1001 Songs Challenge,  1970s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #404: This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)

We’re bringing the curtain down on 1974, dear reader, and as we say goodbye to this year we are going to bid farewell with a bang. Heading over to California, we are in the company of two brothers – Ron and Russell Mael – who together formed the group, Sparks, in 1967. They started out as a rock band but when we join them in the 1970s they have had a change of direction, delving into the world of synthpop, and why not? 1001 Songs have selected their biggest hit for consideration – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us

Written by Ron Mael, This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us, was originally intended to have a quote or phrase from different films to end each verse. Instead, Ron settled on, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us, and it ain’t me who’s gonna leave.” The song has five verses and in each one, Russell takes the lead vocal, describing a series of uncomfortable situations, often with the hint of a romantic note (kind of!), but always leading to “heartbeat, increasing heartbeat” before the song’s refrain of the town being too big comes in. In the first verse, for instance, we have the narrator in a zoo with a woman he desires but it’s a tad precarious with all those animals around. The second verse takes place on a plane with a stewardess, the third verse is meeting a woman in a cafe where hungry cannibals are in residence, the fourth makes reference to the need for cleanliness to keep this woman’s attention, and the fifth and final verse talks about a census and the prospect of more women being in the town (alternatives maybe?), but the narrator isn’t confident any will be available. It’s a song full of peculiarities but seems to suggest an unsatisfying or highly demanding relationship and the narrator has had enough. 

A story once floated around that Elton John lost a bet when predicting this song would not do well in the UK charts, something the Mael brothers themselves repeated. The truth is that John was confident it would hit the Top 3 and this convinced Sparks producer, Muff Winwood, the song had potential. It did indeed, landing at no.2 in the UK. It’s worth watching the video of the brothers on YouTube, during a Top of the Pops appearance. Russell is energetic on stage, while Ron scowls at the camera throughout and the audience look unimpressed by the performance. As for the song, it’s a classic, with Russell’s vocals complementing Ron’s keyboard work perfectly though you can’t help but sympathise with how hard the track must have been for him to sing. This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us also boasts some terrific guitar work and let’s not forget the sound of gunshots thrown in there to beef it up. It’s like being in a Western. One of the most ludicrous and chaotic songs you will ever hear, but an absolute masterpiece at the same time.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)

David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)

Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)

Stevie Wonder – Living for the City (1973)

Patti Smith Group – Piss Factory (1974)

Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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