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Thursday, April 23, 2020

SWEET Top 10


Arguably one of the greatest singles act of the 1970s, (The) Sweet racked up no less than 16 UK hits between 1971 and 1978. And although they reached the pole position only once – with 1973’s mercurial Blockbuster – they, impressively, five separate times hit no. 2.
Always something of a schizophrenic proposition, on one hand, a bubblegummy glam act while on the other a bona fide hard rock band, Sweet was never what one might call a critics favourite.  Although all four of them – Brian Connolly (Vocals), Andy Scott (Guitar), Steve Priest (Bass) and Mick Tucker (Drums) – were clearly excellent musicians, they were more often than not perceived merely as a vehicle for the songwriting talents of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (AKA Chinnichap) – not unlike the duo’s other high profile clients: Mud, Suzi Quatro and Smokie.
Time has been kind to Sweet though. Nowadays they seem to be viewed not that harshly, musically at least. Even though the often over the top visual appearance and image might predictably still warrant the odd ridicule, the music itself rarely does now.
Pre-Chinnichap, during the late ‘60s, The Sweet recorded a few unspectacular and unsuccessful singles here and there, but by 1971 had teamed up with Chinn & Chapman and began to churn out sticky bubblegum like Funny Funny and Co-Co. At first, apart from merely providing vocals to the proceedings, the band had precious little to do with the hits. The B-sides, though, were always real opportunities for the group to show their harder rocking tendencies.
It wasn’t until the somewhat risqué Little Willy, the fifth Chinnichap Sweet single, the band actually supplied instrumental backing to the A-side.  1975’s Fox on The Run was their first self-penned & produced single and, although one of their best and universally most successful, in hindsight it also signaled the beginning of the end for the band.
By 1978 singer Brian Connolly had left Sweet and they never enjoyed another big hit after that year’s excellent Love Is Like Oxygen.
For fun, I’ve selected my Top 10 of Sweet’s singles and listed them here below with the oblibigatory links to YouTube videos.  If so inclined, feel free to do the same in the comments section below, although I doubt the YouTube thing will work there.
Here goes…
No. 10:  Little Willy (1972)

No. 9:  Wig-Wam Bam (1972)

No. 8:  Lies in Your Eyes (1976)

No. 7:  Action (1975)

No. 6:  The Ballroom Blitz (1973)

No. 5:  Blockbuster (1973)

No. 4:  Teenage Rampage (1974)

No. 3:  Fox On The Run (1975)

No. 2:  Love Is Like Oxygen (1978)

No. 1:  The Six Teens (1974)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Alan Merrill R.I.P.



Chiefly known as the co-writer (or sole writer as he claimed in later years) of a little ditty called I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, Alan Merrill, born Allan Preston Sachs, sadly succumbed to COVID-19 on 29 March 2020.

Although for the past 50 years Alan worked consistently as a recording artist, both solo and with others, to the ‘70s teenpop community (as if there is such a thing!) however, he will be most fondly remembered as a member of mid-'70s glam act Arrows, who originally recorded I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll as a single B-side in 1975.


I had the good fortune of corresponding via e-mail with Alan back in the early 2000s.  Some of said correspondence found its way into my book Don’t Stop the Music: The Bay City Rollers on Record, and focused mainly on Alan’s passing acquaintance with the Rollers who appeared a couple of times on the Arrows’ UK TV show in ’75 – ’76.

Alan was very articulate, had an amazing memory and was very generous of his time – in short, an ideal interview subject.  I suspect he was also the person behind the fully warranted corrections of my haphazard piece on the Arrows for the ‘70s teenpop blog a number of years later.  I was always hoping he'd write his own book, he was a natural storyteller and knew were many of the bodies were buried...so to speak.

In a long and varied career that was launched in Japan in the early ‘70s with Alan as singing, acting and modeling teen idol, there was seemingly never a dull moment.  After stints as a front-man with the aforementioned Arrows as well as, later on in the ‘70s, with adult-oriented rock band Runner, Alan was humble enough to take the backseat as a guitarist with both Rick Derringer and Meatloaf in the ‘80s.

In 1982, of course, Alan’s ship well and truly came in when Joan Jett & the Blackhearts cover of ILRnR became a massive worldwide hit.  Although Alan later claimed to not have seen any real royalties from the song until Britney Spears covered it twenty years later, it must have been huge validation nonetheless.  Although mere validation musical probably doesn’t pay the rent.


In the late ‘80s, a freakishly tall and buff friend of mine acted as a minder on the Meatloaf band’s brief visit to Iceland.  And knowing my interest in all things glam, he told me of a moment when the whole group went to Hard Rock Café for a meal, and while there ILRnR came on the restaurant’s sound system one member of the group belted out, “That’s my song! I wrote that!”  Indeed he did.

In later years Alan occasionally gigged and recorded, was very active on social media and appeared to be at long last reaping the awards of his life’s labour.  All the more sad and shocking then, when the news of his untimely demise at 69 broke late last month.  The ‘70s teenpop blog sends his friends and relatives its most sincere condolences.  


This COVID-19 crap is royally starting to piss me off.  Late last night I belatedly received the news another brilliant songwriter and musician, namely, Adam Schlesinger, lost his battle with the virus last week. 

Schlesinger, the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne, one of the best bands of the past 25 years IMHO, as well as a prolific writer for films and TV (That Thing You Do, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), not to mention a sought-after producer (The Monkees, They Might Be Giants), was only 52.  RIP.
Soon, hopefully, these "troubled times" shall pass.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

New Bay City Rollers Book - Out Now!

OUT NOW!  New book.  To order, write to dontstopthemusicbook@gmail.com

For better or for worse, and probably for the first time ever, the Bay City Rollers’ records and their music are the focal points of this meticulous study by BCR aficionado Hannes A. Jonsson.
And through it all, the band’s often unbelievable story is recounted via series of ill-fated reunions and consequent break-ups.
Furthermore, lesser-known solo careers and side-projects are also visited, and so are several old acquaintances and collaborators of the group.
Detailed discographies and set lists are included as well.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Les Brians / Lez Smith (Buster) R.I.P.


It has been brought to my attention that Les Brians (Also known as Lez Smith), formerly the drummer of '70s Teenpop band Buster, has died.
His friend, Lesley Thompson, recently posted the following comment on my You Tube channel page:
Lez had been ill for a couple of years (and) eventually his liver failed to protect him from the infections.  He passed away at the beginning of Nov. 2016.  R.I.P
I do hope I'm allowed to re-post this, but since it was originally posted in a public forum I can't really see the harm.
I had the pleasure to exchange a few e-mails with Les/Lez a few years back, the results of which you can read about HERE.  I enjoyed and appreciated his candor and wit - he will be missed.

Pete Leay (Left) & Les Brians (Right) in 1977.

After briefly reforming Buster for an album, "Best & New" in 2013, sadly two members of the band have now passed - guitarist Pete Leay died in December 2013.
My most sincere condolences the family and friends of both Pete and now Les.  R.I.P.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

HELLO - The Albums


A mere two-hit-wonder as far as the British record buying public is concerned, Hello during their mid-'70s heyday nonetheless racked up an tangible track record elsewhere - particularly in Germany where they were a viable option until the end of the decade when the original line-up of Bob Bradbury (Vocals, guitar), Keith Marshall (Guitar), Vic Faulkner (Bass) and Jeff Allen (Drums) disbanded.  I would - and have - go as far as to say that Hello is probably one of the most underrated U.K. acts of the 1970's.
Kudos, then, to Cherry Red/7Ts for recently unleashing this impressive package consisting of four CD's featuring what I gather to be pretty much everything ever committed to tape during the band's tenure with both Bell/Arista and Polydor.  A scrumptious array of bonus tracks and previously unissued rarities is the main bait here, as well as the first-ever CD release of 1977 Japan-only album "Shine on Silver Light".  Better late than never!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Rubettes


The popularity of progressive rock was probably at its height during the early to mid 1970s.  With acts such as Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "prog rock" was supposed to be more advanced, complex and, above all, smart than what had come before.  Musical wizardry was the norm and long drawn-out solos were both encouraged and applauded.  Still, not everyone was taken in by the hype and some even longed for the more basic music of yesteryear.  Thus the door was left a jar for a return-to-roots rock & roll revival.  In fact, one could almost claim that said revival preempted punk as a knee jerk reaction to prog by a good few years.
The simplicity and raw energy of the music of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, et al, found new audience in the U.S. through films like "American Graffiti", and bands like Sha-Na-Na, and Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids.  Meanwhile in Britain, there was the historical London Rock and Roll Show at the Wembley Stadium in August 1972, starring giants of the genre like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry.  Subsequently, the ball really began rolling in earnest with homegrown acts such as Wizzard, MUD, Showaddywaddy, and...The Rubettes.


A happy accident as it were, the Rubettes were initially brought together in late 1973 as mere session musicians to record a demo for the songwriting & production team of Wayne Bickerton & Tony Waddington.  The song in question was a little ditty called "Sugar Baby Love", which had a distinctly '50s feel to it for sure, with some doo-wop styled harmonies and cutesy innocent lyrics thrown in for a good measure.  And as the song was turned down by Showaddywaddy, Bickerton & Waddington became even more convinced that the demo had that certain "something" and should be issued as is...or rather, was.  Thus a real band was needed to back it up and the gig was promptly and aptly offered to the session musicians who had recorded the song - namely; Alan Williams (Guitar and vocals); John Richardson (Drums), and Peter Arnesen (Keyboards).  Vocalist Paul Da Vinci, the owner of that falsetto, was otherwise engaged and politely declined the offer.  Tony Thorpe (Guitar and vocals); Mick Clarke (Bass) and a second keyboardist Bill Hurd completed the line up and The Rubettes were born.


To make a long story short, "Sugar Baby Love", once released, became a massive hit - in fact, one of the biggest hits of 1974, knocking that quartet of chirpy Swedes whose name now totally escapes me, off the coveted U.K. No. 1 spot in the spring.
And although The Rubettes never eclipsed that initial burst of bubbly brilliance, there were several more hits in the coming years, as well some fine albums - five of which have recently been collected together, including extra tracks and everything, in a CD box set, "The Albums 1974-1977", released by Caroline International (CAROLR032CD).


Through numerous line-up changes, The Rubettes flirted with glam, gave Smokie a run for their money with countryfied anglo pop, but above all their rock & roll roots always shone through.


For a number of years now there have been two versions of The Rubettes touring the nostalgia circuit; the Alan Williams-led version on one hand, and keyboardists' Bill Hurd's Rubettes on the other.  I've only had the pleasure to see the latter outfit on a number of occasions and I can attest to the fact that they're pretty good - and very nice guys as well.
As much as I love hits like "Juke Box Jive" and "Little Darling", as well as catchy and sometimes self-penned album tracks a la "Judy Run Run", Rumours" and "Don't Do it Baby" (also a U.K. Top 10 hit for Mac & Kate Kissoon), I have a confession to make though.  One of my all-time favourite Rubettes tracks just happens to be this early '80s (Oh, the sheer shame of it all!) gem....

 
Foe-Dee-Oh-Dee :-)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classic '70s Teenpop album: The Sweet/"Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" (1971)


It's an indisputable fact that The Sweet always sold more singles than they did albums.  That is not to say their long players weren't up to scratch.  Far from it, since both "Sweet Fanny Adams" (incredibly enough their only L.P. to trouble the U.K. charts, not counting "Best of" compilations) and "Desolation Boulevard" are quintessential mid '70s rock albums - IMHO as good as anything either Purple or Zeppelin ever did.  Nonetheless, the band will always be best remembered for their impressive run of classic pop-glam 45's, a la "Ballroom Blitz", "Blockbuster", "The Six Teens", "Fox on the Run", et al.


Semi-conspicuously absent from the above rundown is the hidden gem that is The Sweet's debut album, "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be", from 1971.  In essence a bubblegum record, it's a curious mix of the band's first hits ("Funny Funny" and "Co Co" - both Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman originals), covers of '60s pop classics (Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream", The Supremes' "Reflections"), some more Chinnichap filler ("Chop Chop", "Tom Tom Turnaround" - the latter originally a hit for New World), as well as some early band compositions ("Santa Monica Sunshine", "Spotlight").


About a year ago the Cherry Red Records imprint 7T's issued a double deluxe version of the album, including seventeen bonus tracks.  Among which are early hits "Alexander Graham Bell", "Poppa Joe", "Wig Wam Bam", and "Little Willy", single B-sides, and, on disc 2, the earliest non-charting Sweet singles starting with 1968's "Slow Motion" and concluding with 1970's "Get on the Line" (an Archies cover, no less).  A year later The Sweet's fate was sealed after they were taken on by the Chinnichap songwriting team, a veritable hit machine, and as a result, enjoyed their first taste of chart success with "Funny Funny".  And the rest is, as they are prone to say, history.


The entire "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" episode is a true testament to the earliest - and lightest - side of The Sweet; a period the band later often went to great lengths to distance themselves from.  And perhaps understandably so; most of the time session musicians were used on the records and the band wasn't allowed to include too many of their original compositions, and when they were allowed to do so, the material all too often ended up as mere B-side fodder.  Truth be told though, Chinnichap had the magic touch, were indeed supplying the band with chart-making material which, as time went on, did get heavier - and, indeed, better. 
Still, "Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be" can easily be enjoyed as what it was probably always meant to be: a light, fluffy piece of bubblegum pop - or, quite simply put, a '70s teenpop classic.
 
The Sweet in all their glam rock glory, circa 1973.