The Hang of Music: The Sweet VS The Sweet [Setlist Four Tredecimal]

So Here We Are. I’ve officially been doing this for a year. I’m stunned. Everything after this is a bonus, I’m sure.

Well. How to end a year? With yet another tredecimal review. You know, those ones where I do something weird?

How does reviewing two copies of the same album sound to you?

Long story short, in ’74, the Sweet released Desolation Boulevard in the UK. In ’75, the Sweet released the same album in the US, with an entirely different tracklisting. “Why?” Short story long, here’s where I find out why.

Many of you may not know who the Sweet are – and for those of you who don’t, and those of you who sort of do, I give you “Ballroom Blitz”, single numero uno off the US version. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed writing about it. (I don’t think I’ve ever said that more sincerely before now.)

I’m gonna be honest – I wouldn’t have given a toss about The Sweet if not for the above track. But a few months ago I found it, and fell in love. And on trying to get hold of the album, I noticed that there was not one, but two albums called “Desolation Boulevard.” And thus was my curiosity piqued.

“Why would that be interesting?” I hear you ask, oh thankfully contrived reader: “Why do you care? Why review both existing versions of Desolation Boulevard, rather than stringing it into two different reviews?”

Allow me to answer your question with another question: why do two versions of this album exist? Clearly their was artistic intent behind the decision, as the band themselves made it. America isn’t so different, so cloistered, that they couldn’t take the RAW SEXUALITY of the UK version. And the UK had to wait years afterwards, or at least months if you could import a copy of the album with “Ballroom Blitz” on.

“When oh when will it appear?”

So, I did a bit of internet snooping, and what I found was an arcane, age-old custom that I thought died out with the dinosaurs – songwriters. Up until this(these) album(s), most of their songs were written by a couple of guys called Chinn and Chapman.* I thought the Beatle’s killed that old practice, but apparently not. I’m made uncomfortable by this news.

So, apparently, were The Sweet. They were renowned for bad gigs, mainly because they refused to play Chinn and Chapman’s well received hits, such as “Funny Funny”, “Block Buster” and, erm, “Ballroom Blitz”.  (In fact, the latter was written about such a gig that went wrong.) Instead, they would play covers, b-sides and their favourite album tracks. Despite the success that Chapman/Chinn’s songs earned them, they were more interested in doing their own stuff.

So it should come as no surprise then that this(these) album(s) coincide with two important events: their split with Chinn and Chapman and their first real self-written hit, “Fox on the Run”. These two albums, written at the time of their split with Chinn and Chapman, seem to lie at the heart of their reasons for the break up.

So after all of this build up, what about the albums themselves? What about this new musical direction? Is it good? Bad? Boring? Interesting?

In and of themselves, the albums are actually hard to compare, as in actuality they actually only share three songs: “The Six Teens”, “Solid Gold Brass” and “Fox on the Run”.

I have to say, you’d have a lot of trouble placing any of these songs outside the years they were released in. They’re obviously of the 70s. Partly from the fact that one of their biggest hits (“Turn It Down”, penned by Chinn and Chapman) was banned in the UK for using the phrase “for God’s sake”**, but mostly from how many timely references I can make. In at least one song, I can hear strains of both Bowie (the acoustic guitar and early singing) and Queen (the huge feel, second guitar and vocals).

Now that you’ve cleaned yourself up, you can go listen to it. I’ll wait.

Apparently they explicitly wanted to emulate Queen. Wiki says:

“Sweet, and later Queen, were recognised as some of the main exponents of high-pitched harmonies during the 1970s.”

I feel bad talking about Chinn and Chapman’s songs in positive terms. Talking about them in the same sentence as Bowie and Queen. I don’t like songwriters who are divorced from the band in general, and the rest of the actual band clearly didn’t like them. So to praise the songs they wrote, over the ones the band themselves wrote, feels… sacreligious.

But when left to their own devices on the UK album, the Sweet record The Who covers. Most bands only really do covers of those bands they want to emulate. And the song Chinn/Chapman wrote, “No You Don’t”, is a really, *really* good The Who homage. It could even be a cover itself. This and their other hits lead me to believe that maybe Chinn and Chapman weren’t all that bad…

I feel *so* guilty right now.

The two albums strike me as not just having different audiences (the UK and US, obviously), but also having very different goals. principally, it’s about testing how far they need Chinn and Chapman. The Sweet were obviously keen to ride this whole wave of independent musicians taking their future into their own hands for better or worse – something that, as of ’77, was only going to become more important. And both of these albums seem to be test drives for that final step into total artistic control.

The first version, released in the UK, has as little of Chapman and Chinn as they can get away with – “Turn it Down” was already a single, and one of their biggest to date; so it features as one of the only Chapman/Chinn songs on the album (the other being “The Six Teens”), while the rest is either self-penned tracks or covers.

So this version seems to be a close approximation of what they would do if given the free reign that they wanted, whereas the US version, released a year later, seems like a straight upcompromise. The album is split down the middle, with side one featuring their biggest hits with Chapman/Chinn, and side 2 being entirely their own songs.

In terms of what I think works better… I’d actually have to say the US release. I love me some who covers, but the two sides feel more cohesive and less thrown together. I could list off some other reasons too, such as better use of the big and bombastic “The Six Teens” and less patchiness (going from ghostwritten to original songs to covers and back again doesn’t really work) but honestly, I’m just a huge fan of glitzy glam and punk. And side one gives me the former, side two the latter.

If you want more from the 70s than that***, then something’s wrong with you.

***

Special thanks to wiki, but more importantly to The Sweet Web for answering a bunch of my questions. Thanks, webadmin – you rock!

* Great names, eh? They should almost be superheroes with names like that. Or at the very least a double act.

** Compared to Gang of Four not 10 years later, banned for referring to “the rubbers in your top left pocket.” Rubbers means condoms.

*** And it’s not early prog.

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Posted on July 6, 2012, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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