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Sweet – Love Is Like Oxygen – live

 

Sweet

(also referred to as The Sweet) were a British rock band that rose to worldwide fame in the 1970s as a prominent glam rock act, with their most prolific line-up: musician, lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker.

Sweet Band were formed in 1968 and achieved their first hit “Funny Funny” in 1971 after teaming up with songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman and record producer Phil Wainman. During 1971 and 1972, their musical style followed a marked progression from the Archies-like bubblegum style of “Funny Funny” to a Who-influenced hard 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). The band turned to more Hard Rock style with their mid-career singles like 1974’s “Turn It Down”. Their first self-written and produced single, “Fox on the Run” (1975), also reached number two on the UK charts. These results were topped in West Germany and other countries on the European mainland, where the band was very popular.

The Sweet had their last Top 10 hit in 1978 with “Love Is Like Oxygen“. Connolly left the group in 1979 to start a solo career and the remaining members continued as a threesome until disbanding in 1981.

From the mid-1980s, Scott, Connolly and Priest each played with their own versions of Sweet at different times. Tragically, Connolly died in 1997 and Tucker in 2002. The two surviving members are still active in their respective versions of the band; Scott’s is based in the United Kingdom and Priest’s in the United States.
Sweet’s origins can be traced back to British soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen. Mark Lay’s history of that band states they formed around 1962 and were initially known as Unit 4. Founder members included Chris Wright (vocals), Jan Frewer (bass), with Jim Searle and Alfred Fripp on guitars. Phil Kenton joined on drums as the band changed its name to Wainwright’s Gentlemen (due to there being another band known as Unit 4). They performed locally in the Hayes, Harrow and Wembley area. By 1964 the group was also playing in London, including at the Saint Germain Club in Poland Street. Frewer’s father managed the band, which had acquired an impressive array of equipment and found much work in local clubs.

In January 1964 the band entered Mecca Dancing and Walls’ Ice Cream national beat group contest. They won their area heat against competition which included The Detours (featuring vocalist Roger Daltrey). The band won through to the national finals held at the Lyceum, Strand on 4 May 1964. Highlights of that show, judged by Jimmy Savile were featured on BBC1, with the show hosted by Alan Freeman but the band only finished 5th overall. Chris Wright left the line-up in late 1964 and was replaced by Ian Gillan. A female vocalist named Ann Cully joined the band soon after. Mick Tucker, from Ruislip, joined on drums, replacing Phil Kenton. The band recorded a number of tracks including a cover of The Coasters/The Hollies’ hit “Ain’t That Just Like Me”, which was probably recorded at Jackson Sound Studios in Rickmansworth. It was eventually released in February 2011 on a compilation CD, “Rare Mod, Volume 3” on the Acid Jazz label (AJXCD 238). The track features Gillan on vocals, Tucker on drums and, according to band bassist Jan Frewer, is thought to have been recorded in 1965. Gillan quit in May 1965 to join Episode Six, and, later, Deep Purple. Cully remained on as vocalist before departing some time later. Gillan’s and Cully’s eventual replacement, in late 1966, was Scots-born vocalist Brian Connolly, who hailed more recently from Harefield. Tony Hall had joined on saxophone and vocals and when Fripp left he was replaced by Gordon Fairminer. Fairminer’s position was eventually assumed by Frank Torpey (born 30 April 1947, Kilburn, North West London)- a schoolfriend of Tucker’s who had just left West London group The Tribe (aka The Dream). Torpey only lasted a few months, and in late 1967 Robin Box took his place. Searle, regarded by many as the most talented musically, disappeared from the scene. Tucker and Connolly remained with Wainwright’s Gentlemen until the end of 1967. Tucker was replaced in Wainwright’s Gentlemen by Roger Hills. When the Gentlemen eventually broke up, Hills and Box joined White Plains and scored a big hit with “My Baby Loves Lovin'”.

 

 

sweet band Early years

In January 1968 Connolly and Tucker formed a new 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 was again recruited to play guitar. The quartet made its public debut at the Pavilion in Hemel Hempstead in March 1968 and soon developed a following on the pub circuit, which led to a contract with Fontana Records. At the time, another UK band released a single under the same name Sweetshop, so the band changed the name to The Sweet. The band was managed by Paul Nicholas, who later went on to star in “Hair”. Nicholas worked with record producer Phil Wainman at Mellin Music Publishing and recommended the band to him. Their debut single “Slow Motion” (July 1968), produced by Wainman, and released on Fontana failed to chart and owing to its rarity now sells for several hundred pounds when auctioned. Sweet were released from the recording contract and Frank Torpey left. In his autobiography Are You Ready Steve, Priest said that Gordon Fairminer was approached to play for them when Torpey decided to leave in July 1969 but turned the job down as he wanted to concentrate on other interests.
New line-up and new record deal

Guitarist Mick Stewart (musician) joined in 1969. Stewart had some rock pedigree, having previously worked with The (Ealing) Redcaps and Simon Scott & The All-Nite Workers in the mid-1960s. In late 1965, that band became The Phil Wainman Set when the future Sweet producer joined on drums and the group cut some singles with Errol Dixon. In early 1966, Stewart left and later worked with Johnny Kidd & The Pirates.

The Sweet signed a new record contract with EMI’s Parlophone label. Three 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), all of which failed to chart. Stewart then quit, and was not replaced for some time. Connolly and Tucker had a chance meeting with their former producer Phil Wainman who knew of two aspiring songwriters, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who were looking for a group to sing over some demos they had written together. Connolly, Priest and Tucker provided backing vocals on a track called “Funny Funny” which featured Pip Williams on guitar, John Roberts on bass and Wainman on drums. The latter began offering the track to various recording companies. The band held auditions for a replacement guitarist and settled on Welsh-born Andy Scott. He had most recently been playing with Mike McCartney(musician) in The Scaffold. 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, and on some recordings by The Scaffold. The band rehearsed for a number of weeks before Scott made his live debut with Sweet in September, 1970 at Redcar.

Sweet initially attempted to combine various musical influences, including The Monkees and 1960s bubblegum pop groups such as The Archies, 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.

Sweet’s initial album appearance was on the budget label Music for Pleasure as part of a compilation called Gimme Dat Ding, released in December 1970. The Sweet had one side of the record; The Pipkins (whose sole hit, “Gimme Dat Ding”, gave the LP its name) had the other. The Sweet side consisted of the A- and B-sides of the band’s three Parlophone singles. Andy Scott appears in the album cover shot, even though he did not play on any of the recordings.
First album

The Sweet made their UK television debut in December 1970 on a pop show called Lift Off, performing the song “Funny Funny”. A management deal was signed with a newly formed, unknown songwriting team consisting of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Phil Wainman resumed his collaboration with Sweet, as executive producer. This management deal also included a worldwide (the U.S. excepted) record contract with RCA Records (in the United States and Canada Bell Records issued the group’s music until late 1973; followed by Capitol Records).

In March 1971, RCA issued “Funny Funny”, written by Chinn and Chapman, which became the group’s 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. Their next RCA release “Co-Co” (June 1971) went to number two in the U.K., their follow up single, “Alexander Graham Bell” (October 1971), only went to #33.[1] These tracks still featured session musicians on the instruments with the quartet known as The Sweet providing the vocals.

Sweet’s first full LP album, Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be, was released in November 1971. A collection of the band’s recent singles supplemented by some new Chinn/Chapman tunes (including “Chop Chop” and “Tom Tom Turnaround”) and pop covers (such as The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” and The Supremes’ “Reflections”), the album, recorded at Nova Studios in London was produced by Phil Wainman and engineered by Richard Dodd and Eric Holland. It was not a serious contender on the charts. Their albums’ failure to match the success of their singles was a problem that would plague the band throughout their career.
Initial success and rise to fame

February 1972 saw the release of “Poppa Joe”, which reached number 1 in Finland, peaked at number 11 in the UK Singles Chart.[1] The next two singles of that year, “Little Willy” and “Wig-Wam Bam”, both reached No. 4 in the UK,[1] and “Little Willy” peaked at No. 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 Chinn-Chapman single on which only members of Sweet played. In January 1973 “Block Buster!” became Sweet’s first single to reach number 1 on the UK chart, remaining there for five consecutive weeks.[1] After their next single “Hell Raiser” was released in May and reached number 2 in the U.K., Sweet’s U.S. label released the group’s first American album The Sweet in July 1973.[1]

To promote their singles, Sweet made numerous appearances on U.K. and European TV shows such as Top of the Pops and Supersonic. 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.[2] The band also capitalised on the glam rock explosion, rivaling Gary Glitter, T. Rex, Queen, Slade, and Wizzard for outrageous stage clothing.

Despite Sweet’s success, the relationship with their management was becoming increasingly tense. While they had developed a large fan-base among teenagers, Sweet were not happy with their ‘bubblegum’ image. Sweet began to compose their own heavy-rock songs on the B-sides of their singles to contrast with the bubblegum A-sides which were composed by Chinn and Chapman. During this time, Sweet’s live performances consisted of B-sides, album tracks, and various medleys of rock and roll classics; they avoided older ‘novelty’ hits like “Funny Funny” and “Poppa Joe”. A 1973 performance at the Palace Theatre and Grand Hall in Kilmarnock ended in Sweet being bottled off stage; 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 (the 1999 CD release Live at the Rainbow 1973 documents a live show from this period). The incident would be immortalised in the hit “The Ballroom Blitz” (September 1973). In the meantime, Sweet’s chart success continued, showing particular strength in England, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Australia. At the end of 1973, the band’s name evolved from “The Sweet” to “Sweet”. The change would be reflected in all of their releases from 1974 onward.

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