Monday, 15 December 2008

Sweet - Spotlight (b-side), Jeanie (b-side)

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.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Slade - My Town (b-side), She Did It To Me (b-side)

Based on overall chart performance Slade were the most successful artist of the glam rock era. This was highlighted in Channel 4’s ‘Top Ten Glam Rock Artists of All Time’, where Slade and strangely the Bay City Rollers came in first and second respectively.

At their peak Slade were the most commercially popular band in the UK. They achieved 12 top five hits from 1971 to 1974. This included six number 1’s, three number 2’s and two songs at number 3. Three of their singles went straight into the chart at number 1, a feat last accomplished by the Beatles. After 1975 Slade’s success faded however, but they did have some further success in the early 80’s with another two top ten hits, Run Runaway and My Oh My.

I must admit that at times during the early seventies I think I preferred Slade over even Bowie or T.Rex. For great, stomping, heavy, guitar driven pop they couldn’t be beaten. Apart from the great song writing, Slade’s greatest asset was having Noddy Holder as front man. Noddy (Neville) Holder had one of rock’s great voices and unlikely as it seemed had one of glam rock’s great iconic images, the mirrored hat. Along with Bowie’s Aladdin Sane lightning flash and Bolan’s “Corkscrew hair,” that mirrored hat is the most recognisable thing associated with glam rock.

Even now I still get misty eyed when certain songs come unexpectedly on the radio. We had a black Fidelity record player at home when I was a kid in the 70’s, and playing Skweeze Me Pleeze Me (sic) over and over again is one of the happiest memories from my childhood. The intentional misspelling of the song titles was also a good way to wind up teachers and parents.

My Town is the B-side to My Friend Stan released in 1973 and eventually reaching # 2 in the charts. Both are from the album ‘Old, New, Borrowed and Blue’. My Town is the harder hitting flipside to the bar room piano style evident on the A-side. No introduction, no messing about, just straight in after a single snare beat.

She Did It to Me was the flip-side to Bangin Man a 1974 Slade song that reached # 3. This was a slow, piano driven ballad in the style of Everyday the single that Slade released earlier that year. Proving that they could do slow and sensitive with the best of them.