Sorting Through the Two Versions of Sweet’s ‘Desolation Boulevard’
Sweet probably rank as a one- or two-hit wonder for many in the U.S. these days, with songs like "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox on the Run" springing to mind. They're both found on Desolation Boulevard, hailed by fans as their best album upon its arrival in November 1974. Once again, however, Sweet had to deal with complicated variations between U.K. and U.S. releases.
Sweet began in 1968 as the Sweetshop, mining a bubblegum-based sound that they would mold into their own within a couple of years. Early singles like "Funny Funny," "Co Co" and "Poppa Joe" proved to be major hits in the U.K., but Sweet didn't hit pay dirt across the globe until the spring 1972 release of "Little Willy." The single reached No. 3 in America, but their follow-ups – "Block Buster!," "Wig Wam Bam" and "Hellraiser" – failed to repeat that success. Those records did, however, chart high at home in England.
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 superstar 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. 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. Instead of simply releasing Sweet's 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 edition of Desolation Boulevard.
Listen Sweet Perform '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, the song 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 came from the songwriting team of producers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman – like much of the band's best material. They 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," Scott said in the liner notes to the remastered album in 2005.
"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 reworked by Pat Benatar on her 1979 debut.
Watch Sweet Perform 'Fox on the Run'
Among the other songs found only on the U.K. edition 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 rocks quite well but still seems like filler.
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 Sweet's finest moments. It's also 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 take on the song, while Capitol opted for the re-recorded single. The original recording isn't bad by any means but everything clicks on the single version, becoming 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," Scott added.