Along with T.Rex and David Bowie, The Sweet were one of the best known glam rock groups. To date they have sold 35 million albums and had 10 UK top 10 hits, but underneath all of this was a lot of turbulence. So, without further ado here is 5 things that you probably didn’t know about The Sweet.
1. They’ve had 3 different names
Before their chart topping hits and outrageous Top of the Pops appearances during the peak of the glam rock era, Brian Connolly (vocals) and Mick Tucker (drums) had been performing together since the mid-60’s. They were both originally part of British soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen, before leaving to form a new band ‘Sweetshop’ in 1968.
At this point, Steve Priest (bass) joined the line up. The name ‘Sweetshop’ didn’t last long, however, due to another band releasing a single under the same name.
‘Sweetshop’ was then changed to their current name ‘Sweet’, and by 1970 Andy Scott had joined the band on guitar. However, there’s actually two variations of this name, ‘Sweet’ on it’s own and ‘The Sweet’. According to some sources, the name was changed from ‘The Sweet’ to ‘Sweet’ at the end of 1973 after their chain of chart hits such as ‘Little Willy’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ (our favourites to play live!). Other sources, though, say that Sweet was the official name and that others began calling them ‘The Sweet’, which then stuck after a while.
Now we are left with the predicament of whether to refer to them as Sweet, or The Sweet… so if we end up using a mixture of both during this article, now you know why!
2. Despite having a positive name, behind the tunes they had a lot of sour enemies
These enemies weren’t found in rival bands such as Slade who The Sweet actually became good friends with. As Steve Priest mentions, “when we were on the same Top of the Pops show, I used to spend more time in their dressing room than ours“. However, a lot of enemies could be found amongst the general public and their so-called fans.
A gig at The Grand Hall, Kilmarnock, on 27th January 1973 saw an uproar of men spitting from balconies above and women screeching at the top of their lungs, with the band eventually being driven off stage by a bottling.
This went on to inspire the song ‘Ballroom Blitz’, but a much more sinister incident occurred the following year when Brian Connolly was attacked outside a pub in surrey, trying to defend his car from some thugs. Whilst it is quite possible the attack was indirect, Steve Priest has always believed it was something much more personal as Brian heard one of them say ‘That should do the job‘.
Sweet did have a reputation for partying and sleeping around, so it is quite possible that Brian had annoyed someone. Priest believes the only person who really knows about the motivation behind the attack is an ex-roadie, but he would never tell. Several kicks to the throat damaged Brian Connolly’s vocal chords, and this went on to cause a whole world of problems for the band, sparking not only the decline of Brian Connolly’s career, but also his health.
3. They unintentionally ripped off David Bowie and beat him to #1
Just a few weeks after Bowie released ‘Jean Genie’ on November 24th 1972, Sweet released ‘Blockbuster’ via the same label in January 1973. The awkward thing, though, was that Blockbuster had an almost identical guitar riff. Andy Scott never remembers hearing Bowie’s song before theirs was released, but as soon as he did, he was straight onto their producer. Blockbuster had been recorded in early November before Jean Genie was released, so unless someone had been doing some serious undercover work, there was no way that Blockbuster was a deliberate copy.
The situation became even more awkward with the news that Blockbuster had reached number 1 in the charts, whilst David Bowie’s Jean Genie – with effectively the same tune – only managed number 2.
4. Their first self-written hit single wasn’t until 1975
Sweet achieved their first hit ‘Funny Funny’ in 1971 after pairing up with the well known song writing duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The pair would go on to write every single chart hit the band had until in 1974 when the band became tired of the management they were under. Sweet then went into the studio to record ‘Fox on the Run’, which, when released in March 1975 became their first ever self-written hit single.
Soon after this, the band released ‘Action’ which lyrically was a negative dig at the treatment of pop stars featuring a masked backwards vocal with the words ‘You kiss my arse’. Sweet only had a few minor hits after this period such as ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ before they began to fall apart and their popularity declined.
5. After calling it a day in 1981, they did attempt a classic line up reunion in 88.
Remember that attack on Brian Connolly in 1974 that we talked about? Well, that really did affect him badly. He developed a problem with alcoholism and played his last gig with the band in 1978. Then in 1981, he was hospitalised due to bloating and also suffered multiple heart attacks as well as paralysis on his left side which later developed into a nervous system condition.
Fast forward to 1988 and Mike Chapman decided to contact the classic line up offering to get them back together with a studio recording in Los Angeles. However, when experiencing firsthand the health problems that Connolly had sustained, this reunion was aborted.
As Chapman remembers “I met them at the Airport and Andy and Mick came off the plane. I said, ‘Where’s Brian?’ They said, ‘Oh, he’s coming’. All the people had come off the plane by now. Then this little old man hobbled towards us. He was shaking, and had a ghostly white face. I thought, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ.’ It was horrifying“. Some re-mastered tracks were recorded but Brian Connolly’s vocals weren’t what they used to be and there was no way the reunion would have worked.
The members of Sweet continued performing in their own different versions of the band long afterwards. Some of the band, including Brian, did perform together one last time at the private wedding of Priest’s eldest daughter in 1994, but this would be the very last time as Connolly sadly passed away in 1997 due to his ill health.
Although they had some tough times, without a doubt though, Sweet left us with some of the most up-beat glam rock classics. To this day, songs like Ballroom Blitz still give audiences, and us, a massive thrill when played live and we can’t wait to perform them again.