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The Sweet

The schizoid 70s had so many weird and wonderful pop/rock genres going on – prog, heavy, glam, folk, country, soul, reggae, punk, mod and ska – that it was indeed hard to quantify the numerous combos that embraced the era. One group that were a cut above the rest were glamsters, The SWEET; the definite article dropped from their simplistic moniker when, for the second half of the 70s, they washed off their make-up, threw away their ankle-breaking platforms, and operated from a hard-rock perspective as they swept across America.
Hooking up with the Chinn-Chapman songwriting team, The SWEET satiated the nation’s appetite for sugary glam-pop via an impressive string of massive-selling Top 10 hits. From `Co-Co’, the cheeky `Little Willy’ and `Wig-Wam Bam’, to `Blockbuster!’ (their only chart-topper), `Hell Raiser’, `The Ballroom Blitz’, and a couple of comebacks, the platinum-mopped Brian Connolly was the band’s heartthrob focal point; like messrs Steve Priest, Andy Scott and Mick Tucker, central to their wildly effeminate image.
However, the sex, drugs and rock and roll took their time-honoured toll, especially on Scots-born frontman Connolly, whose heavy drinking spiralled and deteriorated when he left the band in 1979. Brian had found out in his late teens that he’d actually been adopted while still an infant; his new guardians had a much older son: aspiring actor, Mark McManus – the man that put “Taggart” on the map.
The SWEET’s legacy could be traced back to a Harefield-based outfit Wainwright’s Gentlemen (Connolly superseding EPISODE SIX-bound IAN GILLAN), a mid-60s beat-to-bubblegum-type pop group that also included drummer Mick Tucker. From here it was but a short step to The Sweetshop, a combo completed by guitarist Frank Torpey and bassist Steve Priest. London was of course the place to be in 1967. To avoid confusion with another outfit of the same name, The SWEET delivered a one-off platter in mid ’68 for Fontana Records: `Slow Motion’, before Torpey’s vacant berth was filled by seasoned campaigner Mick Stewart.
A further three throwaway pop singles for Parlophone (`Lollipop Man’, `All You’ll Ever Get From Me’ and The ARCHIES’ `Get On The Line’) followed with little or minimum interest. Stewart was not particularly impressed by the group’s MONKEES/HOLLIES identity and bailed forthwith. Hooking up with the now famous hit-making/songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, through producer Phil Wainman, The SWEET rehearsed as a trio, but finally succumbed to adding a fourth member, when Welshman Andy Scott (ex-Elastic Band), joined in September 1970.
Their TV debut for the near-forgotten pop programme, Lift Off, ensured that their inaugural disc for R.C.A.: `Funny, Funny’, would climb up to No.13 in the hit parade. The SWEET had indeed emerged from a sticky patch of sorts. While pure pop nuggets such as `Co-Co’ (Top 3) and the `Alexander Graham Bell’ (Top 40), had varying results, the shock was that fans baulked buying a full set of saccharine-coated ditties by way of the cornily-titled flop set, FUNNY HOW SWEET CO-CO CAN BE (1971) {*5}. But for two covers stemming from the world of Motown (`Reflections’ – once a hit for The SUPREMES) and folk-rock (The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’s `Daydream’), most of the songs came via Chinn & Chapman. Once aimed at kick-starting the pop careers of DJ Tony Blackburn and NEW WORLD respectively, `Chop Chop’ and `Tom Tom Turnaround’, were catchy and compulsive, while group contributions such as `Spotlight’ and `Honeysuckle Love’, stripped the meat from the bones.
Fundamentally a singles act at this stage, `Poppa Joe’, `Little Willy’ (the group’s first Top 3 Stateside success!) and `Wig-Wam Bam’, positioned them well in amongst the platform-heeled, foot-stomping steps of GLITTER, SLADE, BOLAN and BOWIE; it was indeed a shock that even THE SWEET’S BIGGEST HITS (1972) {*7} compilation, couldn’t crack the album charts.
One of the pivotal bands of the glam-pop era, The SWEET, as with their music, took flamboyant fashion excess to gender-bending new limits. In January ‘73, the quartet adopted a slightly harder-edged, anthemic approach for the chart-topping `Blockbuster!’. They repeated this winning formula over the next twelve months, three further singles: `Hell Raiser’, `The Ballroom Blitz’ and `Teenage Rampage’ enjoying a tantalisingly close shave with the No.1 spot. Astonishingly banned from many Brit ballrooms/concert halls, The SWEET subsequently toned down their pseudo-effeminate image for a more mature “harder” look.
The resulting album, SWEET FANNY ADAMS (1974) {*7}, dented the UK Top 30, although no tracks were issued as singles. Taking hard-line examples from QUEEN and MOTT THE HOOPLE, the group gained some support and much-needed respect within the fickle music biz. With only a sprinkling of pop-puppeteer Chinn & Chapman cues and a lone JOEY DEE cover of `Peppermint Twist’, it was all down to Andy Scott and group; check out `In To The Night’ (later sampled by BEASTIE BOYS), the fiery `Set Me Free’ and the muscular `Sweet F.A.’.
The SWEET did however score an exclusive Top 10 hit later that year with `The Six Teens’, although the formula looked to be running out as they also suffered their first non-Top 40 flop in some years, with `Turn It Down’, both songs spawned from another UK failure in DESOLATION BOULEVARD (1974) {*6}. A transitional period for SWEET (they’d dropped the definitive article), Capitol Records had signed them in America, releasing a re-vamped version of their previous LP into the Top 30 to coincide with the belated Top 5 success of `The Ballroom Blitz’; the self-penned `Fox On The Run’ was another attendant smash on both sides of the Big Pond.
Now without Chinn and Chapman as foil, their flagging public profile alienated most of their legion of teeny-bop fans; witnessed on the release of the US-orientated hard-rocker, GIVE US A WINK! (1976) {*6}, from which came transatlantic Top 20 gate-crasher, `Action’ – later covered by DEF LEPPARD. There was at least substance in their strive to survive the wham-bam-glam backlash through songs like `Yesterday’s Rain’ and `Cockroach’, but with punk and new wave on the horizon, SWEET’s career began to turn sour.
The riff-friendly and awkward OFF THE RECORD (1977) {*4} was hardly a headline or even newsworthy in their attempt to regain a foothold in the flaying market, while derivative cuts such as `Midnight To Daylight’, the prog-like `Windy City’ and `Funk It Up’, laid it on a bit thick. Pumped up with a myriad of styles including some West Coast machinations by way of `California Nights’, `Dream On’ and the excellent `Love Is Like Oxygen’, an air of freshness was breathed into their newfound AOR/hard-rock sound on LEVEL HEADED (1978) {*6}; the single being another Top 10 transatlantic smash.
The internal tensions that had simmered through SWEET’s career finally boiled over in 1979, Connolly striking out on a solo career, while the remaining trio (Andy Scott now on lead vox) recruited guest-styled/fourth member keyboard-player Gary Moberley for a handful of forgettable albums, including CUT ABOVE THE REST (1979) {*5}, WATERS EDGE (1980) {*6} and the aptly-titled IDENTITY CRISIS (1982) {*4}.
The rest of the 80s were characterised by countless reformations, tussles over the group name, etc; SWEET were effectively finished as a chart commodity and opting instead to trawl the cabaret circuit while Scott released a few records under the Andy Scott’s SWEET moniker.
Meanwhile, Connolly’s health was in terminal decline; any SWEET fans witnessing a mid-90s TV film documentary were no doubt shocked by his ravaged appearance. This was severely impaired as he suffered a series of heart attacks as well as a nervous disorder triggered by a bout of pneumonia. Although he’d given up drinking completely by the late 80s, the singer’s fragile medical condition eventually led to his death in his Slough home from renal failure on the 10th February 1997. Further tragedy struck, when on 25 February 2002, Tucker died of leukemia. Of late (2008), Steve Priest’s Sweet and the rival Andy Scott’s Sweet, have added another dimension to the cavernous CV of one of glam-rock’s best-loved acts.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Jul2013

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