Friday, May 27, 2011

Sparks -- "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us" (1974)


Daily, except for Sunday
You dawdle into the cafe
Where you meet her each day
Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat,
As twenty cannibals have hold of you
They need their protein just like you do
This town ain't big enough for the both of us
But it ain't me who's gonna leave!

I used to have a real weakness for tongue-in-cheek pop songs with overly clever lyrics full of bad puns and "in" jokes and over-the-top theatricality.  I'm talking about bands like 10cc and City Boy and especially the Sparks.

I picked up three Sparks albums while I was in law school.  Kimono My House (released in 1974) was their third studio album and was a big success in the UK.  (Kurt Cobain supposedly said it was one of his favorite albums of all time.)  Propaganda (1974) and Indiscreet (1975) were also quite successful.

The "Kimono My House" album cover

I played those records a lot, and I'm surprised that this wasn't sufficiently annoying to my dorm neighbors to cause someone to punch me in the mouth.  (Assault and battery -- two torts and a crime!)  Sparks is fun music, but it's not the sort of thing that is likely to be well-received by overcaffeinated, hypercompetitive law students without a speck of sense of humor.

The Maels boys then
Sparks consisted of two brothers -- Ron and Russell Mael -- and a bunch of other guys who came and went.  Ron, who dressed in odd but relatively conservative clothes and affected a stiff and somewhat robotic persona on stage, played keyboards and wrote nearly all the group's music.  He sported a Hitler-style mustache (later modified to a pencil-thin mustache) and somewhat resembled Hitler, except he wasn't as good-looking and didn't have Hitler's charming personality.  

Russell, who was a fairly typical-looking rock star, helped Ron write some of their songs, but his main role was lead singer.  He sang in a very distinctive falsetto voice and jumped around the stage like a big crazy spaz.

The Mael boys now
I'm using the past tense here even though the Sparks are still recording and performing.  That's because I've paid no attention to the 17 albums Sparks released after the three that I own.  I do know that in 2008, they performed all 21 of their albums in successive nights in London.  (They recorded another album in 2009, which makes my math come out right.  Did you really doubt me, dog?)

"This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" was the band's biggest hit single -- it reached #2 on the UK pop singles chart.  The lyrics were undoubtedly inspired by  James Thurber's famous short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

In that 1939 story, Walter Mitty -- a mild-mannered suburban husband -- accompanies his wife on their weekly shopping trip.  He has five heroic daydreams, each of which is inspired by some mundane aspect of the shopping trip.  

For example, Mitty reads a magazine article about German air power and starts to daydream that he is a Royal Air Force pilot flying a suicide mission against the Nazis.  Later, his driving past a hospital triggers a fantasy that he is a world-famous surgeon performing a very tricky operation.




The first four of Mitty's daydreams are interrupted (usually by Mitty's wife) just as they are getting good.  The last one is not interrupted but ends badly.  Instead of an exciting daydream, it turns out to be a frightening nightmare.

In the Sparks song, a routine airline trip causes the singer to have a fantasy that he is the bombadier of the "Enola Gay," the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The simple act of taking a shower causes the singer to imagine he is in an exotic foreign town, shooting it out with his enemies during a pouring rain.  Just as in the Thurber story, there are five distinct scenarios.

Here's "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us":




Here's a link you can use to buy the song on iTunes:

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us - Kimono My House


Here's a link to use if you prefer to buy from Amazon:


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