The Sweet (a.k.a. Sweet) – lead singer Brian Connolly, guitarist/keyboardist/singer Andy Scott, bassist/singer Steve Priest and drummer Mick Tucker – are mostly known (at least in the States anyway) as the above pictured, cute looking glam rock band with the catchy original and Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn penned hits like “Ballroom Blitz”, “Wig Wam Bam” and “Hell Raiser.” And, by the time they did “Love Is Like Oxygen”, they didn’t even wear makeup anymore! But, even if that wasn’t the case, the glam tag is only a very small part of the picture. In fact, to even call the Sweet a glam rock band is about as accurate as saying that “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” are entirely representative of the Kinks’ discography. It’s a bloody lie is what it is! Perpetrated on the notion that after a few TV appearances, the Sweet liked being a gittery teeny bopper band when, in actuality, they would have preferred to have rocked in front of denim clad Black Sabbath and Deep Purple fans. But that’s the brush you paint yourself with when, out of desperation, you record songs like “Little Willy” and “Wig Wam Bam” (which I like a lot, mind you). And that’s why I’m here to blow the lid off their operation so read on, will you?
First Recordings 1968-1971 – Repertoire – 1991
The Sweet formed in 1968 under their original name the Sweetshop but another group had that name so they chopped the “shop.” The group already consisted of singer Brian Connolly, bassist Steve Priest and drummer Mick Tucker but Andy Scott wouldn’t complete the classic lineup until 1970. The original guitarist was some guy named Frank Torpey and he was replaced by another guy named Mick Stewart. Before they started getting successful with those cutesy Mike Chapman/Nicky Chin penned hits, the Sweet released four unsuccessful singles (the first with Torpey and the other three with Stewart) all of whose a and b sides were compiled onto First Recordings 1968 – 1971 along with four previously unreleased tracks.
So what kind of music were the Sweet making in their first couple years of existence? Basically they were a typical mid/late 60s rock/pop band who played in a variety of sub-genres including light weight mid 60s rock, quirky psychedelic pop, folky rock, Steppenwolf style funky rock, bluesy rock and soul but absolutely no bubblegum. However don’t think the band were using too much Hendrix/Townsend-esque feedback as these songs tend to lean towards the lighter side of 60s rock. The obvious exceptions are the fuzz rockers “The Spider” and “My Little Girl from Kentucky.” Most of the melodies and arrangements are nice (especially memorable opening track “The Lollipop Man”) , with the sound filled out with keyboards, piano or horns and the songs evoke whatever emotions they’re supposed to (happy, pensive) but there is nothing distinctly *Sweet* about them.
Brian Connolly has yet to adapt that high pitch yelling voice. Instead he sounds like a normal British singer, hitting the notes just fine but not doing anything that sets him apart from the rest. Neither original guitarist Frank Torpey nor his replacement Mick Stewart are particularly remarkable players either though I like the psychedelic solos on “It’s Lonely Out There.” Likewise neither Steve Priest nor Mick Tucker are doing anything that interesting with their respective instruments aside from providing a solid rhythm section.
In conclusion this early version of Sweet was another typical mid/late 60s band; cutting singles, playing the club circuit and trying to make it but, like most of them, the best they had to offer at this time was a collection of neat, little tunes that otherwise didn’t really stand out from the competition and nowadays serve more as a fun relic from the era.
Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be – RCA – 1971
The true saga of Sweet began in 1970. Guitarist/keyboardist Andy Scott joined the band to complete their classic lineup and the group hooked up with producer Phil Wainmen and the songwriting duo of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who wrote a bunch of songs for the Sweet in order to keep their career afloat. Members of the band did write their own material but the label didn’t allow that material to be the main showcase of the group’s talent. The result of the Chapman/Chinn pairing up with the group is a whole bunch of catchy, cutesy little singles and this here album called Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be.
What’s most fascinating to me about the first Sweet LP is how incongruous it was with what was going on with rock and pop at the time. The album may have come out in 1971 but it sounds like the type of thing that would have been released in 1966. The label hired a group of kids who might or might not have actually played on every track of their album while outside writers supplied a bunch of material in various sub-genres of rock and pop and marketed it to the little kiddies as “bubblegum.” However there is only really one true “bubblegum” song on the album; the Archies flavored “Funny Funny.”
The rest of the album is a mish-mash of styles that shows that neither Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn nor the Sweet had much of an idea of what kind band they were trying to be. With that said, it’s for the most part a highly listenable, catchy and fun album. Brian Connolly hasn’t began using his awesome, high pitch shouting that makes up the bulk of the classic Sweet material and helps give it so much personality. Instead he uses a calm, pleasant, normalish British singing voice that occasionally sounds like Marc Bolan, which I will discuss in further detail momentarily. Andy Scott’s guitar playing has none of the distorted fire power or killer chops it would have as early as their second album, instead playing it quiet and normal with little or no distortion, throwing in the occasional steel guitar slide, save for album closer and obvious exception “Done Me Wrong All Right.” Steve Priest and Mick Tucker are just a solid human metronome. And I believe Brian Connolly is the only member on “Co-Co” and “Funny Funny” with the instruments being played by session musicians.
The song count goes as follows:
Four Sweet penned (and played!) originals:
“Honeysuckle Love” – dead ringer for T. Rex right down to the singing and the basic “bap-bap”, “Bang a Gong” style chord progression, really good!
“Jeannie” – acoustic, jangly folk rock like something the Beatles or the Kinks did or, I dunno, like “Mrs. Robinson” complete with “la-la-la” backing vocals, pretty good regardless
“Spotlight” – solid attempt at mysterious sounding, 1966 era psychedelia complete with duel track acoustic/electric guitars and multi-part “ah-ah-ah” harmonies.
“Done Me Wrong All Right” – hard rock!!! Straight forward, to the bone, hard rock and the only song that gives any indication of Sweet’s future direction. I take back what I said about it being different from other songs on the album because according to wiki, it wasn’t even on the album!
Six Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn compositions:
“Co-Co” – aside from the guilty pleasure, stupid/catchy chorus of “Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co”, could pass for acoustic T. Rex minus the island rhythm and steal drums
“Chop Chop” – okayish T. Rex/Beatles pop song, nuttin’ essential but has a cute chorus that goes, “timber”
“Santa Monica Sunshine” – countryish rock, catchy chorus
“Funny Funny” – aforementioned, Archies-inspired bubblegum.
“Tom Tom Turnaround” – very pretty countryish, folk ballad
“Sonny Sleeps Late” – folky, pop rock, complete with “Get Back” style galloping percussion and twangy, country-ish guitar
“Reflections” – Supremes cover, sounds pretty good for a soul song covered by a white, British singer
“Daydream” – Lovin’ Spoonful cover, mid-60s, pre-hippy, happy-go-lucky, Sesame Street music played on acoustic guitar
Sweet Fanny Adams – RCA – 1974
Although the group’s leap from their first to second album is pretty huge, it isn’t fair to call it an abrupt change considering that the album was released three years after the first and that the group had enough time to cultivate their hard rock/heavy metal sound; after all the glammy, foot stomping, hand clapping, Chapman/Chinn penned, Marc Bolan/David Bowie style singles they released during that time (“Ballroom Blitz”, “Hellraiser”, “Blockbuster” and “Teenage Rampage”) are all backed by tighter, harder, more musically complex tunes that the band wrote themselves.
As alluded above, on Sweet Fanny Adams, Sweet have all but entirely turned into a mean ass, hard rock/heavy metal band. Andy Scott’s guitar is super loud, bright and distorted, Brian Connolly is now shouting the lyrics rather than singing, Mick Tucker’s drumming is ferocious in a vein similar to someone like Ian Paice and the group is putting those multi-part, high pitch vocal harmonies (“ahh-ahh-ahh”) to good use. Also both Andy Scott and Steve Priest sing a good deal on the album possibly due to Connolly being in an accident which damaged his vocal chords.
The album consists of four mean hard rock songs that might evoke comparisons to Queen and Deep Purple, two punky glam rock stompers that sound like they should have been released as singles rather than on the album, a fun but pointless cover of “Peppermint Twist” and two rip-roaring metal tunes that are essentially the New Wave of British Heavy Metal three or four years ahead of its time.
In fact, I feel that “Set Me Free” (later covered by Saxon) is so ahead of its time and so important to mention in light of the group’s overall body of work that I’m setting a separate paragraph aside for it! I was pretty darn surprised when I heard “Set Me Free” for the first time as I was not expecting chugga-chugga style, proto speed metal with a wicked guitar workout to have come out in 1974; especially considering that, at that time, Judas Priest, the band known to have invented that approach, was still just another blues based heavy rock band.
The rest of the album isn’t nearly as metal but still totally great and the angry, galloping, electric/acoustic double tracked “Sweet F.A.” has one of the most questionable lines you’d hear uttered by a group allegedly marketed to teeny boppers; oh what the hell am I talking about? They were already performing the tacky, sexist “Someone Else Will” so I shouldn’t be shocked by a line that goes “if she don’t spread/I’m gonna bust her head.” What’s strange though is that I would have assumed that the angry, melodramatic hard rocker “No You Don’t” (complete with blatant “Pinball Wizard” musical homage) was an original while the glam/punk “Rebel Rouser” (later covered by the Meatmen) is a Chapman/Chinn tune but, oddly, they are switched. The other glam tune is the awesome Chapman/Chinn lesbian anthem “A.C.D.C.” (later covered by Joan Jett).
Desolation Boulevard (British version) – RCA – 1974
If you live in North America and you found a copy of Desolation Boulevard in your mom’s record crate or in the $1 bin at your local used record shop, then you’ve been bamboozled! Like other labels did with British bands they were trying to market to American audiences, the group’s American label assembled an album consisting of tunes from a couple albums and singles, ignoring the integrity of the group’s catalog – in this case, sampling songs the from Sweet Fanny Adams, Desolation Boulevard and the group’s various singles. The only unique thing about it is the awesome “I Wanna Be Committed” but, since I have the CD reissue of Desolation Boulevard, that’s rendered useless as well.
The American Desolation Boulevard is the first Sweet album I heard and it turned me into a fan but that doesn’t excuse the fact that American fans missed out on songs like “Heartbreak Today”, “Rebel Rouser”, “Peppermint Twist”, “Restless”, “Turn It Down”, “Medusa”, “Man with the Golden Arm”, “Breakdown”, “My Generation” and the original, bare bones recording of “Fox on the Run.”
Desolation Boulevard, though not bad is disappointing compared to Sweet Fanny Adams. I would have preferred the group’s many fine, hard rocking originals that appeared as b-sides – such as “Own Up, Take a Look at Yourself”, “Burn on the Flame” or “Someone Else Will” – over what made the a-list. “My Generation” is great; Brian Connolly does his best stuttering Roger Daltry impression, Steve Priest nails John Entwhistles’s noodly bass parts and Mick Tucker pulls off Keith Moon’s rolls just fine but it’s still just a cover of “My Generation.” Also the cover of the theme from Frank Sinatra’s 1955 heroine vehicle Man with the Golden Arm is something you perform in concert to get the crowd pumped not subject people to in their homes no matter how good Mick Tucker’s drum solo is. And the boring ballad “Lady Starlight” can take a hike as well.
On the other hand, Desolation Boulevard is almost entirely devoted to hard rock of various tones and moods, containing nothing as metallic as “Set Me Free” nor as sugary as “Peppermint Twist.” The band does some great stuff with arrangement and electric/acoustic double tracking in “The Six Teens” and “Medusa” and tear it up on songs like “Solid Gold Brass” and “Breakdown.” Also it’s interesting to note how it’s becoming more difficult to tell a Chapman/Chinn tune from an original. For instance the Chapman/Chinn penned “Turn It Down” and the original “Fox on the Run”(the original album version doesn’t include the bubbling, space synthesizer or the “ah-ah-ah” backing vocals) both are better interpretations of the basic, big-Major-chord-plus-anthemic-sing-along-chorus approach of Kiss or Slade. Did I also mention that Brian Connolly has a really great, tough but melodic singing voice?
Give Us a Wink! – Polydor – 1976
As I just said a moment ago, in 1975, the Sweet told Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn that they were going to write and produce their own albums. And this was the failing result—
Give Us a Wink! is a fanstaic album, more consistently pleasing than Desolation Boulevard and a perfect example of why one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! With a title like Give Us a Wink!, a cover like the one pictured above and a bunch of corny graffiti which reads stuff like “wink off” sprinkled on the back, one who was only familiar with Sweet’s glam singles might be inclined to believe the album is even more of that kinda stuff.
But that would be a incorrect! Instead the Sweet have recorded an album of hard rock/heavy metal tunes that once again might evoke thoughts Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin crossed with maybe a little bit of Queen-esque, high pitch backup vocals and synthesizer riffs. And again it should be noted that Andy Scott has a loud, heavy, crunchy and reverbed guitar tone that really brings out those riffs. I neglect to think why, say, Deep Purple’s “Burn” couldn’t have been produced with the same gusto.
Although I like the opening track “The Lies in Your Eyes”, it might come off as a novelty song to some due to its blatant musical homages to “Baba O’Riley” and “Satisfaction” but, then on in, the next seven songs are killers. Okay also closing song “Healer” has a weird, funky groove that doesn’t really match the rest of the album but what would a Sweet album be without at least one song that goes completely against the style of the rest of the album?
How do you describe good hard rock? Every song is well crafted with excellent riffs, multiple parts and awesome guitar/drum interplay. “Cockroach” is a “Speed King” style grunter. “Keep It In” has a bunch of wicked drum rolls. “4th of July” is a toe tapping number with a bit of bluesy piano keys thrown for good measure. “Action” is a faster, punkier tune. “Yesterday’s Rain” is a driving, mid-tempo number with “Rocka Rolla” style motorcycle riffs. “White Mice” is an uptempo, Deep Purple-style rocker complete with dramatic Ritchie Blackmoore-esque guitar solos. And aside from aforementioned “The Lies in Your Eyes” and “Healer”, that about covers it.
Off the Record – RCA – 1977
Although they would release one more album after Off the Record with Brian Connolly, I feel this is where the young, sassy, energetic and raucous version of Sweet ends and their next LP is where they would emerge looking older, fatter and trying to make more “mature” music so to speak.
Anyhoo, Off the Record is another damn fine, melodic and tuneful LP although it’s a heck of a lot more diverse than Give Us a Wink!. Whereas Give Us a Wink! is basically a 70s hard rock/heavy metal album, Off the Record incorporates all kindsa different genres. Sure the quintessential elements are there. The album still has the hard rock and heavy metal but the band has thrown in other stuff; a ballad, a dance funk tune, a borderline punk song and another NWOBHM tune that comes completely out of left field. Also the Queen inspired synth and high pitch backup vocal influence is on high throughout.
The tone is set with the uplifting, fist-pumping “Fever of Love”, a bouncing, galloping hard rock tune with a big, happy chorus meant to evoke feelings of positivity and love even in the darkest soul. Yeah it sounds corny but, hey, we can’t always think of the world as a dark, lonely, cold and loveless place, can we? Who says hard rocking music can’t be positive? I’m too lazy so I’m just gonna describe the rest of the songs in list format; this oughta do in capturing the mood and feel of the album:
“Lost Angels” – harmonious synth and backup vocal filled, acoustic/electric anthem
“Midnight to Daylight” – melodic hard rocker (complete with harmonica!)
“Laura Lee” – acoustic power ballad
“Windy City” – down and dirty heavy rock epic
“Stairway to the Stars” – Free-esque rocker (complete with cowbell!)
“Live for Today” – fist pumping, near punk song with awesome shoutalong chorus
“Funk It Up (David’s Song)” – butt shaking, dance funker (complete with shout along lyrics, imitation soul vocals and hand claps!)
“Hard Times” – groovy Deep Purple style grunter
“She Gimme Lovin'” – aforementioned, high speed, metal ripper
Apparently the track list is also different from the European version but as far as I’m concerned, this sequence works fine, especially in ending the album on such a high octane note.
So how’s that for diversity? Could you imagine Judas Priest performing a straight ahead funk song? Could you picture Sly Stone performing a raging metal tune? Once again it’s that type of diversity that I enjoy about the group.
Anyway, the group would follow this with one more album before Brian Connolly hit the road and Sweet would morph into a duller, less flashy version of themselves. Stay tuned for the fun!