Tuesday, October 15, 2013

No There There: The Sweet: "The Ballroom Blitz"

There is a point to all the recent questions of direction and what on earth is going on that have appeared here; amid all the impending eerie conditions, all hell is breaking loose and yes, even - especially even - in Glam can this be felt.  It's not quite what the song does (it rocks, obviously, with one of the best introductions ever, the beat solid and danceable, Brian Connolly asking everyone if they are ready - of course they are) as how it does it that makes this a Friendly Forebear of a single, a song that is about a Sweet gig which turned chaotic (in Kilmarnock, where they were bottled off the stage), what with deadly winking girls, men with red eyes (so much of this song is about seeing and looking) - the whole thing is a passionate hoedown of a song, pausing and jumping and swinging... 

That it has two sides isn't something I realized until now; the loud, camp "OOHHH YEAAAHHH" exclamations and "she thinks SHE's the passionate one" side, and the quieter one.  The loud side is the addictive one, the vamping up of basic rock 'n' roll, but the quiet side has been hard for me to hear - or I should say, understand, until now*.  This is a rave up, sure, but what to make of lines like "It's been getting so hard living with the things you do to me" or "Reaching out for something - touching nothing's all I ever do"?  Or the last Connolly near-mumbled line, "I softly call you over - when you appear there's nothing left of you." With these lyrics The Sweet (or rather Chinn/Chapman) are jumping right into the nothingness, only to find that there's no safety net and that something - more scarily, someone - is disappearing.  The Sweet know darn well The Fog is coming, they've reached out to find...nothing and something is breaking down, beyond just a bad show in Scotland.  There is no gloom or terror in this song; just an acknowledgement that things are getting bad - you have to listen close to hear how bad, though.   The Glam Slam era isn't quite over yet, but there is a sense here that while The Sweet are trying their best to make the best of a bad situation, that bad situation is going to remain and stagnate, the whoo-hoo good times becoming harder to find. 

And how important is this, that it is about the audience?  The relationship of those onstage and those in the audience is always a fraught one, at the best of times - and in the combative 70s the audience, I sense, wants a different relationship to those onstage.  The gig this song talks about sounds like a punk one, where there is little sense of division between the band and the audience - only this isn't the punk era, and that ethos of doing something just to break the tedium/cause a scene is not that common.  (Or was it?  I have no idea if this kind of thing was regular back then, to be distilled into the punk attitude, which was yet to happen.)  The Sweet get the last word here, which makes up for their misery, but in the future one of the key songs out of punk will be about being in an audience and not really knowing why you are there, and sensing that in the greater scheme of things, there's no "roots rock rebellion" happening anywhere - that The Clash are reaching for that rebellion and also grasping nothing shows that The Sweet, though not as political, obviously, are describing something that is happening and will continue throughout The Fog - a strong sense that what is really important isn't heard or seen, that entertainment in and of itself is going to have to change.  And it's not going to happen in the wink of an eye....

Next up: Trick or Treat?

*The mumbling coming from Elvis, as Connolly sings these lines in a kind of half-suggestive way, though once you find out what he's saying, you've got to wonder about what he's suggesting.


1 comment:

Keith Shackleton said...

There was a sense of unity between glam band and audience.. at least I can offer one example as I've just been scribbling about Mott the Hoople. I was 13 when Ballroom Blitz popped up, 14 when Roll Away The Stone was released.

Here's Ian Hunter, from this article: "We didn't really play to 'em," he says. "Everybody just piled in together, you know? And they will do this time. It's very much a communal thing, Mott: people feel they're part of it. If we're playing shit at Hammersmith, they won't criticise us – they'll feel like they've played shit. Which is a good position to be in [laughs]. Bowie was like something from a UFO, but we weren't like that at all: we were working-class lads. So when we played, it was everyone together, rather than, 'I'm over here, and you stay where you are.' I knew those people. I was working with them one minute, and playing to them the next."

It was like that. Mick Jones was there and was a Mott fan, and more than a little of Hunter's attitude carried over into The Clash and others.