Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
#1 in Heaven
Genres: Dance & Electronic, Alternative Rock, Pop, Rock, Classic Rock
Reissued 1979 album. 'No. 1 In Heaven' was the bands eight album and produced by Tyrolian disco maestro Giorgio Moroder. Within six months, three singles culled from the LP made the UK charts. 'The Number One Song In He... more »
Reissued 1979 album. 'No. 1 In Heaven' was the bands eight album and produced by Tyrolian disco maestro Giorgio Moroder. Within six months, three singles culled from the LP made the UK charts. 'The Number One Song In Heaven' and 'Tryouts For The Human Race' continuing the success of their inimitable, timeless and bizarre style of pop.
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THIS AIN'T NO DISCO!
Madeline Bocaro | New York, New York | 10/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THIS AIN'T NO DISCO!
How Sparks Parted The New Wave
In 1979 punk rock was still the rage in England, and disco was devouring America. So where did Sparks fit in? With disco in England of course! This didn't make much sense at all to their fans, but the Maels made the best of both worlds. Their take on disco had a European edge coupled with Sparks' trademark sensibility, which became the perfect formula for a revolutionary new sound that would resonate through the decades. They may or may not have known it at the time, but Sparks were prophetically writing the Ten Commandments of Synth-Pop. Unfortunately, the commandment most often disobeyed by their eventual followers was, "Thou shalt be original!"
In the days when Sparks were releasing an album per year, No. 1 In Heaven was the follow-up to the surprisingly ordinary Introducing Sparks. Ordinary became extraordinary seemingly overnight. As suddenly as Tyrannosaurus Rex became electric warriors, and as shockingly as when Dylan went electric, Sparks went electronic! They got as much flak from their fans as Dylan and T-Rex did in their time, but some of us were hip to this new change, and new fans became enlightened as well. The music press gave the album equal shares of praise and damnation, but its musical prophecy would ring true in due time.
For almost a decade, the usual Sparks album consisted of ten succinct, highly unusual pop songs. No. 1 In Heaven gave us six extended, highly unusual fluid epics; the shortest just under five minutes, the title track being the longest, outlasting both "Hey Jude" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" at 7:27, not to mention the re-mixes!
In 1977, Donna Summer's disco hit, "I Feel Love" - a collaboration between man and machine in a musical Metropolis approximating Kraftwerk at 78 rpm - topped the dance charts worldwide for weeks on end. The conflicting warm and sensual vocal performance over robotic trance music intrigued Ron and Russell who were already bored within the constraints of a 4-piece rock band. Sparks went right to the source and recruited Summer's producer Giorgio Moroder for their radical experiment in marrying pop with dance music. He even received co-writing credits on four tracks. The album was recorded at Moroder's own Musicland studios in Munich. Aside from David Bowie who was also recording in Germany with Roxy Music's Brian Eno, using synthetic instruments for a more decadent ambiance (on his albums Low and Heroes), Moroder was the only producer using automated devices within popular dance music. Moroder took the reins and found Sparks a U.K. deal with the very supportive Virgin Records, and with Elektra in the U.S.
The high-paid fashion models on the album jacket - one white and one black - look cold and sterile yet still sexy, as their lab coats are blown upwards like Marilyn Monroe's white skirt in that famous photograph! Enroute to heaven's laboratory they each hold a microscope, indicative of the groundbreaking musical experiment taking place on this record. The models were also featured on the stylized remix artwork. The "Tryouts For the Human Race" single sleeves and picture discs depicted robotic mannequin hands and test tubes, mixing 2 parts Rock with 2 parts Disco - and just a dash of Chemical X. The results were explosive!
The typically brilliant Sparks lyrics were about fast-paced society ("Beat The Clock") and the first song you would hear in heaven (their own "No. 1 Song In Heaven" of course, which peaked at #14 on earth). "Tryouts For the Human Race" is the album's `sexiest' song. After a suggestive Sci-Fi intro, Russell lends his voice to those feisty sperm cells - a major aspect of sex that is not usually on people's minds when having it - in a production about reproduction. A twisted Biology lesson with a disco beat. On "Academy Award Performance" as well as on the title song, the double-tracked vocals allow him to sing in two octaves simultaneously! Russell's soaring vocals prevailed over the new synthetic Sparks sound. Ron Mael expanded his keyboard repertoire with the Yamaha DX-7 and a Roland JP-8. He favored the coldness and inhumanity of the mechanized sounds and mesmerizing beats contrasted with Russell's glorious vocals. Ron un-slicked his hair and grew it long and wavy, resembling a mad scientist - or was it more "nutty professor"? Russell told England's Melody Maker in 1979, "I wouldn't be caught dead in a disco!"
The promotional video for "Beat The Clock" featured Ron & Russell (with a bevy of female factory workers), mass-producing life-size cardboard cutouts of themselves in a race against a giant clock. Perhaps this was an `indiscreet' commentary upon the tedium and uniformity in rock/pop music, and the stereotypes within disco, until they were effectively mixed into one medium. Charlie Parker never dreamed that `fusion' could sound like this!
Ultimately, the result of Sparks' stab at disco only remotely resembled the mind-numbing genre. Their special peculiarity predominated and a new form emerged, providing Sparks with two more UK hits. After eight weeks, the title track finally charted, peaking at #14. It was Sparks' first U.K. hit in four years. They performed the second single "Beat The Clock" on Top Of The Pops in November of 1979, which made the top 10. "Tryouts..." reached #45 in the U.K., and although several more 12-inch U.K. singles were issued from the album on a rainbow of coloured vinyl, overall it did not chart well, reaching #73 for one week only. #43 was its highest chart position in Sweden. America saw the single release "Tryouts For the Human Race" (with "No. 1 Song in Heaven" as the b-side). The Maels portrayed werewolves in the extremely rare video, however, the U.S. remained oblivious. Perhaps Sparks' thought-provoking lyrics were too complex for the mindless dancing masses. But subliminally and with the passing of time, the album became a landmark in music history.
Soon after, Blondie would collaborate with Moroder on their smash hit "Call Me". M appeared with the percolating hit "Pop Muzik". New bands emerged from the UK two by two, and climbed aboard the ark that Sparks built; Human League, O.M.D., Gary Numan, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode... The atmospheric Ultravox quickened their pace. At first labeled New Romantic or Synth-Pop, the new genre crossed the ocean and became New Wave (eventually spawning Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys and countless others). The Mael/Moroder-penned track "My Other Voice" contains the foretelling line, "I'll be all you'll hear for years and years and years." European bands were now successful on American radio. Sparks, of course, still were not. Ask any of these groups who their inspiration was, and they will inevitably say..."David Bowie." But we all know who really parted the waves!
- Madeline Bocaro"
HEAVY CURRENT ELECTRO
Pieter | Johannesburg | 12/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the ultimate in synth-rock! Sparks called in the help of producer Giorgio Moroder and created an album that is the electronic equivalent of Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell. Dramatic and overblown, it works because of the sheer exuberance of the songs, the hypnotic beat, the falsetto vocals and the gripping melody lines. The most accessible numbers are Tryouts For The Human Race, Beat The Clock and the devastating Number One Song In Heaven (also available as a CD single in four remixes). Think of Kraftwerk and Suicide at their weirdest, throw in Donna Summer's classic I Feel Love, and you'll have some idea of what this album sounds like. An essential album for those who love cutting-edge synth/electronic music."
An eternal number one
sonik57 | London, UK | 05/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"1979: the fag end of punk was dwindling to a gradual stop as Britain, it seemed, reached a cataclysmic collapse. For those not in the UK during the infamous "winter of discontent" of 1978-9, Britain was on the brink of meltdown as everyone went on strike, the bins went unemptied, the dead unburied. So what gave people hope during this bleak time? DISCO! Clashing head-on with the grubby ethics of guitar rock, disco dared to be
ebullient, hedonistic and escapist. It was a Marshall Plan of a musical movement. As with most popular musics, it was to leave a lasting legacy; one that is still celebrated now.
Britain (and Europe generally) engaged completely with (mostly American) disco in the wake of Saturday Night Fever. Arguably there are fewer than
twenty really solid gold disco classics but 'Beat The Clock' is one of them. Blown away by what Moroder had done two years previously with the sublime 'I Feel Love', the Maels approached him to produce their next album. Junking the traditional guitars/drums approach, this is the Sparks album where Ron and Giorgio fully availed themselves of the synth technology of the time. Moroder hadn't worked with a band since Chichory (Son Of My Father) Tip some years before and the Maels had never worked with someone like him before and the combination was dynamite. I was 13 years old and totally destroyed by this album.
As with Kraftwerk's classic album from the previous year, 'The Man Machine', it has just six tracks but all of them are real winners. The lyrics, the sounds, the empassioned drumming (a medal to whoever drummed on the songs!), the production and everything else meshed together to produce an incredible album which was both of the time and ahead of it.
Stand-out tracks? The three singles but especially 'The Number One Song In Heaven' because it's just so complete. If you only buy one album this year, make it this one.
Ps point of correction: the Yamaha DX7 synth wasn't released until 1983. Nearly all of 'Number One In Heaven' was conceived on ARP and Roland modular synths."