Monday, 1 April 2013

Too High

Pop music is a lot of fun when it is done well, bringing a smile to the face, a warmth to the cockles, a spring to the step or a lump to the throat depending on the tone. But pop music is very rarely profound: the confines of the two to four minute radio friendly hit template generally preclude philosophical debate and, as a result, very few pop records have actively contributed to a wider understanding of the nature of existence: it’s just not something they do.

There are always exceptions to any rule, however, and the exception can often be from an unlikely source. The Sweet had charged up and down the charts in the early seventies in a platform heeled frenzy of alliteration and sexual innuendo, all set to a thumping glam rock beat. Songs like ‘Little Willy’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’ did very little to push forward man’s knowledge of himself and his surroundings, and although classic tracks like ‘Teenage Rampage’ and ‘Blockbuster’ tapped into the prevailing climate of radical politics and violent civil uprising, the focus was on action rather than ideology. After their peak period of activity, however, when hits were harder to come by and the band were older, wiser and bearded, they wrote and recorded ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ (1978), one of my favourite songs, and one of the deepest pop records ever made.

‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ is a song that sums up thousands of years of accumulated knowledge about human emotion in three simple but piquant lines:

‘Love is like oxygen: you get too much you get too high;
not enough and you’re gonna die’

…and sets this lyrical gold to a powerful mix of crunching rock guitar, mutant disco and sweeping analogue synthesisers to create a musical track of highs, lows and plateaus that perfectly complement this important message. I must admit to be slightly less enthused about the verses, which are a little slow and seem permanently on the verge of pan pipes, but the chorus is magnificent and scientifically accurate (another rarity in pop) and I am not ashamed to admit that I have used electrickery to loop it and often listen to it for 10-15 minutes at a time, creating a motorik rock groove that is almost terrifying in its relentless truth.

The Ivor Novello award nominated record was The Sweet’s last Top Ten hit, and they split shortly afterwards. Sadly, singer Brian Connolly died in 1997 in an abject state, a chronic alcoholic wrecked by numerous heart attacks; their excellent drummer Mick Tucker passed away in 2002. It’s my nature to end on the downbeat. Sorry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some heavy pondering to do. Where did I put that Sweet loop?

Oh, and given the date, no, this is not a piss take, just a slightly gilded lily. 

1 comment:

  1. Well.
    I saw them in a god forsaken student union in 1988, reheating glam for undergraduates assured in their discovery of irony (sic) and love of wonder stuff (dicks).
    I asked them to play this.
    They told me to "fuck off".
    Good taste...