A band in transition from reluctant pop stars to hard rock icons.
Sweet are perhaps forever doomed to be rock’s most misunderstood band – partly their own fault, it must be said. If you see Sweet (not ‘The’ Sweet, notably) on TV documentaries, it’s alway that clip of Blockbuster from Top of the Pops, all glammed up and camp as a row of tents, somehow representing everything bad about British music in the 1970s, even though glam was very much the precursor of punk. But Sweet were a first rate heavy rock band who sold their soul for pop success at the start of the 1970s, getting into bed with Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (alongside Phil Wainman) to produce a series on anodyne bubblegum numbers before finally allowing their hard rock roots to slowly emerge through later singles like Hellraiser and Ballroom Blitz. For the band, it must have increasingly felt like a deal with the devil – huge popularity, but no recognition for their ability, with their blistering, Zeppelin-inspired self-penned numbers confined to the B-sides.
By 1974, the band had regained some control over their career. The albums Sweet Fanny Adams and Desolation Boulevard saw them beginning to ditch the glam look and sound, and brought their own songs to the fore, finally resulting in the band’s own Fox on the Run being a global hit. The same year, the band were invited by Pete Townsend to support The Who at a stadium tour, but singer Brian Connolly had been injured in a fight, which resulted in band members Steve Priest and Andy Scott filling in vocals on the albums, and also forced them to drop out of the gig. Connolly’s health became the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend – his alcoholism saw him forced out of the band in 1978, shortly after their final hit single Love is Like Oxygen, and in 1981, he had an astonishing fourteen heart attacks in a day – he would die, aged 51, in 1997, a walking warning about the dangers of rock ‘n’ roll excess. Sweet continued as a three piece until 1981, by that point almost forgotten – invariably though, assorted versions of the band have been formed by the members and continue to play to this day.
The band were arguably at their peak in 1974, liberated from the pop constraints but still a popular draw, with Connolly’s throat problems giving him a grittier vocal sound. This Musikladen show from that year – interestingly not featuring any of the Chinnichap songs – is well worth a look if you think you know what Sweet were, or if you’re already a fan.