Rachel Sweet – Reluctant Rock Star turns 50!

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– If I never sit in another makeup chair, that will be fine with me. I was able to shut off the spotlight without a regret.”

That statement was given by Rachel Sweet to a reporter last year. OK, so at least we know that there IS a reason she’s not singing anymore, at least not on record. Of course it seems weird, wishing her a very happy 50th birthday, because in my mind she still is the sultry, young rock siren with that awesome voice! Rachel Sweet could sound like a young girl one moment, then she would open up and out came the most outstanding cascade of a voice. No one ever sounded even faintly like her, her voice is totally unique in rock history.  And it’s all the more tragic that she gave up her career, because the Sweet voice is a once-in-a-lifetime sensation, and the likes of which we will never hear again. 

Rachel Sweet made her last album 30 years ago, after having already spent close to 15 years in show business! Alas, she started out very young, had a fabulous recording career while in her late teens – and besides making a couple of movie soundtrack appearances, she’s not done any solo records since 1982. Rachel Sweet’s recording career limits itself to the 4 solo albums she made during 1978-1982, and some single releases. I will now give you a closer peek into those four fabulous albums, which are all in my collection and something that I treasure until the end of time!

Rachel always straddled the line between cute & cuddly and young & determined. High heels and a toy dog perfectly captures her image around 1981

Born July 28, 1962 in Akron, Ohio – Rachel was gifted with a strong singing voice from an early age. She won her first talent competition at the age of 3. She did commercials at the age of 6, then went on tour with Mickey Rooney. At age 12 she was the opening act for Bill Cosby in Las Vegas, and at age 13 she made her first singles, “Any port in a storm” (1976), “Paper airplane” (1977) and “The ballad of Mable Ruth Miller and John Wesley Pritchett” (1978). That’s quite a resume for a young girl!

Then, at age 15, she was signed to the Stiff label, and made her first album “Fool Around” (1978). Stiff was a British new wave label, and signed up a lot of exciting new talents at that time. Rachel was one of the more commercially accessible singers on Stiff, and could easily be regarded as “first lady” on the label, as Lene Lovich was maybe too strange and quirky to appeal to everybody, and later Tracy Ullman made a couple of albums for the label, basically consisting of 60’s cover songs.

“Fool Around”, her 1978 debut album

To say that “Fool Around” is a masterpiece is an understatement! Opening the show with her remake of Carla Thomas’ old hit “B.A.B.Y” she grabs your attention right away! To dare take on one of Miss Thomas’ classic hits takes some audacity, but Rachel gets away with it with honors! The combined impact of the cute little girl on the cover, and the full-bodied luscious vocals is really something. By this time of course, Rachel had already been in showbiz for 10 years, and her voice is confident, strong, spot on and she sounds like an experienced woman years older than her actual 15! Stand-out tracks from this album: “Who does Lisa like”, “Pin a medal on Mary”, “Stay Awhile”, “Suspended animation” and “Wildwood Saloon”. The album has been re-released on CD and is available as a digital download from the iTunes store. It’s a classic – and every musical home should have one!

“Protect The Innocent” (1980). I’m not too sure about Rachel’s type of protection, but the album is great!

The follow-up album for Stiff, “Protect The Innocent” came out 1980. Not falling into the sophomore-trap, this album is also very good and is proof positive that Rachel Sweet indeed deserves her place as one of the great rock goddesses of the 21st century. She pulls of a great cover of Elvis’ “Baby, let’s play house”, and other personal favourites of mine are “”Spellbound”, “New rose”, “Tonight” and “Lovers lane”. The cover photo took advantage of her Lolita-image, young & cute but wise beyond her years – maybe she would offer you protection, but even if it might be uncomfortable for you, she would no doubt enjoy it!

After this album, she switched labels, and thus getting into the line of female singers who all made 2 albums each for Stiff Records; Lene Lovich, Tracy Ullman, Kirsty Mac Coll.

“..and Then He Kissed Me” (1981) – one of the best albums ever made!!

Now signed to CBS, 1981 saw the release of her third album, “…and Then He Kissed Me”. A more commercial sound appeared on this record, including her Top 40 duet with Rex Smith “Everlasting Love”. Three songs were her own compositions, “Billy & The Gun”, “Streetheart” and “Party Girl”. She melted two of Phil Spector’s classic girl group hits together in a stunning medley, “Then he kissed me/Be my baby” (done originally by the Crystals and The Ronettes), and this was also made into a music video. This video was my first glimpse of Rachel Sweet, and I will never forget the impact of seeing her on TV doing this medley! Her voice, appearance and the fabulous arrangement of the medley sure made me sit up and take notice! I also rushed out to the record store the next day and bought this album!

A perfect example of the great voice of Rachel Sweet is evident in the opening track, “Shadows of the night”. Starting out slow, just backed by big piano chords, she starts out subdued, singing sweetly with a slight sob in her voice. The the drums, guitars and bass kick in, and she opens up vocally, raising her voice a full octave and smashes into the chorus of the song like a laser beam, ooh wow!! The album also shows that Rachel had learned the fine art of moderation; she’s not full throated at all times, but leaves no doubt that at any time she will raise her voice and flood your ears with big vocals. “Streetheart” is a great example, Rachel does the verses in a low voice, with overlaps – then goes for a full impact in the chorus. “Party Girl” is stylistically a look back at the 60’s girl group sound but with a rock edge to it. It’s the song you thought Phil Spector wrote, but no – it’s her own composition! Duetting with a big voiced guy like Rex Smith might be anyone’s challenge, but Rachel proves herself to be a complete equal in the hit duet, and it’s maybe today her best known recording.

“Blame It On Love” (1982). Sadly, this was Rachel Sweet’s last solo album….

The following year, “Blame It On Love” came out, and it’s the last original album she’s made (so far… – one can always hope!). Stuffed with rock and powerful pop songs, this is another classic! The title track is another one of her own compositions, and a great rock song! She had minor hits with “Voo Doo” and “American Girl”, which are great, and so is “Sticks & Stones”. With little promotion and the singer herself setting her mind on other things, this marked the end of her career….

Personally, I find it very sad that a singer of such talent voluntarily chooses to give up her career. But of course you have to respect their decision. At 20 years of age, she’d been a professional for 15 years, which in itself is historic! Rachel then did some acting; she does a nice role in the movie “Sing”, starring Patti LaBelle as a voice teacher! She also got back into college, and earned her degree in French and English literature in 1986. Two years after that, she contributed two songs to the soundtrack of John Waters cult movie “Cry Baby”, starring Johnny Depp – the last time ever the wonderful voice of Sweet was put on record!

1989 saw her starring in “The Sweet Life” on the Comedy Channel, and in 1992 she did a guest spot on “Seinfeld”, playing the part of George Costanza’s cousin. Then she made a new career for herself, as a writer and producer of comedies. Her credits includes “Dharma & Greg” and “Sports Night” among others. Most recently she’s working on a series called “Hot In Cleveland” starring Valerie Bertinelli.

Rachel Sweet is married to producer/writer Tom Palmer (“Mad Men”) and she has two kids who are now 12 and 9 years old. So, she’s still in show business, but in other fields than singing….

Rachel Sweet (left), the writer/producer at work on the set of “Hot In Cleveland” (2011)

No doubt a woman of many talents, my fondest memories of Rachel Sweet is still her music – and I’m left with four fabulous albums and a craving to have more….

On this day, her 50th birthday – I will play her records and fondly remember once more how that gorgeous voice has been giving me goosebumps for more than 30 years!

I am sure fans of her music all over the globe will join me in congratulating her on this day, and I hope she reads my humble tribute to her fantastic voice and great music. She will forever be unique!

Coming up next – A tribute to Rachel Sweet!

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Why a tribute to Rachel Sweet…? Several reasons for that actually; She was one of the top singers in the late 70´s and early 80´s. She started out very young, and also ended her singing career very young. The main reason for doing a tribute is, that besides being one of my favourite singers, she also turns 50 this week.

She made 4 fabulous albums between 1978 and 1982, and even though not yet 20 at the time, she gave up her recording career completely in 1982, making just a few soundtrack contributions in the last 30 years.

If ever a singer truly deserved the label “the little girl with the big voice”, Rachel is your candidate.

So, in a couple of days, I will give you an in-depth look at her career and those four fabulous albums… Check back in here in a short time!

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