The Sweet (or, simply, Sweet) are a British band that rose to fame in the 1970’s, clad in tight, multi-coloured jumpsuits, sporting long hair, and penning cool cocktails of poppy hooks and classic rocker riffs. Though many of the band’s hits were written by producer-duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, the band turned written notes into legendary anthems. With Brian Connolly on vocals, Steve Priest on bass, guitarist Andy Scott and Mick Tucker on the drums, Sweet quickly built up a hearty stock of Top 20 hits in the ‘70s alone, with rock staples such as ‘Block Buster!’, ‘Hell Raiser’, ‘The Ballroom Blitz’ and ‘Fox on the Run’.
Recently, tragically, longtime bassist for the band, Steve Priest, passed away. And though it’s easy to see him as just a small cog in the machine, let’s not forget quite how important that machine is, and was, to music. If you want a band that defined the 1970’s, rock ‘n roll, and the glam movement in general – going on to influence and encourage the rise of glam metal in the late 80’s – then look no further than Sweet. They were up there with the best of them; from Bowie and T.Rex to the likes of Slade. And yet, somehow, such a band aren’t even in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sweet are an underrated band these days, though by no means were they starved of mainstream success in their own time.
So, in the spirit of stepping back and appreciating the legacy of this mighty band – and, in a small way, to recognize the legend we’ve lost – here’s my picks for the top ten anthems Sweet ever made. Yes, they’re hardly deep cuts, but for a band that made great track after great track, it’s easy to see why their hits are so well-loved by many.
The Lies in Your Eyes – Give Us A Wink, 1976 – The synthy undertones and rock spin of ‘The Lies in Your Eyes’ are perhaps the marks of a poorer man’s ‘Fox on the Run’, but that might be too unjust. This track from 1976’s Give Us A Wink still sounds great, and is ahead of its time; sounding like something out of an 80s coming-of-age soundtrack. Connolly delivers powerful vocals while Scott lays down a Stones-approved riff. Sweet stuff.
Teenage Rampage – Single, 1974 – It’s hard to knock a song with the balls to open with a baying crowd chanting, ‘We want Sweet! We want Sweet!’ before crashing into a thunderclap from Mick Tucker. But from here, this anthem of youth only grows as Connolly delivers us a powerful message of how life would be if the teens got the ‘upper hand’ and took over. It’s an idealistic fantasy and uneasy premonition in equal measure – serving as the band’s ‘All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose’ by KISS in nature – proving, perhaps unfortunately, more relevant than ever. Nevertheless, it rocks, and has enough mainstream infection to stomp along. ‘So recognize your age, it’s a teenage rampage!’
Peppermint Twist – Sweet Fanny Adams, 1974 – No, technically this isn’t Sweet’s song. Originally recorded and released by Joey Dee and the Starliters over a decade earlier, ‘Peppermint Twist’ is a classic 60’s rock ‘n roll bop. But many could argue such a track was immortalized with Sweet’s raucous cover in 1974, from their successful Sweet Fanny Adams album. It proves repetitive at points – it’s largely the same for its three-minute runtime. But it’s hard not to jive along to, and that’s what matters, really.
Action – Give Us A Wink, 1976 – A thrilling rocker on the frustrating practices of the music industry, ‘Action’ packs one of the meanest riffs and biggest choruses Sweet have ever done. At a time when the band wanted to shrug off their ‘bubblegum’ image, ‘Action’ could have not have been more of a ‘fuck you’ to critics and record companies alike. Fellow-British rockers Def Leppard went on to cover the track for their 1992 Retro Active (named as guitarist Andy Scott’s favourite Sweet cover he’d ever heard, apparently). And though the Sheffield-born lads did Sweet proud, it’s never going to be the original. Which is stellar to this day.
Wig-Wam Bam – Single, 1971 – Reaching number four in ’72, ‘Wig-Wam Bam’ was my personal introduction to the band, and though maybe I didn’t understand it’s references to a Native American epic poem as a lad, I knew the feeling it gave me. Cited as perhaps the band’s first glam rock release, it’s poppish charm and crunchy edge make it one of Sweet’s best. Throw in some high-pitched cries from the band and a few whistles and everyone’s happy.
Little Willy – Single, 1971 – I like rock. I like glam rock. And God knows Sweet has no shortage of great glam rockers. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have time for their earlier ‘bubblegum’ material. Though 1972’s ‘Little Willy’ certainly toes the line between that and power pop, it’s nursery-like lyrical content and easy drumbeat assures it a staple in any Sweet playlist of mine. It’s infectious; and perhaps the epitome for which the band was named. And besides, if you want more of the ‘glam’ image, the song’s about sex anyway, so it’s not all innocence (I mean, look at those suits.)
Alexander Graham Bell – Single, 1971 – Released in 1971 as a stand-alone single, ‘Alexander Graham Bell’ is perhaps the zaniest track The Sweet have ever done. An eerie rock anthem echoing the story of Bell and his dream to talk across the USA, it’s, nonetheless, packing a deceptively punchy chorus, with some enchanting harmonies from the rest of the band. Complete with strings, it could have easily been an ELO B-side. But, as always, the London-bred boys execute it perfectly.
Fox on the Run – Desolation Boulevard, 1974/Single, 1975 – Introduced to a whole new generation in the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, ‘Fox on the Run’ is often seen as the band’s best. It was the first single to be written by the band themselves; with all four corners of the glam outfit pulling together on this one. And it’s certainly a perfect rock song – among the headbang-iest Sweet have ever put out – with Scott and Priest working together to create a guitar sound that’s still so fresh and raw today. Connolly demonstrates his dynamic range and Noddy-esque roars as he calls out the actions of one of the band’s groupies. Originally released on the band’s Desolation Boulevard album, the more well-known and well-loved version appeared as a single a year later, and quickly found its way into the hearts and minds of the public; dubbing it ‘one of the last glitter classics’ and reaching number two in the UK, as well as as number five in the US.
Block Buster! – Single, 1973 – Block Buster!/Blockbuster! has it all, as far as I’m concerned. From the rhythmic police sirens harmonizing seamlessly with the band to the track’s simplistic anthemic beat and Jean Genie-ripped riff, it’s just a great ode to teenage danger. A troublesome womanizer by the name of ‘Buster’ – see what they did there? – is on the loose, bringing with him great unease and a glam rock classic. It spent five weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart. Good.
The Six Teens – Desolation Boulevard, 1974 – ‘The Six Teens’ was pretty much unlike anything else the band had done. It had it’s heavier, electric-stringed moments; but with softer acoustic for the verses and a story encompassing growing up in the 60s, it was seen as a departure from Sweet’s trademark cheesy pop and glitter-bound rock. It’s got that grander feel that I can’t help but I like; with a chorus that just builds and builds throughout. Connolly et. al’s vocals here shine like nothing before, and Scott still gets to lay down a mean solo. It also showed the band couldn’t put out a bad song if they tried, reaching the top 10 in many European charts. Sculpted by the iconic songwriting duo of Chinn and Chapman, Sweet gave it the oomph it needed in the studio.
And that’s it. My top picks. It was certainly difficult to choose just ten for a definitive list; let alone finding a coherent order; but all the same, I’m happy with my selection and it’s hammered home just how good this band really is. There were, of course, a few that didn’t quite make the mark. Some honourable mentions; namely the ever-cloying ‘Funny Funny’ from the band’s debut; perhaps the most ‘bubblegum’ the band ever went, but catchy all the same – as well as the culturally-questionable ‘Poppa Joe’, rockers ‘Rebel Rouser’ and ‘Hell Raiser’, and 1974’s ‘Turn It Down’. I know some may be baffled as to the omission of the band’s iconic ‘The Ballroom Blitz’, to which I reply: it’s certainly a fun song, with an energetic chorus, but perhaps a touch overrated. Sorry.
So, there you are. If you’re ever in the mood for some back-to-basics power pop and good ol’ rock ‘n roll – or if you want to know more than just ‘Fox on the Run’ – Sweet are most definitely worth a deep dive. They defined an entire era, and though we may find sadness in the passing of one of its founding members, we can take joy, too, in the music he helped create.