Monday, 15 December 2008
Poppa Joe: The Sweet
It’s funny the way music can polarize normally sane and level headed people. Glam rock was seen as a joke at the time by many so called serious music fans. Why listen to Slade or T.Rex when you could bore the pants off everybody by playing The Grateful Dead at 2 o clock in the morning.
One of the greatest dividers of musical taste in the early 70’s was The Sweet. They had a slow start in the UK charts; and it was not until they teamed up with songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (commonly known as Chinnichap) that they started having top ten hits. At heart Sweet were no nonsense rockers and at times some of the ‘bubblegum’ songs Chinnichap were providing was at odds with their true musical identity.
It was not until 1972’s Wig Wam Bam that the group even started to get a harder edge to the sound. In fact this was the first song where the band had actually played their instruments. On all earlier singles the backing music was played by session musicians, something which always pissed off the band as they were all accomplished musicians in their own write.
They (Brian Connolly, Andy Scott, Steve Priest and Mick Tucker) had always written and played on the B-sides of their records, so it was only a matter of time before they began to write and produce the A-sides as well. This signaled a heavier, rockier Sweet sound. The first of these self written singles Fox on the Run was released early in 1975, but by then the glam rock boom had almost run its course.
It may be time for a Sweet re-appraisal. One of the biggest sellers in the glam era but also one of the most underrated. Maybe it was because of the way they looked or because they didn’t play the instruments on their early recordings, who knows. Ask anyone for a list of their favourite ‘Glam’ anthems and I’m sure a Sweet song will be in there somewhere. Blockbuster, Hell Raiser, Ballroom Blitz, the list goes on.
Spotlight is the B-side to Alexander Graham Bell which reached number 33 in 1971. Written by the band members it is not as heavy as later B-sides penned by them, and shows a lighter musical touch.
Jeanie is the B-side to Poppa Joe a number 11 from 1972. This is almost as ‘bubblegum’ as the songs Chinnichap were writing for them. A light hearted love song to ‘Jeanie’ not much more to say other than its bright and ‘poppy’ and I used to play it more than the A-side.
The two B-sides highlighted here are from their earlier Chinnichap singles. As with most glam rock the music and lyrics would never win any awards for being sophisticated, intellectual or philosophical. Still, writing a song about the guy who invented the telephone has got to get some praise and kudos. In their own way the lyrics are quite tender and poetic.
“A candle flickers in a window
Two thousand miles away she waits there
There's a young man thinking by a window
How was she to know just how much he cared
The sun rises early in the morning
Millions of people still unaware
of something he discovered without warning
so he could show a girl just how much he cared”Alexander Graham Bell – Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman 1971.