People tend to forget how huge disco was in the late ’70s. Pretty much everyone took a stab at making a disco record — Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, KISS. Even that most hapless of rock gods, Ringo Starr, tried to get in on the action, with predictably disastrous results. (We still love you, Ringo! But we’re glad you got that solo artist stuff out of your system and have settled happily into Rock Elder Statesman status.)
In the midst of all that high-profile Studio 54 carpetbaggery, a successful but significantly less famous art-rock duo called Sparks somehow managed to hire one of disco’s architects, the great Giorgio Moroder, to produce their eighth studio album. The resulting product, No. 1 in Heaven, spawned a pair of U.K. hits, “Beat the Clock” and “The Number One Song in Heaven.” But more importantly, it proved that electronic dance music could be weird. It’s the missing link between Kraftwerk and much of the herkiest, jerkiest synth-pop and New Wave that would follow. It also gave Sparks a much-needed reset, paving the way for what has become a career built on continuous, Bowie-like reinvention, as brothers Ron and Russell Mael have transformed their sound with virtually every new release in all the decades since.
This March, No. 1 in Heaven turns 40, even though I bet it still gets carded at the nightclub. To celebrate how gracefully their disco opus has aged, Sparks are reissuing No. 1 in Heaven on CD and vinyl with four bonus tracks and two promos recorded by the great Peter Cook (if his name doesn’t ring a bell, maybe this will: “Mawwiage!”). Both are available for pre-order now from the Sparks online store.
I’ll leave you with the video for “The Number One Song in Heaven,” in which one Russell and three Rons serve up their heavenly synths and falsetto vocals in what I assume is a cloud of hairspray and cocaine dust. God, the ’70s look fun.