40 Years Ago: Sweet Release ‘Desolation Boulevard’
For many in the U.S. these days, Sweet probably rank as a one- or two-hit wonder with songs like 'Ballroom Blitz' and 'Fox on the Run' springing to mind. In November 1974, they released what is considered by many to be their best album, 'Desolation Boulevard.' But the variation between U.K. and U.S. releases is complicated, to say the least.
Sweet began in 1968 as the Sweetshop, mining a bubblegum-based sound that, within a couple of years, they would mold into their own. Early singles like 'Funny Funny,' 'Co Co' and 'Poppa Joe' proved to be major hits in the U.K., but it wasn't until the spring 1972 release of 'Little Willy' that Sweet would hit paydirt across the globe. It reached No. 3 in America, but the follow-ups -- 'Block Buster!,' 'Wig Wam Bam' and 'Hellraiser' -- failed to repeat that success here. Those records did, however, chart high at home.
In 1973, Sweet released what would become their signature song, 'Ballroom Blitz.' That record captured the essence of the glam era in sound and style, perfectly synthesizing the loud guitars and pounding drums while retaining more than a hint of their bubblegum roots. It became a Top 10 hit around the world. But that status would have to be put on hold in America.
Their first two albums, 1971's 'Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be,' and 'Sweet Fanny Adams,' were not given proper U.S. releases. But the stateside success of 'Little Willy' prompted 'The Sweet,' a compilation comprised mostly of those early singles and B-sides that was put out in 1973.
'Desolation Boulevard' was about to meet the same fate, but after the long run of hit singles in the U.K. and elsewhere, Capitol Records couldn't hold off any longer. However, instead of simply releasing their new effort as intended, they cobbled together their own U.S. version from recent hit singles, tracks from 'Sweet Fanny Adams,' and songs from the British version of 'Desolation Boulevard.'
Listen to 'No You Don't'
In many ways, the American version is the stronger of the two. The British LP kicks off with the 'The Six Teens,' a song about coming of age in 1974, and the reality of the faded '60s utopian dream in the vein of Mott The Hoople's 'All The Young Dudes.' It's a dramatic rocker and a great album opener, but Capitol thought it wise to move the song into the second slot, making room for 'Ballroom Blitz' to get things going. It was ultimately a smart move. 'Ballroom Blitz' remains one of the most exciting singles of all-time. In mid-1975, nearly two years after its U.K. release, it hit the U.S. charts, climbing up to No. 5.
'Turn It Down,' 'Breakdown,' and 'Medussa' were all axed for the U.S. market and replaced by three songs from 'Sweet Fanny Adams' -- 'Set Me Free,' 'No You Don't' and 'AC-DC.' 'Set Me Free' was from guitarist Andy Scott, while the other pair, like much of the band's best material, came from the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, the producers who helped mold not only the sound of Sweet, but other greats of the glam era like Suzi Quatro and Mud. "Mike Chapman, as producer, had a vision of capturing the band as bare-boned as possible, designed to reflect the atmosphere of the band in full flight -- no restrictions," recalled guitarist Andy Scott in 2005 in the liner notes to the remastered CD.
'AC-DC' is the tale of a guy and his bisexual girlfriend, with a classic refrain of "AC-DC / She got some other lover as well as me / Some other woman as well as me." The song was later covered by Joan Jett, while 'No You Don't was done up by Pat Benatar on her 1979 debut.
Among the other songs found only on the U.K. version of 'Desolation Boulevard' are 'Lady Starlight,' a grand, sweeping rocker, falling somewhere between Queen and David Bowie. A rendition of the Elmer Bernstein instrumental, 'The Man With the Golden Arm' is a bit of an odd choice, as is their run through of the Who classic, 'My Generation,' which, though quite rocking, seems like filler.
Watch 'Fox on the Run'
One track that made it to both versions is the classic 'Fox On The Run.' Written by all the band members, it stands tall as one of their finest moments and their most successful single, hitting the Top 5 in almost every spot around the globe. But even here is another difference: the U.K. LP contains the original version of the song, while Capitol opted for the re-recorded single. Not that the original recording is bad by any means, but on the single version, everything clicks into an absolute classic.
In either variation, 'Desolation Boulevard' is a loud, rocking and joyous album full of great songs, and shows off the band in a variety of lights. "Such diversity only proves that the band was never going to be just formulaic, giving this album a definitive place in Sweet history," added Scott.