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Breaking: Sam Sparro

October 6, 2008 11:40 AM ET

Who: Electro-pop artist Sam Sparro, a soulful, Aussie-American vocalist whose hit single "Black & Gold," soared to Number Two on the U.K. singles chart, and made it into the Top 10 in Ireland, Australia and Turkey.

Sounds Like: If Daft Punk took off their helmets and turned up the "emotion" setting on their vocoders. Sparro draws from a pool of funk/soul influences ­— "Prince and Chaka Khan and the Gap Band, Parliament, things like that," he explains — and '80s electro a  la New Order to create a distinctive 21st century sound. "I wanted to be in amongst the contemporary music that I like at the moment, which is a lot of stuff like Hot Chip and Cut Copy and French electro stuff like Justice."

Vital Stats:

• For maximum Eighties dance mojo, Sparro and producer Paul Epworth got their hands on the equipment that their synth-pop heroes used. "When we got the advance, we started buying up old Roland Juno 106 synthesizers and old Korgs and things like that, so there's definitely an '80s synthesized tone to a lot of the record," Sparro says.

• The son of a professional gospel singer, Sparro grew up surrounded by religious music, and developed his pipes singing in church. You can hear a certain amount of existential anguish in his hit single, "Black and Gold." "It's a song about looking for God," he says. "At the time I wrote the song, I wasn't really happy with the way my life was going. It didn't seem to be going anywhere."

• When he's not searching for God through the album, Sparro does manage to have some fun. "Cottonmouth" explores a common plight of the average stoner: "It's just about getting really stoned and having a dry mouth. It's actually pretty stupid."

Hear it Now: His debut, *Sam Sparro*, is in stores now and there's plenty of music on his MySpace page. Click above for the video for "Black & Gold."

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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