In collaboration with vocalist brother Russell, composer/keyboardist Ron Mael was the mastermind behind the skewed pop smarts and wiseguy wordplay of cult favorite Sparks. Born August 12, 1950, in Culver City, CA, Mael spent his childhood modeling young men's apparel for mail-order catalogues; while attending UCLA in 1970, he and Russell formed their first group, Halfnelson. Although Todd Rundgren produced the band's self-titled 1971 debut, their quirky, tongue-in-cheek art pop initially failed to find an audience. After their manager successfully convinced the Maels to change the group's name, however, Sparks almost reached the Hot 100 with the single "Wonder Girl." 1972's sublimely bizarre A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing cemented the band's cult status, and scored another near-hit with "Girl From Germany." Following the Maels' relocation to England, 1974's glam-bubblegum opus Kimono My House reached the Top Five on the U.K. album charts and spawned two major British hits, "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" and "Amateur Hour." Helmed by disco producer Giorgio Moroder, 1979's synth-powered dance-pop confection No. 1 in Heaven spurred the group to renewed success in England on the strength of the hit singles "The Number One Song in Heaven," "Beat the Clock," and "Tryouts for the Human Race." 1983's Sparks in Outer Space launched the wonderful "Cool Places," a duet with the Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin which nearly reached the U.S. Top 40 and was the band's biggest hit at home. 1984's disastrous Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat derailed any chart momentum the band had gathered, however, and 1988's Interior Design was followed by a long hiatus. Outside of composing the music for a film by Hong Kong action maestro Tsui Hark, Sparks remained silent until Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, released in 1994. Plagiarism followed four years later.
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