PAVING THE WAY FOR WEIRDOS TO MAKE ELECTRO-POP HIT SINGLES

This was in the charts around the time of my 16th birthday in June 1979. It’s a record that reminds me of my first ever proper job which lasted for about six weeks over that summer.

It was in a Glasgow store of Halfords. I actually told a few white lies to land the post, in that I said to the store manager when I went for the interview that I had decided to leave school at the earliest opportunity, which was on my 16th birthday, when in fact I was always intending to go back in August 1979 to sit exams that I hoped I could pass and go onto university.

Anyway, the six weeks that I spent in the shop were great fun. It was mostly lads maybe three or four years older than me, but they seemed awfully grown up in so many ways, especially the fact that they went out to the pub after work every Saturday night – I was always young-looking for my age and stood no chance of getting served. Everyone liked their music, but we all had different tastes, so the solution was to just have Radio 1 on in the background all day long – and the Sparks record was on very heavy rotation.

By the time I had started work, just about everyone had more or less forgotten about Sparks after a bundle of hit singles in 1974 and 1975 – they were probably regarded as a bit of a novelty act thanks in part to the fact that Russell Mael had a singing voice that hit higher notes than just about any other bloke on the planet, but mainly to the fact that Ron Mael when appearing on telly stared intensely at the camera and freaked everyone out. Oh and he also had a moustache and haircut that made him look awfully like Adolf Hitler….

The Number One Song In Heaven was totally unexpected. The only way you could tell it was Sparks was the distinctive vocal – but what Russell was warbling over was something mind-blowing and astonishing.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that very few bands used electronic keyboards to any great effect 30 years ago. Sparks went for it in a big way, deciding to recruit Giorgio Moroder into the band – an act of absolute genius. Moroder, Italian-born but German-based, was well-known for his work on disco music on the Casablanca label, particularly with Donna Summer, as well as the fact that in 1978 he’d won an Oscar for his soundtrack to the movie Midnight Express (the single The Chase – Theme From Midnight Express used to amaze my dad – we had wall-mounted stereo speakers and it sounded as if the music was actually crawling its way across the wall as it moved from one stereo speaker to the other)

Anyways, the first thing the public got to hear from the Maels/Moroder canon was this:-

mp3 : Sparks – The Number One Song In Heaven

I was sure this was a truly massive hit, so I was surprised to learn that in fact it only reached #14 in the UK charts, although it did hang around the Top 40 for almost two months (which was why it was on heavy rotation on the shop radio).

Strangely enough, I didn’t play the A-side all that often, for the version of the song that was put on the reverse was far superior, but at 7 plus minutes long wouldn’t ever have gotten played on daytime radio:-

mp3 : Sparks – The Number One Song In Heaven (long version)

It was where prog met glam met disco met film soundtrack on one piece of 7″ black vinyl – one that, sadly, is no longer in the collection.

So there you have it. The celestial song which cleared the decks for the likes of Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, Human League and Heaven 17 (as well as many other inferior versions of electro-pop) to come along in the 80s and make a fortune.

3 thoughts on “PAVING THE WAY FOR WEIRDOS TO MAKE ELECTRO-POP HIT SINGLES

  1. Peter Cook recorded two largely improvised comedy monologues promoting the ‘No.1 in Heaven’ album, which were ‘hidden’ on the inner grooves of the 12″ singles of ‘Beat the Clock’ and ‘Tryouts for the Human Race’.

  2. The Peter Cook monologues also found their way onto the 12″ version of ‘Beat the Clock” and I featured them on the old blog before it was taken down. Will see if I can repost later as an addendum to today’s post.

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