Ron and Russell Mael have always open to musical influences. Over the course of their four-decade career as Sparks, the art-pop legends have traversed genres and influenced generations.
The L.A.-based Mael brothers formed their first group, Halfnelson, in 1970 and eventually landed a deal with Bearsville Records. At Bearsville, Todd Rundgren produced their self-titled debut album. Three years later, the band had rechristened themselves Sparks and caught the attention of the music press and a fervent fanbase following the release of A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing. As the years passed, the group found a new home in London, where they recorded a number of over-the-top albums with the likes of Muff Winwood, Rupert Holmes, and Tony Visconti producing – each of which has since reached cult classic status.
But by 1979, Sparks was ready to shift directions. The result was No. 1 in Heaven, Sparks’ first full-fledged foray into electronica. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of its original release, Sparks’ own Lil Beethoven Records released a newly remastered, 2-CD reissue of No. 1 in Heaven on March 8 that boasts six bonus tracks. A special 2-disc, color vinyl edition arrived on March 29 that follows the program iof the CD version.
Released in 1979, No. 1 in Heaven was produced by Giorgio Moroder. The Italian songsmith had already made a name for himself as one of the leading figures of disco, and its his forward-looking 1977 Donna Summer production, “I Feel Love,” that struck a chord with the Brothers Mael. A journalist got them in touch with Moroder soon after they heard the track and they began work in 1978.
Though the band was once considered too oddball for the mainstream, the blend of sequencers, synths, and dance-floor-friendly rhythms brought Sparks to the charts. Yet, their peculiar theatricality remained undiminished within the new music landscape. In fact, it found good company in Moroder’s eccentric production choices. The six-song album produced four singles – “La Dolce Vida,” “Tryouts for the Human Race,” The Number One Song in Heaven,” and “Beat the Clock.” The latter reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart, while “The Number One Song in Heaven” peaked at No. 14 in the U.K. and No. 5 in Ireland. In the years since its release, No. 1 in Heaven has garnered acclaim from the likes of Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, and Joy Division, who cited “The Number One Song in Heaven” as an influence for their classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Now, another generation of listeners can enjoy the album through the new reissue that adds on a nearly eight-minute alternate version of “Tryouts for the Human Race,” the single edit of “The Number One Song in Heaven,” the 12″ version of “Beat the Clock,” the shortened single version of “Tryouts for the Human Race,” and two Peter Cook promotional spots for the album that were previously only available on the U.K. picture discs for “Tryouts for the Human Race” and “Beat the Clock.”
All the music on the 40th Anniversary Edition of No. 1 in Heaven has been remastered for the 2-CD and 2-LP color vinyl edition. Both are available from Lil Beethoven Records. The CD and vinyl are both out now. Sparks’ website notes that the first 450 LP orders from the Sparks Online Store will include a photo signed by Ron and Russell Mael. We’ve also included Amazon links below, along with a full track listing!
No. 1 In Heaven: 40th Anniversary Edition (Lil Beethoven Records, 2019)
Disc 1: Original album (released as Elektra 6E-186 (U.S.)/Virgin V-2115 (U.K.), 1979)
- Tryouts For The Human Race
- Academy Award Performance
- La Dolce Vita
- Beat The Clock
- My Other Voice
- The Number One Song In Heaven
Disc 2: Bonus tracks
- Tryouts For The Human Race (Alternative Long Version)
- Peter Cook’s Promo Spot For No. 1 In Heaven
- The Number One Song In Heaven (Single Version)
- Beat The Clock (Long Version)
- Peter Cook’s Promo Spot for “Tryouts For The Human Race”
- Tryouts For The Human Race (Single Version)
Tracks 1 and 5 from Virgin 12″ picture single VS-289-12 (U.K.), 1979
Tracks 2 and 4 from Virgin 12″ picture single VS-270-12 (U.K.), 1979
Track 3 from Virgin single VS-244 (U.K.), 1979
Track 6 from Elektra single E-46045 (U.S.)/Virgin single VS-289 (U.K.), 1979