Despite the fact that their bubblepunk singles of the early 70s were as hard as they were chewy, Sweet found themselves in the annoying position as the whipping boys of the glam scene, never mind the fact that Slade and Gary Glitter had the market cornered on crude and annoying. Part of the reason was that since the late sixties when they were known as The Sweetshop, they made use of a songwriting team outside of the band, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Originally they didn’t see much success. After truncating their name to The Sweet in 1970, they had hits with “Funny Funny,” “Wig Wam Bam” and “Little Willy,” which are on their 1971 album, Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be. The band wrote their own B-sides, which were harder edged, and the songwriters responded with tougher-sounding “Blockbuster,” “Hell Raiser” and “Ballroom Blitz.” They were solid hits, but the band continued to be dismissed by critics and snubbed by fellow musicians such as Bryan Ferry, Bowie and Marc Bolan. So used to the abuse, when Nicky Chinn attended a party hosted by Led Zepplin’s manager Peter Grant, he assumed they were “taking the piss” when they repeatedly played “Ballroom Blitz.” However Robert Plant assured him it was one of their favorite records.
In 1974, the band recorded their first full album without the “Chinnichap” team, and it was a corker. Despite the fact that it melded the best of both the worlds of T. Rex and Queen, and influenced everyone from Kiss to Cheap Trick and Motley Crue, Sweet Fanny Adams wasn’t even released properly in the U.S. Only part of it was heard in a domestic reissue of Desolation Boulevard (1974), a minor classic in its own right. It was finally reissued by Sony BMG in 2005, remastered with copious bonus tracks. The album kicks off with proto-speedmetal, I kid you not. “Set Me Free” is fast and clean with a tight guitar solo that sticks in the brain, basically providing a template for later Judas Priest and NWOBHM, and eventually covered by Saxon among many others. It definitely shows Andy Scott is one of the undersung guitar heroes of the era. “No You Don’t” is a brooding, psych rocker with vocals that rival Ozzy Osbourne’s paranoia. The B-side “Burning” also pays tribute to Black Sabbath. “In To The Night,” has the coolest intro, building up from a simple drum pattern and riff, that probably made the likes of Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent green with envy, had they even heard it. “Peppermint Twist” and “AC-DC” break up the dark rockers with some pop. I believe the Australian AC/DC already existed by the time the latter came out. Sweet F.A., yeah!
The fun doesn’t have to end there, as Desolation Boulevard is nearly as great. In addition to singles “The Six Teens,” “Fox On The Run” and “Teenage Rampage,” it has the jaw-dropping, ambitious psychedelic prog-metal “Medussa.” Other gems are B-sides “I Wanna Be Committed,” which sounds like a big influence on a similarly titled song by The Ramones, and the raunchy “Someone Else Will.” Those assuming Sweet took a big dive in quality after 1974 would be dead wrong. While Give Us A Wink(1976) doesn’t have singles aside from the possible career peak of “Action,” it’s a rock solid album focusing on Andy Scott’s great guitar playing. Off The Record (1977) and Level Headed (1978) have a few bewildering moments as they toy with influences from ELO and The Tubes, but they’re still fascinating and entertaining. It’s not until Cut Above The Rest (1979) that they finally tip the scales towards more unsuccessful experiments, though there’s still plenty to love.
Next up will be another lost classic from 1974, Heavy Metal Kids, which was reissued this year by Lemon Records. Singer Gary Holton sounds so much like Bon Scott, he was actually offered the gig to replace him after his death.