Blockbuster – Sweet
Number one in New Zealand 23 March – 13 April, 1973
Newspapers messily compress all of a town’s different urges, needs and minutiae within its pages. Even in a small place like 1970s Wellington it seems unlikely that Mr. Mckay, the Wellington members of NOW, and the “ladies” at Carmen’s would have ever met, but here they all are, rubbing shoulders in the Evening Post in March, 1973, marking out different pieces of territory in the gender war.
Sir, – I have recently evolved a perfectly reasonable explanation for today’s long hair cult. I think it is the result of a “liberation” plot. By encouraging the male to adopt this feminine fashion, it plans to inculcate further feminine traits in him, so that he becomes more and more female in his thinking and thus more susceptible to the dominance of women’s ever-increasing masculinity. – I M Mckay (Letter to the Editor, Evening Post, 9 March 1973)
Members of the Wellington branch of the National Organisation of Women gathered outside the Lower Hutt Town Hall with placards bearing such slogans as “Mind Over Measurements”, Welcome to the Miss Wellington Cattle Auction”, and “Brains Over Boobs”. They have plans to picket the Miss Hutt Valley Wool Princess contest. (Evening Post, 10 March 1973)
Carmen’s, 57a Victoria Street, advertises Marsha Layne, primitive oil dance, Tiffany Jones, sadistic whip, bath and fire eating act, and Fife du Soir, French queen of the catwalk (two shows nightly). (Evening Post, 10 March 1973)
Sadistic whip, bath and fire eating act? Is the bathing also sadistic, or just the whipping? Did Tiffany do all three at the same time, or separately? I imagine I will never know. Disappointingly, 57a Victoria Street has turned into the Wellington Public Library.
Pleasingly, the next song to top the charts after You’re So Vain takes us into the bizarre heart of glam rock which was at its glittering peak between 1972 and 1974. Blockbuster was the first of Sweet’s two number ones in New Zealand in 1973. If these guys were number one in New Zealand twice in 1973 I would say that Mr. Mckay had reason for concern.
The band Sweet had three distinct musical phases only one of which really worked. In the first phase they were a rock band having bubblegum pop hits. Their songwriters were Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman who supplied all the A-sides and the chart action, while the band wrote all the B-sides which were rock numbers. The A-sides were garbage. The kind of garbage that got them to number two in the UK with a song called Co-Co. Here is the chorus:
Catchy. Or how about their other big hit at this time Funny, Funny:
And it’s so funny funny
What you do, honey, honey
What you do, what you mean to me
So you can see the problem. Sweet initially became famous for pap music but at their concerts they insisted on playing all the rock B-sides. Unfortunately their audience were there for the A-sides and the rock fans the band were playing for didn’t even come. I mean, why would they? Sweet were known for “Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co” complete with Caribbean steel drums. After awhile the guys in the band complained enough and Chinn/Chapman wrote them some rockier singles. The rockier singles were everyone’s golden hour. Chin and Chapman rarely wrote anything better, and Sweet never swaggered so confidently. Glam was all about the swagger, and the glitter and the stomp, stomp, stomp of platform boots.
Blockbuster is pure style over substance. The lyrics circle around meaninglessly:
You better beware, you better take care
You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair
He’ll come from behind, you go out of your mind
You’d better not go, you’d never know what you’ll find
Blah, blah, blah. It’s about some guy who’s called Blockbuster. I suspect this is purely so the song can have a cool intro which is the siren used during World War Two when the Germans were dropping Block Buster bombs on London. The music is the exact same riff as Jean Genie by Bowie which was at number two in the UK at the same time as Blockbuster was number one. On Top of the Pops performing this song the band is all about its lipstick and boots and glitter. The lead guitarist is wearing a cape and what appears to be a fake third leg. I’m sure it all made sense at the time, but how do you explain photos like this to your grandchildren especially if you’re the plonker wearing the satin loin cloth?
Predictably perhaps, Sweet promptly got rid of Chinn/Chapman and headed further down the rock path. In fact they went quite hard, proving that they were very talented musicians who didn’t have much of a knack for song writing. All of this means that when you listen to The Best of Sweet you get a very curious mix of bubblegum pop, rock singles and proto Iron Maiden. It is a very odd experience. Thirty odd years later most of glam rock is a very odd experience. It looks like it was fun. The most endearing aspect of this flash-in-the-musical pan was how uncomfortable a lot of these British blokes looked in tight pants and sequins. Most of them really looked like they wished they could get into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and have a pint as soon as possible. Which would have reassured Mr. Mckay, and possibly Carmen as well.