This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us by Sparks: The making of the Mael brothers' quirky hit
20 June 2023, 12:18 | Updated: 21 June 2023, 11:09
The Sparks Brothers – the trailer for Edgar Wright’s documentary
Three albums in, Sparks released their masterpiece and signature song.
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Plenty of bands have been influenced by Sparks, but very few have sounded quite like them.
Comprised of brothers, founders and ever-presents Ron and Russell Mael, Sparks have been recording and releasing music for over half a century now.
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It's been non-stop quality from their earliest days as Halfnelson through to 2023's excellently-titled The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte, but their most iconic moment came a few years into their incredible career with 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us'.
But how much do you know about Sparks' breakthrough hit? Do you know why Russell used that distinctive falsetto, or what song kept the track off the top of the charts?
Read on for everything you'd ever want to know about 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us'.
Who wrote 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us'?
While singer Russell often lent a hand and also pitched in with a song or three, the first half-dozen Sparks albums were mainly written by keyboard player Ron (he's the one with the little moustache).
Ron wrote the entirety of Sparks' third album Kimono My House, with Russell getting a co-writing credit on just a couple of songs 'Hasta Mañana, Monsieur' and 'In My Family'.
So 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us' is all Ron's handiwork.
The fact that Ron wrote it but Russell sings it is key to why it sounds so very strange and wonderful.
"'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us' was written in A, and by God it'll be sung in A," Ron told The Word.
Sparks - This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us (Official Video)
"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."
For his part, Russell suggested that the song being in that uncomfortable key had less to do with that key being part of its Platonic essence, but more about his bro's musical limitations.
"When he wrote 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us', Ron could only play it in that key," Russel said.
"It was so much work to transpose the song and one of us had to budge, so I made the adjustment to fit in. My voice ain't a 'rock' voice. It's not soulful, in the traditional rock way; It's not about 'guts'.
He added: "It's untrained, unschooled, I never questioned why I was singing high. It just happened, dictated by the songs.
"Ron has always written Sparks' lyrics and never transposed them into a rock key for me to sing. He always packed each line with words and I had to sing them as they were."
The working title for the song was 'Too Hot To Handle', and the original plan was for each verse to end with a different movie dialogue cliché.
Quickly though the idea changed to just using the Western-go-to "This town ain't big enough for both of us".
And that gunshot POW so perfectly deployed by producer Muff Winwood?
"We were trying to decide whether that was incredibly cheesy or something that was all right," Ron told Sound on Sound. "So we went back and forth all the time on that
"Then it sounds like we used any kind of gunshot, but we went through a whole BBC library and found the perfect gunshot for that song.
"In the end, it was used tastefully, so it didn't become kind of a novelty song."
What is 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us' actually about?
Look, we're not going to pretend that we can completely unpick every single one of Ron Mael's lyrics, and we're not even going to try.
"Zoo time is she and you time/ The mammals are your favourite type, and you want her tonight" is about sex? Probably?
"As 20 cannibals have hold of you/ They need their protein just like you do" – no idea.
But we think the vague gist of it is two guys vying for the one girl, and things coming to a duelling head.
"There'll be more girls who live in town, though not enough to go round" and, well, "This town ain't big enough for the both of us!".
When was 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us' released and where did it get in the charts?
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us - Sparks | The Midnight Special
'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us' was released in April 1974, just before its parent album Kimono My House.
It had a typically excellently-titled B-side 'Barbecutie' and it was also a breakthrough moment from the band.
Well, we say breakthrough, but despite the Mael brothers coming from Los Angeles, the song didn't even scrape into the Billboard Hot 100.
Sparks - This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us - 8/1/2017 - Paste Studios, New York, NY
In the UK though, the song went all the way to number two in the singles chart, only being kept off the top by the all-conquering 'Sugar Baby Love' by The Rubettes.
The song also went top ten in the Netherlands and Switzerland, and top 20 in France.
'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us' has gone Silver in the UK for sales of over 200,000.
Who has covered 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us'?
Justin Hawkins - This Town Ain't Big Enough (Official Music Video)
It was hard enough for Russell Mael to sing 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us', so it'd take a brave person to take it on.
There have been a few courageous individuals taking a deep breath and giving it their all.
This Town Aint Big Enough for Both of Us
It seems obvious once you've heard it, but one such soul was Justin Hawkins, sometimes lead singer in The Darkness.
His falsetto isn't a million miles away from Russell's and when he recorded it under his British Whale name in 2005, Ron and Russell popped up in the video to give their approval.
This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us
Ron and Russell also joined forces with Faith No More for a 1997 reworking of the track for the Plagiarism album.
The only other really high-profile cover of the song came when Siouxsie and the Banshees opened their covers album Through the Looking Glass with the track in 1987.