Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman were pretty much the ideal bubblegum pop auteurs: not themselves innovative in the slightest, but always at pace with and often one crucial step ahead of trends, and with a knack for honing the key elements of the disposal pop style of the day into one perfectly-formed single, without a wasted moment. This was how they came up with The Sweet's debut single of spring 1971, "Funny Funny", The Archies stripped of their cloying irritation, one step up in sophistication from, say, White Plains or Butterscotch or a lot of the stuff mentioned at http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/cottage.html, but still aeons away from the sound we most closely associate with them, the heavy-glam sound which didn't yet exist. You can instantly imagine Cedric Collingford listening to it in his prep school dormitory, dreaming of Catweazle (whereas the thought of him listening to Slade, or indeed the later Sweet singles, is, ugh, unthinkable, you just don't want to know).
For a while ChinniChap were jumping aboard every trend going: they followed the spread of novelty quasi-reggae into the charts - notably a certain song with the name "Johnny" in the title written by a man whose name I don't really want to mention here - in early '72 with the Sweet's weirdest single, the bizarre and, these days, rather lyrically dodgy (in terms of the stereotypes it's built around) "Poppa Joe". Then they exemplified the less evolved and more repressed aspects of 70s Britain's attitude to sex in "Little Willy", one of the band's few non-classic singles. But it was only a matter of time before they smelt the tide of glam - or, more specifically, glitter-rock - burning up the charts and exemplifying a more aggressive (if only in a comic-book sense) and less innocent youth than Britain had yet experienced since the Second World War. It was time to jump aboard.
Their next run of singles are unimpeachably great, probably the best sequence of the decade. With each single ChinniChap could hone the style closer to perfection and cram more into the songs: the whipcracking "wig-wam bam shang-a-lang" middle eight of "Wig-Wam Bam", everything about "Blockbuster", the sheer heaviness of "Hell Raiser" (or rather how totally they took the pop sense out of heavy metal and channelled it into a single: the timing of the "YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! LOOK OUT!" chant, and the brief gap between each "YEAH!" is still amazing, as is the fantastically contrived rhyme "Everyone fell at their feet / And that's neat / And she took me comPLETEly by surprise with her ultrasonic eyes ..."). The sheer cheek of the name-checking intro to "Ballroom Blitz", the "WE WANT SWEET!" chant at the start of "Teenage Rampage" and the way Brian Connolly sings "BUT THEY DON'T CARE!" during that song ... it is all unimpeachable. Time shall not wither it, because unlike so much affectionately-remembered 70s pop it stands up on its own virtues: nostalgia for a supposedly "innocent" past simply doesn't come into it. Of course their image and visual appearance also plays a part: innocence is the last word here, because whenever you see any of their Top of the Pops performance there's an inherent creepiness and roughness coming through.
Once they'd broken the ties that bound them with ChinniChap it gets a little harder to figure out. "Fox On The Run" and "Action" from 1975 are their best-produced singles - the synth on the former kicks as hard as "Virginia Plain" - while still retaining their virtues from the glitter years, but I'm not familiar with their other later singles which flopped in the UK while still being major hits in Germany, some of which have appalling titles - I haven't heard them, but "Lost Angels" and "California Nights" suggest the sort of dreck usually recorded by fellow ChinniChap proteges and regular German chart-toppers Smokie (shudder!). Their last UK hit "Love Is Like Oxygen" is brilliant, though, a perfect meeting point of glam and powerpop, coldest greyest 1978. And I'm increasingly coming to think that their first single after breaking away from ChinniChap, "The Six Teens" - released during that fateful lost summer of 1974 just before the New Austerity, which had already helped to bring down a government the previous winter, really started to kick in - might be their best. That the late 60s generation were so obviously drifting through time, their subcultural control completely out of their grasp, so soon after the fact, is a measure of the impact of the cynicism and edginess and dissatisfaction with vaguely-expressed utopianism that really took hold around 1972/73, that the Sweet could pay tribute to that generation without sounding in any way maudlin, sentimental or contrived is astounding. If anything, the Six Teens came through to take up far too strong a hegemony on the British media: see this song as a veiled warning, maybe!
As a trilogy - which is often how I listen to them - there is just so much in "Funny Funny" / "Hell Raiser" / "The Six Teens", from the last vestiges of post-war innocence to fantastic capsuled cartoonish aggression (can it really have only taken two years?) to a resigned, epic hymn to what was rapidly becoming a lost generation. The beating heart of the 70s, and resonant forever: the recent death of their drummer Mick Tucker (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/entertainment/music/newsid_1821000/1821878.stm), following the death of Brian Connolly in 1997, has emphasised the Sweet's brilliance and underlying, often disguised poignancy: not even the dreadful re-recordings the various later versions of the band made of their hits, which litter MP3 sites and can usually be distinguished from the real thing by being a few seconds longer, can ruin their magic.
Robin Carmody, 5th March 2002