I shared this heartfelt lament on a cool place Sparks facebook group. It’s a lengthy confession of my disappointment with Edgar Wright’s “The Sparks Brothers” documentary of the Brothers Mael. Not full-fledged disappointment. I love the movie! This is a specific disappointment. If there are any other long-lived KROQ Sparks fans, you’ll understand my pain. You’ll taste that pain in the back of your throat.
Whomp That Sucker is the album where I discovered Sparks. This was the early 1980s when I first started discovering my own music and not just what my parents spun on the record player. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang soundtrack, Sound of Music soundtrack, West Side Story soundtrack … there’s a parental theme for sure. In any case, Upstairs hooked me on first listen. And then every other song on the album. I’m a SoCal KROQ Kid. And this was the KROQ Era for Sparks.
Speaking of the 80s KROQ Era for Sparks, did anyone notice how quickly Edgar Wright breezed over the KROQ Era in his documentary? Whomp That Sucker, Angst in My Pants, Sparks in Outer Space, Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat, Music That You Can Dance To, and Interior Design. He shows an 80s KROQ graphic, incredulously comments on Pretending to Be Drunk (paraphrased: What were they thinking? So confusing.), and then he moves on to Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins. He didn’t interview a single KROQ personality. Not even Richard Blade!
Sparks was HUGE on KROQ! And KROQ was/is HUGE in the Los Angeles metroplex. And the Los Angeles metroplex is simply HUGE with a HUGE number of KROQ listeners. Remember the DJ named April? I think she did a shoot for Playboy, or so was the rumor, or so many of my friends (and me) openly wished for. She didn’t just play the New Wave stuff and only the singles. She’d play songs like Pineapple and she dug out “obscure” non-album movie soundtrack cuts like Breaking Out of Prison. April played album tracks like The Willys, Nicotina, Shopping Mall of Love (I only heard this once), A Song That Sings Itself, Lots of Reasons, and Rockin’ Girls. She never did a show without playing at least three Sparks songs.
Okay, going from memory, here’s a list of Sparks songs I heard on KROQ back the in the ROQ of the 80s days (the 1980s, fer sher, no duh).
- Amateur Hour
- Happy Hunting Ground
- Tips for Teens
- I Married a Martian
- Funny Face
- The Willys
- Wacky Women
- Angst in My Pants
- I Predict
- Sextown USA
- Mickey Mouse
- Sherlock Holmes
- Eaten By the Monster of Love (My favorite Sparks song)
- Cool Places
- I Wish I Look a Little Better
- All You Ever Think About Is Sex
- Lucky Me, Lucky You
- Rockin’ Girls
- Prayin’ for a Party
- Modesty Plays
- Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat
- Pretending to Be Drunk
- With All My Might
- Kiss Me Quick
- A Song That Sings Itself
- Get Crazy
- Breaking Out of Prison
- Armies of the Night
- Music That You Can Dance To
- The Scene
- Shopping Mall of Love
- Modest Plays (new version)
- So Important
- Just Got Back from Heaven
- You Got a Hold of My Heart
- Lots of Reasons
- Yes or No – Honorable mention because the Maels wrote this song for the Go-Gos album Talk Show.
Proof positive KROQ loved Sparks and supported them in a big way. Yet Edgar blew right past the KROQ Era. What was he thinking? So confusing.
Don’t get all misconstrued on the mind. I love the film. It’s an at least monthly viewing for me. Perhaps I wasn’t clear on that. I just felt a strong pang of disappointment “my childhood Sparks” didn’t feature a bit more. In subsequent interviews after release Edgar is more direct about not being too enthralled with the KROQ years. It was telling Jane Wiedlen (of the Go-Gos, who duets with Russell on Cool Places and Lucky Me, Lucky You) is the most prominent celeb from the timeframe and geographic location. Which again isn’t a complaint, merely disappointment. There were so many SoCal personalities and musicians who would’ve gushed over Sparks. Gushed! Gushed, I say!
I was so hoping at least one KROQ representative would feature in the interviews, just to gush – gush, I proclaim! – over the songs I grew up with. Measured in time, the KROQ era is a good 20% of their career. Measured in album count, it’s a full 24% of their musical output. All the gushing that could have been, all the gushing lost to the documentary.
Another SoCal fan on the Sparks facebook group offered Sparks have so many genres and styles of music over their 50 years and 25 albums (in 2021, now 26 in 2023), there’s something for anyone to discover for themselves at any point in their five decades. In his words, it didn’t occur him that even a well-versed fan like Edgar Wright might not “get” an entire era of Sparks albums, “especially one so accessible as the KROQ era.”
I can kind of get where Edgar is coming from. Starting at Whomp That Sucker the prior albums sounded “too 70s” to my tender New Wave ears. Even with them changing styles several times through the 70s, all was “Sparks for geriatrics.” When April on KROQ started playing songs like Amateur Hour, Happy Hunting Ground, Pineapple, and Complaints I started picking up used copies of the 70s albums at Music Market, Top Cash, and Beggar’s Banquet. And I loved all of these “vintage” albums. Kimono My House is my fave 1970s Sparks album. So KROQ got me to expand retroactively my appreciation for Sparks. For how influential KROQ was supporting Sparks all through the 80s, I feel KROQ and their 80s tuneage deserved more screen time in Edgar’s documentary.
This is a quirky tale that reinforces the very brief take on the KROQ albums. I took my younger friend Mat (he wasn’t born yet in the 80s) and for weeks and in preparation I regaled him with stories about KROQ and the 80s albums. He’s a dedicated Edgar Wright fan so that was his in. When we left the theater he said this:
“Are you sure they were popular in California?”
Aside from his sadly validating and verifying words, Mat really enjoyed the film and he’s a recruited fan now. His favorite album is Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins.
Well, that felt good to get off my chest. I guess Edgar threw a bone to Cool Places. But I was totally disappointed that’s all that made it into the documentary. Six albums he all but skipped over. I’m being redundant and ungrateful. That’s a lot of paragraphs to say I have a minor qualm with The Sparks Brothers documentary. I adore the 50 years of their work which I would have never discovered if not for KROQ. The disco stuff took me longer to enjoy. That might have to do with KROQ listeners were under teenage peer pressure not to like the recently deceased disco. I dig Disco Sparks just fine now. I will survive.
It’s a great documentary excellently written and choreographed. I’ll close by saying thanks to Edgar Wright, Ron Mael, and Russell Mael for The Sparks Brothers. Way cool, totally rad, gnarly to the max. See it, even if you don’t know Sparks, because you really need to know Sparks.