Sweet – The Most Underrated Band Of The 70s, Releases Their Final Hit, Love Is Like Oxygen, 40 Years Ago

Sweet – The 1970s Band That Should Have Been As Big As Anyone.  They Released Their Final Hit In January 1978 – Love Is Like Oxygen

A Story of Sweet Success And Missed Opportunities

Sweet in their glam band outfits circa 1973. From l-r Brian Connolly, Steve Priest, Andy Scott and drummer Mick Tucker holding guitar.

If you were to name a rock band that should have had long-lasting, international success and made a major musical impact but didn’t, one of the top contenders would have to be Sweet.

In the pantheon of great rock bands, Sweet has been forgotten.

There are many reasons for this amnesiac neglect. Possibly the reasons add up like this: a series of bad breaks; not being taken seriously by a dismissive, indifferent critical press; an insufficient amount of American touring and radio exposure; and unsure musical direction. But certainly not because of a lack of producing great rock music.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Sweet’s final hit Love Is Like Oxygen which was released  in January 1978. We’ll discuss the song at the end of this article, but here is an abbreviated version from the TV program Top of The Pops.

A very similar band from the same time, Queen, became, a juggernaut, filling arenas and stadiums, having tens of millions of album sales and critical acclaim – all things Sweet seemed destined to achieve, but didn’t.

And if you don’t think Queen was heavily influenced by Sweet, then maybe you should have a listen.

Despite over 35 million album sales and moderate touring success around Europe, Sweet never lived up to their potential. With the exception of a handful of songs, Sweet was rarely played on American radio, hampering whatever breakthrough success they deserved.

Today, younger listeners unfamiliar with Sweet during their heyday, will rarely be able to name the band when they hear them. They recognize the songs, but often mistake the band’s music for that of E.L.O., the Bee Gees, Queen or some other band.

In the 1970s, Sweet, an English glam pop band, morphed into a serious hard rock band with a long list of hits in the United States and England. Originally they recorded songs written by others, primarily their managers and main songwriters Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn.

But Sweet was more than just a Three Dog Night, Grass Roots or Monkees sort of band. Those bands could barely get by playing an instrument live and never or rarely wrote any of their own songs.

Sweet’s bass player Steve Priest, drummer Mick Tucker, guitarist Andy Scott and lead vocalist Brian Connolly were all accomplished musicians who could write and play their own music and do it damn well.

What made Sweet stand out was their vocal harmonies.

Frequently featured on the weekly British music show Top of the Pops, Sweet would, as the custom was at the time, go on stage and lip synch what they had done on record. Their disdain for lip synching was apparent and they would often make a mockery of their own performances.

Their early “hits,” all written by Chapman and Chinn, were simple but immensely catchy ditties, in the genre known as “bubblegum rock.” Innocent lyrics with just a bit of double entendre intended for a teen audience.

Blockbuster, Wig Wam Bam, Funny Funny, and the American crossover hit Little Willy were just a few of their early chart successes. These were followed by more hits Hell Raiser, No You Don’t, AC-DC, Turn It Down and Sweet’s most famous song The Ballroom Blitz.

But it was apparent that Sweet could be much more given some musical latitude. All four members had great singing voices and were capable of singing lead.

In the early part of their success with Chapman and Chinn, Sweet had been writing hard rock songs placed on the B-sides to all of their A-side hit releases. Over time, the band became less content with their pop musical direction and were ready to try and make a go of it without Chapman and Chinn’s hits.

More than half the songs on the album Sweet Fanny Adams (1974) were written by the band. When released, rock fans were shocked by the change in complexity and tone of Sweet’s music.

With songs like Sweet F.A., Rebel Rouser, Restless, Teenage Rampage, and Into The Night, Sweet sounded very different from their previous releases.

1975’s Desolation Boulevard album (which had separate UK and US releases with different tracks) contained the first major international hit written by the band, Fox on the Run. Other hard rock hits included, Solid Gold Brass, Burn on the Flame and the blazing pre-heavy metal anthem Set Me Free.

Though some fans liked the new direction for Sweet, the band was unsure if they had to re-establish or find a new connection to a fan base, both musically and image-wise.

When given the opportunity to show off their chops live, Sweet could blow many bands of the era off the stage. Looking back today, Sweet compares very favorably to any contemporary hard rock band. And listen to those harmonies!

Here are three prime examples of live performances from 1974.

So where did Sweet go wrong?

The audience split was the big problem. Just who was the audience for this band?

Sweet had alienated some of their teenybop base and confounded fans of bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple with their heaviness.

12 and 13 year-old girls who liked Sweet’s early 70s bubblegum music weren’t necessarily fans of the new Sweet. Hard rock fans had a hard time getting past Sweet’s previous pop songs. Sweet’s old image with their outrageous glam stage show, wearing gaudy metallic outfits with high heels and make-up didn’t help cross them over to the heavier rock fan base.

On the other hand many of Sweet’s live shows now featured unheard of debauchery popular to the hard rock set of fans. Topless women parading on stage, lyrical switch-ups “If we don’t fuck you then someone else will.” Steve Priest once going so far as dressing in German military regalia on Top of the Pops. For others, it was just too much to be taken seriously.

In 1974 Sweet was asked to be the opening tour band for The Who. This would have been the exposure that would have ensured a much wider audience for their hard rock music. Unfortunately singer Brian Connolly was attacked and savagely beaten outside a bar with his throat being severely damaged. Connolly could not sing for a while. Sweet had to pull out of the tour with The Who and Connolly’s voice was now a shadow of its former glory.

While Sweet’s band members had always been party animals taking advantage of the rock star status, and indulging in copious amounts of sex, drugs and alcohol, Connolly’s drinking had gotten out of hand and his performances began to suffer. The rest of the band was feeling discord and though they recorded some stellar music from 1976-1978 they could not generate the sort of record sales or attendance at live venues with their hard rock edge to push them over the top.

Despite putting out great songs such as Action, The Lies In Your Eyes, Fever Of Love, Lost Angels, and Live For Today, Sweet could not get any radio airplay in America, another key to breakthrough success.

In late 1977 the band recorded the album Level Headed and Andy Scott with musician Trevor Griffin wrote one of the most catchy and well arranged songs Sweet ever recorded. The mainstream Love is Like Oxygen was released in January 1978 and entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts at #81 during the week of February 18, 1978. At this point of the band’s musical output Brian Connolly was no longer the featured lead singer on many of Level Headed’s songs. But It is Connolly’s heartfelt performance, along with the very catchy riff that shot this song to a chart topper all around the world.

With strong radio airplay and Sweet touring America with Bob Seger, the song gained momentum, reaching #8 on June 24, 1978. It was the last time Sweet would ever have a top 40 hit.

There are two versions of this song: the more played edited under four minute version which was heard on most AM and FM radio stations at the time, and the more complex and layered seven minute album version. Here is the original long version.

Brian Connolly left Sweet after Level Headed, and the band trekked on, recording three more decent albums. By 1982 the Sweet had disbanded.

Connolly’s health rapidly declined from a variety of ailments. Over the intervening years he suffered multiple heart attacks and passed away from liver failure at the young age of 51. Mick Tucker battled leukemia and died at age 52 in 2002.

Andy Scott reformed a version of Sweet and still tours with his band in Europe. In the 1980s Steve Priest settled in the United States where he has his own band, performing Sweet’s music.

For many musicians Sweet remains one of the most influential and covered early hard rock bands.

For the few fans in the know, Sweet’s musical output remains a treasured high point of 1970s rock music.

20 thoughts on “Sweet – The Most Underrated Band Of The 70s, Releases Their Final Hit, Love Is Like Oxygen, 40 Years Ago

  1. Rick

    One of my favorite memories is going to a County Fair, riding a rollercoaster, and “Love Is Like Oxygen” was playing. It seemed to match the ride. I have never forgotten that moment or the song. Sweet is or was a great band. Their influence on music is so obvious and I still hear “Ballroom Blitz” all over the place. Their vocals are amazing, and they were great musicians with solid performances. They have sold a lot of records, so that counts for something. They are far from forgotten.

  2. chris

    This was a good write up about SWEET. They just seemed to have a string of bad luck that they couldn’t get away from. As far as talent, harmonies, and musicianship these guys were second to none! Their harmonies are just unbelievable! There will never be another band like them. I have a diverse taste in music and I love all of their stuff from the early bubblegum stuff to the last 3 albums they did without Brian but my favorite era was the hard rock years – Give us a Wink and Off the Record. These guys created magic together

    Andy is the only classic member left and he still is carrying on the Sweet name Thankfully!

    May their name and music live on forever!

    Chris a huger Sweet fan in the States

  3. Anthony

    Those boys kicked ASS…many of today’s bands suck compared to what they brought to the world..grew up as a 12 year old listener who idolized them… Anthony

  4. Eddie

    Lifelong fan of everything from The Poppa Joe, Mr. McGallagher, Funny Funny, Alexander Graham Bell era to Andy Scott’s current. But, yeah, the problem for them was that most people do not have eclectic musical tastes. They were as pop as The Monkees at times (with infinitely better harmonies) AND as rock as Hendrix at others. I love both, but remember that Jimi was booed when he opened for The Monkees. Quite a shame. Still one of my favorite bands. Listening to them now in fact.

  5. Tom M

    The first 45 I ever owned here in the US as a 13 year old teen was “Little Wiily.” By the time I was 19 in 1978, my all time favorite song was “Love Is Like Oxygen.” I don’t buy into the notion that because their music evolved that played a part in their lack of commercial success. I think their fans evolved as well. Certainly The Beatles, among others, music completely changed over time without a drop in popularity. I think by the 1970’s the competition for air time was so competitive with so many good bands someone was going to fall thru the cracks. Connelly’s destructive behavior didn’t help by missing out on touring with The Who. Had they been an American band marketed here things might have been different. Sweet was infinitely more talented than the gimmicky KISS who never would have never been famous had they been from England.

  6. Anthony Howell

    I lived through their whole era and must say unfortuntely the ‘Glam rock’ label tarnished them. If they had made it to the US pure talent would have shone through, such a shame them the breaks.

  7. Laurel Angelle

    I absolutely remember this band! Loved them when I was a kid. Definitely one of the most underrated bands ever. You can tell that they were all very talented musicians. Their influence is everywhere in Glam Rock.

  8. Mongo615

    It’s a shame. Had they gone hard rock 5 years earlier with bands like Deep Purple, Bad Company and Led Zep or 5 years later with Def Leppard and the NWOBHM, they’d have been huge. Nonetheless, every Glam Metal band owes a debt to The Sweet..especially Motley Crue, who were a direct rip-off of Sweet. T, Rex finally got to the Hall of Fame…perhaps we’ll see Sweet make it before what’s remaining of their fan base dies off. I’m looking forward to it!

  9. Pingback: How the Sweet Finally Came Into Their Own With ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ – Oh4Crazy

  10. Marc Meinzer

    Sweet’s Love Is Like Oxygen is really one of the top 200 rock songs if judged purely on its own merits regardless of the relative obscurity of this hard luck band. I got this song stuck in my head for months w/o being able to figure out who recorded it since it gets played on the radio maybe twice a year. Finally heard it at the supermarket and memorized enough lyrics “love gets you high” to successfully find it online. Need to buy the album that contains this song since my iPad doesn’t make the greatest stereo.

    1. Dee

      Same for me today, August 1, 2020. Now listening to other Sweet songs and saying, “They did that one, too?” Comments tell me Steve Priest recently passed, June 4, 2020. Too bad. RIP Steve … Thank you for the music.

  11. Vince

    I grew up in the 70s glamrock bubblegum era and The Sweet were by far the best. Funny Funny was the 1st song that I was actually able to sing all the way through by myself without needing to have to look at the lyrics ..lol.

    Their b-sides were just as good and easily could, should have been released as normal a-side singles and been hits for them too. I understand young and teenage fans in early 70s were shocked from Little Willy, Wig Wam Bam, Blockbuster etc to hear the likes of Sweet FA, Set Me Free, Restless….but they didn’t understand that singles were released to get u noticed and into the charts, on radio, tv exposure etc, and that albums (LPs as officially known), gave any band the opportunity to experiment and do different things, different music, styles etc…People liked the single so then bought the album expecting much the same, but The Sweet gave out as big a clue as they could by way of their b-side offerings, so u would have too an idea as to what u may get on their albums. (assuming of course u listened to b-sides, a lot of my school friends didn’t bother at all)…

    It is a shame, and hurtful, that The Sweet come 4th or 5th out of people’s mouths when this era of music is talked about….Slade, T.Rex (or Marc Bolan), even Mud come out before The Sweet is mentioned !! But the best compliment you can give to any band is how many times other bands have covered their songs, and as far as I know, The Sweet have had more of their songs covered by other bands, than from any other glamrock band in history. Im not talking abt the amount of times 1 song has been covered, as there are lots of covered versions from 1 band of a particular song – no, im talking about the total amount of different songs that 1 band have had covered.

    Now, going back to b-sides , I particularly liked Burning, Done Me awrong Alright, Miss Demeanor, Burn On The Flame, Own Up Take A Look At Yourself….like I said, all could, should have been singles in their own right. As for the album Sweet FA, my personal faves are Heartbreak Today, Rebel Rouser, AC-DC, and even Peppermint Twist – now that would have been a great dance record to have released.

  12. Space Ace

    This is a great write-up. I’ll admit I didn’t really know who Sweet was until maybe a year ago. And if I wasn’t a fan of bands like Kiss, Def Leppard, and Motley, Crue, I probably still wouldn’t know anything about them. I first knew them as “the band that did Ballroom Blitz” (since that’s the only tune that seems to still get radio play). I originally didn’t know that Fox On the Run was them, and I had heard their bubblegum pop stuff before but didn’t know who the artist was. I suppose that’s also a product of their identity crisis. I can tell they never really caught on here in the US, because nobody knows who they are. And they released fewer albums in the States than in Europe, with the American Desolation Boulevard being a mix of singles, songs off of Sweet Fanny Adams, and songs from the European release. Plus many of their singles were just that: singles. They weren’t always released on an LP.

    What happened to Brian Connolly was probably the worst thing that could’ve happened to them. I have no doubt if they had been able to tour with the Who that it would’ve shown America what kind of band they wanted to be known as. Even those who are remotely familiar with them today might just see them as a glam act and have no idea that they went into heavy metal territory. But you can’t really blame them, because the chance of them being exposed to the bulk of Sweet’s music is pretty rare. It really is a shame. If they had gotten that exposure, the general rock community might view them in a much different light today.

  13. Wendy Kruger

    I knew all the hits, and owned Desolation Boulevard, but I didn’t have extensive knowledge as a kid. I recently “rediscovered” Sweet and I’m floored. I love it all. The camp pop stuff, and the harder, self written songs. I hope they don’t disappear from importance. I’ve clued in my daughter, but she hears them as a mixture of Queen and the Ramones. I guess I get it, but she hates both bands. (She has great taste for a 23-year-old, apart from that. Eschews the popular stuff from her own age group.) I can only hope my influence wears off. They are, at least, on her radar.

    1. B.P. Post author

      Wendy – At least you try and your daughter has to be somewhat influenced by what you were listening to when she was growing up. With that passing of the baton there is at least a flicker of hope for the future of rock ‘n’ roll. But it can’t compete with the likes of Childish Gambino (This Is America) who racked up over 112 million views on Youtube in its first week. This is a sign that rock music is doomed.

  14. Njguy

    “Ballroom Blitz” was one of the first 45’s that I ever owned — back when most kids’ record collections consisted of boxes of 45s. I thought it was one of the most awesome song I had ever heard. “Love is Like Oxygen” was great too, and it was one of the few songs that broke out of the disco mold in the late 70s. It’s a shame they couldn’t have held on until metal became really big in the mid 80s.

  15. Gaius Julius Drusus Germanicaus

    The history of mankind is littered with human endeavors that served as the unsung catalysts which developed into something greater. Even Gene Simmons once said “without The Sweet, there would have been no Kiss” The problem is this study and its conclusion is not time transcending. For a person who was not there, plus or minus a couple of decades, the importance of Sweet will fall upon deaf ears. The broad existence of rock/pop/metal music is now in jeopardy of being forgotten. We no longer have a youth capable of understanding what is being lost by the torch of music not having been lit, let alone passed on to future generations. Like many outlets for positive creativity which were once available to many regardless of socio economic affiliation, music has come full circle and has died. The tragedy is in a couple of years the youth of today will not begin to understand the importance of Sweet or rock music to our society. They as a group are now in a state of narcosis focusing their precious time and energy on being a good controlled consumer with their mobile devices securely affixed to their persons. The deceleration of intellect coupled with technological “progress” have rendered the future incapable of caring, let alone understanding the contribution of Sweet to music. On the other hand, like a seed in a desert, all we need is a handful of virtuoso youngsters to hear your message… and carry it to the future. Into the Night…


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