underrated the case for Sweet
Tuesday 29 August 1995
Sweet, originally Sweetshop, did begin as a wholesome foursome, singing fluff like "Co-Co" and "Funny Funny" and "Chop Chop", which you could tell were twee because they had titles that repeated themselves. Then glam-rock happened and Sweet found a niche. Their songwriters, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, started giving them tunes with a little more muscle, and lyrics on unpredictable themes: "Alexander Graham Bell" found them expatiating on the invention of the telephone; "Wig-Wam Bam" examined Native American mores. "Little Willy" was about... no one really knows what it was about, but it was a huge hit in the States.
You could tell they were different because, even though they didn't have enough hits to fill their Biggest Hits, at least they didn't call them Greatest Hits. Posing cross-legged in front of a teepee, Brian Connolly, the singer with the blond feather cut, wore the full Wig- Wam Bam gear; Mick Tucker, the drummer who looked like a brickie, wore a loincloth. If you stared long and hard enough you could just make out his pubic hair.
It all changed with "Blockbuster", a glam anthem that stayed at number one for, oh, weeks. It was cool and menacing and, as it started with a police siren, you could smuggle it on to the playlist at your parents' parties and frighten the guests. Andy Scott's riff was a straight lift from "Jean Genie", but when they said Bowie had copied them doubts would have been disloyal. Anyway, Sweet knew how to kick off a song. For "Ballroom Blitz" Mick did a locomotive drum intro, over which Brian asked the band if they were set ("Are you ready, Steve?" "Uh-huh". That Steve Priest, camply squawking in the chorus, always was a wrong 'un). "Teenage Rampage" opened with what sounded like a Nuremberg rally where everyone was chanting "We want Sweet."
Unfortunately, not everyone did want Sweet. They only had the one number one. It was a body blow when "Hell Raiser" was kept from the top by the Strawbs's "Part of the Union", definite article and all. They split with Chinn and Chapman, a hit-factory who grew fat writing for Suzi Quatro, Mud and even Smokie, and tried penning their own stuff. Apart from the presentable "Fox on the Run", you could tell from their heavy B-sides and albums (Sweet Fanny Adams, Desolation Boulevard) that they'd never have another year like 1974.
There was a comeback in 1978 with "Love Is Like Oxygen", but it was pretty pallid stuff. It's absurd to think that Sweet and the Clash (yes, the definite article was back) could ever have occupied the same chart. After that they went metalwards.
More than any other group from that era, even more than Slade, who wore their platforms and sequins with less gusto, Sweet had a few hits that defined a fleeting moment in pop. Age cannot wither that, even if Connolly looked desperately infirm on Channel 4's recent glam retrospective. Andy Scott looked bloated. There were probably health restrictions preventing them from showing what has become of Steve Priest.
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