I remember there was quite the outcry over the sleeve for Beat The Clock, the single released by Sparks in July 1979 as the follow-up to Number One Song In Heaven which, earlier the same year, had taken the brotherly duo back into the charts after a four-year absence.

The problem for the big retail stores which sold records, such as Woolworth and WH Smiths, was that the picture sleeve featured a model, dressed in a lab coat, which was open to the waist and thus you could see her underwear which consisted of a see-through bra and thus a nipple was on display.  The image on the back sleeve was even more problematic for public display as it consisted of a full-length shot of the model in which she was ripping off her lab coat….the solution for such stores was to stock the single but only have it available from under the counter!

Things like this in 1979 caused outrage in the tabloid press, notwithstanding the fact that many of them also featured topless women on Page 3 of their publications as a matter of routine. There is no doubt that Russell and Ron Mael knew what they were doing when they agreed to the sleeve, no doubt egged on by those in charge at Virgin Records who quite liked the idea of the music industry still being able to shock society – it was no real surprise that the label was home to more post-punk/new wave acts than any other.

The annoying thing was that with Giorgio Moroder on board for the new material, there was no need to resort to such cheap and nasty gimmicks as the music was more than capable of delivering on its own merits. Still, there’s no doubt the sleeve helped shift a few more units as the single went all the way to #10, their biggest success since the initial one-two of This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us and Amateur Hour back in 1974.

The parent album only had six tracks and so there was a real lack of material for the b-side. An alternative mix was therefore offered up:-

mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (single version)
mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (alternative mix)

The 12″ came in a quasi-picture disc format in that it was pressed in a way that it had a standard 12″ black or coloured vinyl on the outside edge with the music merging into a picture disc towards the central area. It offered up an extended version along with a gimmick:-

mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (long version)
mp3: Sparks – Untitled

The latter was a two-and-a-half minutes-long piece in which the comedian Peter Cook, acting as a lawyer who represents God, calls up Virgin Records to make a formal complaint that Sparks had no right to call their new album Number One in Heaven. The piece is put together in a way that snippets of tracks on the album are aired.



The surprise disappearance/takedown of When You Can’t Remember Anything has disturbed and troubled me. I’ve previously had some advance e-mails from SWC or Tim letting me know when things are going a bit tits-up with one or other of them and warning that there might be a bit of turbulence at the blog. Just a few weeks ago, SWC advised he was going overseas to work but that Tim and KC would be looking after things. I noticed on their blog about 10 days or so ago that KC was unwell which meant things were being juggled around a bit and then last week, when I was across in Ireland, I noticed the blog had been removed by the authors.

I’ve dropped the boys a couple of e-mails but had no replies which I find very worrying. I’d be lying if I thought I could carry on here as normal making all sorts of pithy observations when at the back of my mind, and not too far back it must be said, I’m thinking about my friends from south-west England and hoping that everything is okay.

So for the next few days at least, things are going to settle into a bit of a dull routine here at Villain Towers. You’ll get your usual Saturday and Sunday postings and the occasional Charged Particles contribution from Jonny but the daily fare from myself will just be featuring two songs, one which begins with the word ‘This’ and one which has the word ‘That’ in its title. Sometimes by the same singer or band. There will be the usual boring background info supplied but nothing that is going to tax my brain too much as I’m really not in the mood for creative thinking just now.

mp3 : Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us (orchestral version)

It was a while back when I wrote about how I fell for Sparks when they appeared on Top of the Pops in 1974. All these years on and they’re still going, probably still known best for that big hit single. Back in 1997 the band released their 17th LP, Plagiarism, in which they offered new takes on old songs with Erasure, Faith No More and Jimmy Somerville drafted in to add their vocal and playing talents to some of the songs. There were actually two versions of This Town….put on the album – one that was quite rocky thanks to the contributions of the afore-mentioned Faith No More and the one I’ve posted today which is an orchestral mix on which legendary producer Tony Visconti worked with them.

mp3 : Tuff Love – That’s Right

Tuff Love are (or maybe were)* a great little indie pop-punk band from Glasgow. Consisting of Julie Eisenstein (guitar, vocals) and Suse Bear (bass, vocals) they first came to my attention back in 2014 when they not only released a debut 10″ EP entitled Junk but seemed to be on the bill of just about every gig I got along to that year. They were occasionally a bit hit n miss in the live setting but as time went on they got more confident, polished and accomplished. Two more EPs, Dross and Dregs, were released in 2015 before Lost Map Records pulled all the tracks together a single LP, Resort, that was issued in early 2016. I saw the band in Glasgow around that time and was well impressed, thinking they would push on from there but they’ve been quiet on the new music front although they were on a lot of summer festival bills later in the year.

Looking up a social media site, there’s a message posted back in February 2017 that says:-

Hello there, just to let you know we’re doing other things just now other than Tuff Love. Thank you for all the support so far/over the past few years. See you soon. Love from Suse and Julie xx

Whether that means the band is no more or there’s a temporary break remains to be seen.

That’s Right is taken from the Dross EP. And it’s 140 seconds of magic.



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.


From Rolling Stone magazine:-

LCD Soundsystem’s tragically nostalgic dance-rock epic ‘All My Friends’ is arguably the best indie-rock song of the ’00s. The B-sides to the single were all cover versions, hinting that the song was a classic the minute it was released.

Scot rockers Franz Ferdinand, who’d already taken bracing, contorted grooves to the pop charts, were born to do ‘All My Friends’ and they turned in an incisive, raging guitar-grinding version with singer Alex Karpanos boozily crooning James Murphy’s forlorn lyrics about losing touch with your friends as you grow older and more ambitious. Musically, they pull of a wonderful trick of interlaying their version with references to legendary post-punk bands like New Order and the Gang of Four that LCD and Franz share as influences. It’s an A-plus history project you can get way down to.

mp3 : Franz Ferdinand – All My Friends

It really is a cracking, crackling energetic cover that is among the best things that FF have ever laid down.  But then again, they’re a band who have never shied away from tackling cover versions throughout their career, some without question more successfully than others as evidenced here:-

mp3 : Franz Ferdinand – Sexy Boy
mp3 : Franz Ferdinand – Get Up and Use Me
mp3 : Franz Ferdinand – What You Waiting For?
mp3 : Franz Ferdinand – Sound and Vision

I’m quite fond of the first two of the four featured above, not convinced by the third as I’ve no time for the original (albeit Mrs Villain is a fan of Gwen Stefani) while the latter is fun enough for the fact that Girls Aloud are on backing vocals!

I never ever got round to mentioning that the FFS project turned out to be one of the best surprises about 2015. The idea of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks combining into a supergroup for an album and live performances didn’t seem like a good idea when first mooted but then I gave the album a listen and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was but that was nothing compared to seeing them perform at the Glasgow Barrowlands which turned out to be a fun-filled and hugely entertaining gig. This was the night when I did truly understand the FF boys were born to do cover versions.

Watch this entire 70 minute performance while you have spare time over the festive period

You can perhaps do it tomorrow when I’m taking a day off blogging. I’ll be back on Saturday with the latest in the re-run of the 45s series

Happy New Year when it comes.



….I probably first set my eyes on the then scariest looking man in pop music.

The singles chart of 11 May 1974 had a new entry by a new band at #27.

mp3 : Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us

I’d be not far short of my 11th birthday.  Pop music on the telly was more or less restricted to Top of The Pops and given that Sparks were just one of two new entries that week (the other being Alvin Stardust singing Red Dress) then I’m assuming they got on the show a few days later.  If so, then that was the first time I saw the really creep, scary man with the staring eyes and the Adolf Hitler moustache sitting behind the piano.  He gave me more nightmares than any monster brought to life by the writers of Dr Who.

There’s no doubt that Sparks first appearance on telly got the nation talking.  Most of the talk would have been about the keyboard weirdo, but then again I’m sure that much of the female population were equally as wowed by the good-looking man in the tight trousers with the high-pitched voice.

The effect of this incredible appearance can be seen from the following week’s chart.  Sparks were the biggest climbers up 18 places to #9 – compare and contrast with poor old Alvin whose efforts saw a rise of just one spot to #10.   In those days, you didn’t get on the show two weeks running unless you were #1, but that didn’t stop the momentum of This Town…which hit #3.

Another TV performance saw even more people buy the single and in its fourth week on the charts it hit #2, which is also where it stayed on week 5, sadly kept off the top spot by Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes.

By the sixth week it had fallen down to #5….and the Top of The Pop rules were that no song falling down the chart would feature.

There’s many who at the time predicted Sparks would be one-hit wonders and remembered as a novelty act. That they were back in the charts a few months later came as a shock to those who hated them:-

mp3 : Sparks – Amateur Hour

But even their biggest fans would have laughed out loud if you’d said they’s still be making critically acclaimed music 40 years on……..

As I was too young to really appreciate and understand Bowie, then it’s fair to say that Sparks were the first weird and different sounding band that I ever fell for (once I realised that Ron Mael wasn’t really the bogeyman).  And I’m happy to argue all day and all night that the two singles which first brought them fame and fortune are timeless classics.