Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Sweet - amazing 70's Rock in all it's crazy glory!

Throughout 2014 and 2015, I was obsessed with the Electric Light Orchestra - I just couldn't go a day without listening to some of Jeff Lynne and Co.'s magical creations.  As the calendar was changing from 2015 to 2016, I kept hearing songs from a band called "Sweet" on two of my favorite satellite radio stations in the car - Classic Vinyl and 70's on 7.  They played a song called "Little Willy", and I thought - well, that was a catchy tune.  Then, I heard their two more well-known US hits, "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox on the Run".  Again, I liked what I heard, but it still wasn't enough to make me go "Holy shit! I need to hear more!". 

However, I then heard their song from 1975 called "Action" - and, yes, the "Holy shit!" moment was had.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing - these guys sounded like a harder rocking version of Queen!  I do love me some crazily overdubbed vocal harmonies!

So, since the beginning of 2016, I moved to get my hands on everything I could from this band called "The Sweet" or "Sweet" (I really don't know what their official name is, so I just call them "The Sweet"...sounds more dramatic with the "The").  Also, before I go into my ramblings, run (don't walk!) to their official YouTube site - it's an absolute treasure trove of awesomeness!  They've recently put up a few videos from a live performance they did back in 1974 on the legendary German music show called Musikladen.  It'!  Their performance of a song called "No You Don't" is so kickass, I actually got mad at myself for living all these years and only now finding out about this band.

Ok, let my new-fanboy ramblings begin...
Apparently Sweet began as a bubblegum-pop group in the late 60's, and continued that type of music to about 1972 or so.  I'd like the record to show that I HATE their bubblegum pop songs.  Blech!  However, around 1972/1973 they started moving into a more rock-n-roll sound, and amplified it to hilarious (and a little disturbing) visual effect by going Glam.  Just watch some of the videos/performances on their Youtube channel, and you'll see what I mean.  Well, by 1974, they realized they were overdoing the whole Glam look thing because they were like, "shit, the chicks think we like dudes, that's not cool", and so they went with the more traditional hard rock look of the time from 1974 on.

Really, for me, 1973-1978 are the Golden Years for this group.  They put out some of the best rock music that I've heard from anybody during that time - and I love 70's rock!  They rocked as hard as Sabbath and Zeppelin, and were as creative as Queen and ELO.  Brian Connolly was everything a successful group needs in a front man - he was sorely missed on their last three albums from 1979-1982; Andy Scott played some absolutely wicked guitar licks, and pitched in some ear-piercing high vocals; Steve Priest was solid on bass and vocals, not to mention absolutely hilarious whenever he knew the camera was on him; Mick Tucker was a badass drummer - he routinely rocked complex drum fills with one hand, while twirling a drumstick with the other.

Oh, before I get into the albums, there's a 20-minute documentary on their YouTube channel that is a must-see.  Called "Sweet: All that Glitters", it's so Spinal Tap, it's awesome.  I was expecting one of them to talk about amps that went to 11.

Ok, the albums.  This is a bit confusing because they released different albums in Europe and the US.  So, I'm just going to go by what I have in my collection.

The Sweet featuring... (1973)
This album features a collection of their hit singles from over in Europe.  It's the beginning of their transformation over to more rock-type music, and was in the middle of their over-the-top Glam persona.  Two very kickass songs on here include: "Hellraiser" and "Blockbuster".  I can't get enough of those two songs - so good!  "Little Willy", "Wig Wam Bam", and "You're Not Wrong for Loving Me" are also highlights.

Next, in 1974, they released an album called Sweet Fanny Adams everywhere except the US.  Then, later that year, they released another album in Europe called Desolation Boulevard.  It wasn't until 1975 that they released that album in the US - and the US version was basically a mishmash of those two albums.

Desolation Boulevard  (1975)
This album is awesome!  It includes their two biggest US hits "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox on the Run".  For my money though, the best song on this album is "I Wanna Be Committed".  What an amazing song!  You just don't hear a song like this today (which is why I prefer 70's rock).  There's also a song on here called "Set Me Free" that has the most intense phasing effect I've ever heard.  The effect is very thick for starters, but then they do this wicked criss-crossing with it, that when you're sitting in the "sweet spot" between the speakers listening, it will jar your brain and make you go slightly light-headed for a couple seconds.  Pretty badass!

Strung Up  (1975)
This is a double-album - one live record; the other, alternate studio takes.  This was also not released in the US, but I got my hands on a copy.  The live album is raw, but very good.  The studio side is pretty cool, in that you get a slightly different version of "Action"; and even better, an extended version of "I Wanna Be Committed". 

Give Us a Wink  (1976)
Ah man, this is my favorite Sweet album!  It flat out rocks!  It's like a heavy metal Queen album.  So badass!  It starts off with "Action" - one of my favorites.  Following it is "Yesterday's Rain"...this song is killer!  It features the classic lyric: "Up to my balls inside her!".  Now THAT'S a rock lyric!
It also has the song, "The Lies in Your Eyes", which is the most intense earworm I've ever experienced.  Seriously, upon hearing that song, it was in my head non-stop for two weeks straight.  It is, perhaps, my single most favorite song in their entire catalog.  The album comes to a rip-roaring, crazy overdubbed vocal harmony, end with "4th of July"...damn, that's a great song.  The whole album is a treat.

Off the Record  (1977)
This has what is now one of my all-time favorite album covers - front, back, gatefold, it's all badass!  Again, this is another straight-on hard rock album with all the crazy Queen-esque overdubbed vocal harmonies.  It starts off with the great "Fever of Love" which features a Blondie-esque groove during the chorus - very cool!  It's followed by another great rocker in "Lost Angels".  "Midnight to Daylight" has a great chorus. 

"Windy City" has a great set of lyrics: "Your dad's in the slam; your mom's a whore!" - upon hearing that, I immediately thought of the Guns-n-Roses song, "My Michelle" with it's "Your daddy works in porno, now that mommy's not around" moment.

"Stairway to the Stars" kicks off Side Two - fun song, but dear lord, the high-pitched vocal harmony could shatter glass.

Level Headed   (1978)
Sweet got a little sophisticated with this one.  They traded in the hard rock of the previous two albums, and went with more of an Eagles/Yes/ELO-esque type of sound.  It took me a few listens to really get into this one, but the more I listen to it, the more I like it.  I would put it as my third favorite album in their catalog.

On the US version, the album kicks off with "California Nights" - this song has really grown on me.  Bassist Steve Priest handles the vocals on this one, and it has a real nice up-tempo Eagles vibe to it.

Guitarist Andy Scott handles the vocals on "Fountain".  Another great song.

"Love is Like Oxygen" is another earworm, and was their last big hit in the US.  The album version is almost 7-minutes long - it's pretty kickass...I may or may not be known to play a little "Air Keyboards" during this song.

My favorite song on this album is "Lettres D'amour".  Basically a duet with lead singer Brian Connolly and guest singer Stevie Lange, it has a fantastic chorus that will stick in your brain.

While I do have their 1979 album, Cut Above the Rest, I really wasn't grabbed by it.  I would need to spend some more time with it before scribbling any ramblings on it.  It's the first album without Brian Connolly, and he is sorely missed (no offense to Steve Priest and Andy Scott who took over vocal duties, but it's just not the same dynamic).

Their last two albums - 1980's Waters Edge, and 1982's Identity Crisis just don't sound good to me.  That's all I have to say about those.

Anyway, The Sweet were an amazing group, and they really deserve an all-new, full-blown, 2-hour documentary by some talented filmmaker out there.  They're well-respected by other legendary rock acts, but for whatever reason, aren't immediately hailed along with the Zeppelin's, the Sabbath's, the Queen's, the Who's, the Aerosmith's, etc., of that era.  That's just not right.  The Sweet are badass and deserve to forever soar in that same rarified air!  

No comments: