Into 1973 with a hop, skip and a jump, and a question. Can a song that begins with an air-raid siren ever be anything less than brilliant?
Block Buster!, by The Sweet (their 1st and only #1)
5 weeks, from 21st January – 25th February 1973
1973 is going to be the year in which glam rock peaks. Scanning down the list of #1s for the coming year, ten of the seventeen chart-toppers are glam. And we kick it all off with a classic of the genre. Air-raid siren, riff, drums, Ah-Aaaaaaah-Ah-Aaaaaaaaah!
You better beware, You better take care, You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair… Night falls, and Buster is about. Who, or what, Buster is is never established, but he’s dangerous. And he’s coming for you… Nobody knows, Where Buster goes, He’ll steal your woman out from under your nose…
The lyrics are dumb, but at the same time, were they delivered less theatrically, they’d be terrifying. There’s every chance that Buster is a serial killer. Does anyone know the way, Did we hear someone say…? And then the best bit of a great record – the squealed: We just haven’t got a clue what to do! Does anyone know the way to block Buster? Probably not. Even the police can’t do anything.
As a title, ‘Block Buster!’ is great. It grabs the attention as much as the air-raid siren. ‘Here’s the blockbuster new record from Sweet, called ‘Block Buster!’ That sounds fun. But then there’s the play on the term in ‘blocking’ the eponymous villain of the piece, the one with the disc-eyes and the taste in dark-haired women. It’s a clever record, underneath all the silliness.
It’s also a great rocking record. The bluesy riff raised some eyebrows at the time as it sounded a lot like David Bowie’s very recent hit ‘The Jean Genie’. Sweet knew this, considered it, and put their record out anyway. ‘The Jean Genie’ had sat at #2, behind Little Jimmy Osmond of all people, meaning Bowie will have to wait a while longer for his first chart-topper. My only complaint about ‘Block Buster!’ is that the guitar, the drums, the whole production, could have a little more oomph to it. Imagine this tune, played on Marc Bolan’s crunchy Les Paul…
But I’m knit-picking. This is not a quiet record; it has everything thrown into the mix, including the kitchen sink. Screaming, reverbing chords, huge drums, and a frenzied, chanted finish: Buster, Buster, Block Buster! It’s dumb, it’s zany, it’s brilliant. It’s somehow the Sweet’s only #1 single. Their two other 1973 singles peaked at #2, and are even better than ‘Block Buster!’ – the near garage rock of ‘Hell Raiser’ and the brilliant glitter-stomp of ‘The Ballroom Blitz’.
Sweet, like most glam rock acts, saw their chart fortunes plummet around 1976. They reacted to this by going heavier and more experimental. In the eighties, different band members toured with their own versions of the band. Lead singer Brian Connolly struggled with alcohol addiction, and died in 1997. Drummer Mick Tucker died a few years later and bassist Steve Priest passed away just a few weeks ago. We’ll leave them here, on our journey through the years, but, if you’re only going to score one number one single, then you better make it a good one. Like this. 1973 is off to a cracking start!