AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #313: THE SWEET

A GUEST POSTING by MIDDLE-AGED MAN

Photo-of-SWEET-006

In the early 1970’s I was nine/ten years old and ‘too young’ to have my own radio and so was basically reliant upon one source for music – the glorious wonder that was Top of the Pops, it is almost impossible to believe today that if you wanted to listen and see ‘pop music’ this was really the only option.

And for once my timing was perfect as it was the glam rock era. I am a believer in the James Bond theory, in the same way that the best James Bond is the first one you see at the pictures, the first type of music you experienced on Top of the Pops remains with you forever. And at that young age I was reading comics/magazines such as Shoot and Cor!!, so had no idea of which bands were writing their own songs, were ‘acceptable’ my only judgement was based upon the song and appearance on Top of the Pops.

The standout band for me was The Sweet, they looked great, especially Brian Connolly in his silver jumpsuit and blond hair, and the songs were instant, by the time the second chorus arrived I was already singing along never having heard the song before.

Glam rock was really about the singles and that’s why this ICA is made entirely of singles all bar one released in a 4-year period between 1971 and 1975 and incredibly half of them never appeared on an album at the time of release and only appeared on later compilation albums.

The Sweet formed in 1968 with members having all been in previous groups and it was only in 1971 that they had their first hit having teamed up with songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman and record producer Phil Wainman. At first they only recorded the vocals on the ‘a’ side of their singles, before moving on to play and sing on the songs. I have only included songs that they play and sing on, simply because I believe they are better.

Side 1

1. Blockbuster (Chart position no. 1)

At first I was going to sequence the songs in date order, but changed my mind as in keeping with the glam rock era the first track on side 1 should always be the biggest hit and this surprisingly is their only number 1 and probably their best by a short head. It is also well known as having the same riff as Jean Genie by David Bowie, both released in the same month, Jan 1973 on the same label.

2. Wig-Wam Bam ( Chart position no. 4)

The first single to feature the playing of the band and a noticeable step-up with much harder playing, especially Andy Scott’s guitar. It also featured Steve Priest’s ‘camp’ vocal line which became a trademark element.

3. Alexander Graham Bell (Chart position no. 33)

Incredibly, this only reached number 33 in the UK chart and is the lowest placing of any of the songs on this ICA. Has a stomping beat which is quite ‘Sladeish’ but the Connolly’s vocal ensure that is the only similarity.

4. Hell Raiser (Chart position no. 2)

The follow-up single to Blockbuster and is obviously from the same band but without Blockbuster’s distinctive riff.

5. The Six Teens ( Chart position no. 9)

To close side 1 a slightly slower more downbeat track, with more time changes and variation in the instrumentation but is still very much Glam Rock.

Side 2

1. Teenage Rampage ( Chart position no.2)

Opens with the crowd chanting ‘We want Sweet’ suggesting we were listening to a live recording, It made being a teenager seem exciting from my pre-teen perspective although for the band who were all older it may have seemed a little uncomfortable.

2. Ballroom Blitz (Chart position no. 2)

After Blockbuster probably their best known single, opens with a band roll call/ name check before exploding into life. The Sweet didn’t go for low key starts/intros, it was straight into the song.

3. Fox On the Run (Chart position no. 2)

The first single to be written by the band and it proved to be a successful as their previous Chinn/Chapman singles reaching number 2 in the charts.

4. Love is Like Oxygen ( Chart position no. 9)

The last of their singles to make the charts in 1978, by this stage my tastes had moved on to ‘new wave’, but listening to it now it still packs a punch although in a slightly ‘Queenish’ way.

5. Action (Chart position no. 15)

Another self written song, that reflects their move away from Glam to Rock but as the lyrics say ‘Everyone needs a main attraction’ and for a crucial 2-year period The Sweet were mine.

I hope you enjoy this a much as I have putting it together, I can feel a Chinn/Chapman ICA coming next.

MIDDLE-AGED MAN

16 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #313: THE SWEET

  1. Wow, that’s my pre-teens summed up in 10 songs – or actually 9, by the time Love Is Like Oxygen came I had already parted with The Sweet and didn’t know it until just a few years ago. The Swedish nostalgia jury gives this ICA 12 points.

  2. What a treat. I do like Glam. I do like The Sweet. Given that most people of a certain age could sing along to most of those sings – just by reading the titles – it’s astonishing the band never enjoyed a significant revival, say in the was Slade did. I tried to pick my favourite from this hit-packed ICA and chose Teenage Rampage… before I knew it I had swapped for another, then another…

    They produced perfect pop for their time. It endures. Thanks!

  3. A brilliant set of singles, beautifully sequenced. As you write, every one is so catchy that I can still sing them despite not listening to them in years. In fact, when we saw a shelter made from a pyramid of branches on a recent woodland walk, I felt compelled to sing “Wig Warm Bam” and found the whole of the first verse deeply ingrained.
    Now off to find the (double) compilation CD I bought years ago and play loudly whilst stomping around the living room. Probably need to skip a few.

  4. Hah! Been thinking of Sweet lately, and as an American with only limited Glam Rock filtering into our charts [only ONE hit from T-Rex!] they actually managed to have two: “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On The Run.” With runner up status to “Love Is Like Oxygen.” Which was “Queenish,” but in the US Top 40 trenches it was “Ballroom Blitz” versus “Killer Queen” over here. And for me it was a rout with “Ballroom Blitz” bulldozing over the Queen Glam Chart Entry like tanks into Poland. And I actually took my childhood dollar and bought a copy of “Fox On The Run” on 45 because you had to! Was also recently reading about that one and how Andy Scott had to record it on the sly when Chinnicap’s attentions were momentarily diverted. And how “sweet” it felt when they had the taste of full responsibility for their hit status.

  5. As PPM says, we didn’t get a whole lot of glam in the States. Ziggy Stardust and Get IT On by T. Rex. No Slade. Almost no Roxy Music. So, for instance, I’ve heard Ballroom Blitz and Fox on the Run countless times, but never heard the other tracks and can’t remember ever seeing a Sweet LP in a music shop. Don’t even know what they’re titled. Steve Jones lives out here in LA, and began a radio show where he gets to play whatever he likes. He was heavily into glam and plays tons of bands I’d never heard of. Mud for example. Looking forward to giving these tracks a spin–the Sweet were 2-hit wonders over here.

  6. Okay, I listened to all these tunes and confirmed that I only ever heard 3 — the third being Love is Like Oxygen. Strange that ‘Blockbuster’ was their biggest hit and it’s a complete unknown. I looked up their LPs on Wiki and am positive I never saw any of those albums. The only other Sweet song I remember was “Little Willy”, which Wiki says was their biggest US single at #3.

  7. D’oh! I completely forgot “Little Willy!” But there’s a reason for that! It was hardly a favorite! My wife, the Glam Rock Nun, has a copy of “Desolation Boulevard” that was hers as a teen in the Record Cell…unless I [gulp] traded it in years ago]. Will have to check later!

  8. Awesome compilation! I’d maybe kick ‘Love is like Oxygen’ to the kerb and replace it with ‘Set Me Free’. Now it’s time to dust off their ‘Strung Up’ double album and annoy the neighbors.

  9. Fantastic ICA, takes me back to my teens. Some of their B-Sides were great as well..

  10. A glorious ICA, containing huge great clumps of my youth at every turn. There’s ample scope for a Volume Two as well. Some of Sweet’s b-sides and album tracks will come as a bit of a shock to those who have only a passing acquaintance with the band’s glam heyday.

  11. Absolutely fantastic ICA and as other contributors have expressed…right up my/our street. Teenage Rampage was always a favourite especially whilst accompanying a much enjoyed Waltzers ride at the local carnies….a staple of an enjoyable 70’s Scottish childhood.

  12. Can’t argue with that lot. Actually a few I’ve never heard of. And as for not having a radio – well you could always ‘Dial-a-disc’ on the phone, and listen to current hits for the price of a national call. Many the phone bill blown to smithereens by an obsessive teeny bopper!!

  13. Superb selection there, middle aged man, exactly why the ICA series is so brilliant. A few I’ve never forgotten and a few I’ve never heard, but all fantastic. Thank you!

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