Sunday, February 15, 2004


By Madeline Bocaro ©

This album instilled in me the burning desire to drop leaflets from  helicopters declaring Sparks the greatest band in the world!! Having no
access to a helicopter at the age of fourteen, word traveled slowly but  surely, by various subversive missives.

Despite the Maels’ intentions to take a completely new direction, ignoring the successful formula of Kimono My House, they segued right into Propaganda. Sparks’ third and fourth albums (both on Island Records) complemented each other like a pair of bookends. 

Britain’s ‘Holy Trinity’ Melody Maker, Sounds and NME raved! They gave Ron and Russell tremendous coverage, featuring lengthy interviews in which they mostly discussed their favourite topic…food!

In 1974, recorded immediately after the smashing British reception of
Kimono My House, Propaganda retained the same producer, Muff Winwood
(brother of Traffic’s Steve Winwood). The album was made in the
anglo-maniac Maels’ new home, England with Sparks’ live touring unit;
bassist Ian Hampton (replacing Martin Gordon from the Kimono sessions)
and guitarist Trevor White - both former Jook members, (the late)
Adrian Fisher also on guitar and drummer, Dinky Diamond.

The album cover of Propaganda launched a succession of hilarious cover
shots, presenting the frail Mael brothers in extraordinary
predicaments, usually helplessly victimized in some way. Here they are
on the south coast of England - abducted, bound and gagged at the back
of a speeding boat, and on the back cover, held hostage at a petrol
station in the rear of a car. Their captors (Ian, Dinky and Trevor) are
fiendishly deciding their fate. The inner sleeve finds the brothers
breaking their ties and attempting to telephone for help.

Russell shines on the a’capella title track, with his voice overdubbed
30 times! The rest of the songs are sung in various narratives; the
voices of animals left behind on Noah’s ark (“Bon Voyage”), a kid who
likes taking candy from strangers (potential abductors) but can’t
understand why he shouldn’t (“Thanks But No Thanks”), a girlfriend
being bribed by abundant eccentric gifts to keep her from divulging
incriminating information (“Something For The Girl With Everything”), a
cowardly army recruit (“Reinforcements”) and many more. This was some
of the most multifaceted pop music ever recorded. It was almost
operatic with its amazing range and orchestrations, sudden tempo
changes and strange storylines - and it rocked! Gilbert & Sullivan
would have either been proud or envious!

Guitarist Trevor White told Goldmine in July, 1995, “’Achoo’ ended with
this really great characteristic long solo… (from Adrian) and they
wiped it off and put on all those horrid multi-tracked sneezes. They
figured everyone had heard a guitar solo, but they hadn’t heard us all
sneezing.” Yes, guitar solos are a dime a dozen, but sneezing on a
Sparks record was groundbreaking! Unfortunately, it never did catch on.
The Hell Collection contains an exceptional live version of this song.
1974 brought Sparks four hits in the UK Top Twenty within nine months. 

The album charted instantly, and “Something For The Girl With
Everything” / “Marry Me” reached #17. All of the UK singles from
Propaganda contained non-LP B-sides. Sparks’ debut Bearsville LP was
also reissued, as well as the single “Girl From Germany” from their
second album, A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing.

In October of 1974, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” /”Alabamy
Right” reached #13. It was the nearest thing to a ballad that Sparks
had ever done, featuring beautiful mellotron and synth strings. In 1975
during the Indiscreet sessions, a new version of the song was recorded
by producer Tony Visconti’s wife at the time, Mary Hopkin, which Ron
Mael says is even more haunting than the original. It has never been
released. A Propaganda outtake, “Profile” was later issued as the
B-side of the Visconti-produced Indiscreet’s “Get In The Swing”.

During Sparks’ second British tour, their live performances caused mass
audience hysteria. Disney tunes were played before each gig, firing up
the teens who tore at Russell’s clothing during every show. Ron
received an occasional outburst of affection as well! Ron and Russ
became centerfold pinups for all the British teen magazines. Sparks
were uncomfortably wedged somewhere between Glam and Rock although they
were neither one entirely. As refreshing as their music was to some, it
was equally annoying to others – a high standard which Sparks maintain
to this day!

While the band finished up their 40-day UK tour, Propaganda was
released in America in January of 1975. They soon appeared in a barrage
of television appearances including NBC’s Midnight Special and the
syndicated Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert. On ABC’s In Concert, Sparks
were introduced by Keith Moon and Ringo Starr. The band performed up to
six songs on each of these shows (highly contrasted amongst the most
dreary American rock groups), and caught the attention of many new
fans. Sparks made their second appearance on American Bandstand on July
12, 1975 to perform “B.C.” and “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of
Us”. They also charmed the American music press, especially Hit Parader
and Detroit’s Creem magazine. Mumps/An American Family member (the
late) Lance Loud also granted several interviews with the Maels in
Circus magazine.

A subsequent U.S. Propaganda tour beginning in April, 1975 was received
less enthusiastically, despite much appreciation by those with a
modicum of taste. The after-show parties were held at Burger Kings and
I-H.O.P.s across America instead of exclusive hot-spots so that fans
could join in the festivities. The first-ever Sparks bootleg album, One
And A Half-Nelson ‘The Instant Darlings Recorded Live’
was made at this

In a video clip of a rare studio session, Ron falls off his piano bench
during “Something For the Girl With Everything”. Sparks performed the
song on Holland’s Top Pop television show, and they were received
passionately in concert there as well.

The Propaganda album elaborately set the stage for Sparks’ next
excursion…the inimitable Indiscreet.