That puppetacular poet of the swamps, Kermit The Frog, once lamented in song about the green-ness of his existence and the inherent difficulty thereof. Pretty philosophical stuff for an amphibian. But he’s right — being different can lead to a road pot-holed with hardship, especially in the music industry, where they love to churn out more of what’s already been successfully churned.
Being weird often relegates you to small indie labels, or doesn’t get you signed at all. This was particularly true of the US in the 70s once the executives all came to their senses after the “far out, man” 60s and realized how much money could be made. All the freaky acts–or anyone with cult status–found themselves on the outs.
Which brings us to the Mael brothers, Russell and Ron, otherwise known as Sparks. Two roads diverged. Guess which one they took?
Natives of Los Angeles, the Maels formed a group in the early 70s and signed with the tiny Bearsville label. They were subsequently picked up by the mighty Warner Bros. who unceremoniously dropped them after their second album failed to stir hearts–or wallets–in America. Sparks decided to regroup. As in, they got a new group. And a new postcode.
Fortunately, Sparks had accumulated a buzz in London during a small tour so Ron and Russell packed their bags and moved to the UK, a country with a glorious history of embracing the eccentric, and a perfect home for the, shall we say, unique energy of the Maels.
Ron soon began work on a tune called “Too Hot To Handle” for their upcoming album. The original plan involved taking a bunch of clichés and placing them in a song which was miles away from cliché. Eventually he whittled down that concept, leaving only the new title, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.” Ron wrote it with no consideration for how it would be sung, which explains why the key is so high and the lyrics are all crammed together and quite difficult to connect with. Somehow, lead singer Russell pulled it off.
Surprising many, including Sparks themselves, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us” shot to #2 in the UK. Of course, it came as no surprise to anyone when it didn’t even approach the charts in the US. Sparks went on to notch many more hits in the UK, but were simply too quirky for mainstream success in America. It may not be easy being Sparks, but it’s never dull.
No static. Just electricity.