50 (Mostly) Splendid Years of Sparks

Amid the anxieties of recent times as well as potential concerns about the well-being of musical heroes of a certain vintage, it’s been reassuring to the international community of Sparks fanatics to know that Ron and Russell Mael are weathering things in their customary manner. Along with rave reviews for the Los Angeles-based duo’s new album, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, the web has been filling up with the brothers’ stream of quarantine-inspired home videos, including one of Ron showing off his collection of international hand sanitizers.

Clearly, this is not how Sparks should have been celebrating their 50th anniversary of crafting irrepressibly witty and wondrous music, but it will have to do. Current circumstances also demonstrate a quality that has long been one of the band’s greatest virtues: an ability to engage with the now—or perhaps 15 minutes beyond it—without ever sacrificing their idiosyncrasies. That’s as true now as it was when the Maels left L.A. to become glam-pop heroes in early-’70s Britain, where their impact was clear on the likes of Queen, who dropped their Zeppelin shtick for a more flamboyant mode not long after they opened for Sparks. It was equally clear when they transformed again, with Giorgio Moroder’s help, to create some of the most effervescent electronic dance pop ever recorded, devising a template for New Order, Duran Duran, The Human League, and many more acolytes.

Not that the Maels are much for resting on laurels. Instead, they’ve continually engaged with younger admirers (as they did in FFS, their 2015 team-up with Franz Ferdinand) while releasing new albums that maintain their standards of excellence, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip being another case in point. Their cult may soon see an expansion of their ranks with the pending release of two new movies: Annette, an L.A.-set musical by French director Leos Carax featuring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard singing original Sparks songs, and a documentary about the band by super-fan Edgar Wright.

To celebrate the past 50 years of Sparks, we present this set of essential songs by the Maels themselves and many others whose music bears their influence, all to be savored along with the sanitizer of your choice.