Lost Tuneage: Sweet (Formerly The Sweet)

Categories: Lost Tuneage
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Who 'Dat?

From the land of England in 1968 came a band called The Sweetshop, featuring singer Brian Connolly, bassist Steve Priest, drummer Mick Tucker and guitarist Frank Torpey slogging it out on the pub circuit. By 1970, Andy Scott had replaced Torpey, and the band became The Sweet.

A few singles and a record deal followed, but it wasn't until the band was paired with songwriting duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman that The Sweet began a U.K. chart attack with innocuous, but catchy bubblegum singles like "Funny, Funny," "Co-Co," "Wig-Wam Bam," and their first big American hit, "Little Willy." Their first U.S. album was 1973 compilation The Sweet.

What Happened?

The band continued to chart in the UK, but grew increasingly frustrated at the material Chinn and Chapman were writing. Plus, studio musicians played on some tracks - despite the fact that the four were more than musically competent. So Sweet - by then they had dropped the "The" - took a turn into the glitter-drenched glam-land, and songs like "Blockbuster," "Hell Raiser," and "Teenage Rampage" took on a harder edge. Two other tracks made an impact in the U.S: the catchy "Fox on the Run" and signature tune "Ballroom Blitz."

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Instead of the Archies and the Monkees, Sweet's contemporaries were T. Rex, Slade and Queen - with whom they shared an affinity for harmony vocals - with the band writing, playing, and producing its own material. Pete Townsend was a fan, inviting Sweet to open for the Who on tour. U.S. albums at the time included Desolation Boulevard (picking up the vibe of L.A.'s decadent "Rodney's English Disco" era) and Give Us a Wink!

Sweet then took a turn into even harder rock with guitar-shredding material including "Action," "Sweet F.A.," and "No You Don't." But many audiences, especially in the U.K., still clung to the band's bubblegum/glam image. Memories of brightly-colored, shiny stage jumpsuits didn't help. Sweet scored on both shores in 1978 with "Love is Like Oxygen" (one of the first 45s this writer bought with his own allowance!); LPs of this period included Off the Record and Level Headed.

But by then, Connolly's raging alcoholism forced his ejection from the group. Priest and Scott took on vocal duties, adding keyboardist Gary Moberley. The group trudged on for a few more records, but the material just fell off in terms of quality. By 1982, Sweet had lost its taste.

Why Should I Care?

Sweet's artistic journey from bubblegum to glam to hard rock many not have been the most commercially smart, but it did show that the band was willing to take risks. There is an undeniable and infectious joy in earlier singles like "Wig-Wam Bam" and - of course - "Little Willy." Later, harder material, sometimes with sexual themes, allowed the group to break out instrumentally, but Sweet remained a singles band in an album era.

Where Are They Now?

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Connolly and Scott both tried their hands at solo careers, but didn't catch fire. Tucker and Scott reformed a version of the band in 1985, and three years later a full reunion occurred in the studio - though that was short-lived, as Connolly's vocals were deemed unusable.

That didn't stop him from touring as "Brian Connolly's Sweet" before the years of abuse caught up with him, and he died in 1997 from liver failure and heart attacks. Tucker passed away in 2002 from leukemia. Today, Priest and Tucker both front competing versions of the band, playing the oldies circuit and clubs.

Recommended Listening, Viewing

Action: The Sweet Anthology (Shout! Factory, 2009): Double CD of singles, rarities and album tracks with detailed liner notes

The Sweet's Ballroom Blitz (UK documentary; you may or may not be able to order the DVD here)

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