I appear to be having a ‘Sweet’ kind of week. And it reminded me that I had intended to do a blog post about them ages ago.
I think the main reason I adore them so much is that they are the perfect example of how pervasive the glam-look became in the early Seventies. As a natural successor to the mod and then the psychedelic dandy (both of which you could use to describe early incarnations of both Marc Bolan and David Bowie), glam rock was as peculiarly popular with men as it was with women. It makes less sense for men than either mod or dandy. Both of those looks were smart and instinctively retro. The kipper ties and paisley prints were flamboyant, but they harked back to the fops and dandies of the past.
Glam, however, was like nothing before it.
I appreciate that most men wouldn’t have been wandering around in full make-up, seven-inch platform boots and silver lamé. But the fact that proper ‘blokes’ like The Sweet would appear on TV and in magazines dressed as such, must have heavily influenced the general street style. Away from the gorgeous young things styling themselves on Marc Bolan, men did wear flares; they wore super tight t-shirts, brighter ‘feminine’ colours and, yes, they did wear moderate platforms.
This period is possibly the last time men would, somewhat paradoxically unselfconsciously, just dress however they liked. Without fear of mockery or being thought effeminate. Every other street style subculture since then has been rigidly regulated and adhered to, and only by those with enough confidence to try. This lot were just having fun.
Watching the latest glut of ‘guitar heroes’ and ‘I’m in a rock band’ type programmes on the BBC lately, even the grimiest, blokiest of rockers were wearing skin tight t-shirts and flared jeans, and is that a hint of a heel I can see there? Can you really imagine that happening now? Please excuse me while I drift into a reverie about men being manly enough to walk around in flares and tight t-shirts….
I don’t even need super-fit, super-lean young specimens of the sex. I find the chunkier, hairier, gruffer ones the most endearing.
Which brings me back to The Sweet.
They weren’t pretty like Bolan. They weren’t weird like Bowie. They weren’t goofy like Slade. They weren’t flamboyantly arty like Roxy Music (although, Eno is another good example of a most unlikely candidate for ostrich feathers and make-up, but he rocked it pretty impressively). They were four blokes who had already tried the psychedelic route, and failed with their version of Slow Motion (a Miss Peelpants favourite when it was done by The Magicians).
It’s a rather sad story, really. They were so desperate for success they allowed themselves to be moulded by the Chinn and Chapman hit factory into strange parodies of Bolan and Bowie*. They had little control over their musical output and, presumably, their appearances. They were even replaced by session musicians on some early tracks, despite being very competent musicians. But they seem to have thrown themselves into the glam style with great enthusiasm and flair, whether or not it was something they would have done to that extent without influence.
When they eventually broke free of the manufacturers, the first self-penned hit was Fox on the Run, they wrote some of the greatest material of their career. But while the make-up was toned down, and the costumes consigned to glam history, they continued to wear tight flared jeans and t-shirts – despite the spread of comfortable living and age starting to show.
I don’t suppose they had enough identity after this point, which is why they weren’t so able to metamorphose into a more serious rock band for the late Seventies. And the New Romantic love for glam rock was far too snooty and serious to take much influence from them. I remember being very sad when Brian Connolly died in 1997. He had been a heavy drinker and the failure of his career post-Sweet just exacerbated this. I’ll definitely visit him when my time machine arrives and I’m doing the rounds of hugging random people from history….
*That said, I love this era. I love the music, the clothes and everything. And I’m sure, in retrospect, they loved it too. It was just unadulterated, lightweight fun.
You cannot keep me seated when Blockbuster is playing. Seriously.