...
On Santa Monica
and we started rehearsing the songs
for what eventually was
Whomp That Sucker.
It was very different thanTerminal Jive.
It was like, this is
a new thing going on.
I want to say we rehearsed for six weeks,
and then we were on a plane to Munich
and-and recording the album.
And, boy, am I sorry...
All of a sudden,
we're in Musicland Studios.
It's Giorgio Moroder's studio.
It's in the basement
of this groovy hotel.
Sometimes, we just
kind of drift into things,
but that really was a conscious decision
to work with a band.
They were inseparable.
At that time, I kind of had this thing.
They were almost like a symbiotic thing.
They were like one sort of complete form.
You know, it's an interesting thing
about how they wrote at that time
that the lyrics came last.
Russell would kind of do,
like, nonsense verbiage
just to fill in the space.
It was kind of incredible.
Ron would furiously finish the lyrics,
literally, it seemed like,
the night before.
The lyrics would show up, and we'd go,
"Wow, I had no idea."
I've got a snapshot
of your Aunt Maureen
She's 90 and you're a teen
I'm trying to cheer you up
Don't be so mean,
don't be so mean...
"I've got a snapshot
of your Aunt Maureen."
I can't think of a cooler way
to start a pop song than that.
Who are you?
Who is Aunt Maureen?
I love that lyric.
It grabs me.
Crash, bam,
now you're looking good
now you're feeling good
Once more,
here's your Aunt Maureen
Don't you feel good?
Don't you feel good?
It was a funny thing of listening
to, like, two grown men being like,
"Here are tips for teens,"
then sing about, like, zits.
Like, literally being like,
"Here's what you do
when you get a zit."
That's genius.
Songs are about, like, two things.
Will you please fuck me?
Don't shut my party down.
Tips for teens,
the kind you don't see...
Their wacko training
bra and blemish cream sound
is not typical fare
in the L.A. club scene,
and after several albums,
brothers Russell and Ron Mael
have yet to give up the fight back home.
The radio station
that really mattered was.
"K-Rock," KROQ, and they were playing
a lot of things
that just fit into our style.
I never knew Ron and Russell to ever make
a calculated move to capture an audience.
Sometimes they hit it
because they liked something
everybody else liked.
KROQ played all the-the weird
stuff coming from England:
The Cure, Depeche Mode,
Duran Duran, New Order.
If you listened to KROQ, you generally
didn't listen to other stations.
Like, it was sort of like
you just listened to KROQ.
I remember just falling out
of my chair, you know, hearing Sparks
actually on the radio.
You know, we're in
Munich, and somebody's calling,
like, "Hey they're playing
'Tips for Teens'
on KROQ every 15 minutes."
I'm like,
"Can we hear it?"
You know?
Sparks is extraordinarily
popular in Europe.
You are very popular in this country,
but I think it's safe to say that perhaps
you-your reception over there is wilder
and more, uh, outgoing than it is here.
What are you doing
to correct that situation?
We're gonna be
concentrating really heavily
on the States in the next year.
Would you introduce
me to your associates, please?
On bass, Les Bohem.
I thinkWhomp That Sucker is
the Bates Motel backup band,
andAngst, that is the point
where we were a band.
Angst in My Pants
is a record where culture
and zeitgeist all come together
in that record.
We have Ron and Russell.
Who is the older?
You are.
First of all, best cover.
That cover totally rules.
This is how you do an album cover.
I just remember
looking at that, and it's like,
there's this guy
in a wedding dress with this,
you know, weird mustache.
It was just such a striking image.
Even now, it is.
They themselves
are heterosexual, but they had
a huge gay following.
Their songs questioned
notions of masculinity.
They did it in their music,
they did it in their videos,
and I think they did it
on that album cover.
I mean, that is in the great
rock and roll tradition of:
"'F' you, America."
You know, it's-it's disturbing,
it's unsettling.
It's not right.
It's not Republican.
It's not apple pie.
Some dudes wouldn't even buy the album,
'cause they didn't want to
bring it to the counter,
but that's their problem.
We think it's important to do something
that is polarizing.
We don't feel bad about that
in-in the slightest.
It kind of encourages us to...
to push what we're doing even more.
You're gonna take
a walk in the rain
And you're gonna get wet
I predict...
It's probably one of the most macho,
badass Sparks songs that's out there.
And the way they illustrate it is
with Ron stripping,
and it's disgusting and creepy
and delicious.
Philip don't care,
I predict...
There's Russell being
the pretty boy, matinee idol,
and Ron, in his own way,
is a matinee idol,
but he's one from
the dark side of the lens.
He doesn't fit in any
of the traditional roles
that you would have in a...
a rock and roll band.
That's almost
more powerful than a front man
in many ways.
Certainly very distracting.
Yeah, it's shtick and it's showbiz,
but it's also
emblematic and symbolic
of what their true essence
of who they are is.
Who is the star of Sparks?
Sometimes it's Ron,
sometimes it's Russell.
Russell is, like,
a sort of traditional singer,
but Ron was...
yeah, really shined
as just this sort of strange,
odd presence.
Thank you. Thank you.
Tell us, though, about Sparks.
I know that you're an underground band.
What-what are you saying
to those kids out there or to adults?
What-what is Sparks saying?
Sparks is a rock band
with a point of view.
The thing that we wish
to convey is-is a sense of joy
about the music that we are creating.
And I think most of this sense of joy
is from Russell's singing
and from my lyrical approach.
Sometimes it's satirical
but never without some sort
of witty point of view.
"Cool Places" is a big hit.
I think that's the first time
some of my contemporaries
became aware of Sparks.
-Our time has come.
-And here we are.
-We've arrived.
I hope you like our new
single, "Cool Places."
I wanna go to cool places
with you
I wanna take you
cool places tonight...
The video for that song was
really played a lot on MTV in the States,
and so it was really reaching
a new audience that perhaps
we wouldn't have had.
A minimum of chitchat...
It's hard to overstate
how important MTV was
to the music business at that time.
And the "Cool Places" video
is so wacky and so fun.
I gotta tell you...
I guess I would've been in high school
when "Cool Places" came out.
And I saw the video on MTV.
And I knew exactly who Jane Wiedlin was
'cause I loved the Go-Go's.
But I thought, "Who are these two guys
with my Go-Go?"
And they could tell
we're cooler now...
I remember
the video very, very distinctly
for the dancing in it,
which was very '80s dancing,
which was just basic swaying.
Has anybody traced back that dance?
People call it the Molly Ringwald.
No, no, no. I think
we thought of it, personally.
When we saw Molly Ringwald doing it,
we were like, "Oh, my God,
she stole our dance."
I wanna go, I wanna go...
How did you fall in with this company?
We met on a love boat cruise.
No, no, seriously.
How did the...
Did you get a telephone call?
Did you see her?
Who made the first call?
Oh, it was mutual admiration
for, uh, each other's respective groups
and then mutual, uh, admiration
for each other's bodies.
Would you stop that?
I knew, if I let you go long
enough, I'd be in trouble.
As you can imagine, I
was madly in love with Russell
all through my teenage-hood,
and then I got to meet him, and
I basically threw myself at him.
Let's just put it that way.
And, um...
so we had sort of this brief,
brief romance
that, uh, didn't ever really
get deep or anything,
and it was fun, and I think,
really, a lot of it for me
was getting to fulfill a fantasy.
You know, one thing led
to the next, you know.
You're now getting a little insight
into how things happen
in the music world.
You think it's all just kind of...
People come out with albums and record
and it's all lovey-dovey.
You know, this...
this is how...
We thought it was limos and ludes,
but it's really sex, huh?
-This is how it happens, yes.
-It's really sex.
I was so in love with
Russell 'cause he was so cute,
so I chose beauty over brains, but...
and I'm not saying Russell's not smart
or Ron's not beautiful...
Don't get me wrong...
But, like, now, like,
I think of Ron, and I'm like...
"Oh, Ron Mael."
Like, I mean, he just wrote
some of my favorite songs
I've ever heard.
There is this continual theme
through Ron's lyrics
in Sparks songs
of somehow not being good enough.
Sparks do that thing...
It's like, they have
a really poignant theme,
and they're addressing
something quite serious,
but it's done in a kind of a playful,
slightly throwaway way.
And then you kind of
think about it and you go,
"You know, it really
is quite sad."
Turn out the light,
yeah, the light
And I might have a chance
I guess I look
slightly worse
Than the Elephant Man
I wish I looked
a little better...
All of the songs come
from the perspective of Ron,
and, you know, he's socially awkward
and sort of, you know, like,
runs into issues,
which is what makes the band
so interesting to me, too,
'cause the face of Sparks and
the voice of Sparks is Russell,
and Russell is so handsome
and, you know, kind of a ladies' man,
but he's singing these
really fucked-up, like,
"can't get the girl" lyrics.
It didn't occur to me,
but being brothers, at the time,
when he was the cutie-pie
and all the teenagers loved him,
did he get jealous that he
wasn't getting any attention?
I mean, that would've done
me in if I was his brother.
He's celebrating all the things
that awkward kids feel.
Ultimately, at the end of the day,
he's making you feel less alone.
Dress for success
Oh, that's what they said
Oh, give me some clothes
To slap over my head
I went to Balboa Island
and laid in the sand
I may be ugly as sin,
but at least now I'm tan
I wish I looked
a little better...
We were headlining,
like, the Greek Theatre by the end,
which is, like, a 5,000-seat venue.
You know, it was big.
There they are, playing
multiple nights at the Whisky,
and then larger venues
like the Country Club or the Palace
and even headlining the Hollywood Bowl.
I thought they were one of
the biggest bands in the world,
because if you lived in L.A.
in the early '80s,
that was pretty much
the impression you got.
I was happy for them
because they deserved the success.
Let's go.
And then sadly, you know,
with Pulling Rabbits,
you know, everything started going south.
I can't believe what I'm seeing.
Me, either.
That is what I had intended
Pretending to be drunk...
Along comes Sparks with a swing song
"Pretending to Be Drunk."
You think I am
weak and feeble
You think I'm a bore...
Doesn't sound like a Sparks song...
Soon I'm out the door...
...but it doesn't sound like
any other kind of song, either.
It sounds like
an alpine glockenspiel song.
It's crazy.
Pretending to be drunk...
We really do enjoy those periods
when we do have commercial success,
but we wanted to do something
that was not as easily pigeonholed,
obviously not wanting to commit
commercial suicide at the same time.
to be drunk...
In America, Sparks had a hard time.
They were a bit much for most people.
What can I say?
I'm an American,
so I don't want to criticize too much,
but, you know, Sparks are a lot of things
that many Americans
don't seem to care for.
People were immediately,
you know, taken aback.
They just thought they were weird
or that they were a novelty.
That is what I had intended
Pretending to be drunk...
I felt like their career was over
more often than any other band.
You know, it felt to me like,
"I love this band.
"Oh, they're gone.
Oh, never mind.
Oh, they're back."
Some music from two young men
who had a host of hits
when I was but a...
but a child disc jockey.
I'm pleased to say
they're back to delight us
with a record
entitled "Change."
Ladies and gentlemen, Sparks.
They just keep doing it,
and they never let anything stop them.
Whether they're popular or not popular,
it just doesn't seem to matter to them,
and I love that about them.
They don't want to stick
with just one thing.
You know, and what an audience
seems to want is:
"This is what this band does,
and this is what they'll
continue doing for me."
And if you change too much,
I think it upsets people,
but in their case, they needed to.
And I kind of love them
all the more for that.
The rain is falling down...
People, a lot of the time,
they think of our image
as being maybe a bit eccentric
and they don't think that it's dealing
with-with sort of real things,
and we really think that by and large...
And I emphasize "by and large"...
We're dealing
with real situations.
But wait,
there's a rainbow...
"Change" was this, um,
radical departure for them.
It was kind of more muted,
and it was sort of darker.
You couldn't make
a less commercial record
or release it as a single.
And I remember how much
I loved it at the time
because of those qualities.
Every dog is gonna
have his day
Every loser's gonna
have his way
I don't care
what other people say...
There's this ability...
So few people have it... it's like...
you say very little,
you're funny as could be,
and all of a sudden, it-it's devastating.
It's a complete
waste of time...
When I was touring
with them, they would do that.
And I always thought, "Wow,
that's a super poignant song,"
considering their ups and downs
in the recording industry.
We were given
the unenviable task
of being on a show on British TV
and our record label didn't
want to finance a video.
If there's any other
local bands out there
that would like this same
sort of video, uh, treatment,
they can contact me
through London Records.
Change, change, change
I don't care what
other people say...
We hoped it would embarrass
our record label enough to,
the next time around, maybe,
uh, fling to do a video for us.
I got places
that I've gotta be...
We billed the record company
for the two pounds to buy the, uh, board
that we made the TV out of, too.
Still are waiting
to get paid back for that.
Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome Sparks.
We really liked that song,
but unfortunately, it didn't
have the commercial success
that they had hoped for,
so there was one time
where the head of that label,
he just said, you know,
"You guys really should write
some music that
you can dance to."
Music that you can dance to
That and that alone
Is enough for me
Stark naked modern music
Hotter than your mama
will ever be...
"Hotter than
your mama will ever be."
I mean, every song I write,
I try to make it hotter
than your mama will ever be.
Music that
you can dance to
Cracks you
like a whip
But it feels so right...
The lyrics sound like
it's trying to be kind of
nasty and oversimplistic,
but I swear to God,
they were... they were done
with total sincerity.
So what's it gonna be?
Gonna be, gonna be
- A symphony tonight.
- Symphony tonight...
It's a perfectly crafted sellout song,
except it's not and it's
mocking that idea, and...
"Here's your fucking
dance pop record."
Music that you can dance to
Every single beat
where it ought to be...
The record executive at that company
took it the wrong way, and he wasn't
so happy, so we, uh,
severed our relationship
with that label.
Fuck the guy from London Records, right?
Music that
you can dance to...
I told Ron and
Russell that I loved that song,
and they said something
in the email like,
"Yes, you're in
the age bracket for that song.
"That was in a really cheesy
'80s BMX movie
if you've ever seen it."
And I wrote back, "Yes, I've seen it.
My mom was in it."
Their base of music, KROQ,
which was such a great support to them
in the early '80s, was moving on.
They wanted bands
like Red Hot Chili Peppers
and more of a angry, edgier sound.
It seemed like the Top 40 era,
that, uh, wasn't happening at that point.
I bought intolnterior Design
and would've put out any
Sparks record for any reason.
Unfortunately, at that time,
they had less relevance
than they ever had
to what was going on in the market.
So we got to put the record out,
but we weren't able to do much for it.
You know, they weren't,
like, 20-somethings anymore.
It was a very, very hard time
commercially for them,
but creatively, they never stopped.
They were always working on something.
Is there anybody out there
at all right now?
Let's take a look and see
what's going on out there in California.
They're bringing it in in style.
They recorded every day,
sometimes seven days a week.
They were in their home studio
just coming up with brilliant material
that wasn't being signed,
and it wasn't necessarily
going to culminate into an album.
1990. Happy New Year!
Because of the lack of a record deal
and any kind of record company
financial support, you know,
there comes a point where
the well is getting a bit dry.
It seemed, like, really imperative
that Russell learn how
to be the engineer.
It's 1991 onNew Year's Rockin' Eve.
Had they have been two guys
that did drugs and all of that
and blew their money in the past,
they wouldn't have been able
to pay their bills during that time.
It's a testament to them
in every aspect, you know,
to how they had... had,
um, you know, saved for that rainy day.
So they were able to have, you know,
almost six years of rainy days.
Now, 1992. Happy New Year.
Like, I get emotional
when I think about that time.
Every day... like I said,
sometimes seven days a week...
...from morning till night,
they were working so hard.
And they never...
they never tried to,
you know, do their version
of being commercial.
They never tried to...
to dumb it down, water it down.
They stayed so true to exactly...
what they've always been.
Five seconds to 1993.
Happy New Year's Rockin' Eve '93.
The one thing that
I'm proudest of with Sparks
is just our determination and resilience.
For instance, we devoted
six years of our lives
to work on a movie musical project
that was called Mai, the Psychic Girl.
It was based on a Japanese manga.
We were really up
for the challenge of that
because we-we thought
that this could be a way also
for Sparks to channel what we were doing
but in another form yet again.
And Tim Burton was signed on
early on to direct it.
We did miss performing live
during that period,
but I think, in the back of our heads,
we were also thinking a lot of people
are gonna see this Tim Burton movie
and it will obviously help
the cause for Sparks.
When we got word that Tim was
bowing out of Mai, the Psychic Girl,
there were tears,
And I-I-I cry easily,
but Ron and Russell don't,
and there were tears.
We kind of had put all
of our chips on that one thing,
and-and maybe that was
the wrong thing to do.
Somehow, you know,
you muster up the enthusiasm
to-to continue on.
I think sometimes it's the setbacks
that-that actually make you stronger.
And sometimes,
as a result of those things,
you end up doing something even better.
Happy 1994.
I remember going to Fopp
on Byres Road in Glasgow
and, um, this new Sparks album was out.
Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins.
I was thinking, like, "Oh, wow.
So this band still exists?"
No, no use
in lecturing them
Or in threatening them
They will just say,
"Who are you?"
That unusual duo from the '70s
are back and still brilliant.
Bloody hell, they look amazing.
Have they not aged?
It's like a time warp.
The pair of you look exactly the same.
Well, thank you.
What can I say?
So, after a six-year gap,
they came back with a vengeance.
No, no use
in taking their time
Or in wasting two dimes
On a call to God knows who
When all you feel
is the rain
And it's hard to be vain
When no person looks at you
So just be gracious
and wait in the queue
So when do I get
to sing "My Way"?
When do I get to feel
like Sinatra...
Oh, my God, "When Do I Get
to Sing 'My Way.'"
Oh, I love it.
It absolutely was the perfect song
for this big comeback.
Our German manager at the time said,
"Ja, ja, this is ein Hit."
So he approached BMG Records in Germany,
and they said, "Ja, you are right.
Das ist ein Hit."
Don't see,
is my smiley face still on?
The video did showcase them
as these glamorous guys
who at least one of them has it all,
but it's coming out of a time when
they didn't have it all.
I feel wonderful.
When do I get to feel
like Sinatra felt?
Sparks singing "When
Do I Get to Sing 'My Way'"
is, like, the ultimate statement.
It's like, "Yeah, okay, you liked it"
"when Frank Sinatra did it.
"You liked it when Sid Vicious
did it, you know?
Why can't we do it?"
When do I get to feel
like Sid Vicious felt?
The irony is I don't
think Ron or Russell want
to be either Sinatra
or Sid Vicious.
They just want to feel as famous.
They'll introduce me
Hello, hello
We were being perceived
as a brand-new band now.
Women seduce me...
Some of the radio stations
kind of accused us
of ripping off bands that,
in all modesty, were influenced
by what we had done,
and it was kind of humiliating.
Backstage at a Pet Shop Boys concert,
while I was promoting their records,
I approached Neil Tennant, and I said,
"Why don't you guys ever
acknowledge Sparks?"
And he just gave me a, you
know, sort of a scornful look
and said, "You're very
naughty," and walked away.
It was weird coming back...
Yeah. find something
you invented.
And you've left behind.
We had a top ten with.
"When Do I Get to Sing 'My Way'"
and another couple charting singles
off of that album as well.
So Sparks really sort of made
a name for themselves
in the clubs, which was really cool.
It became the number one
airplay song in Germany.
Thank you, uh, especially to...
everyone in Germany
for making this past year
so super special for Sparks.
So thank you very much.
If we had stayed strong,
we probably wouldn't have done
thePlagiarism album.
Plagiarism was something that was
recommended from outside forces.
It's a retrospective of their own career,
but they've done it
as grandiose, orchestral,
bombastic versions.
It was felt that since we had
reached a whole new audience,
maybe there's a group of young people
that haven't heard earlier stuff,
and we reluctantly went along with that.
They're not interested
in looking backwards.
They're always on a quest.
They're always on a mission
to further their musical perversions.
One of the reasons why
we've been able to go on for so long
is because we're always kind of
looking to the next album
and not even bothering with the past.
And so when we get back to Los Angeles,
that's the first thing
we're gonna be working on
is an album of new material.
Sparks is the quintessence of a band
that starts and starts again
and starts again.
No success is big enough for them.
No failure is small enough for them.
They can always move on.
Every single album,
we think, is going to be
the breakthrough album
where, you know, the world
finally gets wise.
To succeed are balls
All you need are balls...
Maybe there's something
to that lyric that resonates
with-with Sparks.
And I turn it over to Ron,
-who would like to...
-Such a... I'm just moved.
Balls, all you need
are balls
To succeed are balls
All you need are...
Balls didn't break through.
But every time that happens,
Ron reinvents everything.
It's just in Sparks's DNA
to rip up the rule book and start over.
They've reinvented
themselves several times,
but Lil' Beethovenwas, I think,
phase three in the Sparks genre.
It's almost as if they erased
the chalkboard, you know,
and started over again.
I am the rhythm thief
Say goodbye to the beat
I am the rhythm thief
Auf Wiedersehen to the beat
Oh, no...
It was a really interesting variation
on everything they had done before.
It was almost like a... you're combining
Steve Reich and his repetition
with Sparks and their comedy.
You'll never get it back,
you'll never get it back
The rhythm thief has got it
and you'll never get it back
You'll never get it back,
you'll never get it back
The rhythm thief has got it
Lights out, Ibiza...
There's all these group vocals and chants
that are almost like raps,
kind of neoclassical feel to the music.
- I am the rhythm thief.
- Rhythm, rhythm thief
Auf Wiedersehen
to the beat.
What they remind me of with that album
is how important it is
to stay on your toes
and be alert
and be challenged as a listener
and to move away from
nostalgia and comfort food.
I married myself
I'm very happy together
Long, long walks
on the beach
Lovely times
I married myself
I'm very happy together
Candlelight dinners home
Lovely times...
They weren't trying to be
something to please a record company.
They were just taking
all their creative juices
and putting it into
something that they loved.
It's that ability and desire
to take risks
and to mess things up
that makes them Sparks.
I think we spent over a year
recordingLil' Beethoven,
not even knowing for sure
what the end product was going to be.
And I think, when you kind of
approach an album in that sort of way,
we tend to spend a lot of time on it.
It's you.
The albumLil' Beethoven,
in particular, was one where
the studio was essential.
Just creatively, you know,
we feel so energized
by working in this kind of way
where we don't have to feel foolish
if we do something foolish.
And we do quite a bit of foolish things,
but you'll never hear about 'em.
Not being dependent
on massive budgets and record companies
became a really liberating thing
that now we could record
on our own,
and then we just hand that off
to a... to a label,
and then, uh, take it or leave it.
Home, my baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
"My Baby's Taking Me Home" is
one of my favorites off of that album.
It's an emotional song
that has lots of bumps and curves
and poetic images would have,
but it's only pretty much saying,
"Home, my baby's
taking me home."
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home...
It was amazing to me
that you could repeat a lyric
and have it mean something different
as the narrator
starts saying it
over and over and over again.
It was almost like an acting technique.
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
Sing it!
Home, my baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home...
I can remember playing.
"My Baby's Taking Me Home"
for a friend of mine,
and as the song keeps going,
her eyes just got wider and wider.
My baby's taking me home...
Hearing it live, oh, man,
that is a hypnotic, great, great song.
Home, my baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home
My baby's taking me home
My baby's
taking me home...
There were a lot of critics out there
that wanted to be able to like
Sparks and wanted to be able
to rave about them and, you know,
run around shouting about them,
and Lil' Beethoven
enabled them to do that.
With the Lil' Beethoven
album, the last album,
we-we were able to do something
that woke up people in a certain way,
and we wanted to go to the next step
with the Hello Young Lovers album,
and-and we think we've accomplished that.
It was just a celebration.
This is fantastic.
We can just go mad now, and we did.
All I do now is dick around
All I do now
is dick around
Dick around
Think about the recent past
The cynics said
too good to last
But she could change
her mind again
Oh, no, this movie
said "the end"
So I will go about my day
Just dicking round,
my mtier
And realize
that life is change
And furniture to rearrange
- Why the hell, why the hell.
- Why the hell, why the hell
Why the hell
did she desert you
When you were
so influential?
- Why the hell, why the hell.
- Why the hell, why the hell
Why did she desert you
When you told her
she was so essential?
Pull yourself up
off the ground
You've started liking
being down...
If you took a "Dancing in the Dark"
or a "Heroes" by Bowie
or a... you know,
any of the great ABBA songs,
"Dick Around" rips right through that
and just gives you
the underbelly of a pop song.
A 600-vocal-tracked
orchestral arrangement of vocal shouting,
"All I do now is dick around,"
right in your face,
it never lets you in slowly,
and it's just the saddest thing
in the world.
And it's so fucking catchy.
All I do now is dick around,
dick around
Then I got
the late-night call
I really miss you after all,
I had a fling and that is all
A stupid fling,
then hit the wall...
"Dick Around" is, uh,
incredibly demanding
on me as a... as a vocalist.
Ron has used Russell's voice
as an instrument
as much as he's used that keyboard.
All I do now
Is dick around...
If I was producing that song,
like a fucking idiot,
I'd, like, put a beat on it or something
and be like,
"Oh, my God, this is amazing.
"Everyone's gonna feel so sad about this,
and we're gonna sneak it
into them."
And then Sparks would have
been like, "No, you idiot."
"Let Queen do that."
All I do is dick around...
If you don't like this, we don't care.
I think that that...
you know, that's kind of
the essence of what
popular music should be.
But all I do now
is dick around
All I do now is dick around
Dick around.
Ron and Russell toured comprehensively,
and they played the album
in its entirety, and then
the second set was greatest hits;
so, then withExotic
Creatures of the Deep,
we were thinking about,
well, how do you perform this live?
You know, what would be the concept?
And it was just a really
sort of seemingly stupid idea...
What if you perform every album
followed by the new album?
Sue Harris came up with the idea
to do 21 of our albums...
The entire catalog... one each night live.
By our nature, we said,
"Sounds great."
And then we realized
the enormity of the task.
Russell said,
"We're thinking about playing
every song we've ever written
night after night in London.
What do you think?"
And I just laughed.
It's just impossible.
And Ron said, "We're even gonna do
the B-sides for the encores."
And I said,
"How many songs is that?"
There were approximately,
I don't know, I think 270 songs.
I think the final total was...
it-it was closer to 300.
They rehearsed for...
I think it was
four months or so in-in L.A.
Let the monkey drive,
we can have our fun...
It was like boot camp.
We start with the first record, right?
And, well, okay, once you rehearse
the first record for the day,
it sounds pretty good,
and by the end of the week,
you feel great about the first record.
Well, now it's time to start
rehearsing the second record.
Okay, well, here's a new thing.
It's starting to sound good
by the end of the week.
Well, by the end of week two,
you've got the second record
sounding pretty good
and you've completely
forgotten the first record.
Let him take the wheel
Neath the setting sun...
Each day, the-the problem gets compounded
about retaining everything
that you had been rehearsing,
and it just starts
compounding and compounding.
As you get to album number 18, you go,
"Does anybody have a clue
about Big Beat?"
While we have our fun...
It was a test of short-
and long-term memory.
I wouldn't advise it.
It was...
almost foolish.
And the day after we finished
recording the album,
we started in rehearsing,
so it's been four full months
of, uh... of work
to get to this point.
Receiving favors
for what I am
Seems rather strange,
but I understand
'Cause I am likable...
The middle of the night,
and I woke up, I'm thinking,
"I have to go see every show."
It was almost like.
God came to me and said,
"Tosh, you must see
every show."
I'm just likable
Night and day...
Let's face it,
you got to be completely crazy
to do 21 shows in a row
with a different album
every single night.
It's insane, but it's fantastic.
Number one!
Number two.
Number three.
They treated every
single one of their albums
with the same level of respect
and the same attention to detail,
regardless of how well it did
commercially or critically at the time.
I'm just likable
night and day...
So it went on for a month.
But it was fun.
It was just exhausting.
I think everyone lost a stone in weight
in the first week and couldn't eat.
It was nerve-racking.
It was hard.
Any time I was feeling sorry for myself,
I would look at Ron doing
a sliding knee dive across the stage
and Russell clapping
his hands above his head,
running like a crazy man,
and I'd just think,
"Yeah, I can do this."
I admire their stamina, but I admire
anyone who went to see 'em 21 nights.
I admire your stamina more.
Just so you like me...
It's just the most ridiculous thing.
It was preposterous,
and it was extraordinary,
but it was a triumph.
There's often this, uh, terrible fate
which awaits bands either when
they keep going for too long
or when they re-form.
And that terrible fate is becoming
a tribute to the band that you once were.
They could rest on their laurels
and just come out and just
do some sort of, like,
"Now we're gonna do
a greatest hits show,"
but no, they're challenging
themselves and their audience
and they're doing, like,
you know, radio opera.
Bergman, Bergman
Bergman, Bergman...
Ron and Russell came up with the idea
of Ingmar Bergman, the film director...
What if he had been lured to Hollywood
with the promise
of big budgets and big bosoms?
And it was played
on Swedish national radio.
After that, they performed it
at the L.A. Film Festival
and, you know,
got a really good reaction.
They've always had the desire to push on
and create something new,
and I think that's
probably what appealed to...
to them about the FFS project.
For fuck's sake.
We had met the guys in Franz Ferdinand
12 or 13 years ago in Los Angeles.
We had, you know, like bands
tend to do, they say,
"Hey, we should try to do
something together sometime."
I'm just a little guy
from the suburbs...
Ten years later,
we're walking in the morning,
just taking a little stroll
in downtown San Francisco,
and we see this guy
walking by, and we go,
"That looks like Alex Kapranos.
Hey, it is Alex Kapranos."
So we say, "Hey, Alex."
He goes, "Hey, Sparks guys."
He was on his way to the dentist.
He had chipped one of his teeth.
So we said, "Remember we were
gonna do a project together?"
He said, "Yeah,
we got to do that."
So we talked about, "Well, let's just try
one song together,
see what happens."
In Ron's typically perverse way...
he sent over.
"Collaborations Don't Work."
Collaborations don't work
They don't work
They don't work...
And it was so obviously a test.
It was like,
"All right, you think
you can collaborate, do you?"
Collaborations don't work
They don't work,
they don't work...
We opened up the door for, uh,
any return ammunition
coming our way.
I ain't no collaborator...
As a response to that,
Alex sent kind of a country groove.
So this song was
literally a strange little argument
that they were doing online.
I ain't no collaborator...
We sent it over to Ron,
and then suddenly,
it came back with Russell
singing on top of it
and these new melodies.
We got this great buzz.
It was like,
"Oh, God, this is fantastic."
Everybody was tentatively
kind of going like,
"You know, this sounds like
it could almost be...
like, an album, maybe."
I ain't no collaborator...
One day, I pull up Pitchfork,
and I read that Franz Ferdinand
has made an entire record with Sparks.
And it was just like, "What?"
It made me say, "Yeah, Sparks is back."
"Okay, yeah, let me pay attention
to what they've been doing
over the past ten years."
"Johnny Delusional"
became the first single.
One of my favorite lines...
It's kind of one of
the saddest lines, I think,
in a, uh, Sparks song is:
"I'm borderline attractive
from afar."
And that-that line, to me,
is really, uh, touching.
Some might find me borderline
attractive from afar...
"Some might find me
"borderline attractive from afar,
but afar is not where
I can stay, and there you are."
It's beautiful.
I mean, that's hilarious,
but it's also really beautiful.
Though I want you
I know I haven't
a chance...
There's a real melancholic
vulnerability about it.
It's very sad, but it sounds celebratory.
It's, like, this meditation
on loneliness.
Paging Mr. Delusional...
I often feel, with Ron's lyricism,
that he's metaphorically,
like, slicing his chest open
and kind of going like,
"Here's my heart."
You're wanted
at the front desk
"Here's my heart.
Has nobody noticed?"
Wouldn't it be terrible
If there's no music there?
TheFFS album, it-it
introduced them to a crowd
that maybe hadn't been
aware of them before.
We particularly noticed it
in Latin America
where Franz Ferdinand, uh,
were very popular there.
Wouldn't it be terrible
if there's no music there?
A lot of those people,
they've become Sparks fans and really
kind of hard-core Sparks fans,
and they had been introduced
via theFFS album.
Though I want you...
Been watching you play live.
It seems to be more
of a kind of enjoyment thing.
It just seems to be fun.
Oh, we're faking it.
Johnny Delusional here...
Does Franz Ferdinand know
how lucky they are
that that happened?
I hope that they were
grateful and psyched.
That's their most
exciting record they've done
in quite some time, and I
really think they learned a lot
from working with these
elder statesmans of-of pop, you know?
Historically, historically,
we make an appeal
To something greater
than we are
When we need to heal...
Doing the FFS project,
they fell in love again
with the pop song,
and because of that love
for the pop song,
Hippopotamus was born.
What the hell is it
this time?
Listening toHippopotamus took me
straightaway back toKimono My House.
The energy of that album
is just great.
When I put the headphones on
and listened to it
for the first time, I thought,
"Holy cow.
This is like when we were back
at Ron and Russ's
mom's house, you know?"
I loved that.
The reviews were incredible.
It was near four- and five-star
reviews across the board.
It was, um, included in
the "album of the year" lists,
you know, worldwide.
And the fact that Sparks
have had a top-ten record
is because they're not trying to be
what other people want them to be.
I wish you were fun
I wish you were fun
in every way
I wish you were fun
To brighten the dark,
cold winter day
In every other way
I find you amazing but one
I wish you were fun,
I wish you were fun
La-la-la... Everybody.
Here they are,
playing to some of the largest crowds
in the last ten years
and playing to crowds that weren't around
for the first, second
and often the third phase.
The only part that...
that the public sees
is that 90 minutes onstage,
and they don't see all the other stuff.
They don't see, uh, security
opening up our suitcases
and having the guy, uh, you know,
taking out all your stuff
day after day after day
after day at the airport.
And, uh, they don't see the jet lag
that I currently have right now.
Uh, but obviously, we're doing all this
'cause we really are
passionate about our music.
It definitely outweighs
all of the downside.
"Viva Mxico, cabrones."
-Viva Mxico...
Viva Mxico, cabrones.
I wish you were fun
Fun in every way
I wish you were fun
Have some chardonnay
In every other way
I find you amazing but one
I wish you were fun
I wish you were fun.
Okay, I'm tired.
I'm going to go to sleep.
Good night.
La-la-la, la-la-la,
I'm pushin'
on my lawn mower...
The way they live their life
is just in service of the music.
The mornin',
it's my lawn mower...
I kind of have to force
myself to take this walk
'cause I've been doing it
for about 20 years
at this same park, and if...
I know, if I kind of
put it off for one day,
that it's all over and I'll just be
laying in bed extra long in the mornings.
The neighbors look in awe
at my lawn mower...
They love ritual.
They love repetition.
I mean, you can hear
their love of repetition
in their music.
You know, they have a hook,
they have a phrase
that's repeated
over and over and over again.
And in their life, even the way
their day is structured...
You know, wake up, work out,
go to the studio,
have your 4:00 p.m.
coffee break,
go back to the studio,
you know, power down.
They are rock stars
that go to breakfast at the same place
and get the same thing in the morning,
and then go work at...
You know, they just...
they figured out
what works for them and how to do it.
I come here religiously every morning
to get a little peace and quiet,
just to be by myself
before we start working.
And even once a week, Ron comes here.
They just keep going up musically
with what they're writing.
They keep finding
new ways to tell their stories.
Ron and Russell were in Cannes
and met the French
film director Leos Carax.
They got chatting,
and they were talking to him about
their screenplay calledAnnette.
We got along really well,
and when we came back to L.A.
after Cannes, we said,
"Let's send Leos this project,
And then he said, uh,
"God, I really like this.
Let me think about it
a little bit more."
And he did, and he got
back to us, and he said,
"You know, I'd really like
to direct this."
We thought, "Oh, this is
amazing," but then we were also
thinking about our Tim Burton experience
and our Jacques Tati experience
and going,
"Please, dear God, we don't want
to have one more of those."
-Did you get it?
-That's a film project.
they've, you know,
nearly had films made on,
you know, more than one occasion,
and you feel that now is the time,
and it will be amazing
for them to be able
to see their work on a big screen.
Oh, hello.
Welcome to the set.
After several attempts
to get a movie off the ground,
Annette has finally been the one
film project that's sticking,
and it's being shot here
in swinging Brussels, Belgium.
To get a movie made is a miracle.
We obviously feel good about the film,
but we also feel good in
a really personal kind of way...
This proves that we were right all along.
So, uh... so there.
Or voil.
When you get a Sparks album, I feel like
that's where they are,
this is what they're into,
and they're not gonna be here for long.
Do you know what I mean?
Like, I feel like by the time
you get the album, they're already
on to something else.
Sparks have a certain
sensibility that we've had
through all of our albums,
whatever the shift in styles through time
or different producers
or different countries.
It's kind of something
that we really can't change.
And all the holy places...
From the beginning of rock music
when, uh, Blackboard Jungle...
For them to go and start ripping up,
uh, movie theater seats...
That, to us, is like the essence
and the spirit of what music can be.
And I think that those sorts of things
have always been maybe
in the back of our minds.
We don't sit down and say,
"What can we do
to be provocative
or rebellious?"
But I think, just by our nature,
that's just inherent in what we do.
All that we've done
We've lost, we've won
All that,
all that and more...
I think their
creative process has sustained
their friendship and brotherliness,
and I think being brothers
has also sustained
their creativity over the years.
It's-it's unusual,
but they like each other
and they respect each other.
They are... first and foremost,
they're-they're gentlemen, and they are,
you know... they're polite
and they're considerate,
extraordinarily creative,
you know, and they're funny.
-Oh, did I not push the button?
You got to push the button.
We're able to work kind of
without a lot of conversation.
The quieter it is, the better it is,
because we know
we're kind of onto something
and we can communicate with each other
in-in kind of nonverbal ways
just by having worked together
for so long.
It's some kind of magical
combination of brother blood
and, I don't know,
cosmic interference,
but I have loved them
for all these years,
and I'm really proud of it.
All that we've done
We've lost, we've won...
I can't imagine having
done a career as a solo artist
'cause I just think the two
of us are sort of inseparable
when it comes to our passion for music.
I think his songs and my singing
are one and the same.
I have that security
when I'm working with Russell.
If I were to work with myself,
I-I feel, you know,
really, really nervous.
It would put me in a position
where I-I just wouldn't
be able to-to take... take it.
To me, they've been
such an example of how to age
in this business with grace and dignity
and treat your band
and your crew, uh, kindly.
And not to reduce it to such crude terms,
but they're just cool as fuck.
Now that Ron isn't around,
I can finally tell the real story.
Uh, all of the songs are mine.
All 840 songs written by me,
sung by me, performed by me.
So, uh, anyway, I just thought
it should come out now.
Just between you and me...
He's just a singer.
No, no use
in lecturing them...
There's some comfort in the fact that
something this weird can survive
that long without being
corrupted ultimately
into something less weird.
The plot is predictable...
I wouldn't really have seen how
they could've gotten any better,
'cause they were kind of unique,
but they're doing something right.
Nobody stays around that long
if they're making mistakes.
No, no use in...
If they had been a band that just,
like, went and tried to make
hits that were sort of, like,
inorganic, outside of their
real natural inclinations,
they would've broken up by 1977.
It's hard to be vain...
Some of the greatest artists in the world
just sort of had a period.
Sparks is way more prolific than
all of the artists we consider to be
the greatest in the world,
so it's overwhelming.
So when do I get
to sing "My Way"?
When do I get to feel
like Sinatra felt?
When do I get
to sing "My Way"?
In heaven or hell...
You can knock us for not
having sold two trillion records,
but staying true to our vision
and being consistent
for this long a period of time,
I think that that's
the measure of success.
In heaven or hell...
I don't think
they could be really massive.
They're too weird.
Which is great.
Who wants to be really popular?
You know, you just want to do your art
and love what you're doing
and be happy with that.
It's been an amazing evening for us.
Thank you very much.
We're deeply appreciative.
We don't... we don't take
any of this for granted,
and, uh, we'll be back soon.
Thank you.
A lot of times, people are trying
to find the key to Sparks somehow,
and I think that really
it's out in the open
with what we're doing
lyrically and musically.
Being Russell and being Ron
and being Sparks,
it's kind of one and the same.
That is what we are.
There isn't some thing
behind the curtain.
The mystique and that whole thing
is part of what makes them
cool no matter what.
They don't owe us anything.
They-they give us the music.
That's... We...
That's all we need.
It is symbiotic.
It's like the two of them make up
this whole that is Sparks.
You know, those of us
who've been lucky enough
to come and go in that, like, it-it...
it's an amazing and
very cool thing to be around.
I don't feel
a kind of ownership with them.
I think it's really important
when people come along
20 or 40 years later, you don't say,
"Oh, I was there all along,
and where were you?"
You say, "Welcome aboard,
and here's more."
There's something to be said for the fact
that sleeper success
will keep people talking about them
a lot longer than artists
that are a lot more popular.
I think the fact that
they've always kept hungry
and consistently pushed the envelope
is exactly why I wanted
to make this film.
Their songs are worlds
that you really need to delve into,
but once you delve into 'em,
the rewards are incredible.
I wish I had that drive
or that commitment.
I'm just like, "Ah, fuck it.
I can't be bothered."
Some bands will give you
an outfit to wear,
and some bands will give you
a sewing machine
and some needle and some thread
and let you make what you want
but inspire you
and give you the energy to make stuff.
And that's the kind of band
that Sparks is to me.
There's several
kind of archetypes of bands.
There's the bands who are wildly popular
in their day and adulation,
and then there's bands
that sow all these seeds
and foment all these ideas
that grow up in other places.
And, uh, there's some
corollary in nature.
Like, we wouldn't survive
without the bees.
Sparks are part of
the ecosystem of music.
And they may have given birth
to other bands
who don't even know that
the lineage goes back to them.
They might not even be aware of it.
This is the number one song
in heaven
Written, of course
By the mightiest hand
All of the angels are sheep
In the fold of their master
They always follow
the master and his plan
This is the number one song
in heaven
Why are you hearing it now,
you ask
Maybe you're closer to here
Than you imagine
Maybe you're closer to here
Than you care to be...
We fear that, over the course
of the documentary,
we have revealed way more about ourselves
than we are comfortable with.
So, in an attempt to create
some further mystique,
we'd like to leave you
with a bunch of Sparks facts
that are all 100% true.
Russell has been
an uncredited voice actor
in 27 Hollywood animated feature films.
Ron briefly dated Edith Piaf.
Russell is not singing in
English on Kimono My House.
Ron has worn the same white shirt,
a shirt he purchased at Marks and Spencer
in December 1973, for the last 46 years.
Between 1989 and 1993,
Russell was a NASCAR driver.
Ron has written many novels
under the pen name
John le Carr.
After realizing he was too small
to compete in college football,
Russell trained
for nine months as a jockey.
26 days before every tour,
Ron goes on the alphabet diet,
eating foods in alphabetical order.
Day one: avocados or asparagus.
Day 26: zucchini.
In 1982, we started the first ever
seahorse rehabilitation ranch,
Back in the Saddle.
The tragic decline
in the seahorse population
has been a cause
we've long felt strongly about.
Sparks really only have two songs,
a fast one and a slow one.
We constantly rewrite
the lyrics for these songs
to give the appearance of having written
nearly 300 songs.
And finally, we would like to reveal
that Ron is really Russell.
And Russell is really Ron.
This is the number one song
in heaven
Why are you hearing it now,
you ask
Maybe you're closer to here
Than you imagine
Maybe you're closer to here
Than you care to be.