Friday, December 18, 2015
Monday, August 31, 2015
Release Date: April 1971 Producer: Todd Rundgren Lineup: Russell Mael: Vocals Ron Mael: Keyboards Jim Mankey: Bass Earle Mankey: Guitar and vocals (Lead vocals on "Biology 2") Harley Feinstein: Drums The first official Sparks album was finally released in 1971 through Albert Grossman's Bearsville label. Grossman had previously been Bob Dylan's manager, and set up his own label in New York in the late 60's. The label had only really been successful for The Nazz, one of the the most influential underground 60's bands that featured the multi-talented singer/instrumentalist/songwriter Todd Rundgren. Halfnelson was one of his first solo projects outside The Nazz, and he was still known as Runt at the time. Legend has it that Halfnelson sent him a copy of their 1968 master tape and he loved it to death that he persuaded Bearsville to fund the recording for their first album. It was good that Rundgren acted quickly with them, as the recording industry in America was thoroughly bored with the psychedelic era and the punk era which spawned the underground in the late 60's. Although Halfnelson were considered an underground band by the music industry at large, they were never consciously anti-social or anti-pop. One magazine wearily referred to them as "Frank Zappa meets The Monkees", whilst Russ Ruegan from UNI Records described them as being "six years ahead of their time". Basically, nobody knew what to do with them. Their music was at best quirky with unusual lyric-making, and at worst suffered from a lack of commercialism, and a personnel whose appearances served to confused audiences. When the album emerged, critics were scratching their heads in puzzlement. One of them who actually bothered to review it described it as "Zasu Pitts in shit-kickers". The only country that seemed vaguely interested in Halfnelson was the UK, in which NME journalist Kathy Orloff ran a piece on them, which was later reproduced in 1975 when Bearsville in the UK repacked this album with their following one as a doubel set. Looking back now, the album was not typical of the American rock scene. People were starting to go back to country music, whilst the soul and R&B bandwagon started up and black music became more sophisticated and smooth. Another main trend was Adult Orientated Rock (or AOR), where stars like Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and Olivia Newton-John emerged from 60's obscurity to being the polished clean-cut idols for the over-30s generation. WONDER GIRL: The first ever Sparks single, this reached a surprising No.96 in the charts, but even more so in Montgomery, Alabama where it reached No.1. Earle's trembling guitar opens this track with Russell crooning about an all-perfect American girl. Ron's keyboard is minimal, and Harley's drums sound rather tinny. In all it's a pleasing, if somewhat gently eccentric track. FA-LA FA-LEE: With the first verse nicked from a Hollies song, it features chugging, clicking guitars in the intro and a rather out-of-tune piano and organ which adds to its wayward charm. Russell claimed to have a cold during the recording of the track, and as a result his voice had to be double-tracked. The lyrics have a vaguely incestuous theme about them, and it ends similarly to The Kinks' "Till The End Of The Day" with four savage guitar chords stuck before the final close. ROGER: Written entirely by Russell, Ron claims he doesn't understand this song at all. It's not hard to see why. This is one of the most bizarre Sparks songs with unusual phased keyboards, scrubbed acoustic guitars and a dinky running organ riff. The lyrics are equally bizarre with a subject that no-one else can comprehend, but the ending is lovely with Earle mucking about on his guitar whilst Ron improvises a beautiful, dreamy piano solo which fades out. HIGH C: Sounding more like a proper song, this was one of their favourites with the audiences at the famous Whiskey Au-Go-Go nightclub. Written about a fictitious opera singer, it has a very New Wave feel to it, and a good steady rock beat. The atmosphere of the song was later manifested in Blondie's 1980 hit "Call Me". FLETCHER HONORAMA: A gentle keyboard-based ballad, it's a very Ray Davies-ish portrait of a dying 80-year-old man who gathers all his friends round his deathbed for his journey into the afterlife. Russell's voice is soft and gentle, and Ron's ethereal piano playing makes this a very special track, especially with the psychedelic middle 8. SIMPLE BALLET: Predates Queen's operatic ventures by a good five years. The production is majestic with Ron's piano multi-tracked at the end, and some fine guitar playing courtesy of Earle and crashing cymbals. It ends with the rest of the band providing harmonies and closes Side One beautifully. SLOWBOAT: If any Sparks song could have been a hit from this album, it surely would have been this one. Sounding like a cross between Bread and the Bee Gees, it's an AOR radio-friendly ballad with the lyrics focusing on longing for a lost lover. This was perhaps the most loved song at Sparks' early concerts whereby he got a roadie to push him across the stage in a cardboard boat whilst he showered the audience with confetti. BIOLOGY 2: Written and sung by Earle Mankey, Russell claimed this was the first Sparks song to get played on the radio. It is a very bizarre track, which is obviously a pisstake on the hokey-cokey, and depending on how you look at it, Earle's chipmunk style vocals are either hilarious or downright irritating. The offbeat and rather silly arrangement to this song makes it sound like an outtake, and was the first and last time that Russell didn't sing on a Sparks track. SACCHARIN AND THE WAR: The second solo offering from Russell concentrates on a more conventional topic - weight loss. This actually predates some of Sparks' later compositions "Instant Weight Loss" and "Funny Face" where the subject does everything they can to look beautiful, and when they get what they want they are dissatisfied with it and decide to look ugly again. BIG BANDS: An aggressive stomping rock beat opens up this piece which gives way to a dandy piano riff with Russell singing dreamily about the big band era, with double-tracking in parts. Just when you think the track is finished, it suddenly goes into a fast paced rocker where Russell chants out the lyrics, until the piano slows down the track by running an arpeggio downwards. NO MORE MR. NICE GUYS: Some rock reference books incorrectly claim that this song was later adopted by Alice Cooper for his 1973 album "Billion Dollar Babies". In fact this is not the case as a listen to that album will confirm that. This is the nearest that Sparks got to the heavy rock sound, with a headbanging beat, good rocking guitar solo, and vocalist which would put Meatloaf to shame. Written as a back-handed reference to the "nice guy", Russell's sneering vocals predated Johnny Rotten, and the beat at the end hints at thrash with a chaotic stadium rock ending. The album's sales were dismal, and Albert Grossman decided that Halfnelson needed to make a few changes to itself. First up he suggested they throw off the Halfnelson name on the grounds that it was too esoteric (except for wrestling students), and change their name to the Sparks Brothers (a pun on the Marx Brothers and the phrase 'bright sparks'). Next up, Ron dispensed with his bushy moustache and rock shades, and trimmed it to a small Charlie Chaplin-esque size. He accentuated his eyes with eyeliner, and would roll them on stage, which has since become his trademark, often copied but never bettered. In 1972, Bearsville re-released the album with a new cover, and titled it "Sparks", whereby it attracted more critical attention, and started to get them interest in Europe, particularly countries like Germany which had always had a very eclectic and innovative mark on popular music. But still the gods were not yet smiling on Sparks....
Sunday, April 5, 2015
TO DO NUDE: Acting Aerobics Aviation Babysitting Badminton Baking (cakes, bread, etc.) Barefoot Waterskiing Basketball Bathe Belly Dancing Bicycling Billiards Bird watching Boat Maintenance Boat Maintenance Body Painting Boogie Boarding Bowling Buff the floor Build Webpages Bungee jumping CPR Camping Canoeing Cards Checkers Chess Cleaning the fish pond Cliff jumping Computer Work Cooking (with care) Cuddle Cycle tours by night DJ'ing Dancing Darts Dating Decorate for Christmas Decorate the House Diving Drawing Driving Earth-Centered Spiritual Gathering Eating Encounter Group Therapy Enjoy a fireplace/campfire Exercise Fill the bird-feeder Fishing Flying Flying model airplanes Flying sailplanes Food Fights Frisbie Gardening Get the Mail Giving birth Go to church Golf Guitar playing Gymnastics Hackysack Hair cutting Ham Radio Hang Velvet Elvis paintings Hang gliding Hanging Clothes Hanging Out (doing nothing) Helicopter Rides Hide and Seek Hiking Home Repairs Homework Honeymoon Hoola Hoops Horseback riding Horseback riding (bareback) Hot Air Ballooning Hot Springing Hot Tubbing House-work Hugging Hypnosis Jet Skiing Job interview Jogging Juggling Karate Kayak Kite Flying Laundry Lawn Mowing Lifeguarding Listen to music Macarena Massage Meditate Metal detecting Mini-Golf Miniten Modelling Models Mountain biking Mud Football Night swimming Nordic Track Skiing Office work Online Banking Painting Parachuting Parasailing Party with friends Paying the Bills Photography Picnic Ping Pong Play musical instruments Playing in the rain Playing with pets Pogo Sticks Power boating Pray Reading Relaxing Repair the well house Rock climbing Rollerblading Run Home Business Run through the sprinkler Running SCUBA diving Sailing Sauna School Scrabble Scuba Diving Sculpting Shopping Singing Skateboarding Skydive Sleep Smash ball Snorkeling Snow Angels (after the sauna) Snow Ski (spring) Stargazing Strolling through the park Study Sunbathe Surf The Net Surfing Swim Swing in a hammock Swinging on a tarzan rope into water Tae kwon do (Martial Arts) Tai Chi Take out garbage Talk on the phone Taxes Teaching Telephone Sales Tennis Tightrope walking Toss Devil Sticks Training the dog Trampoline Tree planting Twister Vaccuuming Video Games Volleyball Vote Walking Walking the dog Wash Clothes Wash Dishes Wash the Car Watch TV Watch the Superbowl Water polo Water slide Wedding Weightlifting Wind Surfing Window Washing Wood chopping Write Sermons Writing letters Yard work Yoga THINGS TO *NOT* DO NUDE Aircraft Maintenance Arrive at work late Attend PTA meetings BBQ sizzling meat Baseball Beekeeping Blacksmith Boxing Break dance Bull riding Carry an angry cat Chain Sawing Chemistry Chop firewood Chopping and logging X-mas trees Clean the BBQ grill using hot water Clean up radioactive waste Climb a Hawthorne Tree Climb a Picket Fence Coal mining Drive during rush hour Drive-through Fast Food Feeding geese Fencing File for Divorce Fill a propane tank (very cold) Firefighting Fly fishing on a windy day Fry bacon Frying Food Glass Cutting Glassblowing Grind Fiberglass Ice Fishing Ice Hockey Install Insulation Iron Ore Smelting Learn to ride a bike Learn to roller blade Make a snow angel Metal Fabrication Motorcycle Racing Paint the pool with oil based paint Paintball Participating in Combat Pick up frightened kitten Pickup the kids at daycare Play leap frog Play with fireworks Remove a hornet`s nest Roof Repair Roofing with hot tar Run for office Sandblasting Shovel snow Sit on an ant hill Sit on hot vinyl car seats Slide down a hot slide Slide down an unfinished banister Slide into home plate! Snowball Fights Snowmobiling Steam Fitting String barbwire Sumo wrestling Take the SAT's Tear out Poison Ivy Train an attack dog Trim the hedges Visit City Hall Weed Whacking Welding, cutting, or burning Work around a grill Working with dry ice *YOU* MAKE THE CALL Barefoot Waterskiing Body Surfing Carpentry Ironing Motorcycling Mountain climbing Pick Blackberries Ride a Harley Rock climbing Visit the In-Laws Visit your parents Waterskiing Originally from the Cybernude website