Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In Memory Of Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker My Tribute To Sweet- One Of The Few Big Bands Who Deserved Huge Acclaim

   When Brian Connolly died I found out a year or two later- I think two years later after watching a special on "Glam Rock." I was devastated. Brian was and always will be one of my biggest heroes and someone I look up to not just for the unique voice he had or just for his brilliance as a writer, but for what an interesting and fun personality he was. With drummer unmatchable Mick Tucker dead in 2000 Sweet are half dead although Andy Scott has done everything he can over the years to keep the band alive. I applaud him for that. It's like Joey Molland keeping the music of Badfinger alive when he's the only surviving member of that grimly doomed four piece great band. If The Rolling Stones can survive into their 70s playing live and still exciting people it's a great thing and not a bad thing. I don't believe that Andy Scott, Joey Molland, or Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts are opportunistic. I don't believe Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney are now washed up hacks (The Beatles are a band that will live on forever and I need not even state that).  I believe what is fact and that is when you have something really special that not just you, but also other people love keeping it alive and still going is the best thing to do. When you consider how many artists go on way past their sale date and aren't even interesting it really speaks miles for the music of the great ones who stay great. I've been to concerts of 1960s/1970s bands and artists and been knocked out many times. I never got a chance to see Sweet. I owned a VHS when I was 16 of them on various TV shows in the UK and with interviews from all four at the end. There's a lot of grief that two of the key members of the group including wonderful Brian Connolly are dead not just for the two survivors (bass player Steve Priest and lead guitarist Andy Scott), but for someone such as myself who grew up loving them. Sweet are the most versatile group of the 70s as much as any name out and out progressive bands like Yes, Genesis. 10cc, or Emerson Lake And Palmer and they kept their music far more interesting than most especially godawful Mark II ugly screamer Ian Gillan fronted Deep Purple. I used to get into heated arguments with one of my best friends over Sweet and Deep Purple. I honestly don't know what people can see in somebody who was ugly, never washed himself once, and who did nothing but scream and the band he was in were made of great, but very misguided musicians. Sweet live on musically with a lot more power and resonance than anything Deep Purple or any number of "seriously heavy" bands do. I will put them with Queen, UFO, and Sparks as some of the only name bands I'll ever write about in detail here. That says a lot for them. I'm very finicky about who gets in here and who doesn't. In loving memory of Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker and huge support for the two surviving members this is my own personal loving write up of Sweet.
       -The Early Years From Bubblegum To "The Juicer" To Andy Scott And New Sounds-
   Formed at the end of the 60s under the monicker Sweetshop in Middlesex Sweet as they changed their name to comprised at first lead vocalist Brian Connolly, vocalist/bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Frank Torpey, and vocalist/drummer Mick Tucker. They were a heavy psychedelic rock band who were forced into recording outside material much of which was throwaway lightweight pop of the worst kind like the odious "Lollipop Man." However, early B sides revealed their heavy psychedelic brilliance with no song a better indication of how powerful they could be than "The Juicer." This monolithic hard rocking track with wild tough vocals from Connolly and blasting guitars would later translate into such hard rock/glam classics and "Hell Raiser," "Man From Mecca," and "Blockbuster." Already Brian Connolly had a very unique voice and his unbelievably perfect blond pageboy heavenly good looks would help him immensely too. Connolly, a native of Hamilton Scotland, would go through his entire career until he passed away the consummate professional pop/rock/hard rock vocalist. Even on the worst of the forced-down-their-throats early material he was special. However, Torpey was proving to be an unfit match for the rest of the band and soon the most notable line up of Sweet was born.
    Andy Scott on vocals/lead guitar replaced Frank Torpey and The Sweet as they were known then as a great band were born. Few other bands went through as many drastic changes in style, content, and image as Sweet. Almost none, in fact maybe none, could lay claim to as many classic songs and classic albums as The Sweet. When they met Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn their earlier bubblegum became a bit closer to quality pop psych, in fact much closer to it, on their first album FUNNY HOW SWEET CO CO CAN BE. The material did tend toward a kind of light psychedelic power pop, but the songs are all really good even the Ska meets bubblegum pop of "Co Co" and the rather harder to listen to "Poppa Joe." This last track appears uncredited as the last track of the Columbian pressing that I own a VG copy of so maybe it only appears on a pressing of the album in Columbia of all places! Andy Scott adds a considerably punchier sound to the group and the four part harmony vocals are superb. Brian Connolly shines throughout and where he and the group really shine for the pop psych songs is on their masterful Motown cover "Reflections." Brian's vocal is very emotional and already he was making that one of his trademarks. Later ultra passionate singers as unlike Connolly as David Coverdale and Kal Swan make for a nice change from the usual worthless overmasculine heavy metal rubbish vocals. Brian Connolly wasn't imitated by very many singers even in the beginning and that's because NO ONE CAN SOUND JUST LIKE HIM. I've heard some come very close, but nobody could ever equal or replace him.
             -From Bubblegum To The Masters Of Glam To The Split From Chinn/Chapman-
      The Sweet were scoring hits with songs like "Funny Funny" (great song) and "Co Co" (good song), but soon they wanted their heavier side to come to the fore. After several more power pop/glam hit singles with overtly sexual lyrics like "Little Willy" and "Wig Wam Bam" they would go onto glam rock superstardom and infamy. They still were mainly scoring hits with Chinn/Chapman material, but their own brilliance as writers was really coming through with songs like "Man From Mecca," "Heartbreak Today," "Sweet F.A" and many others. Signing to Capitol in the States after former label Bell went bankrupt (and Bell didn't do much for the bands on their roster except make their albums into obscurities) the first Sweet album I ever heard was the American version of DESOLATION BOULEVARD. This really should be seen as the ultimate glam rock/power pop album and I can't think of another album with such stellar songs and performances except some other albums by (you guessed it) Sweet. With outlandish outfits, a flamboyant often banned stage act, brilliant musicianship, and great vocals Sweet stressed some things that later ill-advised imitators like Motley Crue and Poison never had. Firstly it was total professionalism. Secondly it was very much a strong melody band that Sweet are. Thirdly and by no means last it was to really bond together as a band and do nothing but make music that would always be classy.
   Despite Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn writing some great singles for them Sweet wanted to produce, write, and record their own material completely. The critics and at first the public thought Sweet wouldn't last two seconds, but "Fox On The Run" put an end to that. With the best glam rock anthem ever Sweet became even more hugely successful both as a star band and as a band who could actually have big hit singles that were great songs. The split was not acrimonious and the band with a really massive hit now could have complete artistic freedom. This is where it gets really, really good,
             -From Brilliant To Even More Brilliant From Glam Rock To Hard Rock To Progressive Pop
              The Best Times For Sweet From 1974 to 1979-
       When I first heard the American version of DESOLATION BOULEVARD right through to the brilliance of "Action" and GIVE US A WINK to my discovery of how great a progressive pop group they could be on LEVEL HEADED Sweet have the best albums of any glam or glam affiliated (as they would turn out to be) or Any Band for that matter from the 70s. Unfortunately, their best years also would take a huge toll on Brian Connolly and put the band under enormous pressure. Brian was no longer a best kept secret he was a pin up boy, a star, and probably a lot of other things that didn't sit too well with him. Sweet now could care less about those aspects of their career.
     They may have been four very cute to very good looking guys, but the music came first from now on. Democratic bands usually suffer quite a bit and don't make for great ones. Sweet are a true exception. Unlike Slade who were another great band who were entirely based around the songs of Noddy Holder and Jim Lea or David Bowie or Roy Wood's glam period Sweet were actually a band where all 4 of them would write, record, and produce together. The production sound of their records is astonishing. There aren't any other bands that are more professional without sounding too polished for their own good. A big difference between Sweet and 10cc was that Sweet didn't suffer from two very different visions of what their music should be.
    Like if Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman had made 10cc a melodic pop group all the way through Sweet played melodic hard rock with pop hooks thrown in for great measure all the way from DESOLATION BOULEVARD to OFF THE RECORD. During this period Sweet were a top of the line live and studio band where you got live what you got in the studio and you got in the studio what you got live, but even better. The emergence of flamboyant bands like Freddie Mercury/Brian May led Queen and by no means to a lesser degree of any kind the wonderful Mael brothers Ron And Russell led Sparks meant there was a lot of room for experimentation in the studio even more so than onstage.
     By the time of GIVE US A WINK Sweet were branching out. They had gotten even way heavier, but also even stronger with their melodies. 4 of the best singers and musicians in the world they came up with an album where melodic heavy power pop/hard rock, progressive influences, loud upfront abrasive passages, and soaring vocals would yield an album's worth of classics. I would say that for the entire duration of their career once Andy Scott came in and things really took off Sweet exemplified British Rock. As British As Can Be they are a band who stressed tight discipline, soaring harmonies, and some tricks learned from the masters The Beatles. GIVE US A WINK captured Sweet at their most sexually outrageous not stopping with the gimmick cover ("Winking Instructions First Pull Up Then Push Down") and funny masturbation jokes on the sleeve. "Action," however, showed the most aggressive side of Sweet with a perfect amalgam of Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the already tried and tested classic Sweet sound. "Action" is mainly a put down song full of clever deadpan British humour whilst "Yesterday's Rain" is the most sexually explicit song I can think of. Even the best later bands like Sweden's greatest Treat it's time for you to step up and admit it- You Heard Sweet. There are also progressive songs like the amazing epic "The Healer" where Connolly goes from Brian Connolly trademark to Ozzy to Bowie back to Brian Connolly trademark. When Brian shouted and roared occasionally for effect he never sounded idiotic like Ian Gillan's screaming or the macho obnoxious side of Roger Daltrey. A melodic singer from beginning to end Brian Connolly had more class than anyone else I can think of. Soon he'd get a chance and Sweet would get a chance to stress that even more.
      GIVE US A WINK is Sweet's heaviest record, but soon after that crowning achievement some changes were afoot. The album had sold really well, but Sweet were getting a little tired of playing a repertoire of what sometimes was almost proto metal (I don't mean that as an insult). The changes would come gradually at first, but they would come. OFF THE RECORD is a much more power pop than hard rock record except for some songs like "Windy City," "Live For Today," and "Hard Times" or the last stab at sexual overload "She Gimme Lovin'." The lead off track "Fever Of Love" has everything- confident and classy vocals from Brian Connolly, great harmonies, Andy Scott's soaring melodic guitar work, and upfront driving rhythms where the softer moments of the song are dealt with effortlessly along with the rocking out sections. There is a clever allusion to The Beach Boys if you listen to the second verse. "Laura Lee" was Sweet's best ballad as of then with beautiful harmonies and great lead vocals from Brian. Some songs tried for other things. Sweet didn't entirely approve of David Bowie's smooth soul crossover from glam rock master and made a little bit of a piss take on him with "Funk It Up (David's Song)." I can't say I disagree! If Bowie was going to keep reinventing himself why couldn't Sweet!? They sure as Hell could. OFF THE RECORD had a smoother production and Andy Scott had been experimenting a lot with synthesizers over the 1974 to 1977 period. Sweet were about to go through an enormous change in image and direction. That would transpire on LEVEL HEADED.
       LEVEL HEADED would prove to tragically be Sweet's last record with Brian Connolly. Arguments and blow ups were beginning to flare in the group and the rift between Brian and Andy Scott was beginning to make it difficult to keep the band together. The pressures of enormous success were also causing their fair share of strife and irritation as Brian's drinking problem got worse and worse and worse. LEVEL HEADED however is a real artistic triumph. Throwing any affiliations with glam rock out the window Sweet were now a smooth progressive pop group. I can't choose a favourite Sweet record, but this one always comes close. Despite the drastic change in style it works beautifully. The first track "California Nights" features Steve Priest on lead vocals and Brian singing a lot of harmonies with the other 3. It's a stab at Eagles meets Sweet and what may seem impossible is actually a pretty good song. Where pretty good becomes amazing is on "Silverbird" the next track. One of the most emotional songs ever written Brain Connolly sings his heartfelt lyrics with unrestrained passion and everything in this song goes beyond the skies and beyond the heavens. It gives you a feeling of riveting bliss like the best of Abba and the best of The Beatles, but it's Sweet all the way just a very different side shown to Sweet. "Dream On" is a mellow and again very emotional ballad sung by Andy Scott. Sweet could all sing great and after Brian Connolly left the group they'd still be able to sound really good with Andy Scott and Steve Priest trading off on lead vocals. Their best moment with all four of them for their new progressive pop sound would be the Godlike "Love Is Like Oxygen." This song, mainly completely written by Andy Scott, may be Sweet's crowning achievement. Whilst LEVEL HEADED is all very emotional this dark love song is Sweet at the highest peak of emotion ever performed, written, and recorded by a band. Every time I watch Brian singing this song he looks like he's crying and it is pretty sad. Love does get you high, though, and "Love Is Like Oxygen" blew me away when I first heard it. If anybody could listen to this or the ultra sophisticated second half of the album and doubt that Sweet had progressed to progressive they surely must be the same kind of fools drooling for tickets to either a bad prog wank off show or a Slayer concert. Sweet get put down and trashed by stupid people all the time, but a Sweet lover like me knows that there are more of us than the idiotic ones! "Love Is Like Oxygen" is an epic with classical (nylon string) guitar passages and lots of electric piano, but on "Lady Of The Lake (Anthem #1)" which is the first song on Side Two a full baroque orchestration is brought in. Like the rest of the album this is a wrenching, emotional song sung and written by Brian about love tragically ended by death with only the belief in an afterlife consolation. It could have been Brian writing his own epitaph, but here it's about a soldier who dies not an alcoholic.
        LEVEL HEADED is an amazing record, a masterpiece, but during recording sessions for their next album all of the problems and frustrations came to a head and Brian Connolly was out of the group. I'm not going to say that I blame anyone in particular, but Andy Scott tends to blame himself the most for things going wrong with Brian. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons why Brian was gone from the group was that he had gone off the rails with his drinking problem. That would be what would kill him and after several heart attacks throughout the 80s, aborted attempts to get the band going again with the name Brian Connolly's Sweet, and a too late to help mending of their relationship Connolly's last heart attack happened in 1997 and he died from it. He had been off the bottle, but not long enough. Throughout the 70s and much of the 80s his drinking abuse was his downfall and his tragedy. His health was rapidly becoming a serious issue during the last years of his life and he had done himself in. I knew he wasn't all there anymore, but still his tragic end is hard for me to deal with. I can only say this- Brian if there is a Heaven is there. He was a great singer and an honest, caring, talented, emotional man who had beneath the good looks and charisma a great heart. The music will live on forever. Sweet you have earned your place at the highest level of the best bands ever to come out of anywhere, but especially the great music filled UK.


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  2. Definetly all that mentioned on that text is true. Brian was a great singer but as usual, many artists are vulnerable and sensitive, Brian was all that.
    Andy must have regreted what happened in early 1979, when Brian left, but his drinkin was much to much and waht I think is, they should have put Brian in rehabilitation, but he wasn´t ready for that and there were so much animosity in the band, it wasn´t easy to clean the armosphere and Andy and Brian couldn´t even be in the same room. Both men were strong charachters...the rest is, what we all are aware.