The Sweet epitomized all the tacky hubris and garish silliness of the early '70s. Fusing bubblegum melodies with crunching, fuzzy guitars, the band looked a heavy metal band, as they racked up a number of hits in both the U.K. and the U.S.
Sweet (originally The Sweet) was a British rock band that formed in the late 1960s and rose to prominence as one of the main glam rock acts in the 1970s, with the classic line-up consisting of Brian Connolly, Steve Priest, Andy Scott, and Mick Tucker. During the early years of 1971 and 1972, Sweet's musical style followed a marked progression from the Archies-like bubblegum style of the first hit, "Funny Funny", to a Who influenced heavy rock style supplemented by a striking use of high-pitched backing vocals. The band achieved notable success in the UK charts, with thirteen Top 20 hits during the 1970s alone, with "Block Buster" (1973) topping the chart, followed by three consecutive number two hits in "Hell Raiser" (1973), "The Ballroom Blitz" (1973) and "Teenage Rampage" (1974). Their first self-written and produced single "Fox on the Run" (1975) also reached number two on the UK charts.
Sweet membership has undergone a number of changes, and during different periods Scott, Connolly and Priest also each formed their own "Sweet", resulting in the separate bands Steve Priest's Sweet, Andy Scott's Sweet and Brian Connolly's New Sweet. Connolly died in 1997, and Tucker in 2002. Two of the bands are still in existence: the U.S. version of The Sweet, founded by original bass player Steve Priest, and the U.K. version of The Sweet, featuring Andy Scott.
Sweet's origins go back to 1965, with UK soul band Wainwright's Gentlemen, which included drummer Mick Tucker and vocalist Ian Gillan. The group were limited to small UK clubs playing a mixture of rhythm and blues and psychedelia. Gillan quit in May 1965 to join Episode Six, and, later, Deep Purple. Gillan's eventual replacement was vocalist Brian Connolly. Tucker and Connolly remained with Wainwright's Gentlemen until early 1968.
In January 1968, Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker left Wainwright's Gentlemen to form another band, calling themselves The Sweetshop. They recruited the bass guitarist and lead vocalist Steve Priest of a local band called The Army, who had previously played with another local band The Countdowns. Frank Torpey, a friend of Tucker's, was recruited to play guitar. It did not take long for Sweetshop to develop a following on the pub circuit and they were signed to the Fontana record label. At the time, another UK band released a single under the same name Sweetshop, so the band changed the name to The Sweet. Their debut single "Slow Motion" (July 1968) failed to chart. Sweet was released from the recording contract and Frank Torpey left. Steve Priest in his autobiography says Gordon Fairminer was approached to play for them when Torpey decided to leave but turned the job down as he wanted to concentrate on other interests.
In 1969, guitarist Mick Stewart joined, and The Sweet signed a new record contract with EMI's Parlophone label. Three more bubblegum pop singles were released, "Lollipop Man" (September 1969), "All You'll Ever Get from Me" (January 1970), and a cover version of The Archies' "Get on the Line" (June 1970), which all failed to chart. Stewart then quit, and was replaced by ex-Scaffold, Mayfield's Mule, and The Elastic Band guitarist Andy Scott. Out of all the members, Scott had the most professional experience. As a member of The Elastic Band, he had played guitar on two singles for Decca "Think of You Baby" and "Do unto Others". He also appeared on the band's lone album release, Expansions on Life. With the new line-up now in place, a management deal was secured with a newly formed, and unknown song writing team, consisting of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Phil Wainman was the executive producer. This management deal also included a worldwide (the U.S. excepted) record contract with RCA Records. In the U.S., Sweet was on Bell Records then later Capitol Records Sweet initially attempted to combine various musical influences, including 1960s bubblegum pop groups such as The Archies and The Monkees, with more heavy rock-oriented groups such as The Who. The Sweet adopted the rich vocal harmony style of The Hollies, with distorted guitars and a heavy rhythm section. This fusion of pop and hard rock would remain a central trademark of Sweet's music and prefigured the hair metal of a decade later. Another influence on The Sweet's music was 1960s drummer Sandy Nelson, who partially influenced Mick Tucker's drumming style. In particular, Sweet tracks such as "The Ballroom Blitz" and "The Man with the Golden Arm" contain elements of Sandy Nelson's 1961 U.S. Top 10 hit, "Let There Be Drums".
Sweet's first album appearance was on a Music for Pleasure album, released in December 1970. The Sweet had one side only, The Pipkins (after whose sole hit, "Gimme Dat Ding", the LP took its name) had the other. The LP features the A- and B-sides of the three commercially unsuccessful Parlophone singles before The Sweet finally found success with "Funny Funny", which was the band's first single release for RCA. Despite the album cover shot of The Sweet featuring Andy Scott, he was not actually a band member until "Funny Funny" and is not featured in any of these recordings. In January 1971, The Sweet made their UK television debut on a pop show called Lift Off, performing "Funny Funny".
In March 1971, "Funny Funny" became their first international hit, climbing to the Top 20 on many of the world's charts. EMI reissued their 1970 single, "All You'll Ever Get from Me" (May 1971) and it again failed to chart. "Co-Co" (June 1971) became a hit (UK #2). But the following single, "Alexander Graham Bell" (October 1971) was only a minor hit (UK #33). Sweet's first official full-size LP album entitled Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be was released towards the end of 1971, and failed to chart. A collection of Chinn/Chapman novelty tunes (including "Chop Chop" and "Tom Tom Turnaround") and pop covers (such as The Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" and The Supremes' "Reflections"), the album was not a serious contender on the charts, although RCA did press 10,000 copies. As the LP faded into obscurity, Sweet found themselves being labelled by music critics as nothing more than a Top 40 singles band. Furthermore, Chinn and Chapman hindered the band's chance for respectability by bringing in session musicians, a la The Monkees, to play on the records, even though the members of Sweet were competent musically. The relationship between Sweet, and Chinn and Chapman, was becoming increasingly tense. One major reason was that Sweet were not happy with the 'bubblegum' image that was being cast on them. At the band's insistence and as a conscious contrast, their B-sides got heavier with each release; for example, "Done Me Wrong All Right", the self-penned B-side of "Co-Co", amazed some listeners who had hated the pop sound but loved their rock style and realised there was more to the band than they had thought. This dichotomy of bubblegum A-sides and heavy-rock B-sides only served to confuse their teenage fan following. Indeed, The Sweet's live performances consisted of B-sides, album tracks, and various medleys of rock and roll classics; rarely were the singles played live. A 1973 performance at the Palace Theatre and Grand Hall in Kilmarnock which ended in Sweet being bottled off stage was one such performance; the disorder was attributed by some (including Steve Priest) to Sweet's lipstick and eye-shadow look and by others to the audience being unfamiliar with the concert set and would be immortalised later that year in the hit "The Ballroom Blitz".
February 1972 saw the release of "Poppa Joe" that peaked at number 11 in the UK Singles Chart. The next two singles of that year, "Little Willy" and "Wig-Wam Bam", both reached #4 in the UK, and "Little Willy" peaked at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 after a re-issue in 1973, thus becoming the group's biggest American hit. Although "Wig-Wam Bam" remained largely true to the style of Sweet's previous recordings, the vocals and guitars had a harder, more rock-oriented sound - largely because it was the first Sweet single on which only the real members of Sweet played. It was in many ways, a transition single, paving the way for the change of musical emphasis that came in January 1973 with "Block Buster!" (an imperative to "Block Buster", later falsely often contracted to "Blockbuster", alluding with wailing siren sounds to Blockbuster bombs of World War II), Sweet's first chart-topping single, which quickly reached #1 on the UK chart, remaining there for five consecutive weeks. "Hell Raiser" was released in May and reached position #2, the success of which was repeated by the subsequent singles, "The Ballroom Blitz" (September 1973) and "Teenage Rampage" (January 1974). As the group's popularity grew, Sweet put in a heavy schedule of UK and European TV promotional appearances, including numerous Top of the Pops and Supersonic slots. Sweet soon picked up a large teenage audience. In one performance of "Block Buster!" on Top of the Pops, Priest aroused complaints after he appeared wearing a German uniform and displaying a swastika armband. The band also capitalised on the glam rock explosion, rivalling Gary Glitter, T. Rex, Queen, Wizzard, and Slade for outrageous stage clothing. By 1974, Sweet had grown tired of the artistic control Chinn and Chapman exerted over their career, hence the group and Phil Wainman decided to record without the duo. The resulting album, Sweet Fanny Adams, was their first Top 40 entry in the UK Albums Chart. Sweet's technical proficiency was demonstrated for the first time on self-penned hard rock tracks such as "Sweet F.A." and "Set Me Free". Sweet also dropped their glam rock image in favour of a more conventional hard rock appearance. In response to UK music critics, Sweet concentrated on proving their musical talents with self-written tracks. The Sweet Fanny Adams album (first for the band as 'Sweet') also featured compressed high-pitched backing vocal harmonies, which was a trend that continued on all of Sweet's albums. Sweet, with contemporary UK bands T.Rex and Queen, were recognised as some of the main exponents of high-pitched harmonies during the 1970s. During sessions for the album Brian Connolly was injured in a fight in Staines High Street. His throat was badly injured and his ability to sing severely limited. Priest and Scott filled in on lead vocals on some tracks ("No You Don't", "Into The Night" and "Restless") and Connolly under treatment from a Harley Street specialist managed to complete the album. The band did not publicise the incident and told the press that subsequent cancelled shows were due to Connolly having a throat infection.
In early 1974 Sweet had received public praise from The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend. Sweet had also frequently cited The Who as being one of their main influences and played a medley of their tracks in their live set for many years. At Townshend's invitation, Sweet were invited to support The Who, who were playing at Charlton Athletic's football ground, The Valley in June 1974. Connolly's badly bruised throat kept them from fulfilling the role. Some critics maintain that Connolly's voice never really recovered after this incident, and he was unable to sing with the strength and purity he had on their album and single releases. A second album was released during 1974 called Desolation Boulevard. One of the tracks off this album was a cover of The Who's "My Generation" (not on the U.S. version of the album). This album, produced by Mike Chapman in place of the now-departed Phil Wainman, was recorded in a mere six days and featured a rawer "live" sound. The first single from the LP, the heavy-melodic "The Six Teens" (July 1974) was a Top 10 hit in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. However, the subsequent single release, "Turn It Down" (November 1974) reached only #41 on the UK chart. "Turn It Down" received minimal airplay on UK radio and was banned by some radio stations because of certain lyrical content - "God-awful sound" and "For God's sakes, turn it down" - which were deemed "unsuitable for family listening." The U.S. version of this album, not released until 1975, was actually a combination of songs from Sweet Fanny Adams and the UK version of Desolation Boulevard. One side contained all Chapman-Chinn penned songs, with the other side featuring songs written and produced by Sweet.
In 1975, RCA released a compilation album entitled The Sweet Singles Album (Australia and New Zealand only). This LP featured singles recordings, including the hits "The Ballroom Blitz", "Teenage Rampage", "Block Buster" and "Hell Raiser". The album coincided with their Australian and New Zealand tour and was a big seller. A double album, Strung Up was released in November (except USA), which contained one (and first for the band) live disc, recorded in the UK in December 1973, the other disc being a compilation of previously released A and B side singles (plus a new song by Chinn and Chapman - "I Wanna Be Committed"). Also at the end of the year Andy Scott released his first solo single titled "Lady Starlight". This was accompanied by a solo video clip of Scott playing the song (A subsequent alternative version was later added to the Japanese and U.S. versions of the 1976 Give Us A Wink album, and to the Andy Scott 30 Years CD with an alternate version. This song also appeared on the Desolation Boulevard album, but with a softer remix).
In 1975, Sweet went back into the studio to re-arrange and record a more pop-oriented version of the track "Fox on the Run", which originally appeared on the 1974 Desolation Boulevard LP. Sweet's first self-written and produced single, "Fox on the Run" (March 1975), was released worldwide and instantly became their biggest selling hit, reaching number one in Germany and Australia, number two in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and number five in the U.S. (1976 release). The following single issue, "Action" (July 1975), peaked at UK #15. (Since 1975, all subsequent RCA and Polydor single releases were now referred to as simply Sweet.) Now confident in their own songwriting and production abilities, Sweet spent the latter half of 1975 in Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, where they recorded the Give Us A Wink album with German sound engineer Reinhold Mack, who later recorded with Electric Light Orchestra and co-produced Queen.
January 1976 saw the release of "The Lies In Your Eyes". This single was not very successful around the world, except parts of Europe and Australia. As a result of its lack of success, Australia was the only country to get the follow up single "4th Of July". Give Us A Wink!, Sweet's first fully produced and written LP was released in March 1976. During 1976, Sweet strove to build on their growing popularity in America with a heavy schedule of more than fifty headline concert dates. Even though "Give Us A Wink's" release was imminent, the band were still in effect promoting the USA version of "Desolation Boulevard" and the only song from the new album played live was "Action" which had recently reached #10 as a single there. During an appearance at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California on 24 March, Sweet played "All Right Now" with Ritchie Blackmore as a tribute to mark the death of Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, who was to have supported Sweet with his band "Back Street Crawler". Following the end of the US tour the band went on to Scandinavia and Germany before finally playing 8 dates in Japan. The second single from the LP, The Lies In Your Eyes went into the Top 10 in Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia, but only reached #35 on the UK charts. Between October 1976 and January 1977, Sweet wrote and recorded new material at Kingsway Recorders and Audio International London studios for their next album. The first single from the yet to be released album was "Lost Angels". This single was only a hit in Germany and Sweden. In April 1977, Off The Record was released, which was Sweet's final RCA album release. The next single from the album, "Fever of Love", represented the band heading in a somewhat more Europop hard rock direction, and once again charting in Germany and Sweden, but also a surprise hit in South Africa (No.10 on its national Top 20 Charts). On this album, Sweet again worked with Give Us A Wink engineer Louis Austin, who would later engineer Def Leppard's On Through The Night 1980 début album. The 1976 and 1977 years featured Sweet as a more album-oriented, glam metal act. Albums such as Give Us a Wink! and Off the Record were undoubtedly Sweet's heaviest studio albums. Indeed, U.S. Top 10 chart entry "Action" was the group's hardest rocking hit single. "Stairway To The Stars" was Sweet's final single release for RCA. Sweet split from RCA in late 1977. Earlier in the year, Sweet's Manager David Walker, from Handle artists, had been putting out feelers for a new record contract. Polydor of what was then, West Germany, showed extreme interest and a new record deal was signed, by mid 1977. However it would not come into force until later in the year. Reputed to be around 750,000 British Pounds Sterling, the event marked yet a new change in direction for the group. The first album for new label Polydor, Level Headed, found Sweet experimenting by combining rock and classical sounds "a-la clavesin", an approach similar to UK band ELO - indeed "Love Is Like Oxygen" is often mistaken for an ELO song. Largely recorded at Château d'Hérouville near Paris, France, the resulting Level Headed album represented a new musical direction with its Led Zeppelin influenced rock style, interspersed with ballads accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra. The ballad, "Lettres D'Amour", featured a duet between Brian and emerging singer Stevie Lange(who would emerge as lead singer with the group Night in 1979). Whilst the band had seen Andy Scott and Steve Priest occasionally sing lead on an album track, this album tellingly saw Brian relegated to singing lead on only half the tracks. With the addition of session and touring musicians keyboardist Gary Moberley and guitarist Nico Ramsden, Sweet undertook a short European and Scandinavian tour followed by a single British concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 24 February 1978. However, "Love Is Like Oxygen" (January 1978) was their last UK, U.S. and German Top 10 hit. Scott was also nominated for an Ivor Novello Award for co-composing "Love Is Like Oxygen". One more single from the album, "California Nights" (May 1978), featuring Steve Priest as the lead vocalist, peaked at #23 on the German charts.
Between March and May 1978 Sweet extensively toured the USA. On this occasion, however, they had been reduced in status to a support act for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The tour included a disastrous date in Birmingham, Alabama at which visiting Capitol Records executives in the audience were to see Brian Connolly give a drunken and incoherent performance that terminated early in the set with his collapse on stage leaving the rest of the group to play on without him. The band regrouped in England before resuming the US tour in late May supporting Seger and other acts, including Foghat and Alice Cooper, until they returned to the UK in early July. The band began work on their next album in mid-August with writing sessions at Clearwell Castle. Unfortunately, Brian's alcoholism was steadily becoming a greater issue. Although all the Sweet members lived the extreme rock lifestyle during the 70s - with alcohol, drugs, and women, among other things - the others were not as severely affected as Connolly. However, the band left Clearwell in late September with some promising material. In late October, Sweet arrived at The Town House studio in Shepherds Bush, London to write and record new material for their next album. Things were now drawing to a head, with tension and difficulty with Brian Connolly. As a last ditch effort, the group organised for Connolly's long time friend and fellow founding member, Mick Tucker, to go into the studio without Andy Scott, to attempt an outcome. A number of tracks were then recorded featuring Connolly on vocals, for the "Cut above the rest", album. Efforts were deemed unsatisfactory and some of the contributions were then erased from the ensuing album Cut Above The Rest. Two tracks however, featuring Brian on lead vocals, "That Girl" and "Stay With Me", remain from the sessions. Later, Connolly would reflect on the difficulty, as a combination of musical and personal differences, particularly with Andy Scott. On 23 February 1979, Brian Connolly's departure from Sweet was announced by Handle Artists Manager, David Walker, at a press conference. Publicly, Connolly was said to be pursuing a solo career with an interest in recording country rock. Sweet then continued as a trio with Steve Priest and Andy Scott, now both handling lead vocals (Scott says that Ronnie James Dio, who'd just departed from Rainbow, was approached in January 1979 to join as the group's new singer. But Steve Priest disputes this. At any rate, Dio ended up joining Black Sabbath shortly thereafter). Keyboard player Gary Moberley continued to augment the group on stage and on record and guitarist Ray McRiner also joined their touring line-up in 1979 as well as contributing songs to their next album, Waters Edge, which was released in Europe under that title and as Sweet VI in the U.S. One more studio album, Identity Crisis, was recorded in 1980-81 and Sweet performed their last live show at Glasgow University on 20 March 1981. They had disbanded by mid 1981 but their final Album "Identity Crises", was released late during the following year. With no band to promote it, Polydor carefully released it only in West Germany, originally only on vinyl.
In 1985, Scott and Tucker re-formed another version of Sweet, with new players, singer Paul Mario Day (ex-Iron Maiden, More, Wildfire), keyboardist Phil Lanzon (ex-Grand Prix, Lionheart; now with Uriah Heep), and bass player Malcolm McNulty (who is now lead singer for fellow glam rockers Slade). Steve Priest was asked to join Tucker and Scott for their 1986 Australian tour, but he declined. Reasons given were for Priest to remain with his family, as they were now resident in New York. Later, Steve Priest would comment further, saying the money being offered was not enough. Adding to the confusion, was Brian Connolly who had in early 1984, also reformed his own version of the Sweet, but without any of the original members. Singer Paul Mario Day ended up marrying the band's Australian tour guide and relocating down under. He continued with Sweet for a bit, commuting back & forth to Europe for the group's tours until this proved to be too cumbersome. He departed in late 1988. As McNulty moved into the front man spot, Jeff Brown came in to take over bass early in 1989. Lanzon too went back and forth between Sweet and Uriah Heep during 1986-1988 before Heep's schedule grew too busy. Ian Gibbons (who had played with The Kinks and The Records) and then Malcolm Pearson both filled in for Lanzon until Steve Mann (ex-Liar, Lionheart, McAuley Schenker Group) arrived in December 1989 for a five and a half year term.
In 1991, Tucker departed due to ill health.
In 1988, Connolly, Scott, Priest, and Tucker along with their original hit songwriter and producer Mike Chapman briefly reformed to record music for the first time in nine years. Reworked studio versions of "Action" and "The Ballroom Blitz" were recorded in Los Angeles. However, Connolly's vocals were deemed unsatisfactory by the three other group members, hence the reunion was brief. In 1990 all four members were again reunited for the promotion of a music documentary entitled Sweet's Ballroom Blitz. This UK video release, which contained UK television performances from the 1970s and current-day interviews, was released at Tower Records, London. Brian Connolly died at the age of 51 from liver failure and repeated heart attacks, attributed to his chronic alcoholism, on 9 February 1997. Mick Tucker subsequently died on 14 February 2002 from leukaemia, aged 54.
Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be (1971) Sweet Fanny Adams (1974) Desolation Boulevard (1974) Give Us a Wink (1976) Off the Record (1977) Level Headed (1978) Cut Above the Rest (1979) Waters Edge (1980) Identity Crisis (1982)