The Sweet enjoyed sweet success in the 1970s, thanks to a succession of radio-friendly hits like “Teenage Rampage, “The Ballroom Blitz,” “Fox on the Run” and “Love Is Like Oxygen.” But almost as quickly as this glittery British glam band rose to fame, the classic lineup of lead singer Brian Connolly, guitarist Andy Scott, bassist Steve Priest, and drummer Mick Tucker suffered a downward spiral.
The Sweet influenced several of today’s big bands. One of Sweet’s two official websites (yes, there’s two—more on that a little later), features quotes from famous rockers who cite the band as one of their biggest influences. KISS icon Gene Simmons said without Sweet his band would never have been created, while Motley Crue rocker Nikki Sixx said his band started out as Sweet wannabes. Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott said Sweet was “the band I wish I had been in,” and Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose once told late night host Jimmy Kimmel his favorite bands growing up were “Queen and Sweet and stuff like that.”
In an interview with Rockologist, Sweet guitarist Andy Scott described the band’s musical style, which changed a bit over Sweet’s heyday in the 1970s.
“Sweet’s music encompasses many different styles from the bubblegum/pop beginnings through the glam period then onto heavy rock in the mid-seventies culminating with progressive rock/pop with the song ‘Love Is Like Oxygen,'” he said. “The transition between musical styles felt natural to us and we are more than grateful that our audience went with us.”
Scott said lead singer Brian Connolly’s role as “leader” of the band, which was originally named Sweetshop, also changed over the decade.
“He would organize most things, the gigs, vans, gear, etc. and he took me under his wing,” he said.
“As the band became famous his role as organizer was taken away, we now had an office to do the work and I believe this may have attributed to his problems with alcohol.”
While Sweet charted 13 Top 20 hits in the 1970s, the band, or at least Connolly, fell hard. According to Gibson.com, the Sweet frontman was attacked outside of a London nightclub in 1974 and his vocal chords were permanently damaged after he suffered several kicks to the throat. The incident forced the band to turn down a high-profile opening gig for the Who. While he went on to sing again—some of Sweet’s biggest hits were produced after the attack—Connolly lost much of his vocal range.
Connolly’s battle with alcoholism was also well documented. The Sweet singer sometimes showed up to rehearsals and concerts too drunk to perform. In an interview with Focus in the Mix, Sweet bass player Steve Priest said Connolly’s hard partying lifestyle took its toll.
“A lot of the songs were really up there – and he smoked like a chimney,” the Sweet bassist said.
“So he used to lose his voice a lot. He used to have a couple of drinks before interviews. Then he’d arrive and he’d be drunk as a skunk… He liked to drink, but as he said to me, ‘I love to have a drink but I can’t keep up.'”
By 1979, just one year after the band’s biggest radio hit, “Love is Like Oxygen,” topped the charts, Connolly was out as lead singer, under the guise of a solo career.
“The musician side of the band grew in stature while his vocal style did not,” Scott explained to Rockologist.
“Eventually it had to come to a head and whatever the decision it was never going be the correct one. We all liked Brian but musically we were not on the same page.”
Connolly went on to record several unsuccessful solo singles, but health problems plagued him. By 1985, Connolly had sobered up, and he toured in a revamped version of the band, called The New Sweet, then later Brian Connolly’s Sweet. While he later found love, Connolly died at 51 in 1997 after a series of heart attacks.
After his death, Connolly’s daughter Nicola penned an open letter to Sweet fanzines, condemning the surviving members’ use of her father’s name or initials to promote their band. Nicola called the repeated of Brian’s name and the initials B.C. as “highly disrespectful,” and later revealed that her dad was “furious” when he found out his ex-bandmates had carried out several gigs he had canceled when he was ill. Despite stories to the contrary, Connolly’s daughter made it clear that her famous dad never made up with the band.
Nearly 40 years after Connolly was kicked from Sweet, the surviving members, Scott and Priest, no longer speak. (Tucker passed away in 2002). These days, Google-happy Sweet fans may be confused: There are two official websites for the band. That’s because the surviving members of Sweet’s most famous lineup continue to tour as two separate acts. Andy Scott’s Sweet is based in England, while Steve Priest has rights to use the name for tours in America and Canada.
Take a look at the video below to see The Sweet performing their biggest U.S. hit “Love Is Like Oxygen.”
[Featured Image by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]