Rolling Stone #202: The Sweet

The Sweet’s Blitz of Hits: ‘They Were All Crap’

Munich – Here in Germany, as well as on the rest of the continent, Brian Connolly, Steve Priest, Mick Tucker and Andy Scott – The Sweet – are demigods. Their concerts are synonymous with riots and their five-year-long string of European hits has yet to be broken. No other group has threatened the Sweet stronghold. Not even the Bay City Rollers.

“The fucking Rollers,” Brian Connolly snickers during a break from the band’s sessions at Munich’s Musicland Studios. “Just look at them with their funny clothes and nervous determination to become the biggest band in the world.” His thoughts crystallizing with the help from some syruplike German beer, the 26-year-old singer/frontman reels off his band’s ethic. “The Sweet just don’t give a fuck. We don’t care. Everyone tells us we have to scheme on an American audience if we really want to hit it big. Fuck that. When we get there, we’ll play what we want to play. And if we don’t go over well, we’ll do concerts here. This is a rock & roll band, after all, not a fucking army.”

Already, the Sweet have fared better in America than such peers as Suzi Quatro, Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust, Slade or the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Perhaps significantly, their recent Top Five U.S. hit, “Ballroom Blitz,” was not exploited with a garish publicity campaign. “This band is above that ‘we’re-huge-in-Europe-now-it’s-your-turn’ hype,” says bassist Steve Priest. “I’m not surprised those other groups failed. They’re average bands. Not outstanding at all. Just average bands. Look at Slade – they’re just an English football band that had a few hits, aren’t they? On the other hand, we’re not just some artificial singles band.”

It’s taken the Sweet seven years to be able to make that claim. When the group was formed in 1969 by Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker (both of Wainwright’s Gentlemen, the band that later gave Ian Gillian and Roger Glover to Deep Purple), their main objective was exactly that: hit singles. After their first four attempts failed, a meeting was arranged with Britain’s Bacharach and David of punk rock – Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The result, “Funny Funny,” was the Sweet’s first smash.

Some 12 more hits written by Chinn and Chapman followed (among them, “Wig-Wam Bam,” “Poppa Joe,” “Little Willy,” “Blockbuster,” “Hell Raiser,” “Teenage Rampage,” “The 6-Teens” and “Ballroom Blitz”), racking up worldwide sales of 20 million. The first four singles released in the U.S. (“Little Willy,” “Blockbuster,” “Wig-Wam Bam” and “Hell Raiser”) sold well, but a compilation LP on Bell didn’t.

A turning point for the Sweet came in early 1974 when, in the course of a pub brawl in London, Connolly’s throat was kicked in. In the months he (and the group) was out of commission, the Sweet reassessed their direction. “We had been getting Number Ones just like that,” Priest says, and snaps his fingers with nonchalance. “We were on top of it all. But we weren’t getting off at all. All those early hits… they were crap.”

The Sweet informed Chinn and Chapman that their services would no longer be needed. The first totally band-written-and-produced single, “Fox on the Run” – just released in the States – was a major European success earlier this year.

In America, however, the Sweet are still a singles act and still largely Chinn/Chapman. They left Bell when their contract expired in June and recently released their first Capital album,Desolation Boulevard, another compilation LP. Five of the ten tracks are Chinn/Chapman compositions. “Capital picked the songs for the album,” says Priest. “If we’d had our say, we’d have had all our own tracks on it, obviously. Which is not to say it’s a bum album. We didn’t do too baldly, considering some of the ludicrous shit they wanted to put in there…we had a real fight on our hands. We’re way beyond most of that stuff now. ‘Ballroom Blitz’ is two years old, for example. Let’s not forget that. We couldn’t have put that out.”

After playing one experimental gig at the sold-out Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the Sweet have gone ahead and booked an extensive American tour to begin in January. Coinciding with the tour will be the worldwide release of a new, current Sweet album. “We’re trying not to compromise on this one. This is the step we’ve always wanted to take,” says Mick Tucker. “And if we don’t make it, I guess that’s it. Just another 15-hit wonder.”

Courtesy of Rolling Stone #202 – Cameron Crowe – December 18, 1975