Alabamy Right by Sparks – Great B-Sides

Ron and Russell Mael grew up in Pacific Palisades, California, surfing and modelling for mail order catalogues. They both studied film in college, but gravitated to music, recording their first record as Halfnelson in 1971, with Todd Rundgren producing. The brothers moved to England in time to catch the glam-rock wave, forming a new band of backing musicians, and fitting in alongside Queen and T-Rex.

Sparks were on a tear in 1974. They released two of their best records – Kimono My House and Propaganda. And they still had gas in the tank for a couple of quality b-sides in the Propaganda era – ‘Marry Me’ and ‘Alabamy Right’. It’s bizarre that they weren’t on Propaganda to start with – the record’s barely over half an hour, and they’re both high quality. There’s plenty of note without them – there’s the killer opening combo of ‘Propaganda/At Home, at Work, and Play’, and the lead single ‘Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth’, later covered by Neko Case.

‘Alabamy Right’ is built around a Ron Mael piano riff that harks back to pre-rock and roll styles – it’s music hall and ragtime. It’s packed with ideas, frenetically packing a lot in a two-minute running time. Russell Mael’s androgynous voice hits high notes. I’d never registered the lyrics before, but it’s about a 5 pm rush for ice cream – “scaling the mountain of frozen delights”. There’s an informative lyric video that unpacks the lyrics a little more.

Sparks have continued their wayward journey through popular music, from the disco of 1979’s No. 1 in Heaven with Giorgio Moroder to impressive 21st century comebacks like Hello Young Lovers. But 1974 was arguably their peak, and ‘Alabamy Right’ is one of their best songs from that year.

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. Sparks were all new to me, so in addition to this tune, I sampled some of the music from the “Kimono My House” and “Propaganda” albums. I find it quite unusual – pretty sophisticated musically, yet slightly weird at the same time, especially the vocals. That’s kind of how I feel about certain Queen and 10cc songs – weirdly catchy!

    • I never heard this album but one time when I was real young like in high school I went to a warehouse sale at a record warehouse and they were selling all the old cut-out records that were probably sitting around the warehouse for years and I got three Sparks albums all wrapped up together for like two or three bucks or something. One was Kimono My House and another one was Angst in My Pants. I can’t remember the name of the last one but it had a picture where they were standing out front of a house where a plane crashed. I think that was the one that I liked best but I don’t really remember too much . It was hard to get into the music because they’re so goofy but I thought they were funny. I like when bands used to do old-timey sounding music like this

    • Yeah, it’s kind of surprising that they were big for a while – This Town Isn’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us was a big hit in the UK, and Propaganda and Kimono My House were both top ten records.

  2. You’re thinking of “Indiscreet” Bobby. (Check my reviews!).

    Alabamy Right is a fine off the wall choice to feature, but the problem is it’s bloody awful :). They did worse, though – Talent Is An Asset, BC and Who Don’t Like Kids. All stinkers.

  3. This is embarassing…but how I found out about The Sparks was through Paul McCartney’s video of Coming Up when he was imitating the keyboard player. I thought who was that? So I read a Rolling Stone article about it.
    I’ve heard great things about them…This sounds like a sophisticated little pop song. I like the different changes it makes.

    • I’d never seen the ‘Coming Up’ video before, although I knew the song. He does look like he’s impersonating Ron Mael, although his moustache isn’t quite as provocative.

      Sparks were pretty big in the UK, but obscure in the US – it happens sometimes, but it’s a little weird since they’re originally American. This Town Isn’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us probably could have been a US hit?

      • Wow…I just watched that Sparks video of that song. I’ve seen it before somewhere…maybe VH1 or MTV.

  4. Had a friend who was all over this band. I listened to them a lot back when. Some of their cuts get into the head for sure.
    ( I’ve been going through some old record review clippings from the past. I sent Max a couple I thought he might find interesting. I found one that you might be curious about. Jeremy Enigk : Return Of The Frog Queen. It’s a Syd Barret inspired effort. Interested in what you think if you find time to listen. The review was from 1996.

    • Cool – listening to a live version of the title track now. I’ve heard of Sunny Day Real Estate but don’t know any of their stuff, but it does sound like something I’d enjoy.

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