Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 15: Sweet, "Ballroom Blitz"

Artist: Sweet
Song: Ballroom Blitz
Album: Desolation Boulevard
Year: 1974

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As it does in nearly every aspect of life, one cannot judge a book my its cover when it comes to the world of music.  Many bands may visually appear to be something far from what they are in reality, and the more interesting fact is that in the world of music, this is often quite a purposeful illusion.  Whether it is a band attempting to seem "heavier" than their music is, or an artist trying to come off as having more "street cred" than their actual life would let them have, sometimes these illusions benefit the artist, and other times, once the truth is revealed, it can wreck a performers' career.  Throughout history, there are many bands that attempted to contrast their image with their actual music, yet there are few groups that did so with as much success as U.K rockers, Sweet.  At first look, this quartet appears to be another group of leather-clad metalheads, yet the fact of the matter is, the group is responsible for some of the greatest pop songs ever recorded.  After a few lineup changes and many years of attempting to break through, it was the groups' 1974 record, Desolation Boulevard that began their string of hit songs, and many of these same tunes remain in regular rotation to this day and stand as some of the greatest songs ever recorded.  With their amazing ability to bring an edge to pop-oriented rock music, there were few groups that compared to Sweet, and their influence can be heard across countless bands that followed.  Standing as their crowning musical achievement, and perfectly capturing their amazing music talents, there are few songs that measure up to Sweet's iconic 1974 single, "Ballroom Blitz."

The moment the song begins, it is one of the most instantly recognizable songs, as the simple drum beat has a swagger that falls somewhere between The Kinks and The New York Dolls.  The pulsing rhythm grabs the listener and the early vocal "checks" from Brian Connolly fir in perfectly with this brilliant musical strut from the entire band.  After his scream, the listener is treated to what is unquestionably one of the most iconic guitar riffs from Andy Scott, and it is very much this riff that makes "Ballroom Blitz" such and unforgettable song.  The song itself finds an amazing balance between the quieter pop style of the late 1950's and early 1960s', while it also gives it a more modern, slightly more aggressive twist, and this can be heard with the contrast between the hand clapping and the slightly distorted guitar work.  Scott also laid down a second guitar track in the studio, and this doubled sound makes the song far more powerful and also gives it much of its trademark "attack."  This irresistibly danceable beat is kept firmly in place by the swinging of the rhythm section of bassist Steve Priest and drummer Mick Trucker, and the song still grabs the listener as quickly today as it did nearly forty years ago.  Combining all of these elements together, "Ballroom Blitz" is in many ways a song like no other, as it swings and rocks in a brilliantly uncanny manner, and this unique sound is much the reason that the song remains such a classic, and has been covered so many times across the genres since it was first released.

Taking the mood set by the band and pushing it to an unparalleled level, vocalist Brian Connolly shows a style and sound that combines countless previous artists, yet sounds like nothing else ever recorded.  With his deep, moody, and slightly distorted vocals on the verses, Connolly sounds like a strange combination of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Iggy Pop.  The fact that Connolly presents the vocals on these verses with a detached, almost snotty manner gives "Ballroom Blitz" a sound that is very similar to many early punk songs, yet the music keeps it sounding like something far different.  Yet one cannot deny this stripped down, attitude driven sound, and therefore one cannot deny the fact that "Ballroom Blitz" is clearly one of the earliest and most important songs of the "modern punk" evolution.  The true brilliance of Connolly appears on the bridge and chorus section, when his high energy yells and strange vocal inflections make it impossible NOT to think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and many people incorrectly place "Ballroom Blitz" as having a relation to that film.  Along with the fantastic musical and vocal performance found on the song, "Ballroom Blitz" also contains some of the most memorable lyrics ever penned, and lines from the song have been a major part of pop culture throughout the past four decades.  Whether it is "...'cause she thinks she's the passionate one..." or the amazing bridge section of, " was like lightning, everybody was frightening, and the music was soothing, and they all started grooving...," these words cannot be separated from the song, and the fact that the tune comes instantly to mind even when reading the words serves as a testament to what a phenomenal song lives within "Ballroom Blitz."

While many songs have been covered over the decades, with versions from everyone from The Damned to The Les Humphries Singers, there are few songs that have been covered as often by as wide ranged a list of bands as "Ballroom Blitz."  This is likely due to the fact that the song brings an amazing balance of style and swagger and this can be translated into nearly any other genre, showing the true genius behind the tune.  Keeping the music perfectly balanced between pop and something a bit edgier, the band clearly knew just how many double entendres and how heavy the guitars needed to sound to ensure maximum commercial success.  The fact that the band was able to keep a "bubblegum" image whilst delivering the image and sound that they did is a shining example of how a bands' look can be a far cry from their actual sound.  From the winding, taunting guitars to the soft and screamed vocals, "Ballroom Blitz" truly has "something for everyone," and this is much the reason that the song has persevered over the decades.  Not quite punk, not quite glam-rock, and not quite pop music, Sweet were able to combine sounds like no other band in history, and the fact that the song ends up being so fantastic and not just musical chaos serves as a testament to the amazing talent within the quartet.  Simply put, there has never been another song quite like Sweet's iconic 1974 single, "Ballroom Blitz," and one can easily make the case that due to the sheer brilliance behind the song, it will remain a part of popular music forever.


Gordo said...

Well said Guru. And it didn't end there with Blitz. They have both fantastic singles and albums collections as well. Its been an absolute pleasure being a fan of the band.

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written. You took my for a ride there. Love it.

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