Few bands have metamorphosed more times than Sweet (and sometimes, The Sweet) did during the heyday, which lasted from the late 60s until the early 80s. In their early years, they were mostly a bubblegum pop band with a string of hits in the UK and Europe, and one monster hit in the US: Little Willy. All of these hits were written for them. Their b-sides, however, gave a glimpse of the powerhouse band they’d become in the mid 70s, and these were actually written by the band.
On stage, the band’s colorful outfits and outrageous stage show helped them develop the reputation of one of the best glam rock bands in Europe. In the US, however, they were still a one-hit wonder.
The band’s classic lineup throughout the 70s was lead singer and heartthrob Brian Connolly, guitarist Andy Scott, bassist Steve Priest, and drummer Mick Tucker. Scott and Priest provided strong harmony vocals, adding another level of texture that helped set them apart from most metal bands.
In early 1974, they released their third album, Sweet Fanny Adams, which still featured a handful of songs written by others, but Sweet arranged these to sound as heavy as their b-sides. They followed this in late 1974 with Desolation Boulevard. This album, as released in Europe, is not the same as the US.
For the American audience, Capitol Records cobbled the best songs from the band’s last two albums, adding two more songs that hadn’t appeared on a Sweet album, and released the US version of Desolation Boulevard. Normally, this kind of effort is usually weaker than the original albums; however, in Sweet’s case, it ended up becoming possibly their finest album ever. As a ninth grader, it had a lasting impact on me. Many people know what a metalhead I am. This album was my introduction to heavy metal.
To start with, one of the new songs was classic glam, a perfect mix of fun outrageousness with Sweet’s unique metal sound. Ballroom Blitz was an instant worldwide hit, a song that even today cannot be confused with any other pop or rock song, whether Mick’s drum shuffle, Brian’s spoken “Are you ready, Steve?” intro, the quirky lyrics about the man in the back and the girl in the corner, or the memorable chorus.
The follow-up hit was Fox on the Run, another smash that successfully straddled both pop and rock, but this one was written by the band, proving that they could write as well as any outside writers. The song re-entered the charts just last year, hitting #1 on iTunes’ rock charts when it was included in the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and has been covered by numerous artists, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Those aren’t the only strong songs on the album, however. In fact, there are several songs that many fans prefer, most notably, the first track on side 2, Sweet F.A., which might possibly be the best song the band ever created. A 6+-minute epic that opens with a tremendously heavy riff that always feels on the verge of rumbling out of control but manages to just stay on the tracks, it twists and turns several times in mood from heavy metal to pop to progressive rock. Other notable songs include No You Don’t (covered by Pat Benatar) and Set Me Free (covered by many bands, including Saxon), but there are no weak songs on the album.
Overall, this album still holds up well against not only the best glam rock albums of the era, such as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, but against any metal album of the mid70s, including Black Sabbath’s Sabotage, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, or Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny. Sweet’s follow-up album, Give Us a Wink, is nearly as good, so check that album out as well. In fact, members of Kiss, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard have all gone on record saying that Sweet is one of their primary influences,
Andy Scott has kept the band alive, and Steve Priest has had his own lineup for a while, but sadly, both Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker passed several years ago. You can learn more at thesweet.com (Andy Scott’s Sweet) or thesweetband.com (Steve Priest’s Sweet).