This Town Ain't Big enough For The Both Of Us

Album: Kimono My House (1974)
Charted: 2
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Songfacts®:

  • In the February 24, 2006 issue of The Guardian newspaper, Sparks keyboard player Ron Mael said: "Russell (Mael, vocals) and I moved to England after two unsuccessful American albums. Island Records had faith, but we didn't have any songs. Our parents were living here, and on Sundays I would take a bus to Clapham Junction; there was a piano in their flat. One Sunday something happened with that song. At first I didn't think of it as special: it was called Too Hot to Handle or something inane.

    The line, 'This town ain't big enough for the both of us' is a movie cliché, a challenge from one gunfighter to another. But having a song that was the opposite of a cliché but used a clichéd line really interested me. The vocals sound so stylized because I wrote it without any regard for vocals and Russell had to adapt. We were shocked when the record company thought it was a single, but doing Top Of The Pops had a tremendous effect. Suddenly there were screaming girls. We recorded it during the energy crisis and we were told that because of the vinyl shortage it might never come out."
  • This was written by Sparks in a cold flat in Clapham, South London. Elton John bet Sparks' producer Muff Winwood that this single wouldn't crack the UK charts, but Elton was proved wrong as it reached #2.
  • On Sparks' Top Of The Pops performance, Marc Bolan lookalike Russell Mael danced around hitting ear-shatteringly high notes, while his toothbrushed sibling, Ron Mael, sat almost motionless at the keyboards, throwing out chilling looks. John Lennon quipped of Ron Mael when he saw Sparks perform: "It's Hitler on the telly."

    The song became a hit after that appearance, which was delayed by two weeks as the Mael brothers had to sign up to the British Musicians' Union before they could perform on the show.
  • Ron Mael is the main songwriter of the two siblings but often his words may not quite fit the melody. However Ron won't let his vocalist brother, Russell Mael, deviate from his scores. Ron explained: "'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us' was written in A, and by God it'll be sung in A. I just feel that if you're coming up with most of the music, then you have an idea where it's going to go. And no singer is gonna get in my way." Russell added: "When he wrote 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us,' Ron could only play it in that key. It was so much work to transpose the song and one of us had to budge, so I made the adjustment to fit in."
  • In 2005, The Darkness vocalist, Justin Hawkins, covered this song as a solo project under the name British Whale. It reached #6 in the UK charts. The video featured Hawkins playing darts against the legendary Phil "The Power" Taylor and also Ron and Russell Mael. Siouxsie and the Banshees also recorded a version of this song for their 1987 covers album, Through the Looking Glass.
  • Sparks have had several other hits in the UK including "Amateur Hour" and "Beat The Clock." Their only American hit was "Cool Places," which peaked at #49 in 1983.
  • The cover of Kimono My House features two Japanese geisha girls, The one on the right is Japanese singer Michi Ghirota, who several years later provided female vocals for David Bowie's 1980 track, "It's No Game."
  • In our interview with Martin Gordon, who played bass for Sparks during the Kimono My House era, he told us about the initial arranging of this song: "After some months of rehearsing in a condemned slum in the (aptly-named) World's End in London's Chelsea, we moved to a dance studio in Clapham. Here, thanks to the full-length mirrors lining the walls, one could simultaneously pirouette and practice perfect pliés whilst performing the tunes, which suited certain members down to the ground. One day, Ron Mael brought 'This Town' in, and we set about creating a fitting arrangement. He played the changes chordally, and I picked out a monophonic line, which (guitar player) Adrian Fisher doubled. It seemed to work, and so we hung the song around it." Gordon went on to reveal the song's bass line was inspired by Yes: "I threw in a few fleeting references to 'Close to the Edge,' which no one seemed to identify, so I think I got away with that. Ron expressed pleased surprise at the outcome, in that he 'had not thought of that change as being a riff,' but nonetheless that was how it came out. Confirmation came from the record company, when they attended rehearsals - we seemed to be on to something."
  • A seldom-seen promotional film was shot for this song at Lord Montagu's country estate in Beaulieu on the south coast of England. It was directed by Rosie Samwell-Smith, the then-wife of former Yardbirds bassist, Paul Samwell-Smith.
  • In 1997, Sparks recorded two new versions of this song: one instrumental version produced by David Bowie associate, Tony Visconti, and one cover version featuring Nu Metal band, Faith No More. The latter appeared on Sparks' retrospective album, Plagiarism, and went on to reach #40 in the UK charts.
  • This song features in the 2008 superhero action comedy movie, Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz.

Comments: 5

  • Dario Western from Brisbane, Queensland, AustraliaI remember seeing them perform it on Top Of The Pops in the UK in 1974. Interestingly enough, they debuted with the song on the show the same day my brother Lee was born (26th April), and he was also influenced by them a bit with his own music and humour as he was growing up, but not to the same extent that I was.

    I was a bit freaked by the song the first time I heard it (I was 3 at the time), as I didn't know if Russ was a man or a woman because of his long bushy hair and high pitched voice and could hardly understand a word that he was singing, because of his accent it sounded like he was singing in a foreign language to me. Some years later when reading up about them, I was astonished to find out that they were American because I thought they were either English or at least European. They were nothing like other American bands who were successful at the time, especially in the UK.

    They've had heaps of hits since this one, but I get annoyed that a lot of the media seem to only associate them with this song as a 70's nostalgia act which they are most certainly not.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 12, 1975, Sparks performed "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV network Saturday-afternnoon program 'American Bandstand'...
    The song did not make Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; but the year before on May 26th, 1974 it reached #2 {for 2 weeks} on the United Kingdom's Singles chart, the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Sugar Baby" by the Rubettes...
    The Sparks, a quintet headed by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, had two records make Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; "Predict", it peaked at #60 in 1982 and "Cool Places" reached #49 in 1983.
  • Zappy from Geelong, AustraliaI remember these guys did an In concert special I think it was in 1973. I couldn't beleive my ears. They were amazing.
  • Jude from County Derry, --As a member of the Official Sparks fan club way back in 1975, may I just say that the brothers Mael are the greatest, and that is all I will say....
  • N from Staten Island, NyYou don't show a US chart position for this song but it was released in the USA on Sparks' "Kimono My House" album in 1974 (Island Records ILPS9272).

    It received some airplay on "progressive rock" stations like WNEW in New York City where I heard it.
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