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“Ballroom Blitz” – Rock’s One Perfect Single

After five decades of rock music – some forgotten vinyl 45s now gathering dust on the shelves of smalltown radio stations – there’s one unanswered question. What was the perfect single?

For years I’ve thought I’ve known the answer. I remember hearing it in my older brother’s Mustang, on the only cool FM station in the entire state, giving it a teenaged glow that’s never been matched.

“Ballroom Blitz.”

We were all lost in the 1970s, and Sweet typified the dilemma – pressured by the last gasps of mainstream pop, and determined to hit their fans with something harder. They burst out with a career-topping fireball in 1973, a song that launches with an extended drum riff of rock urgency. Or is that mock urgency? Over the rhythm, vocalist Brian Connolly casually checks in on the band with glam British coolness.

“You ready, Steve?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Andy?”
“Yeah.”
“Mick?”
“Okay…”

After a full 20 seconds of build-up, Connolly lunges into the song with a histronic yowl
echoing those rock-friendly words — “Let’s go!” The drums never let up, now matched with an ominous bass and guitar pulsating with low-high oscillations. Electric slicing sounds rip through the Fender, a five-note cycle that taunts the bass with
a deliberate rhythm on the offbeat.

It’s a perfect song, with totems of excitement scattered throughout from the very first sound, a cymbal, signaling the fireworks to come. The lyrics scamper quickly through rhyming action words — “lightning,” “fighting” — but what else would you expect in a blitz? Each line adds a new element to the frenzy, like “the man at the back said everyone attack,” all explaining the strange and vaguely sexual mood created by “living with the things you do to me.” And since the entire song is describing a dream, it doesn’t have to make sense.

The near-meaninglessness of “Ballroom Blitz” is its strength, jettisoning relevancy as a boomer relic. (Or, as David Bowie later wrote for glam band Mott the Hoople, “We never got it off on that revolution stuff… too many snags.”) I like to think it’s the same thrill of raw rock passion that led Britain’s most famous deejay, John Peel, to declare that his lifetime favorite song was “Teenage Kicks.” And no less a music philosopher than Homer Simpson once laid out some truth. “Everyone knows rock n’ roll attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact.”

“Ballroom Blitz” was eventually covered by the Damned, by Blue Oyster Cult, and the Misfits before Krokus got around to their own charmless re-make. Even the Beastie Boys couldn’t resist sampling the supreme irony in the line that “She thinks she’s the passionate one,” for the song “Hey Ladies” on their breakthrough album Paul’s Boutique.

Thirty years later it’s still turning up on movie soundtracks like Bordello of Blood, Wayne’s World, and even Daddy Day Care.

But that’s what happens when you’ve created the perfect single.

About Lou Cabron

  • ley

    AC/DC did not cover ballroom blitz .

  • http://www.10zenmonkeys.com Lou Cabron

    It turns up on the web a lot as an AC/DC song — mainly because people thing the two bands sound alike. Making things even more confusing, Sweet even had a song called AC/DC (“She’s got some other women as well as me.”)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Dude, ‘You’(in general)have got to be on glue to think Sweet sounds anything like AC/DC. Plus, Desolation Boulevard was a far better album than that poor attempt at picking up Bon Scott’s ashes (Back in Black)

    Honestly,I would say that Sweet sounded more like Queen and were probably the only band to come close to recreating their sound with the song “Love is like Oxygen”.

  • http://bon-scott.org john q

    Nah, Highway To Hell is the perfect rock song so it has to be the perfect single by definition.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Sweet were nothing but a bit of pop rock fluff that were never taken seriously by any genuine rock fan. AC/DC, on the other hand, were taken seriously but in fact were really little better than Sweet.

    If you want to talk about mainstream rock, surely nobody can even get close to matching the late 60s/early 70s Rolling Stones?

  • goldengreat

    I would think I have a broad musical taste. I did even play in bands, and still compose. I have avoided collecting Rolling Stones and U2 though, as I feel most of their music to be like “fillers”. Just my opinion …

    :-)

  • Roarie

    OK, look. Sweet does not sound like AC/DC. That’s obvious to anyone with ears. The guy that said people think the two bands sound the same is wrong. The reason the song comes up as by AC/DC is because people think the cover by The Damned is by AC/DC. It’s not the version by Sweet that they think is AC/DC, it’s the version by the Damned, which while still incorrect, if you listen to it it’s at least a more understandable mistake than thinking the Sweet version is AC/DC.

    And this is definitely not the perfect single but let’s not even go there.

  • Jazzman

    Could be because Krokus toured with AC/DC, and did a cover of ballroom blitz.

    Interesting that even on Limewire, there are ballroom blitz covers that come up as AC/DC, although they seem to be by Surf Punks. Great drumming.

    I don’t think it makes sense to talk about the perfect single. It all adds to what came before. Be a sad day if we ever found the perfect single. I’d have to start arguing that there’s been nothing new since Chuck Berry.

  • Mr.Happy

    Sweet rocks!!!!!!

  • Mr.Happy

    But Queen is the altime best band…no one can top them!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.helium.com/items/881207-sweet-represents-great-question Moe Zilla

    I’ve always loved Sweet. The band’s whole history was striving for that perfect rock sound.

    Here’s an article I wrote about Sweet.

  • alea

    awesome the best song everv i love u andy!!!!!

  • alex knezvic

    i love the song i listn to it every day even nick tremaglio isn’t cooler than this song i love u andy!!!

  • DIGOUT

    It was might commonly that
    AC/DC done a video
    for this as well. check it out.

  • hey…

    who has done the latest cover of this song?