SWEET – 70s Hard Rock Classics

British band Sweet got their start recording singles by the songwriting team of Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn. This era of pop hits saw the band consisting of Brian Connolly (lead vocals), Andy Scott (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Steve Priest (bass, vocals) and Mick Tucker (drums, vocals) dressed in glam outfits, make-up, etc.. and a number of hits like “Little Willy”, “Wig Wam Bam”, “Teenage Rampage”, “Blockbuster” and “Ballroom Blitz”. The band was a huge success in Great Britain and Europe during that very early ’70s period. With the success of the singles “Little Willy” and “Ballroom Blitz” in North America, the band’s future albums would start seeing regular releases in Canada and the USA, but by then the band was moving away from the pop songs written by Chinn & Chapman, and were writing their own material, which was more hard-rock, even early metal, while retaining the band’s trademark backing vocals.

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I never got in to Sweet beyond the ‘Greatest Hits’ stuff many years ago, though I’d had a few LPs, but in recent years, motivated by a few of their heavier tunes I’ve filled in the gaps in my collection and am enjoying that string of classic Sweet albums from 1974-’80. It’s unfortunate that the band was really forever dumped in that pop and bubble-gum category, as the band really could rock as heavy as any of the biggest hard-rock bands of the decade. Skip past the bands early ‘hits’ and dig deeper in to their albums tracks, there’s some amazing stuff. Also, do yourself a favor and do Not get the North American version of their best known album “Desolation Boulevard” — get the UK or German [or whatever] version – with the proper track listing…or find the 2017 CD box set “The Sensational Sweet”, which covers all the band’s material up until the departure of singer Brian Connolly. There is a smaller 4 disc box that includes the bands Polydor albums (78-82).
Following the band’s break-up in ’82 Sweet splintered in to a few different versions, each featuring 1 or 2 members. Andy Scott kept the band name going in the UK and Europe (originally including Mick Tucker) – this version of Sweet released “Live At The Marquee” (which featured Paul Mario Day, original Iron Maiden singer, as well as keyboard player Phil Lanzon, ex of Grand Prix and soon to be of Uriah Heep). Tucker left the band in ’91, and sadly passed away in 2002. Brian Connolly had his own version of Sweet going in the mid 80s and in to the 90s as well, releasing 1 album “Let’s Go” in ’95. Connolly passed away in early ’97. Bass player Steve Priest formed his own version of Sweet in the US in 2008, originally featuring guitarist Stuart Smith (who’s playing style was influenced by old friend and mentor Ritchie Blackmore), as well as singer Joe Retta. Priest’s Sweet released 1 live album in 2009, and toured throughout North America. Smith & Retta eventually left (Retta was in Smith’s band Heaven & Earth). Priest passed away June 4. Andy Scott’s Sweet remains active in Europe, having released a few albums over the years.
Anyway, I wanted to pick a set of classic Sweet songs, not from the band’s Chinn-Chapman days, but from their own penned material. As a hard-rock band in 70s, perhaps Sweet was the most underrated, and at their peak produced some incredible albums. Let me know what you think…

Set Me Free
The band’s first real album of almost all self-penned tracks [2 Chinn-Chapman, and 1 cover] was 1974’s “Sweet Fanny Adams”, and from this point the band began being a serious hard-rock band, as opposed to ‘bubble-gum’ or simply ‘glam’. “Set Me Free” written by guitarist Andy Scott is an early fast paced metal anthem; inspired by Scott’s liking of the heavy rock approach of Deep Purple (with a familiar sound to Purple’s “Flight Of The Rat”). It pre-dates Maiden, Motorhead, and numerous others that came soon after.

Sweet FA
Another very heavy track from Sweet Fanny Adams. Love the production of this, with Andy Scott’s guitar, the band’s high pitched backing vocals, a few changes in pace with the addition of a synth riff… Mick Tucker was such a heavy drummer, who really was so important to the band’s hard-rock sound.

Fox On The Run
The band’s 2nd North American release (first for Capitol) was a very different LP to what the rest of the world got — which was the actual “Desolation Boulevard” 9 track album, consisting of 5 band songs, 2 Chinn-Chapman tunes, and 2 covers (including The Who’s “My Generation). Canada & the USA got a compilation of new tracks, tracks from Sweet Fanny Adams, and a few singles (most notably “Ballroom Blitz”). Although I prefer the well known single version of “Fox On The Run”, the album version was fairly different – no synths, more guitar, as well as a cool solo, and a less polished production; but still a good album track. Fox On The Run was covered in 2009 by original Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley.

Someone Else Will
A B-side from Desolation Boulevard sessions. A mid tempo heavy rock track, in the vein of “Foxy Lady”. Pretty bold lyric intro, and daring content for the time. Great guitar break; reminiscent of Hendrix.

My favorite Sweet tune, classic keyboard intro, killer lead vocal, big backing vocals. A huge hit, and even if you think this is a bit ‘pop’ – turn it up, it simply rocks. Kinda like ’80s pop-metal years ahead of it’s time; no wonder Def Leppard did a great cover of this in the ’90s. From “Give Us A Wink”, arguably the band’s best album (tho’ on some days I may choose “Off The Record”); the North American version of this LP added Andy Scott’s ballad “Lady Starlight”.

Also from Give Us A Wink – a really heavy album overall, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to just a few tunes from it to put here. But “Cockroach” has that same attitude as Sweet FA and Someone Else Will. Brian Connolly had an amazing ability to really add such an attitude and character to these songs. The guy at his peak during Sweet’s mid 70s run was one-of-a-kind, and so underrated in discussions and lists of great lead singers from the decade. Love Andy Scott’s solos on this track as well; guy was playing ‘metal’ as well as anyone then and after.

Live For Today
Rockin’ classic from “Off The Record”; great lyrics, they even managed to drop the ‘F’-bomb on this – in 1977. This is a great record, lots of kick-ass rock. North American version of this LP added the track “Stairway To The Stars”, and had a slightly different running order.

Windy City
Also from ‘Off The Record’. A heavy riff and big rock tune, also inspired by someone’s Deep Purple / Blackmore influence (note the riff pretty similar to “Woman From Tokyo” on this one). Still – a track that sits comfortably alongside any of the heavy classics from the likes of Purple or Sabbath in the 70s.

Love Is Like Oxygen
From “Level Headed”, this was edited down and was a huge hit single. Love the album version, with the instrumental mid section, classic Sweet – with a fantastic chorus, and with more prog & pop leanings than the band’s heavier rock sound. Unfortunately, I don’t find much on Level Headed that I really love, as the band had started to adapt some of that California acoustic rock bs – so not much in the way of rockers here. Also the last to feature singer Brian Connolly. A shame he’d be gone from the band soon after this, and his health and career would never recover. Sweet would carry on, but their glory days were pretty much over.

Mother Earth
The first album from Sweet as a 3 piece was “Cut Above The Rest”; a solid album. The band continues more in to pop and more keyboards making for a more prog direction on this classic, clocking in at nearly 7 minutes, a bit laid back, a great production. Although Steve Priest and Andy Scott were fine singers (and did a great job on this track), the band really missed that distinctive character & vocal that Brian Connolly brought on some of those later albums. Ronnie James Dio did have talks with the band, but nothing came of it.

Too Much Talking
1980’s “Water’s Edge” (aka “VI” in North America, with different cover art) saw the 3 piece Sweet carry on in to a more pop direction. Not a huge fan of this album (or the next), but it had a few highlights, in particular this one. “Too Much Talking”, with Andy Scott on lead vocals; a cool pop rocker, penned by Sweet touring guitarist Ray McRiner. great little riff, a memorable chorus, and a solid production. Neat piano break that leads in to a brief heavy guitar solo. Piano from Gary Moberley who’d play on a few later Sweet albums, contribute a few songs, and tour with the band. A bit more tidy pop-rock, but the closest thing to the band’s earlier classics like Action. This would’ve made for a better single than the more lightweight “Sixties Man”.

Identity Crisis
The last album by the band, as they return to the basics, a more raw sound – guitar, bass, drums.. no keyboards or big productions. With the band’s slide over the past few albums “Identity Crisis” would only be released in Germany, Mexico and Peru [!] – No UK or North American release at all. The title track (and single) was a strong catchy rock tune, and good vocal from Steve Priest (who handled the majority of the leads after BC left). The band demo’d Russ Ballard’s “Where Do We Go From Here” (anyone have this?) at the time, but chose not to record it for the album! (Russ Ballard covers in the early 80s were highly successful by numerous bands).

Further Reading:
Alan Savage Interviews The Sweet’s Brian Connolly (May 1989)

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KJJ, 06/20

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