Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Sweet - The Complete UK Singles Collection (1968-1980); 3 CDs

Compliation (single artist)

Ahhh, the Sweet... Probably Britain's greatest singles band of the 1970s. It started in 1968 when the English pub rock band the Sweetshop changed their name to the Sweet and signed a deal with Parlophone Records. They released four singles, none of which charted, and the band seemed destined for obscurity when they switched over to RCA and signed a management deal with executive producer Phil Wainman and a couple of unknown songwriters named Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. With the duo penning such catchy early hits as "Funny Funny" and "Co-Co", the Sweet started to take England by storm, and the hits continued: "Alexander Graham Bell", "Poppa Joe" and their breakthrough in the U.S. "Little Willy".

While the band had now achieved some commercial success, creatively they were still well under the thumb of the "Chinnichap" machine, which insisted on complete control over the A-sides of all Sweet singles, right down to picking the session musicians. While this resulted in a tight, commercial sound, the band's image was squarely "bubblegum" with the average English record buyer. The Sweet fought to change this, and to their credit insisted on playing on all their B-sides from the outset. This is the reason why the Sweet's flips are just as cool and important as their respective chart sides, and it's why they deserve inclusion here: on the whole they are tougher and more indicative of who the Sweet actually were than the early Chinn/ Chapman commercial product was.

However this dynamic began to change with the next single "Wig Wam Bam", on which the band demanded to play on both sides. The result was a more ballsy sound that caught on with listeners, and over the next three years the Sweet would hit their stride with a stretch of unforgettable hit singles from the pens of Chinn and Chapman: "Block Buster", "Ballroom Blitz", "Hell Raiser", "Teenage Rampage", "the Six Teens" and "Turn It Down". Now commercially established on both continents and craving the artistic acceptance afforded to their peers (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, etc.) the group jettisoned their outside songwriters and came up with perhaps their two greatest singles of all time, both self-written: the anthemic "Fox on the Run" and the propulsive "Action".

As alluded to previously, the B-sides to all of these singles were nearly as good as the hits, and way heavier to boot. "Burning", to name one example, is pretty much the template for Iron Maiden's career, while "Miss Demeanor" has to be the best Led Zeppelin piss take of all time. At their best ("Rock & Roll Disgrace", "Burn on the Flame") they are essentially "double-A side" quality.

At this point the Sweet were at their commercial apex and were invited by none other than Peter Townshend, an admitted fan of theirs, to play an arena gig with the Who at the Charlton Athletic Football Ground in June of 1974, which sadly the band had to turn down as singer Brian Connelly was busy recovering from injuries sustained in a brawl. Perhaps this can be looked at as the turning point in the Sweet's career, as they began to fall off commercially around this time. Singles like "The Lies in Your Eyes" and "Lost Angels" saw the band moving towards more of a prog-type sound to little avail, though again the B-sides are more in line with the classic Sweet sound. Of particular note here is the instrumental "A Distinct Lack of Ancient" which finds the group treading on the same turf as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jeff Beck.

Yet despite a late-inning rally with the classic "Love Is Like Oxygen", a comeback was not to be and the Sweet faded off, releasing their final single in 1980. Their later work is not to be ignored however, as it produced such fine songs as "California Nights", "Big Apple Waltz" and "Short Girls", as well as the aforementioned "Love Is Like Oxygen".

Almost thirty years later, the Sweet are finally beginning to get their due as one of the U.K.'s premiere bands of the 70s. In addition to their nine full studio albums, the group release a whopping 29 singles between 1968 and 1980, all of which are included on this 3 CD set; the only one available ANYWHERE with BOTH sides of EVERY U.K. SINGLE that the Sweet cut during their run, INCLUDING guitarist Andy Scott's 1975 "Lady Starlight" solo 45. As an added bonus, we've also included all the classic U.K. picture sleeves for your visual amusement. So in words any Sweet fanatic would understand: this Block Buster is a Wig Wam Bam of a good time, so all you Little Willies and Co-Cos should Ballroom Blitz yourself over to Sendsp@ce if you want a piece of the Action! 1 2 3

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"The Sweater"

Sometime around the dawn of 1967, the Buffalo Springfield posed for a photo shoot on the Sunset Strip. While the following photos were presumably either to be used as cover art for their second album or, more likely, as grist for teen mags such as Tiger Beat or Hit Parader, the shoot nevertheless immediately transcended the mundane entirely due to the keen fashion sense of one particular band member.

Behold, "The Sweater"...

Please take a moment to sit back and revel in its awesomeness. Drink it all in and then ask yourself this important question... How is it that a young man living in circa 1966 America could ever procure such a quintessentially perfect piece of apparel?

Furthermore, in which era between the beginning of time and now would such a sweater EVER be considered an appropriate means of dress?!

An Observation: This was obviously a "dress down casual" shoot for the Springfield boys, as Stills, Furay and Martin normally wore suits on stage and in pictures.

In this shoot, Stills is outfitted in a plain black T-shirt, while Furay adopts a sort of Urban Cowboy look three years before the movie of the same name hit the big screen. Bruce Palmer seems to be the prototype for GEORGE HARRISON'S "gravedigger" look on the Abbey Road LP with his button-up shirt and Levi's. Dewey Martin is seen here wearing a typical Mod Cowboy lace-up top that he certainly must have procured from one of the local Hollywood or Topanga Canyon boutiques. Nothing out of the ordinary for these chaps.

But then there's Neil, with his roughed-up Prince Valiant 'do and his geometric multicolored drug rug, looking for all the world like a discarded Thurston Moore prototype. How these disparate personalities ever existed in the same band is beyond me.

Furthermore, from the way the group is set up in the shot, it appears that Dewey Martin was to be the featured member. (Not surprising, really, as his drums were often times moved to the front of the stage during Springfield gigs. But I'll do another thread later on the overall greatness of Dewey Martin.) Yet the viewer's eye is completely drawn towards Neil, and even more so to his remarkable, eccentric sweater!

It's as though the entire peace and freedom movement could be summed up in one individual garment. Nevermind the bell bottoms, fringe and tie-die of the hippies-- THIS is where it's at... er, where it WAS at.

If you have any other shots of Neil wearing this fantastic piece of apparel, please forward them to the Crystal Sphere immediately and await further orders.