Moroder Week: Day 1 – Sparks – Tryouts For The Human Race 12″

moroder week header

Don’t you think it’s time we had another of the random theme weeks we sometimes investigate here at PPM? I’ve been feeling in a decidedly Giorgio Moroder mood lately, so we’ll go there. Actually, there are so many great Moroder productions I could talk about that it is something of a challenge whittling the list down to five. So we’re doing a whole real week, with seven. [crosses fingers] I count myself very lucky to have seen Moroder in the flesh at Moogfest 2014 both in a moving panel and his current DJ set. It’s been interesting having him commercially resuscitated by his adding his vocoded self to that Daft Punk record I’ve still not heard, but anything that gets Moroder in front of an audience has the potential to be a good thing.

True, the master has some undeniable cheese in his CV, but this is more than balanced by records which are best of breed, or a few of which actually caused a seismic shift in the environment of music. The notion of this Italian musician roaring out of Germany [?] to worldwide fame and influence is pretty unlikely on the face of it, but it happened and millions of records sold to show for it. Though his hit records are well know, he’s also had an equally successful a career in movie soundtracks. Some of these are pop oriented with megasmash records anyone could name, but other work was some of the most striking synthetic scoring since  Wendy Carlos and “A Clockwork Orange.” This week we’ll look at both, but start with pop first.

MORODER WEEK Day 1 – Sparks: Tryouts For the Human Race UK 12″

sparks - tryouts for the human race 12" record cover

Virgin ‎| UK | 12″ | 1979 | VS 289-12

Typically, one could evoke Moroder’s Eurodisco sheen with either phased vocoders or sequencers. The intro to the even longer [the LP version was over six minutes] extended 7:58 12″ version of “Tryouts For The Human Race” laughed with temerity at such limitations. It dared to begin [unlike the LP mix] with phased vocoders and sequencers! The familiar oscillating pattern of the bass sequencer doubled with a delay to both fatten the sound and to also instill a curious stasis to the otherwise motorikally paced song. That paradox  is the essence at the basis of the classic Moroder sound that has managed to transfix me from 1977 to today.  The music seems to stand still even as it is cruising down the autobahn at 120 kph. When i hear this vibe, it make me involuntarily hold my breath.

The bass sequencer patterns were in fact the rhythm track for the song with Keith Forsey’s drums performing support for the song’s rhythm with precisely placed fills to accentuate ear-appeal. The sound here was just electronics, voice and drums, but the big x-factor this song was the fact that Mororder was meeting Sparks on an equal footing. They ceded their usual autonomy to Moroder for a slice of that European pie and it worked out like a dream. Sparks lyrics were typically brimming with their trademark wit as they examined the problem of fertilization from the point of view of a sperm cell. It could have all collapsed with a slight breeze but just the right tone of humor existed cheek-by-jowl with the underlying seriousness of cells competing for even the potential of life.

The power of the arrangement was that the bass rondo descended back upon itself for a cyclical energy perfectly metaphorical to the theme of the song. The relentlessness nature of the Moroder sound perfectly echoed the desperation of the lyric’s essential conflict.  The 12″ arrangement was more expansive with a differing buildup, an aired out pacing and arrangement, and a climactic descending quartet of drum fills at the point where the song circled back to its beginnings for an extended coda that cruised at high altitude.

The gamble paid off for Sparks who rocketed from fondly remembered glam rock has-beens to Top Of The Pops in the UK as they began their chrysalis shedding extended career in earnest. Moroder proved that he could work successfully with something other than a disco act which also expanded his horizons greatly. Ron Mael remembers writing the song with Moroder and when the trio got to a sticking point, Moroder would beg off to retire to the piano for 15 minutes and come back with some new development that would be used to create this lighthearted look at a topic of life and death. That good great beat and you could dance to it.

Next: …Turning Japanese

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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13 Responses to Moroder Week: Day 1 – Sparks – Tryouts For The Human Race 12″

  1. Gavin says:

    Superb record.
    I have a few of the Sparks/Moroder 12″ singles in coloured vinyl like that one pictured above-such epic synth tracks!They bubble along and sprinkle glitter dust all over the floor every time I play them.Some of the synth hooks were not afraid to be shrill,cutting through the dry ice with a slash.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Speaking of shrillness, with Russell moving the range from tenor to falsetto in the course of the song, let it not be said that Sparks were shrinking violets of shrillness. It may be one of the most vivid aspects of Russell’s heir apparent, Billy MacKenzie.

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  2. Echorich says:

    There’s a silver sheen to this production. It has always immediately reminded me of the I Feel Love Moroder Remix, but then heads in a more Glam direction while keeping its feet firmly on the rainbow colored dance floor. I’ve always felt there was a good deal of Kraftwerk like influence in the mix as well. Where I Feel Love has an air of abandon, TFTHR marches to a strict master.

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  3. I’ve always considered the whole album from whence this came as Moroder’s masterpiece, at least for the disco age. I’m not sure I’ve heard the even-longer 12-inch, so I will have to seek that out!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Don’t you just love 6+ minute LP cuts that get extended for 12” singles? I think Ultravox rested on their laurels with “The Thin Wall” and “The Voice.” Could you imagine those at 8:20? Maybe we could toss “Vienna” on that pile, too.

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  4. Mathmandan says:

    “that Daft Punk record I’ve still not heard” and I would recommend keeping it that way. Most overrated album in recent history, IMHO. And I’m not a Daft Punk hater by any means. I enjoy many of their prior tracks, and I think their soundtrack to Tron Legacy is close to a masterpiece.

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  5. Vlad says:

    Funny, only on Monday I managed to buy a 7″ of the very single in a record shop – and here’s the write-up on 12″ version! The 7″, by the way, houses a “long version” of the song on its flip side. Better not to think about the sound quality, I presume :)

    Great song and the album’s been on my personal hot rotation as of late. Though I find the use of synths a tiny bit tame – for its time it was undoubtedly innovative, but now I catch myself thinking Ron needed to really let rip on those filters and oscillators! The drums are perfect, though – so expressive!

    Pity they couldn’t sustain the pace and “Terminal jive” is such a let-down (except for THAT spine-tingling synth solo in “When I’m with you”). Expected much more (so that’s probably my fault, not the band’s).

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