One Track Mind: Sweet, "Love Is Like Oxygen" (1978)

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Have you ever gone on for years knowing a group of seemingly unrelated radio hits without realizing they all came from the same act? That was a recent revelation I had with those British pop rockers Sweet. Sure, I always knew they were responsible for the garish, over-the-top rocker “Ballroom Blitz,” but had no idea all this time they also brought to the world such gems as “Little Willy,” “Fox On The Run,” and “Love Is Like Oxygen.”

If you weren’t listening to the radio back in the seventies, it’s probably useful to say here that Sweet enjoyed a decent amount of success during that time, and they actually had a lot more hit songs than what I listed above, but on the other hand they didn’t make a whole lot of rock history, either. Their gimmick always seemed to be lighter — sometimes cheekier — versions of their better-regarded contemporaries. On one song they might sound like Queen Lite, on another, The Who For Beginners and yet another, Mott The Hoople, Jr. Yet, this was a thriving little niche for them, as much of the public preferred (and still prefers) to drink their bourbon with water, rather than “neat.”

But this isn’t about bagging on Sweet or those who still like their music. This site celebrates forgotten heroes of bygone times just as much as we salute the well-known ones. Sweet loved ELO or Queen-type soaring vocals, flashy stage getup and hook-laden guitar riffs, which made them pioneers, in a sense. You might say they were the bridge between glam rock of the 1970s and the big hair bands of the 1980s.

So, even though I now know they were a bigger part of the soundtrack of my youth than I realized, they weren’t one of my favorites. But, I have to give them credit for permanently injecting some unforgettable tunes into the far corners of my mind. And there’s one of them I even liked back then and still do now. That’s the aforementioned “Love Is Like Oxygen.”

Let’s get this out of the way right off: I’m not going to defend those chorus lyrics that go “Love is like awk-se-jun/You get too much you get too high/Not enough and you’re gonna die/Love gets you high.” Oh no, that’s indefensibly goofy, but about par for course in 1978.

What I do like is that guitar riff, the ELO-like harmonies (even though they’re singing those insipid lines) and the interesting changes in mood and tempo. It’s a pseudo-prog rock song, but it’s catchy pseudo-prog rock.

It starts off with some soaring synth/guitar intro that the hair band Europe must have taken notes from when they recorded “The Final Countdown” (although they didn’t take very good notes). And then there’s Andy Scott’s crunchy guitar riff. The chorus has two sets of harmonies jousting with each other: the main one that hits the higher notes and a sly little counterpart harmony section hitting the lower notes lagging the main vocals. Then it’s lead singer Brian Connolly’s turn to shine as the song slams on the brakes for the dreamy verses that Connolly’s sweet (pun intended) pipes nail. Afterwards it’s back to another round of chorus/verse.

Those who had the Level Headed album that this song came from or tuned in to album rock stations got to listen to the full version of the song. That’s where the extended instrumental middle is heard, starting with a delicate acoustic guitar/acoustic piano section and followed by the same chord progression played with a harder rock feel. After a last go around of the refrain, a bass-popping funk passage takes out the album version of the song. The band threw everything but the kitchen sink and the extreme theatrics of their earlier hits into “Love Is Like Oxygen” and you know what, it didn’t suck.

“Love Is Like Oxygen” was Sweet’s last top ten hit and before the year was up, Connolly’s drinking problems forced him to leave the band. The remaining three principals soldiered on without causing much chart action until calling it a day in 1982, just before the pop-metal fad of that decade that they anticipated took off.

Sweet’s music still inspires nostalgia today, symbolic perhaps of a time when music that sounded a lot like the Monkees with better amplified guitars was fun listening. Hey, I can dig that. When they got all serious and mature as they mostly did for “Love Is Like Oxygen,” Sweet also brings back memories of a time when a pop song could be both ambitious and melodic…and still be popular.

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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