For Sweet fans, the big moment of 2017 was the release of a box set entitled The Sensational Sweet: Volume 1. Sure, the band’s album catalog had been reissued several times throughout the CD era but this tidy box set provided a pretty definitive vault set for the collectors, including fresh remasters of everything from Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be to Level Headed. It also added all the non-album singles and b-sides plus an array of demos and other vault material designed to entice the hardcore fans.
Said vault material included three interesting compilation discs that make up the entirety of this Catalog Crawl installment. They include a definitive presentation of the band’s best-known concert recording, a collection of BBC radio sessions that show them developing their hard rock chops during their earliest days and a singles plus b-sides collection that utilizes an interesting hook in its sequencing. All are worthwhile listens for the devoted Sweet fan.
THE RAINBOW – LIVE IN THE U.K. 1973 (2017): versions of this concert have been circulated commercially ever since the compilation album Strung Up but this is the best version. There’s a certain wonkiness baked into the mix on this one – levels are odd at times and the brief appearances of analog synths sound like a dentist’s drill – but this remaster sounds like they got the most out of the tapes. Better yet, it’s expanded to nearly 80 minutes that give you an in-depth idea of what a Sweet concert circa 1973 was like. You get hits like “Wig Wam Bam” and “Little Willy” but they’re performed with an intense energy and a heaviness that wouldn’t be possible on pop radio. Better yet, you get ferocious versions of b-sides that point the way towards the band’s future: a scorching medley of “Burning” and “Someone Else Will” is particularly notable in this regard. Look out also for a medley of ’50s and ’60s rockers that avoids the usual retro-rock kitsch with ferocious riffs-and-drums energy.
AT THE BEEB – THE BBC RADIO SESSIONS (2017): This offers a fascinating glimpse into the group’s formative 1969-1972 era, showing a band eager to disprove their reputation as bubblegum puppets with a string of performances that show off tight chops and a heft that belies the smoothness of their early hits. “The Juicer” is a dead ringer for pre-Gillan Deep Purple with its chunky, organ-fuelled grooving and “Need A Lot Of Lovin'” becomes a tub-thumper with snarling riffs. Even bubblegum single “Chop Chop” toughens up its groove and sharpens its riffs here. There are also several covers that show off classy influences that they had thoroughly digested into their attack: there’s a smartly-arranged medley of ’60s Who songs, a boogie-style rendition of the Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” and a medley of “Lucille” and “Great Balls Of Fire” that tops off its proto-metal attack with those killer Sweet harmonies. There’s some dodgy sound quality in the middle tracks but otherwise this is an engaging listen for fans.
THE LOST SINGLES (2017): This is the box’s catch-all disc, collecting all the 1971-1977 b-sides and singles that didn’t appear on the albums (the 1978 b-sides for Level Headed appear as bonus tracks on that disc in the set). However, it incorporates an interesting twist in how the track list is programmed, starting in 1977 with “Stairway To The Stars” and working its way in reverse to the 1971 b-side “You’re Not Wrong For Loving Me.” This tactic works well because the b-sides, all of which were composed and performed with care, share a ‘riffs plus hooks’ approach that gives the disc consistency: “A Distinct Lack Of Ancient” is a cool, groove-driven instrumental with a prog-tinged break, “Burn On The Flame” and “Rock ‘N Roll Disgrace” are catchy enough that they could’ve been A-sides and “Miss Demeanor” gives Queen a run for the money with its helium-harmony chorus. Add in peerless non-album singles like “The Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On The Run” and you’ve got a compulsively listenable disc where the programming gives familiar tunes a new slant.