331. Suzi Quatro – Can the Can (1973)

Finally, a woman! The early-70s weren’t a great time for female-fronted number 1s. Most were either relegated to providing sweet harmonies in male-dominated groups or performing sickly solo ballads. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro proved women could be rock stars too.

Susan Kay Quatro, born 3 June 1950, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her family name was actually ‘Quattrocchi’ (four eyes) but was shortened by immigration authorities (her paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant). Quatro’s father Art was a semi-professional musician inbetween his job at General Motors. Her mother, Helen, was Hungarian. She was born into a large family, with foster children also thrown into the mix. One of Quatro’s sisters, Arlene, is the mother of Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Finn, and another sister, Patti, later joined one of the first all-female rock bands in the US, Fanny.

Quatro’s eureka moment for her love of music came when, aged six, she saw Elvis Presley performing on TV. She later said she had no direct female role models in music, although she did admire Billie Holiday and thought Mary Weiss of the pop group The Shangri-Las looked hot in tight trousers.

Quatro had formal training in playing classical piano and percussion, and she was still under 10-years-old when she joined her father’s jazz band, The Art Quatro Trio. She went on to teach herself the guitar and bass.

In 1964, inspired by The Beatles, Patti formed an all-female garage rock group called The Pleasure Seekers. She became Patti Pleasure, and Suzi joined too, as Suzi Soul. Arlene was later part of the group, and another sister, Nancy. Bedecked in miniskirts and wigs, they initially attracted attention purely on their looks, but people stayed for the music. By 1969 they had changed their name to Cradle.

The following year, Cradle were performing to an audience that included Mickie Most, who had been invited to attend by Suzi’s brother Michael, who was their manager. Most had founded RAK Records in 1969 and was on the lookout for acts to sign, particularly a strong woman who could fill the void left by Janis Joplin’s death. She left Cradle and moved to London in 1971.

Her debut single, Rolling Stone, was co-written by Quatro with future Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown, and Phil Dennys. It failed to chart anywhere apart from Portugal, where it went to number 1. Most decided that to achieve UK success, Quatro needed the help of one of the hottest songwriting teams in the country – Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. They became the perfect match, with Chinnichap’s marriage of bubblegum pop and glam rock fitting Quatro to a tee. She also got herself a proper backing band at this time – Len Tuckey on guitar, Alastair MacKenzie on keyboards and Dave Neal on drums. They all wore dark vests and had matching long dark hair, looking like grumpy labourers next to Quatro, squeezed into a leather catsuit and rightly getting all the attention.

Can the Can is a fiery, rocking pop stomp set to a pounding beat. Quatro shrieks the words so high you can barely understand the verses, but that’s fine, because this song is a showcase for Quatro’s energy and personality, and the lyrics don’t stand up to much scrutiny anyway.

It makes slightly more sense when you learn that Chinn once stated the chorus and song title refers to the impossible. That is, you can’t put a can inside another can if they’re the same size, just as you can’t make a man commit if he has no intention of doing so. Hmm, it sort of works. But it never pays to pay much attention to Chinnichap lyrics, just enjoy the sound. Can the Can does slightly outstay its welcome though, and would have been more effective had it ended before becoming too repetitive.

Nonetheless, Quatro was established as a star in the UK, if not her own country (it took her Happy Days role to make it in the US), Chinnichap notched up their second number 1 of 1973, and there was a female rock star for young girls to aspire to be, at last.

Written & produced by: Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn

Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 June)

Deaths:

Actor Roger Delgado – 18 June

325. The Sweet – Block Buster ! (1973)

We’re now in 1973, one of the peak years for glam rock, and one of the biggest bands of the era were London quartet The Sweet, who combined a nascent metal sound with the sugary pop stylings of hitmakers Chapman and Chinn. After several dire, strange number 1s in the latter half of 1972, they get the year off to a brilliant start with their classic, Block Buster !.

The Sweet’s origins lie in 60s London soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen. Originally formed as Unit 4 in 1962, the line-up changed several times, and included from 1964 to 1965, future Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan. Around the time Gillan joined, Mick Tucker from Ruislip became their drummer. In 1966, a Scotsman named Brian Connolly became their singer.

By January 1968 the band split, and Connolly and Tucker opted to form a new group. Hiring Steve Priest, a bass player from Hayes, Middlesex (who had previously worked with Joe Meek) and former Wainwright’s Gentlemen guitarist Frank Torpey, they called themselves The Sweetshop. They gained a following on the pub circuit and soon signed to Fontana Records, but upon hearing there was another band with the same name, they shortened theirs to The Sweet. Debut single Slow Motion was a failure, Fontana quickly washed their hands of the band, and so did Torpey. Mick Stewart, who had worked with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, took his place in 1969.

The Sweet signed with EMI’s Parlophone and released three further singles, which also failed, so Stewart left. Around this time the remaining trio were put in touch with songwriting duo Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. Australian Chapman was working as a waiter when he first met struggling songwriter Chinn in 1970. They were looking for an outlet for bubblegum pop songs they’d worked on, and with session musicians performing, The Sweet recorded vocals for a track called Funny Funny. They auditioned for a new guitarist, hiring Welsh-born Andy Scott, who had worked with The Scaffold. The classic line-up had arrived, and they signed with Chapman and Chinn to RCA Records.

Funny Funny became a hit, climbing to number 13 in 1971, quickly followed by Co-Co, which did even better, stalling at number two behind Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep that July. An LP was quickly cobbled together – the unimaginatively titled Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be, released that November.

1972 saw further hits for The Sweet, including the seedy but infectious Little Willy and follow-up Wig-Wam Bam, which was still a staple in family holiday resorts in the early- to-mid 80s. The latter was also the first single to feature the band playing their own actual instruments, and it’s no coincidence the sound was a little heavier as a result. With both these songs reaching number four, the top spot was within reach.

With those sirens blaring, backing vocals wailing and an incredibly catchy Bo Diddley-style riff, Block Buster ! remains one of the great glam number 1s. Of course, no coverage of this song would be complete without mentioning the similarity to David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, in the charts at the same time and just missing out on the 1972 Christmas number 1 spot. Both acts always maintained that this was nothing more than an incredible coincidence. Chinn later recalled meeting Bowie, who stared at him deadpan and called him a cunt, before bursting into laughter and embracing him.

So, which is best? It’s incredibly close to call. The Jean Genie‘s surreal lyrics are smarter and edgier – Block Buster !‘s wordplay revolves around the nefarious sex pest Buster, who, well, needs to be blocked, because he’ll ‘come from behind’ and steal your woman out from under your nose’, especially if she has long dark hair. Over the years, the wordplay has been largely forgotten and it’s more commonly known as Blockbuster now, and used on countless TV shows, adverts, films etc to put across, well, blockbusters!

Where Block Buster ! does win out though is in it’s polished production with effects to keep you interested, and special mention must go to the late Steve Priest, the recently deceased bassist, responsible for the camp interjection ‘We just haven’t got a clue what to do!’. I’ll never tire of that, in particular the footage of the band on the Christmas special of Top of the Pops, in which Priest is dressed as a Nazi, who looks to have his arse pinched by Scott. This caused many complaints at the time and would probably be even less popular now. I’m going to go with a preference for The Jean Genie though, just because, David Bowie.

The Sweet were one of the hottest acts of that year and into 1974, with Hell Raiser, The Ballroom Blitz and Teenage Rampage all reaching number two. The second of those in particular is another classic, and almost as good as their sole chart-topper.

By the time of Teenage Rampage, the band were calling themselves simply, Sweet. Change was in the air, as despite all they had done for them, the group were tiring of Chapman and Chinn’s control. They ditched the outlandish outfits and decided to record an album (mostly) without them, appropriately titled Sweet Fanny Adams, which showcased a harder sound. During the sessions, Connolly injured his throat in a fight, and apparently his voice was never the same again.

Next LP, Desolation Boulevard, followed six months later, and Sweet proved they could cope fine on their own with self-penned hit single Fox on the Run. They couldn’t maintain the success though, and despite moving on from glam, which was dying out by the mid-70s, their career suffered too, and The Lies In Your Eyes, the first single from self-produced 1976 album Give Us a Wink was their last chart action for two years.

By the time Sweet made their comeback, they had switched to Polydor and began experimenting with classical and the new disco style. Sounds potentially awful, yet Love Is Like Oxygen, released in January 1978, is actually pretty good. It would be their last hit. Connolly’s drinking was getting out of hand, and he became increasingly estranged from the rest of the band during support slots for Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band and Alice Cooper. By the time 1979 album Cut Above the Rest was released in 1979, he had quit.

A three-piece Sweet (get it?) soldiered on, with Priest taking the lion’s share of vocal duties. They made one last album, Identity Crisis, but it didn’t even get a UK release until 1982, the year after they had split.

The former bandmates spent much of the 80s forming their own new versions of Sweet and touring the nostalgia circuit. Connolly sparked fears for his health whenever he appeared publicly, and in 1997 he died of liver failure and repeated heart attacks, aged only 51. Mick Tucker died in 2002 of leukaemia, aged 54. Priest passed away in June 2020, aged 72, leaving only Scott from the classic line-up, who still tours with Andy Scott’s Sweet.

With their outrageous dress sense, raucous riffs and high camp, The Sweet certainly helped to liven up the early-70s, and it’s great to have had a classic to review once more. Chinnichap’ were to be responsible for plenty more chart-toppers.

Written by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Producer: Phil Wainman

Weeks at number 1: 5 (27 January-2 March)

Births:

TV presenter Kate Thornton – 7 February
Presenter Sonia Deol – 8 February
Singer Peter Andre – 27 February

Deaths:

Cricketer Francis Romney – 28 January
Cricketer Harold Gibbons – 16 February
Novelist Elizabeth Bowen – 22 February

Meanwhile…

27 February: Civil servants and rail workers went on strike.

1 March: Prog-rockers Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon, which went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time.