Post by Sheriff John Stone on Aug 7, 2021 16:02:45 GMT
1976-1978: Back In The U.S.A.
After three successful albums (Kimono My House, Propaganda, Indiscreet), extensive touring, and several TV appearances, Ron and Russell Mael returned to the United States. And, again, Sparks was faced with the loss of their band. It was mutually decided that Ian Hampton (bass), Trevor White (guitar), and "Dinky" Diamond (drums) would remain in England, not making the move to the U.S.A. With Sparks' next album (Big Beat), for the first time, studio musicians were employed for the recording. This would become the norm, as Sparks was never again a self-contained band.
In 1976, Sparks recorded their last album for Island Records which was actually released on Columbia, Big Beat. They recorded a few demos with Mick Ronson and actually approached Ronson to join Sparks, but Mick had a prior commitment - with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue - and declined. Instead, the Big Beat album was recorded in New York with:
Ron Mael - keyboards
Russell Mael - vocals
Sal Maida (previously with Roxy Music) - bass
Jeffrey Salen (previously with Tuff Darts) - guitar
Hilly Boy Michaels - drums
Rupert Holmes (who later had his own hit, "Escape (The Pina Colada Song") was chosen to be the Producer. Big Beat was not just a rock album, it was a hard rock album. Some of Sparks' wit and wackiness was sacrificed for more straightforward rock and roll. Big Beat was not a commercial success; it did not chart in the U.S. or the U.K. Sparks was still fairly popular based on their previous three albums and their memorable TV appearances. Sparks appeared in the 1976 movie, Rollercoaster, performing two Big Beat songs, "Big Boy" and "Fill-er-up". (BTW, KISS declined the role in the movie).
By 1977, Ron and Russell Mael were back in their native Southern California. In October 1977, Sparks released their seventh studio album, Introducing Sparks, their second but first official album with Columbia. Some of the studio musicians included Ben Benay, David Foster, Lee Ritenour, and Mike Porcaro (later with Toto). Introducing Sparks was a mixed bag employing a variety of music styles. The first single from the album, "Over The Summer", was a Beach Boys' sound-a-like. Unfortunately, Introducing Sparks was a commercial and critical failure. Like Big Beat, it did not chart in the U.S. or the U.K.
As a big Sparks' fan in 1976-77, personally, with the release of Big Beat and Introducing Sparks, I was confused. Those albums gave the impression that Ron and Russ were giving up, abandoning their unique and frenzied arrangements, and just going with the flow. While Big Beat and Introducing Sparks had their share of vintage Sparks' moments, they also were playing it...more safe. I actually like(d) Big Beat because at that time I was very much into hard rock. It's just that I found it a little unfulfilling. I flat out did not like Introducing Sparks. It was easily their most mellow album to date. It sounded like they were trying to be commercial, maybe get on the radio, maybe have more hit singles. Over time, I've made my peace with Introducing Sparks, and a few of the songs have become favorites.
After Introducing Sparks tanked, I felt that Sparks was at a crossroads, and, with their next album, my hunch would be proven to be correct.
From Big Beat, "I Like Girls"
From Introducing Sparks, "Goofing Off":