LOUDER THAN DEEP PURPLE'
- the story of The Sweet
I was a person who could sniff out a hit. If it wasn't quite a
hit when I heard it, I could actually make it into a hit - I knew
what the missing ingredients were. Although I couldn't sit down
and thump one out on my own, I could always tailor someone else's
song. Which was wonderful. And I'd got a reputation for being
quite a musical producer.
Nicky Chinn came in and played me a couple of songs that he'd
written with Mike D'Abo for There's A Girl In My Soup,
a movie, and I said, 'No, no, no, no.' And then he said: 'I met
this waiter in a very flash club called Tramps. He's an Australian
and he's got this very flash Gibson guitar.' So I kept on hearing
about how flash he was and what he was doing, and he was in a
band called Tangerine Peel. So I said, 'Well, bring him in.' So
he brought in the waiter and he said, 'It's Mike Chapman'. So
I said, 'Well fine, play me some songs.' They'd written a couple
of songs, that were a bit lightweight, and we talked about the
charts and we talked about why hit records were hits. At the time
there was a record called 'Sugar Sugar' by The Archies and it'd
sold zillions, it'd sold about seven or eight million records
worldwide. And I thought: wouldn't it be great to tap into that
pop bubblegum market?
I was in a couple of bands [at the time] and we were doing a live
broadcast for the BBC, and funnily enough Sweet, who I'd already
worked with, popped in. It was actually Brian and Mick and they
said, 'Why don't you give us a song like that?' And I said, 'As
it so happens, if you come to my flat tomorrow morning, I'll play
you something which is every bit as good as this.'
The following morning, they turned up at my flat and I played
them a song called 'Funny Funny'. And I said, 'It's not the sort
of thing that you're used to doing, it's a bit lightweight for
you, it's bubblegum, but what do you think?' There were two songs,
and they were songs that could be hits but you'd have to have
a vehicle. And I said to Mike and Nicky, 'We need a vehicle for
your material and as it so happens, it's all starting to come
together, because the band I used to work with called Sweet, I
bumped into them the other night and I played them "Funny
Funny". And they're up for it.'
But they didn't want to leave their present record company and
they didn't want to leave their present management company. So
I said, 'Look, I can understand not throwing away dirty water
until you've got clean water. Why don't we just pay them a session
fee to come in and put the voices on the track that we've got.'
Cos Mike Chapman had already sung it, and it was pretty good.
So they came in and put the voices on and I mixed it all in one
hit: the whole lot was done within about an hour, an hour and
a half, the whole lot was finished. And it sounded pretty damn
We were all party, all of us, to a production company which we
had a share in and they - Chinn and Chapman and Phil Wainman -
had a share in. And it was basically a 50/50 split: there's the
production side, there's the band. Of course, it doesn't take
a mathematician to work out that they were earning more money
than we were, cos there's four on this side and three on the other.
Less expenses, of course, and I don't mean ours.
'Funny Funny' was done in a couple of hours. The bass-player was
John Roberts, because he was a mate of mine and Phil said, 'You
got a bass-player that I can use?' I said, 'Yeah, use the bass-player
I've been working with.' We were then backing Jimmy Ruffin.
I played on 'Funny Funny', 'Co-Co', 'Alexander Graham Bell', 'Poppa
Joe' and 'Little Willy'. And the reason I played on them was because
of time, cos time was money and studio time was expensive even
in those days. I'd go in there with a few of my guys that I'd
do sessions with. Pip Williams was my regular guitar-player. I
found Pip when he was working with Jimmy James & The Vagabonds,
who were the other band that we'd signed. He had great flair,
great talent, he would know what I wanted. We were like brothers
when it came to music.
I made as many enemies as I made friends because I'd upset other
musicians, I'd upset other producers that I was working for. Cos
I put my team in: 'The only way you're gonna make that a hit is
book my guys, we'll turn up and work out your songs.' We did that
a lot, we worked on loads of recordings as a team. And The Sweet
thing just happened to be another team, as far as I was concerned.
It was a team that I had a controlling interest in - you know,
it was my company, it was Nicky's and my company. So I would insist
on how it was done. And we ended up with a really, really wonderful
team of people, a collective of people.
The inherent problem all the time is that musicians are not businessmen,
the same as sportsmen and a lot of other people. They have what
they consider to be an art - I know it might sound bullshit in
the pop world, but they still consider it to be a kind of an art
- and the worst side of that is you get very temperamental about
an art-form. Therefore you can't clear your mind completely, you
can't divorce what is good business-sense from what possibly makes
good sense as far as what you want to do musically. However, to
qualify that, I actually think that the band knew better what
their audience wanted than the people who were surrounding them,
once it took impetus. But to get it off the ground, it took all
kinds of things.
The band grabbed a very very bubblegum pop idea because the band
was not really an out-and-out pop band, even though the look was.
Our heroes were Deep Purple, The Who; as guitar-players, Hendrix
and Jeff Beck were my heroes. And it shows in the playing, because
at every moment when I was given a place to try and play something,
it was an emulation of one of the guitar-players that I absolutely
adored, whether it be Jeff Beck - the little picking bit at the
end of 'Ballroom Blitz' - or the guitar solos that I was asked
to provide. I tried to get in those little notes that were not
just standard. I used to sit down and think about what I was going
I remember when we were doing I think it was 'Co-Co' with The
Sweet, and a couple of guys in Sweet were not very pleasant characters
- they had a huge chip on their shoulder, and quite rightly so,
about the fact that they weren't allowed to play on their records
- and they would give me a hell of a load of stick. This was coming
out of the morning session, they were coming in to put their vocals
on. I had a real row with Mick Tucker, and I said, 'Don't give
me a roasting; I'm a guy who's trying to earn a living and I've
been hired to come in here and play on your record. If you've
got an argument, have it with your producer, mate, not me.' We
had quite a bitter row about it, and afterwards we all become
mates and they then saw what the score was. The producer wants
to do things in a situation that he's comfortable with.
We knew a couple of them. We knew the guitar-player, Pip Williams,
and of course we knew Phil, being the drummer. At that time, they
wanted to go in and session four or five songs in a day, and then
get us to sing them in a day. So what they were basically saying
was: there are notes written here, we want the bass-player to
play that. They'd worked out the arrangement. They were very much
worked out before they went in there, it wasn't a matter of getting
the session musicians in to jam. They had to basically get on
with it. The idea was to get the whole thing happening.
I think that a little more than the other members, even though
I was younger, I had been through a few different situations and
I immediately saw an opportunity for songwriting that I'm not
sure they had 100% thought about. Maybe they had, but I remember
us all sitting down and agreeing that the one thing we definitely
wanted to do was write the b-sides, because someone had put it
in our ears that you earn as much from the b-side as you do from
And the fact that it would keep us together as a band to carry
on doing things - otherwise it could have lasted for a year or
two and been a quick killing for other people, with Brian's face
and that would have been an end to it. But it was going beyond
that, I'm afraid. I wanted it to go a little further than that.
When I looked at each of us, I thought: we've got something here.
We're all different, we're all young, we all like the same music:
we all like The Who, we all like Purple, we all like Zeppelin.
We liked vocal bands: we liked Three Dog Night, and we liked -
even though we thought the music was light - the vocals of The
Beach Boys. We all loved The Hollies as well. And I brought The
Beatles influences in, if there ever were any.
Both Mud and Sweet earned the right, as far as I'm concerned,
to play on their own records. Cos a lot of Sweet b-sides were
a hell of a lot better than the a-sides.
We had three
hours to put a b-side down and we'd come out with all these weird
They were a Jeckyll & Hyde band, because if you played the
a-side it was one sort of music, if you played the b-side it was
the other sort of music. We were going to do Sweet and Sour, the
whole thing. They didn't want to be a pop band, they wanted to
be Deep Purple, and they tried really hard. In fact they became
more Deep Purple than Deep Purple. We had this internal thing
with them: the band wanted to go one way. They were a little embarrassed
about their hit singles, but they wouldn't want to give their
hit singles up. So on one hand they saying, 'Please Mike, will
you write me another song.' But on the other hand, 'We want to
write something that's heavier, and we want to be taken more seriously.'
And the thing was they were a serious band.
'Are you guys going heavy?' - that was always the saying in those
days. Bands that didn't want to be poppy-poppy suddenly wanted
to 'go heavy' and be Deep Purple: they didn't want to be laughed
at, they wanted to be respected.
In the 70s Sweet were never a big draw in Britain. Not as big
as the records suggest. It's their own fault, because they'd do
'Little Willy' or whatever as a record, and the kids would go
to the gigs and it'd be all hard rock, all b-sides and album stuff
and they'd come to hear all the hits. They'd begrudgingly do a
couple. But you wouldn't be there if they hadn't bought those
The first band I went to see, must have been early-70s, was Sweet
at the Glasgow Apollo. Cos my wee cousin adored them and my auntie
got tickets. And it was a really good show, it was hysterically
funny. It was quite a rock & roll type show, it was pretty
heavy in that sense. And they were good showmen.
In Germany Sweet were a little bit bigger than T Rex because they
were rocky, tougher. And in England Sweet were considered very
bubblegum. But they are what they are, which is a really good
The story goes that Pete Townsend actually came to a couple of
gigs incognito, because he had ideas of what he wanted on this
particular show at Charlton. One of them must have been the Rainbow
Christmas show in 1973, and in the New Year it was announced that
we would be on this bill. This might have been the making of the
band in a different way in England.
Maggie Bell replaced us. We were due to play directly after Lou
Reed and directly before The Who. And we had a tour of England,
about seven or eight dates, leading up to the Charlton Athletic
gig. And about a month before the tour, Brian was in a place and
somebody in this place didn't like him. And when he left, they
were dancing on the top of his Mercedes, on the roof of his car,
so he went to have a go at them, and there were two other people
waiting for him, and he got really beaten up in this car-park.
And one of the things they did was when they kicked him, they
kicked him in the throat. And I remember thinking at the time
... none of us were happy at what had happened to him, but all
of us were really, really unhappy that he'd put himself in a vulnerable
situation at that moment in his career. He was one of the most
recognizable people in England at the beginning of 1974.
Andy Scott of The Sweet was a good guitar player.
The Sweet didn't start until Ziggy. Sweet came along just about
the same time as we made it, and they sort of copied us.
It's probably the wrong thing to be saying, because the biggest
hit before 'Fox On The Run' and 'Love Is Like Oxygen' was 'Blockbuster',
but when I first heard that mix, I remember Mick Tucker and I
walking out of there, gloomy. Because we were at a real turning-point
in our career here, where we'd just done 'Little Willy' and 'Wig
Wam Bam' and we were trying to shove some musicianship into this
one. And we walked away a bit gloomy.
And then, you wouldn't believe this, before our release we were
in the office of the guy who was our contact at RCA and he played
us the new David Bowie record, he played us 'Jean Genie'. And
I went, 'That's the same guitar riff,' and he went, 'Is it?' This
is a record company guy and I'm saying, 'Haven't you noticed?'
And he went, 'No.' I was horrified, I was thinking: that's coming
out first, and we're coming out a week behind it, on the same
label, it's got the same guitar riff. I said: well, we don't stand
a chance of being #1. That was my thought. And within three weeks
we were #1 and he was #2. I've since spoken to Trevor Bolder,
the bass-player, and he said, 'Remember "I'm A Man"?'
It was a fair cop. Both 'Blockbuster' and 'The Jean Genie' ripped
off their riff from The Yardbirds' cover of Bo Diddley's r&b
classic 'I'm A Man'. They weren't the first, mind you: the same
record had provided the source material for 'Oh Yeah', a minor
American hit for 60s garage icons The Shadows of Knight, though
they at least had the honesty to credit Bo Diddley as composer.
'Oh Yeah' became better known when it was included on Lenny Kaye's
Nuggets compilation in 1972, which is presumably where
an early incarnation of Smokie got it from.
I remember a b-side that we did at that time which was called
'Oh Yeah'. It had the same kind of feel and riff to it as Bowie's
'Jean Genie', which came out like six months after. It wasn't
as good as 'Jean Genie' cos the song wasn't up to that. I think
it was the b-side of 'Let The Good Times Roll'. Then Bowie had
'Jean Genie' out just after that, and The Sweet did 'Blockbuster'.
And I remember thinking at the time: 'It's not fair; they're having
hits with the same riff we've got, and we can't get arrested.'
'Dynamite' was written for Sweet, but they didn't like it. And
we had a #3 with it.
There's varying stories, but I do remember Mike Chapman sitting
down and playing us a demo that he'd done, and he said, 'It's
going to be a hit.' And Mick and I basically said, 'I'm sorry
Mike, but what we think we should be doing is returning to the
"Blockbuster" type rhythmic thing.' I'm not saying that
with 'Hellraiser' and 'The Ballroom Blitz' we hadn't captured
what we wanted, but to come in with something like that ['Dynamite']
after having the three hits that we'd just had? Literally a day
or two later he had a new demo of 'Teenage Rampage', basically
saying 'This is the Nuremburg Rally,' and we all went: great,
right we'll have it then.
You see, Queen beat us to it. Suddenly this little band came along. I went along to see them as a support band - I can't remember which band they were supporting - at the Odeon, Hammersmith. And I went up to Roy Thomas Baker, who was producing them and Roy had been an engineer for me, and I said, 'Roy, that band are phenomenal. I will swap you all the acts I've got for that band.' And he said, 'I can't do that.'
And I watched them develop, mature, and they were wonderful. I heard 'Killer Queen' and I rushed back and I played it to John Goodison and I said, 'Listen to how good that band is.' And he went, 'Yeah, they're fantastic.' And then I played it to Sweet, and all Andy could say was, 'Yeah Phil, we're being ripped off.'
Queen won the battle. Course they did. I even had a conversation
with Brian May in that era, when we were in America. I didn't
accuse, it was just very subtly talked about that: 'You did like
"Action" as a single, didn't you?' Cos the last part
of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is very much like 'Action'. Take it or
leave it, and like it or not, as I said at the time, it seems
we opened the door, but when Queen came along, we were left holding
the handle a little bit.
Remember when a band's been around and gone through changes, it
takes time for people to adjust. All through their career, Queen
always put in that little tongue-in-cheek, like 'Killer Queen'.
They were the first to say all-encompassing: take us or leave
us, whether you like just the heavy or whether you like the tongue-in-cheek
pop. Our pop was tongue-in-cheek, but nobody took it like that.
We started, we moved on, by the time Queen were happening, we
were out-and-out heavy metal, no doubt about it. When people used
to go to our concerts in Germany in 1977/78, we were extremely
loud, we were louder than Deep Purple. That was trying to prove
a point in the end. I had two Leslie cabinets the size of people's
front doors. And yet here I am, playing through a 50-watt combo.
I had this vision for them whereby they could actually have another
two or three lives. Because they were a good band and I kind of
knew what they should be doing. And unfortunately the wheels dropped
off a bit because they knew best, and a lot of my ideas at the
end were overlooked. I was working with other bands, I thought:
okay, Sweet, I'm not desperate to work with you anymore.
They ended up working with Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. And they
made some real duffers. And Mike Chapman also thought: ooh, maybe
I can climb on the next stepping stone and also become a bit serious,
and I can be taken seriously if I do it with Sweet. But it didn't
work, the chemistry didn't work. I wanted to plan a career for
the band, and I wanted to go off in a slightly different direction.
I wanted to go slightly bluesy, I actually wanted to fill the
gap that Cream had left and go in that direction, with the harmonies
and guitars - it all sort of fit into place. Cream were gone and
they could have gone more in that direction: slightly funkier,
a little bit laid-back, it could have been really good.
In fact 'Love Is Like Oxygen' in a way was scratching the surface,
but I wanted them to become more basic. Because Queen, as far
as I could see, had really gone as far as you can go with the
vocals and backing and everything was like a big, big production
number, and I thought what I'll do is I won't do that with Sweet;
I'll go the complete opposite and have basic, real basic, gritty,
down-to-earth sort of blues. Sort of, but pop. Are you with me?
And they couldn't understand what I was saying, they didn't grasp
it - they couldn't grasp it cos it was going to be a change: it
was going to be Sweet like you've never heard Sweet. And it never
materialized, which is a real real shame. They needed a plan.
They'd gone through pop, then they had powerpop, and then they
had rock. And the rock they were coming up with was being topped
out of all belief by Queen. And I thought: let's let them have
that market. Let's stay out of that, let's look at this market,
let's look at a basic thing.
Vocally, they were excellent: they were so good and they were
all natural. All four of them. They were really good. And I thought:
okay, this is where we're going to have to put our thinking caps
on and come up with something a little bit different. And they
went with Mike Chapman, they went to America. And by then I'd
moved on. I co-owned the company, so I figured: well okay, it's
nice to have someone else do the work for me, and I still own
half of it so I might as well just sit tight, not have to drive
myself mad with a band that don't want to work with me anyway.
So that's the way I saw it.
The split came because it was a matter of deciding whether to
go one way or the other. I remember they were all in America,
because they all felt that America was the next place, especially
as we'd just had a near #1 with 'Little Willy', and they were
over there. The record company said that as a band we had written
a hit single - we didn't think it at the time, but we had a song
'Fox On The Run' on the British Desolation Boulevard album
- so the record company said, 'Re-record that and see how commercial
it can be made.' Well, we went in and recorded it on our own.
Next thing we knew, the record company wanted to release it, Chinn
& Chapman were being telegrammed in America that 'We have
the next Sweet single.' They were back here before you knew it,
they heard the single and - whether they liked it or not - they
had to agree there was an on-going situation.
Now instead of patching it up and saying, 'Alright, regardless
of whether we write it or you write it, we produce it or you produce
it, we might as well all still mix it in,' I think there were
egos to be played here. We just made a final decision to go: well,
everything that we do from now onwards, we stand or fall by it.
And the production company took a back-seat and very rarely interfered.
I don't mean to say that they were right not to interfere; they
were probably wrong, because remember their livelihoods were there
as well - they might as well have as well have pitched in and
said, 'You haven't got a commercial enough single.' Especially
when it got to the later years, with the Off The Record album
which basically stiffed everywhere except Germany. Over here,
from 'Action' it stiffed until 'Love Is Like Oxygen'.
these words were brought to you by
see also 'Nicky's Soft Spot For Sweet'
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The Real Thing
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