Album: The Sweet
. . .
Even though it was half-century ago, I still remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Little Willy.” It was at my friend Keith’s house, as he had the 45. It was right around the time I turned 10 years old, and while I don’t specifically remember playing it over and over and over and over, I have to assume that he did.
My parents had albums — though the most contemporary record they owned was Peter Paul & Mary’s Ten Years Together — but I don’t think they had 45s, and so the fact that I could own a song and play it whenever I wanted to instead of waiting for the radio to play it seemed like a revelation. And soon, I was buying my own singles — Elton John’s “Daniel,” War’s “Cisco Kid,” Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” etc — to listen to over and over again.
Though, not “Little Willy,” for some reason, which doesn’t mean that it didn’t have a lot of elements I love in a pop song to this day. After all, it starts of with a cool guitar riff, augmented by that “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh” guitar lick that was mandated in the early 1970s, and lyrics about somebody who was a rebel. Or something.
North side, east side
Little Willy, Willy wears the crown, he’s the king around town
Willy drives them silly with his star shoe shimmy shuffle down
And while at the time I didn’t notice the handclaps (!) on every single beat, I did notice the alliteration of “star shoe shimmy shuffle down,” even I didn’t know what it was. Which was nothing, of course. And naturally, I thought it was snickeringly funny that this supposed badass was called “Little Willy,” which didn’t even come close to reclaiming a schoolyard taunt.
Way past one, and feeling alright
‘Cause with little Willy round they can last all night
Hey down, stay down, stay down down
I love the dramatic drum build into the chorus, which already got stuck in your head the second your read the title of this post. You’re welcome.
‘Cause little Willy, Willy won’t go home
But you can’t push Willy ’round
Willy won’t go, try tellin’ everybody but, oh no
Little Willy, Willy won’t go home
And, of course the genius of putting a stop-time cowbell-driven break between the the last “Little Willy, Willy” and “Won’t go home.” At the time, of course, I had no idea that “Little Willy” was written for The Sweet by the Chinn-Chapman songwriting and production team — which we’ll talk about more in the next couple of days — I just loved how that chorus kept getting more and more intense.
And after a late bridge where they fucked around with the wordplay of “Willy won’t, Willy won’t, Willy won’t” a few hundred times, one last chorus, with a modulation just because why not use all of the tricks in a single song?
And all those tricks worked: a worldwide smash, “Little Willy” was the fourth top 20 single for The Sweet in their native U.K., making it to #4, and starting a run there where they had seven top ten hits in a row while only one of their albums ever charted, and here in the U.S., it made it to number #3, the first of four top ten singles, a couple of more which will show up here in the next few days, as we sort through the hash that was their discography.
“Little Willy” Performed live-adjacent on Top of the Pops, 1972
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