Author’s note: This article is the second and final installment in a series meant to serve as a fast and fun introduction (and, for others, a trip down memory lane) to the British rock band Sweet’s musical oeuvre. If you missed “A Beginner’s Guide to Sweet, Part 1: The Singles,” please give it a read as it contains some history and information about the band that I won’t repeat here. Also, for this article, I will introduce album cuts rather than singles. Again, you can refer to my previous installment to listen to the band’s singles and to read about some band history.
The classic Sweet line-up of lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker began their rocket ride of a career as a bubblegum pop band. They went on to find continued chart success in the glam rock era of the 1970s and then segued into becoming an eminent hard rock act. Finally, the group took a turn into progressive rock and became a trio after the departure of Connolly. With the exception of Sweet’s debut album and Strung Up, I will discuss the American versions of their albums, which often differed in content from their original European counterparts.
Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be (1971)
Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be (1971) is the band’s first full album (as The Sweet), with most songs written by the team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who also managed the quartet for a few years. Sweet’s members did record three or four of their original compositions for the album, depending on which version of the album you find. The record reflects the group’s bubblegum pop leanings of the time. The album boasted two United Kingdom hit singles, “Funny Funny” (discussed in part 1 of this series) and “Co-Co.” The latter song reached number 2 on the U.K. charts but fizzled out at number 99 on the U.S. charts.
On many songs, such as “Co-Co,” the band merely sang, with studio musicians actually playing the instruments. On television performances that required Sweet to lip synch rather than perform live, the band pretended to play their instruments, although they were highly skilled musicians themselves.
Sweet was already writing and playing their own instruments on harder rocking songs from the beginning of their recording career, as well. “Done Me Wrong Alright” was the B-side to “Co-Co” and shows how the members of Sweet had their sights set on a louder, tougher sound than their singles output.
“Spotlight” also shows the band rocking out, giving listeners a glimpse of what was to come a few years later on their next album.
Desolation Boulevard (1975 for U.S. release)
The American release of Desolation Boulevard combined tracks from Sweet’s 1974 European album Sweet Fanny Adams and their 1975 original European version of Desolation Boulevard, along with the single versions of “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox on the Run.” This Stateside longplayer contains 5 Chinn/Chapman tracks and 5 songs written by various band members. (You can find links for the two singles mentioned here and another single, “The 6-Teens,” in part 1 of this series.)
Forming a sort of “best of” from those two European albums — though many non-North American fans might say that several of the best tracks are missing — the U.S. version of Desolation Boulevard serves as a way to sample and compare the group’s success with the Chinn/Chapman songs and their own efforts to break away from the management and songwriting team toward a harder sound. It’s a great album that shows the quartet in a transitional phase before they finally split from Chinn and Chapman’s management and songwriting services.
Highlights include the Chinn/Chapman-penned “No You Don’t,” a scathing rocker about a man fed up with being a doormat for his libertine significant other:
You keep telling me
Don’t hang around
While you play around
With the clowns
That you’ve found
It ain’t right.
Now and then I get tired of the sound
Of you putting me down
While you’re playing the town
The band’s original compositions include full-tilt rockers like “Into the Night”:
The track “Sweet F.A.” also shows Sweet at its heaviest up to that point:
Desolation Boulevard gave Sweet its only gold album in the States, as it peaked at number 25 on the charts. It had even more success in Canada, where it also went gold, peaking at number five on the album charts. Sweet Fanny Adams gave the band a gold record in the United Kingdom, where it reached number 27. The U.K. version of Desolation Boulevard failed to chart but did sell enough to reward the band with a silver album.
Strung Up (1975)
Strung Up (1975) was not released in the United States but it could be found there in the import sections of some record stores. Strung Up is a double album; one record consists of 7 songs from a live 1973 concert in London, and the other record contains 10 singles, B-sides, and non-LP tracks recorded since 1973. The live tracks hint as to why Sweet was considered a blistering concert act and the non-singles studio tracks also offer some rare gems.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Disgrace” (live):
“Burning”/”Someone Else Will” (live):
“Burn on the Flame”:
Give Us a Wink (1976)
I was visiting a Musicland store — a now-defunct record and tape shop chain that preyed on mall-goers by hiking up the prices of their fare, gouging grandparents and parents who didn’t know that the albums their younger music fans wanted could be had for a few dollars less about a mile or two down the road at Tower Records — in northern California one day in 1976, when my life changed. Musicland staff often played mainstream top 40 fare for its background music, but that that day as I walked in, Sweet’s song “Action” was playing. Already a top 15 hit in the United Kingdom during the previous year, the song was beginning to receive a fair amount of AM radio airplay in the States at the time. I liked the song so I happily went about my record-cover browsing. Suddenly the next track kicked in, and Andy Scott’s phase-shifter guitar and Mick Tucker’s aggressive drumming intro to “Yesterday’s Rain” had me hooked. The rest of the song followed suit, Brian Connolly sounding tougher than before and the band rocking harder than ever.
Realizing that I was hearing not just the new Sweet single but the new album Give Us A Wink, which I didn’t know had been released yet (it was the first weekend of the album’s release in the States), I quickly made my way to the counter to check out the album cover art. The striking design was created by American artist Joe Petagno — who also did the cover artwork for Strung Up — and featured a die-cut cover which gave the effect of a winking eye when the inner sleeve was pulled in and out of the cover.
I was so flabbergasted by how good Give Us a Wink was that I stayed for the whole thing. My fondest memory of that day is when the Steve Priest’s and Tucker’s thumping, driving bass and drums introduction for “The Healer,” the album’s final track, began. Keyboards and guitar kick in, and Connolly sings:
I met the healer in the twilight of my life
He was the purity in my madness side
He take me far beyond the sunshine and the snow
My faith in him ignites a charismatic glow
Cure me, cure me, cure me
Cure me, cure me . . .
He leads me through the twisted chasms of my mind
He saved me from the fated final sacrifice
He spoke to me with the palm of his hand
I hear you calling . . .
Then Connolly makes believers of us all as he screams, “Deliver me!”
Unfortunately at press time, no videos for “The Healer” are available. I personally consider the song reason enough to buy the album, though.
Give Us a Wink was Sweet’s first album fully written and produced by the band members, with no cover songs or Chinn/Chapman material. The lads had something to prove, and prove it they did.
Although the single “Action” rose to number 15 on the U.K. charts, the album itself failed to chart in the group’s home country. Sweet’s Stateside momentum continued, though, as “Action” hit number 20 on the U.S. singles chart and the longplayer peaked at number 27 on the U.S. album charts.
“Cockroach” starts off with the bitter line, “You crawled into my bed like a cockroach” and goes on to describe the narrator’s confusion heaped on him by a lover:
As promised in part 1 of this series, here is the full album version of the single “Action”:
Off the Record (1977)
April 1977 saw the release of Off the Record, which despite being a commercial flop in the United Kingdom and the United States (it did reach the top 20 in some European markets, though), remains one of my personal favorite Sweet albums. Many listeners and critics found the album’s offering of different styles to be rather schizophrenic and felt that the band was floundering, but I have always enjoyed the mix of some of the band’s hardest rock with poppier songs that had catchy, sing-along strength to equal earlier hits. The disco tinged “Funk It Up” is perhaps one of the band’s biggest head scratchers, but just two years later, rock icons Kiss would find commercial success with their own disco-flavored tune, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” Perhaps Sweet had the right idea but was just a little too ahead of the curve with that one.
The biting, scornful “Windy City” is one of Sweet’s toughest rockers, with an amazingly fat and nasty riff to accompany lyrics like “Your dad’s in the slam/Your mama’s a whore/No one understands/You couldn’t help being poor”:
“Live for Today” is a lively proto-punk song about not caving into conventionality:
The following three songs show that Sweet still had plenty of catchy songs with strong hooks and fist-pumping choruses in their arsenal.
“Fever of Love”:
“Stairway to the Stars”:
Level Headed (1978)
Level Headed was the final album to feature the classic quartet lineup for the band. Connolly began a solo career about a year later, some say not entirely by his own choice. Critics and fans found this outing, which saw Sweet dive headlong into progressive rock territory, to be more adventurous and successful than the group’s previous efforts. It delivered Sweet’s final top 10 single, the FM-rock staple “Love is Like Oxygen,” which features one of the most memorable guitar riffs of the 1970s. For me personally, the progressive bent was not something I was interested in at the time, especially with the group coming off of two solid hard rock efforts that I loved. The album does have some fine material on it, though.
As promised in part 1 of this series, here is the full-length album version of “Love Is Like Oxygen”:
The album’s second single, “California Nights,” is a melodious effort that didn’t capture the record-buying public’s imagination:
The following two songs show the band’s foray into progressive rock territory.
The remaining members of Sweet released a few other albums as a trio that I haven’t mentioned here; if you enjoy the songs and albums that I have written about in this article, make sure to seek out the group’s other long-players. Each one offers at least a few good tunes. The cream of Sweet’s crop is the selection of longplayers that I have discussed here, though. If you haven’t yet heard any Sweet or are familiar with just a few of their singles, it’s well worth your while to check out the band’s deeper cuts. Sweet is often overlooked but were a major force that found success in different styles of popular music, not a boast that many bands can make.
Brian Connolly performs with a new Sweet line-up that plays concerts and that recorded the solid 2012 covers album New York Connection. Visit the official website thesweet.com and the official YouTube channel to learn more about the band’s activities then and now.