Sweet (also known as The Sweet in its earlier years) is a British rock band that went through several style changes in its 1970s heyday and found success in each one. The chances are good that even if you think you have never heard any of Sweet’s songs before, you might be wrong. They still receive solid rotation on various formats of oldies radio stations, find their way onto film and television soundtracks, and are played at live professional sporting events.
With its classic line-up of lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker in tow most of the way, Sweet started off as a bubblegum pop band, then went on to being a major player in the glam rock era of the 1970s before turning into a full-on hard rock act, and then a progressive rock trio after Connolly’s 1979 departure.
This article is meant to serve as a fast and fun introduction (and, for others, a trip down memory lane) to Sweet’s single output. The band had several other chart-toppers that I don’t mention here; if you enjoy these songs, make sure to seek out the group’s other singles. I plan to write an accompanying article, “A Beginner’s Guide to Sweet, Part 2: The Albums,” so please keep an eye out for that on That’s Not Current.
“Funny, Funny” (1971)
The powerhouse songwriting duo of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman kicked off their careers with Sweet, peening tunes for the band as well as managing it. “Funny, Funny” became the group’s first international hit. Obviously influenced by bubblegum acts like The Archies and The Monkees, the song is an infectious, innocuous love song high on optimism, as you can see from the following stanza:
Ever since you came my way
I knew it was my lucky day
The sun started shinin’
When you started smiling
And I know it’s gonna stay that way
This single features the quartet only on vocals, with session musicians playing the instruments. The song became a number 1 hit in some countries. It peaked at number 13 in the United Kingdom but was not released in the United States.
“Little Willy” (1972)
Sweet released three more singles that charted highly in its home country and around the world before releasing their final single on which they only sang, “Little Willy.” This tale of a no-goodnik “king around town” who famously “won’t go home” has a foot-tapping chorus that is hard to get out of your head and equally playful stanzas, such as:
Little Willy, Willy drives them wild with his run-around style
Willy sends them silly with his star-shine shimmy shuffle smile
Mama done chase Willy down through the hall
But laugh, Willy laugh, he don’t care at all
The single took a little longer to catch on in the States than it did the rest of the world, but once it did in 1973, it shot to number 3 on the singles charts, giving Sweet its highest-charting single there.
“Wig Wam Bam” (1972)
The members of Sweet finally released their first single on which they played as well as sang in 1972, “Wig Wam Bam,” and the heavier sound with distorted power chords gave a preview of where the band would later wind up. For now, though, Sweet would eschew its bubblegum pop leanings and dive into glam rock, which was all the rage in England and elsewhere in Europe at the time. The accompanying video shows Sweet starting to adapt a glam image, with dozens of German youngsters elatedly dancing along to the driving beat. “Wig Wam Bam” takes Henry Longfellow’s 1855 poem “Hiawatha” as a jumping-off point and puts a decidedly modern spin on the proceedings:
Hiawatha didn’t bother too much
‘Bout Minnie Ha-Ha and her tender touch
Till she took him to the silver stream
Then she whispered words like he had never heard
That made him all shudder inside when she said
Wig-wam bam, gonna make you my man
Wam bam bam, gonna get you if I can
Wig-wam bam, wanna make you understand
Try a little touch, try a little too much
Just try a little wig-wam bam
The song was a top 10 hit in Europe and South Africa, but again, it was not released Stateside.
Side note: All-girl California rock band The Donnas recorded a 1998 cover version of “Wig Wam Bam” with new lyrics that cut right to the chase rather than settling for double entendres.
“Block Buster!” (1973)
Sweet scored its first U.K. number 1 single with another contagious glam rock tune, “Block Buster!” The title character of this song seems far more villainous than Little Willy, as the band warns: “You better beware/You better take care/You better watch out if you got long black hair.” It’s unclear as to whether non-brunettes are safe from Buster’s dastardly clutches. Though the song was a smash top 3 hit in Europe, it merely peaked at number 73 on U.S. charts.
“The Ballroom Blitz” (1973)
After “Little Willy” caught on in the United States in 1973, Sweet found its second hit American single later that same year with “The Ballroom Blitz.” The song is based on an incident in which the band had bottles hurled at it from crowd members during a concert at the Palace Theatre and Grand Hall in Kilmarnock, Scotland. Some sources, including bassist Steve Priest, said that some punters that night took exception with the band’s makeup and lipstick. The song was a smash hit in Europe and peaked at number 5 on the U.S. charts.
“Teenage Rampage” (1974)
The next year saw Sweet release three singles — a fourth, “Peppermint Twist/Rebel Rouser” hit number 1 in Australia and was also released in New Zealand and Japan, but allegedly this was done by their record company without the band’s knowledge — two of which became top 10 hits in Europe but once again, were never released in the States.
Both 1974 chartbusters were again penned by Chinn and Chapman. The first, “Teenage Rampage,” is a glam rock anthem that serves as a call for its target audience to “Come join the revolution/Get yourself a constitution . . . And recognize your age/It’s a teenage rampage now!”
“The Six Teens” (1974)
The second top 10 hit for the group was a departure from their previous catchy singles, though the hook of a sing-along chorus was still in play. “The Six Teens” used acoustic guitar with electric lead fills for the verses before kicking into a harder-edged chorus. The lyrics told of six people who were teenagers in the 1960s and how their ideals did or didn’t change over time.
“Fox on the Run” (1975)
The following year, Sweet released its first self-penned single, “Fox on the Run.” Mike Chapman had produced a U.K. album version in 1974 but the band produced its own single version in 1975. A perfect storm of glam rock, power pop, and hard rock, the song hit number 5 on the American charts and was between numbers 1 and 3 on the British and European charts. This marked the beginning of the end as the band dissolved its relationship with Chinn and Chapman, who continued on as successful songwriters and producers with other bands.
For the sake of reference, here is the original version from the British version of the album Desolation Boulevard (the American album of the same name had different tracks and included the single version rather than this one).
Sweet followed the success of “Fox on the Run” with another self-penned, self-produced tune, “Action.” The lyrics deal with the band’s perceived negative treatment by critics and others in the music business: “So you think you’ll take another piece of me/To satisfy your intellectual greed.” “Action” saw Sweet defiantly shake off their glam rock era to become a full-tilt hard rock act. The band had written its own hard rock B-sides for many of the Chinn/Chapman singles, but now the more powerful style was a full-time effort.
I’ll post the full-length version of “Action” from the American version of the album Give Us a Wink in my follow-up article. The single version here edits the song down to a shorter length. No more glam threads for these lads; it’s all denim and leather in this video.
“The Lies in Your Eyes” (1976)
Give Us a Wink produced what would be Sweet’s final charting single in the United Kingdom for two years, “The Lies in Your Eyes.” Once again, it was not released as a single in the States, though Give Us a Wink reached number 27 on the album charts there, 8 spots higher than its U.K. peak. Though the lyrics are aggressive — “You break me up every time you try/To cool me off with a wink of your eye/And I don’t eat from a pie in the sky no more” — this single has a bit more of a pop flavor than its album mates. There’s a guitar riff in the song that may sound somewhat familiar to fans of classic rock.
“Love Is Like Oxygen” (1978)
Speaking of classic guitar rock riffs, Sweet’s final highly charting contains one of the most memorable. “Love Is Like Oxygen” is the band’s most musically diverse single, with slow verses that build into the crunchy chorus of “Love is like Oxygen/You get too much, you get too high/Not enough and you’re gonna die/Love gets you high.” This song and the album from which it comes, Level Headed, marked Sweet’s transition into progressive rock territory. The song peaked at number 8 in the States, at number 9 in the United Kingdom, and in the top 10 in many other countries. The video posted here shows that the band’s glam rock fashion days are well behind them! This version is about 3 minutes shorter than the album version, which I will include in my follow-up article.