Sweet (also referred to as the Sweet) were a British rock band that rose to worldwide fame in the 1970s as one of the most prominent glam rock acts, with the classic line-up of lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker.
Sweet 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). Their first self-written and produced single "Fox on the Run" (1975) also reached number two on the UK charts. From 1976 the success started to decline and Sweet had their last Top 10 hit in 1978 with "Love is Like Oxygen". The year after, Connolly left the group to start a solo career and the remaining members continued as a threesome until they finally disbanded in 1981.
Since the mid-1980s, Scott, Connolly and Priest have each played with their own versions of Sweet during different periods of time. 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 UK and Priest's in California.
Sweet's origins can be traced back to UK soul band Wainwright's Gentlemen. Mark Lay's history of the 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 named 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 Wells' 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 Saville were featured on the BBC1, with the show hosted by Alan Freeman but the band only finished 5th overall. Chris Wright left the lineup in late 1964 and was replaced by Ian Gillan. A female vocalist named Anne Culley 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 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. Culley remained on as vocalist before departing some time later. Gillan's and Culley's eventual replacement was Scots-born vocalist Brian Connolly, who hailed more recently from Harefield. Tony Hall had joined on saxophone and when Fripp left he was replaced by Frank Torpey- a friend of Tucker's. Robin Box later replaced Torpey whilst Searle, regarded by many as the most talented musically, disappeared from the scene. Tucker and Connolly remained with Wainwright's Gentlemen until early 1968.
In January 1968, Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker left Wainwright's Gentlemen to form another 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 recruited to play guitar. The quartet made its public debut at the Pavilion in Hemel Hempstead in March 1968 and it did not take long to develop a following on the pub circuit and they were signed to the Fontana record label. At the time, another UK band released a single under the same name Sweetshop, so the band changed the name to The Sweet. Their debut single "Slow Motion" (July 1968), produced by Phil Wainman, failed to chart and due to its rarity now sells for several hundred pounds when auctioned. Sweet were released from the recording contract and Frank Torpey left. Steve Priest in his autobiography (Are You Ready Steve) says Gordon Fairminer was approached to play for them when Torpey decided to leave but turned the job down as he wanted to concentrate on other interests.
New line-up and new record deal:
In 1969, guitarist Mick Stewart joined, and The Sweet signed a new record contract with EMI's Parlophone label. Three more 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), which all failed to chart. Stewart then quit, and was replaced by ex-Scaffold, Mayfield's Mule, and The Elastic Band guitarist Andy Scott.
Out of all the members, Welsh-born Scott had the most professional experience. 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.
With the new line-up now in place, a management deal was secured with a newly formed, and unknown song writing team, consisting of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Phil Wainman was the executive producer. This management deal also included a worldwide (the U.S. excepted) record contract with RCA Records. In the U.S., Sweet were on Bell Records then later Capitol Records.
Sweet initially attempted to combine various musical influences, including 1960s bubblegum pop groups such as The Archies and The Monkees, 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.
Another influence on The Sweet's music was 1960s drummer Sandy Nelson, who partially influenced Mick Tucker's drumming style. In particular, Sweet tracks such as "The Ballroom Blitz" and "The Man with the Golden Arm" contain elements of Sandy Nelson's 1961 U.S. Top 10 hit, "Let There Be Drums".
First album appearance:
Sweet's first longplay appearance was on a Music for Pleasure compilation called Gimme Dat Ding. The Sweet and The Pipkins, EMI-MFP-5248, released in December 1970. The Sweet had one side only, The Pipkins (after whose sole hit, "Gimme Dat Ding", the LP took its name) had the other. The LP features the A- and B-sides of the three commercially unsuccessful Parlophone singles before The Sweet finally found success with "Funny Funny", which was the band's first single release for RCA. Despite the album cover shot of The Sweet featuring Andy Scott, he was not actually a band member until "Funny Funny" and is not featured in any of these recordings.
In January 1971, The Sweet made their UK television debut on a pop show called Lift Off, performing "Funny Funny".
In March 1971, "Funny Funny" became their 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. "Co-Co" (June 1971) became a hit (UK #2). But the following single, "Alexander Graham Bell" (October 1971) was only a minor hit (UK #33).
Sweet's first official full-size LP album entitled Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be was released towards the end of 1971, and failed to chart. A collection of Chinn/Chapman novelty tunes (including "Chop Chop" and "Tom Tom Turnaround") and pop covers (such as The Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" and The Supremes' "Reflections"), the album was not a serious contender on the charts, although RCA did press 10,000 copies. As the LP faded into obscurity, Sweet found themselves being labelled by music critics as nothing more than a Top 40 singles band. Furthermore, Chinn and Chapman hindered the band's chance for respectability by bringing in session musicians, as with The Monkees, to play on the records, even though the members of Sweet were competent musically.
The relationship between Sweet, and Chinn and Chapman, was becoming increasingly tense. One major reason was that Sweet were not happy with the 'bubblegum' image that was being cast on them. At the band's insistence and as a conscious contrast, their B-sides got heavier with each release; for example, "Done Me Wrong All Right", the self-penned B-side of "Co-Co", amazed some listeners who had hated the pop sound but loved their rock style and realised there was more to the band than they had thought. This dichotomy of bubblegum A-sides and heavy-rock B-sides only served to confuse their teenage fan following. Indeed, The Sweet's live performances consisted of B-sides, album tracks, and various medleys of rock and roll classics; rarely were the singles played live. A 1973 performance at the Palace Theatre and Grand Hall in Kilmarnock which ended in Sweet being bottled off stage was one such performance; 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 and would be immortalised later that year in the hit "The Ballroom Blitz".
February 1972 saw the release of "Poppa Joe" that peaked at number 11 in the UK Singles Chart. The next two singles of that year, "Little Willy" and "Wig-Wam Bam", both reached #4 in the UK, and "Little Willy" peaked at #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 Sweet single on which only the real members of Sweet played. It was in many ways, a transition single, paving the way for the change of musical emphasis that came in January 1973 with "Block Buster!", Sweet's first chart-topping single, which quickly reached #1 on the UK chart, remaining there for five consecutive weeks. "Hell Raiser" was released in May and reached position #2, the success of which was repeated by the subsequent singles, "The Ballroom Blitz" (September 1973) and "Teenage Rampage" (January 1974).
As the group's popularity grew, Sweet put in a heavy schedule of UK and European TV promotional appearances, including numerous Top of the Pops and Supersonic slots. Sweet soon picked up a large teenage audience. 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. The band also capitalised on the glam rock explosion, rivalling Gary Glitter, T. Rex, Queen, Wizzard, and Slade for outrageous stage clothing.
Forming a new image:
By 1974, Sweet had grown tired of the artistic control Chinn and Chapman exerted over their career, hence the group and Phil Wainman decided to record without the duo. The resulting album, Sweet Fanny Adams, was their first Top 40 entry in the UK Albums Chart. Sweet's technical proficiency was demonstrated for the first time on self-penned hard rock tracks such as "Sweet F.A." and "Set Me Free". Sweet also dropped their glam rock image in favour of a more conventional hard rock appearance. In response to UK music critics, Sweet concentrated on proving their musical talents with self-written tracks.
The Sweet Fanny Adams album also featured compressed high-pitched backing vocal harmonies, which was a trend that continued on all of Sweet's albums. Sweet, and later Queen, were recognised as some of the main exponents of high-pitched harmonies during the 1970s. During sessions for the album Brian Connolly was injured in a fight in Staines High Street. His throat was badly injured and his ability to sing severely limited. Priest and Scott filled in on lead vocals on some tracks ("No You Don't", "Into The Night" and "Restless") and Connolly under treatment from a Harley Street specialist managed to complete the album. The band did not publicise the incident and told the press that subsequent cancelled shows were due to Connolly having a throat infection. No previous singles appeared on the album and none were released except in Japan and Australia where "Peppermint Twist/Rebel Rouser" gained a high chart position.
In early 1974 Sweet had received public praise from The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend. Sweet had also frequently cited The Who as being one of their main influences and played a medley of their tracks in their live set for many years. At Townshend's invitation, Sweet were invited to support The Who, who were playing at Charlton Athletic's football ground, The Valley in June 1974. Connolly's badly bruised throat kept them from fulfilling the role. Some critics maintain that Connolly's voice never really recovered after this incident, and he was unable to sing with the strength and purity he had on their album and single releases.
A second album was released during 1974 called Desolation Boulevard. One of the tracks off this album was a cover of The Who's "My Generation" (not on the U.S. version of the album). This album, produced by Mike Chapman in place of the now-departed Phil Wainman, was recorded in a mere six days and featured a rawer "live" sound.
The first single from the LP, the heavy-melodic "The Six Teens" (July 1974) was a Top 10 hit in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. However, the subsequent single release, "Turn It Down" (November 1974) reached only #41 on the UK chart. "Turn It Down" received minimal airplay on UK radio and was banned by some radio stations because of certain lyrical content - "God-awful sound" and "For God's sakes, turn it down" - which were deemed "unsuitable for family listening."
The U.S. version of this album, not released until 1975, was actually a combination of songs from Sweet Fanny Adams and the UK version of Desolation Boulevard. One side contained all Chapman-Chinn penned songs, with the other side featuring songs written and produced by Sweet.
Writing and producing their own material:
In 1975, Sweet went back into the studio to re-arrange and record a more pop-oriented version of the track "Fox on the Run", which originally appeared on the 1974 Desolation Boulevard LP. Sweet's first self-written and produced single, "Fox on the Run" (March 1975), was released worldwide and instantly became their biggest selling hit, reaching number one in Germany, Denmark, and South Africa, number two in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands and number three in Austria and Switzerland. In Australia it not only made it to the top of the single charts, it also became the biggest selling single of that year. In North America, where it was only released the following year (1976), it was equally successful and reached number two in Canada and number five in the U.S.
The following single release, "Action" (July 1975), peaked at number 15 in the UK. Now confident in their own songwriting and production abilities, Sweet spent the mid to latter half of 1975 in Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, where they recorded the Give Us A Wink album with German sound engineer Reinhold Mack, who later recorded with Electric Light Orchestra and co-produced Queen. The new album release was held over until 1976 so as not to stifle the chart success the Desolation Boulevard album was enjoying in North America, peaking at #25 in the US and #5 in Canada.
Since 1975, all subsequent RCA and Polydor single releases were now referred to as simply Sweet.
The Sweet Singles Album and Strung Up:
In 1975, RCA released a compilation album entitled The Sweet Singles Album (Australia and New Zealand only). This LP featured singles recordings, including the hits "The Ballroom Blitz", "Teenage Rampage", "Block Buster" and "Hell Raiser". The album coincided with their Australian and New Zealand tour and was a big seller. Due to the delay in releasing Give Us A Wink! RCA decided to release a double album, Strung Up in November (except USA), which contained one (and first for the band) live disc, recorded in the UK in December 1973, the other disc being a compilation of previously released A and B side singles (plus a new song by Chinn and Chapman - "I Wanna Be Committed"). Also at the end of the year Andy Scott released his first solo single titled "Lady Starlight".With the B side "Where D'Ya Go" This was accompanied by a solo video clip of Scott playing the song. Tucker played drums on both tracks. A subsequent alternative version was later added to the Japanese and U.S. versions of the 1976 Give Us a Wink album, and to the Andy Scott 30 Years CD with an alternate version. This song also appeared on the Desolation Boulevard album, but with a softer remix). In Europe the single was also released with "Where D'Ya Go" as the A side and "Lady Starlight" as the B side with a different picture sleeve cover to the UK version.
Decline in popularity:
January 1976 saw the release of "The Lies In Your Eyes". This single was not very successful around the world, except parts of Europe and Australia. As a result of its lack of success, Australia was the only country to get the follow-up single "4th Of July". Give Us A Wink!, Sweet's first fully produced and written LP, was released in March 1976.
During 1976, Sweet strived to build on their growing popularity in America with a heavy schedule of more than fifty headline concert dates. Even though "Give Us A Wink's" release was imminent, the band were still in effect promoting the USA version of "Desolation Boulevard" and the only song from the new album played live was "Action" which had recently reached #20 as a single there. During an appearance at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California on 24 March, Sweet played "All Right Now" with Ritchie Blackmore as a tribute to mark the death of Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, who was to have supported Sweet with his band Back Street Crawler. Following the end of the US tour the band went on to Scandinavia and Germany. A second single from the LP, The Lies In Your Eyes went into the Top 10 in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Australia, but only reached #35 on the UK charts. The band spent a week at The Who's Rampart Studio in Battersea demoing material for a new album before abandoning that project and playing eight dates in Japan.
Between October 1976 and January 1977, Sweet wrote and recorded new material at Kingsway Recorders and Audio International London studios for their next album. The first single from the yet to be released album was "Lost Angels". This single was only a hit in Germany and Sweden. In April 1977, Off the Record was released, which was Sweet's final RCA album release. The next single from the album, "Fever of Love", represented the band heading in a somewhat more Europop hard rock direction, and once again charting in Germany and Sweden, but also a surprise hit in South Africa (No.10 on its national Top 20 Charts). On this album, Sweet again worked with Give Us A Wink engineer Louis Austin, who would later engineer Def Leppard's On Through The Night 1980 début album.
The 1976 and 1977 years featured Sweet as a more album-oriented, glam metal act. Albums such as Give Us a Wink! and Off the Record were undoubtedly Sweet's heaviest studio albums. Indeed, U.S. Top 20 chart entry "Action" was the group's hardest rocking hit single. "Stairway To The Stars" was Sweet's final single release for RCA.
Split from RCA, Joining Polydor and a change in style:
Sweet split from RCA in late 1977. Earlier in the year, Sweet's Manager David Walker, from Handle artists, had been putting out feelers for a new record contract. Polydor, of what was then West Germany, showed extreme interest. A new record deal was signed, by mid 1977, however it would not come into force until later in the year. Reputed to be around 750,000 British Pounds Sterling, the event marked yet a new change in direction for the group.
The first album for new label Polydor, Level Headed in 1978 found Sweet experimenting by combining rock and classical sounds "a-la clavesin", an approach similar to UK band ELO - indeed "Love Is Like Oxygen" is often mistaken for an ELO song. Largely recorded at Château d'Hérouville near Paris, France and Clearwell Castle in the Forest Of Dean UK, the resulting Level Headed album represented a new musical direction with its Led Zeppelin influenced rock style, interspersed with ballads accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra. The ballad, "Lettres D'Amour", featured a duet between Brian and emerging singer Stevie Lange (who would emerge as lead singer with the group Night in 1979).
Whilst the band had seen Andy Scott and Steve Priest occasionally sing lead on an album track, this album tellingly saw Brian relegated to singing lead on only half the tracks. With the addition of session and touring musicians keyboardist Gary Moberley and guitarist Nico Ramsden, Sweet undertook a short European and Scandinavian tour followed by a single British concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 24 February 1978. However, "Love Is Like Oxygen" (January 1978) was their last UK, U.S. and German Top 10 hit. Scott was also nominated for an Ivor Novello Award for co-composing "Love Is Like Oxygen". One more single from the album, "California Nights" (May 1978), featuring Steve Priest as the lead vocalist, peaked at #23 on the German charts.
Departure of Brian Connolly:
Between March and May 1978 Sweet had extensively toured the USA. On this occasion, however, they had been reduced in status to a support act for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The tour included a disastrous date in Birmingham, Alabama at which visiting Capitol Records executives in the audience were to see Brian Connolly give a drunken and incoherent performance that terminated early in the set with his collapse on stage leaving the rest of the group to play on without him. The band returned briefly to England before resuming the second leg of their US tour in late May supporting Seger and other acts, including Foghat and Alice Cooper, finishing the US tour in early July 1978. Unfortunately, Brian's alcoholism was steadily becoming a greater issue. Although all the Sweet members lived the extreme rock lifestyle during the 70s - with alcohol, drugs, and women, among other things - the others were not as severely affected as Connolly.
In late October, Sweet arrived at The Town House studio in Shepherds Bush, London to write and record new material for their next album. Things were now coming to a head, with tension and difficulty with Brian Connolly. As a last-ditch effort, the group organised for Connolly's long-time friend and fellow founding member, Mick Tucker, to go into the studio without Andy Scott as producer, to attempt an outcome. A number of tracks were then recorded featuring Connolly on vocals for the "Cut Above the Rest" album.
Efforts were deemed unsatisfactory and some of the contributions were then erased from the ensuing album. Two tracks however, featuring Brian on lead vocals, "That Girl" and "Stay With Me", remain from the sessions. Later, Connolly would reflect on the difficulty, as a combination of musical and personal differences, particularly with Andy Scott.
On 23 February 1979, Brian Connolly's departure from Sweet was announced by Handle Artists Manager, David Walker, at a press conference. Publicly, Connolly was said to be pursuing a solo career with an interest in recording country rock.
Three piece Sweet
Sweet continued as a trio with Steve Priest and Andy Scott, now both handling lead vocals, with Mick Tucker continuing on drums. Guest Keyboard player Gary Moberley continued to augment the group on stage. Also guitarist Ray McRiner, joined their touring line-up in 1979, with a small tour in the eastern part of the United States, to support the "Cut Above The Rest" album. Ray McRiner would also contribute the songs "Too Much Talking" and the single "Give The Lady Some Respect" to the next Sweet album, "Waters Edge". In the USA, the "Waters Edge" album was retitled by Capitol Records, as Sweet VI. The main singles for the "Waters Edge - Sweet VI" albums, were the singles, "Sixties Man", followed by "Give The Lady Some Respect". Sadly, another track, "Tall Girls", recorded shortly after the departure of Brian Connolly in 1979, never made it to the "Waters Edge", album. It did, however, become a single b-side.
One more studio album, Identity Crisis, was recorded during 1980-81 and Sweet performed their last live show at Glasgow University on 20 March 1981. Steve Priest had already relocated to the US and the original Sweet had effectively disbanded by mid 1981. The album "Identity Crisis", was released late during 1982. With no band to promote it, Polydor carefully released it only in West Germany and Mexico.
In 1985, Scott and Tucker re-formed the Sweet, with new players, singer Paul Day (of Iron Maiden, More, Wildfire), keyboardist Phil Lanzon (ex-Grand Prix, Lionheart; now with Uriah Heep), and bass player Malcolm McNulty (who became lead singer for fellow glam rockers Slade). Steve Priest was asked to join Tucker and Scott for their 1986 Australian tour, but he declined. Reasons given were for Priest to remain with his family, as they were now resident in New York. Later, Steve Priest would comment further, saying the money being offered was not enough. Adding to the confusion, Brian Connolly had in early 1984 also formed his own version of the Sweet, but without any other of the original members.
Singer Paul Mario Day ended up marrying the band's Australian tour guide and relocating to Australia. He continued with Sweet for a bit, commuting back and forth to Europe for the group's tours until this proved to be too cumbersome. He departed in late 1988. As McNulty moved into the front man spot, Jeff Brown came in to take over bass early in 1989. Lanzon too went back and forth between Sweet and Uriah Heep during 1986-1988 before Heep's schedule grew too busy. Ian Gibbons (who had played with The Kinks and The Records) and then Malcolm Pearson both filled in for Lanzon until Steve Mann (ex-Liar, Lionheart, McAuley Schenker Group) arrived in December 1989 for a five and a half year term.
In 1991, Tucker departed due to ill health.
Brief reunions and the deaths of Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker
Mike Chapman contacted all four members of the classic lineup in 1988, offering to finance a recording session in Los Angeles. As he remembers, he was in for a ghastly surprise: "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."Reworked studio versions of "Action" and "The Ballroom Blitz" were recorded, but it became clear that Connolly's voice and physical health had made Sweet's original member comeback too difficult to promote commercially. Consequently, the reunion attempt was aborted.
In 1990 the classic lineup was again reunited for the promotion of a music documentary entitled Sweet's Ballroom Blitz. This UK video release, which contained UK television performances from the 1970s and current-day interviews, was released at Tower Records, London.
Brian Connolly died at the age of 51 on 9 February 1997 from liver failure and repeated heart attacks, attributed to his earlier 1970s and early 1980s chronic drinking. Mick Tucker subsequently died on 14 February 2002 from leukaemia, aged 54.
Today, two versions of The Sweet are still active with original members, Andy Scott's Sweet, who frequently tour across Europe as Sweet and makes occasional sojourns to other markets including regular visits to Australia and Steve Priest's Sweet who tour the USA and Canada.
On 28 April 2009, Shout! Factory released a two-disc, career-spanning greatest hits album called Action: The Sweet Anthology. It received a coveted four-star (out of five) rating in Rolling Stone.
Band member timeline