Quirky brother duo Ron and Russell Mael, collectively known as Sparks with their ever-changing disposable session musicians had grown tired of the atmosphere in England and came home to America to begin recording what was their sixth album. Upset with the disappointing sales of their 1975 record "Indiscreet" they felt a change was imminent - as it always is with Sparks. After having charmed over CBS for a record deal, they dismissed their English band for broader horizons. Their initial purpose for the new record was to obtain the typical Los Angeles (West coast) sound. However, the result turned out to be more of a mixture of this style and the punk rock sound that was rising in the Big Apple. Produced by Rupert Holmes at Mediasound Studios in New York City, production of the album itself only required about three months, and was released in October of 1976. This album, full of bold sounds and gutsy lyrics was called "Big Beat". The task of finding new musicians for their new record was tedious, and they were almost able to woo the legendary Mick Ronson, who politely declined since he was already working on a project with Ian Hunter. However, they were able to bag bassist Sal Maida, who was known for his work with Roxy Music. Rupert, who was virtually unknown at the time, would later record "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" and skyrocket himself to momentary success. In 1976, Mediasound was nicknamed "The Church" by locals. It had housed famous sessions by artists such as The Rolling Stones, KISS, David Bowie, and the Ramones. Artists had to spend their time wisely - one hour in the studio was approximately 170$. At first the record cover may fool you into thinking it's another glam album. Or that it might not have much substance. After all, there's a typical bare-chested pretty boy, and his strikingly gaunt brother. What lingers inside is much more than the tenderness featured at first glance. (old colour edits from my archives) (front cover) (inside sleeve) The photos, according to Sparks legend, didn't take a tad of effort, and the brothers were allegedly quite hurried by photographer Richard Avedon. 15 minutes and a hole in the pocket later, the photos were done - and the Maels were pleased. Its personnel were as follows: Russell Mael (vocals) Ron Mael (keyboards) Sal Maida (bass) Jeffrey Salen (guitar) Hilly Michaels (drums) "Big Beat" opens with "Big Boy" - a song about a type of guy that everyone knows. The great big neanderthal that can steal any girl he wants, or beat the living shit out of you if he pleases. In a live performance at the Bottom Line that year, the song was performed with a little extra dialogue from Russell to further illustrate the song. (Unfortunately it's not available for easy listening - I do have a bootleg of the entire live album though.) The sound of the track itself is positively enormous. (above: live, 2008) The song was featured in the 1977 film "Rollercoaster". Sparks had been invited to play the short role of an outdoors band in this disaster film, after KISS said they'd have no part in it. The bros Mael have both expressed distaste and regret for the occasion - even fans cringe when anyone mentions it! It was also one of two singles from the album, and its b-side was "Fill 'er Up". It was, sadly, a commercial failure despite their appearance in "Rollercoaster". "I Want to Be Like Everybody Else" (sorry, no A/V this time) has a bit of a nursery rhyme sound to it, complete with silly lyrics. It tells the tale of a guy who just can't seem to get into the social world, because he's always awkward and his timing is always inappropriate. While the lyrics are a little watered down (which is made up for later in the record) the band is larger than life, with an unmistakable solid rock sound. "Nothing to Do" is a little more abrasive than the two previous tracks. (above: live, 2008) Ron's piano is prominent, and his songwriting suggests what was going on during this point in Sparks' career. In their latest biography by Daryl Easlea, "Talent is an Asset: The Story of Sparks" a time is recalled in which Ron actually broke down and cried because he felt as if the band was going nowhere, and nobody cared what they were doing. The song itself has lyrics that suggest that the protagonist obviously has nothing to do, but if he had a girl, he'd be set with something to "do" all the time. One of my favourite tracks on the album, perhaps because of the obvious presence of Ron's piano, follows: "I Bought the Mississippi River". It sounds like something Morrissey would write. It's got that cocky edge of entitlement - which is exactly what this song is about. Everything about its instrumentation is amazing. Drums especially. (above: live, 2008) "Fill 'er Up" (again, no A/V - this stuff is rare) is where things start to get mildly offensive. The lyrics are spat at you much faster than you can take in, but one of my favourite lines that make normal people cringe: Basically it's a song about a guy with a petrol-thirsty car. And you're treated to a screaming Russell. While on topic of this vehicular tune, I find it safe to mention that Russell owns a green '57 Chevy (which I nearly died when I heard about, because I have coveted that particular type of car since I was a little girl) - which he's had for years and absolutely adores. "Everybody's Stupid", the last track on side A of the record, is a masterpiece. (above: studio version.) It has just the right amount of the necessary elements of a rock song. Including Ron's biting wit. Some classic lines from this track: It's one song that, if it doesn't make you smile, you have no soul. Or you're just dead. Stay tuned for side B of "Big Beat", coming right up.