Rachel Sweet; Stranger in the House (1978)

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Rachel Sweet; Stranger in the House (1978)

While no one actually used the word "jailbait" at the time, you can bet the idea passed through a few music writers' heads when the photos of Rachel Sweet came across their desks from Stiff Records. Actually, that's not entirely true: Stiff used the word about their young signing.

Sweet -- from Akron, Ohio -- was just 16 when she broke through in Britain. But in the States she had been singing for a decade (commercials, stage shows, opening for Bill Crosby in Las Vegas) when she was brought to Stiff by producer/songwriter Liam Sternberg. Nick Lowe apparently commented that her innocent appearance "made the Mona Lisa look rough".

But there was much more to her than a nail-biting ingenue.

Her debut album for Stiff, Fool Around (uh-hu), was admittedly patchy -- she courageously took on Dusty Springfield with Stay Awhile -- but the first single B-A-B-Y put her firmly in the Brenda Lee/Lulu pop field where she acquited herself well enough.

Her second single from the album Cuckoo Clock tried to place her as a rocker and when she toured with the Rumour as her backing band it wasn't entirely successful, although later she could belt out Ronettes pop.

In truth, Sweet was much more at home in country music where she seemed a natural. She'd fallen into at 11 when she realsised rock'n'roll wasn't going to take to a pubescent kid, but country people kinda liked that sort of thing. Like Tanya Tucker.

And so on that debut album the standout song is Elvis Costello's Stranger in the House where she sounds like a woman and wise beyond her years.

Sweet's follow-up album Protect the innocent nose-dived and after a few more records she got out of the game and turned to acting, graduated with a degree in French and English from Columbia University (she'd been doing correspondence course through Indiana whle with Stiff and scoring straight A's) and then carved out a profitable career as a writer and producer on television shows like Dharma and Greg.

Sit-com's gain was country music's loss on the evidence of this seldom spun song. 

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory use the RSS feed for daily updates, and check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.

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