Sparks - "Here In Heaven" (1974)
(Prompted by this post from my chum Alex).
I suppose I first heard Sparks in the same way as other people did at the time; courtesy of their No.2 smash This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us, and by seeing them on TV (probably, but not definitely Top Of The Pops - other music programmes were available). The sounds were somewhere beyond the usual glam-rock stomp, and the sights were of a thin lead singer with hair like an ebony dandelion and a keyboard player with a scary stare and an Adolf moustache.
My twelfth birthday was coming up so, a couple of days beforehand (a Saturday), my mother accompanied me to Crane's music and record shop at the junction of Regent Street and Duke Street. Crane's was a bit intimidating; it had a remarkably posh image for Wrexham and the staff seemed to be recruited from the same ranks as librarians, combining immense knowledge of what was on their shelves with the same appearance of sternness.
Having survived the ordeal, I emerged into the summer afternoon clutching two LPs (if you don't know what LPs are/were, ask yer granddad): Focus' latest oeuvre Hamburger Concerto - described by one music paper in that way that they had then as "overdone" (geddit?); and Kimono My House, the first Sparks album to appear under that name (they had had two released previously under the monicker Halfnelson).
Getting them back to my grandmother's flat (where my uncle Phil also lived, and he had a radiogram)...
...Look, I can't be explaining these archaisms to you all the time. Use your search engine of choice, especially if you don't mind someone scratching his arse in Bluffdale, Utah to know about it...
...I was somewhat taken aback to find that the lead singer was not, as I had assumed from the voice, a woman. Unless it was in any way usual (or even known) even in California for a bird to be called 'Russell'.
I have to say that that first hearing - in far from ideal circumstances, admittedly - was not overwhelming. What didn't help was that the thing was pressed just sufficiently off-centre to be noticeable. Wild horses, however, wouldn't have got me back into Crane's to do that very un-British thing and complain.
Over the next few months, however, I warmed to it. Or, at least, to most of it. I still regarded the closing track - Equator - to be a dreadful, repetitive racket many years later. Only in my pretentious middle age have I come to accept it, tuneless honking and all.
Nowadays, Kimono My House is regarded as a classic, and probably rightly. The soon-to-be-famous quirkiness of the subject matter and the lyrics were there, and the whole thing was underpinned by a powerful unit of Adrian Fisher (gtr), Martin Gordon (bs) and Norman 'Dinky' Diamond (drums). It combined the sounds of rock with the slightly avant garde and very European aesthetic of the Mael brothers to good effect.
I still have the LP - or, rather, a replacement copy bought many years later which did have the hole in the right place - and still enjoy much of it, especially the whole of side one.
To get back to where this wittering began then, here's track four from the opening side. Ron Mael's sardonic lyrics from the mouth of the non-survivor of a suicide pact follow:
"Here, there are lots of things to do
And a panoramic view
Of the Universe completely surrounding you.
And here you cannot buy souvenirs,
For you're never going back, never ever.
"Basically, I guess it could be worse.
Yes, I do suppose it would be worse.
"Here there are many, many sheep
And the people only sleep
And awake to tell how gory and gruesome was their end.
And I don't have many friends
And it's really very clean, and I'm thinking.
"Juliet, you broke our little pact.
Juliet, I'm never coming back."
"Up here in heaven without you.
I'm here in heaven without you.
Up here in heaven without you.
It is hell knowing that your health
Will keep you out of here
For many, many years."
"Dear, do you often think of me
As you overlook the sea?
Do I qualify as 'dearly departed' or am I
That sucker in the sky
The fall guy for the first and the last time?
"Juliet, I thought we had agreed.
Now I know why you let me take the lead."
"Second thoughts - is that what you had?
Second thoughts - first I broke my back.
Second thoughts - as I hit the sea.
Second thoughts - for eternity, for eternity, for eternity."
(Chorus - repeat to fade)
© Ron Mael