Slade was a uniquely British phenomenon, charting #1 hit after #1 hit in the U.K. from 1971 to 1973 while scarcely making a dent in the U.S. charts (they never cracked the U.S. top 40 in their prime). It’s Slade is a BBC documentary from 1999 that lovingly documents the phenomenal success of the biggest rock stars Wolverhampton ever produced.
The documentary has some slight resemblance to This Is Spinal Tap, particularly the early b/w Thamesmen-ish TV footage of short-haired Dave Hill and Noddy Holder giving McCartney’s “Martha My Dear” their finest effort—and later on, This Is Spinal Tap is referenced in the doc itself in connection with some early Australian dates Slade undertook.
It starts around late October every year—the loop of Christmas songs played out over sound systems and tannoy in department stores and shopping malls across the UK. Songs by one-hit-wonders and novelty acts that somehow found a place in the nation’s heart rub along nicely along with festive number ones by artists like David Bowie, Bing Crosby, The Waitresses, Wham and Wizzard.
These Christmas compilations are a good little earner for the songwriters’ pension fund. The only downside being that some of these artists are now best known for their Christmas number one rather than the quality of their back catalog. It’s a fate that could almost have happened to Slade whose festive stormer “Merry Xmas Everybody” is now “credited” with starting the seasonal race for the Christmas number one.
But Slade aren’t just for Christmas—they’re for all year round.
Slade were Noddy Holder (guitar, lead vocals), Jimmy Lea (bass, violin), Don Powell (drums) and Dave Hill (lead guitar). They were according to Paul McCartney the heir apparent (along with T.Rex) to The Beatles and The Stones. From 1970-1975 Slade had seventeen top twenty singles, six number ones—three of which went straight to the top of the charts—and sold over six-and-a-half million records in the UK alone—a feat not achieved since the days of the Fab Four.
I was first introduced to Slade by my older brother. As kids we shared a bedroom which meant anything one of us played on the record player both of us had to hear. This is how I was introduced to a lot of music I might never have tuned into—it was a shared experience unlike the i-pod users today who dwell in their own little jukebox. Slade may not have started off as one of my favorite bands—but I sure as hell grew to like them and appreciate why they were brilliant and in their own way, very very revolutionary.
The album that started it all off was Slade Alive—one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. A garish red gatefold LP that everyone seemed to own. One listen to that whole album explains why Slade were such an influential and revolutionary band—go on just stream the sonic armageddon at the climax of last track side two “Born to be Wild”—it’s eight minutes and twelve seconds of Slade delivering the future of rock ‘n’ roll music.
More from Slade, plus concert footage in East Germany from 1977, after the jump…
Arrows and the original version of the “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” single, 1975
I’m quite sure that everyone reading this has heard the anthemic “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” that was popularized by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts in 1981. But if you don’t know the origins of the song, then you’ve probably never heard of the Arrows, a rock trio comprised of musicians from both America and the UK—vocalist and Bronx native, Alan Merrill (the former vocalist for the cult glam band Vodka Collins), guitarist Jake Hooker (who went on to manage acts like The Knack and Edgar Winter), and UK drummer Paul Varley. Otherwise known as the band that actually wrote and recorded “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” back in 1975.
A shot of Arrows performing on their TV show
As the folklore goes, Jett was on tour with The Runaways in the UK when she caught Arrows (who formed in 1974) performing the song on their short-lived television show Arrows. Produced by well-known television personality, actress and producer, Muriel Young (who was also behind Marc Bolan’s show, Marc), the 30-minute show which was broadcast between 1976 and 1977, and featured the band performing their own songs—many prodcued by the great pop impressario Mickie Most—as well as “star guest” segments from acts like Slade, and a short-haired version of Marc Bolan who lip-synced in front a live studio audience.
As glammy and cool as The Arrows were (and they really were), they never enjoyed the same success with the single that Jett’s version of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” did, and the band broke up after the the last run of their eponymously titled show, sometime in 1978. Jake Hooker married Lorna Luft, the daughter of Judy Garland and the half-sister of Liza Minnelli during his tenure with Arrows and they stayed together until 1993.
Swedish bubblegum trading card of Mick Jagger, 1967
Somewhere in a box in my attic I still have a collection of Topps trading cards that I used to collect (the 80s reboot of Creature Feature and the Charlie’s Angels packs were always my favorites). You’d chuck the nasty gum and go straight away to see if you got anything new, and kept your duplicates in a pile to trade. Those were good times.
As I’m often nostalgic for said good times, I was pretty excited when I came across these vintage bubblegum trading cards from, of all places, Sweden. What’s really cool about these cards is that they feature a few sweet images of musical idols from Sweden like Dutch glam-rockers Tears and of course, ABBA. If you’re into collecting these kinds of vintage artifacts (and I know many of you are), they are easily had via eBay. Tons of images follow.
Early 70s London glam rocker, Lady Teresa Anna Von Arletowicz (aka “Bobbie McGee” and “Gladys Glitter”)
Slade in Flame (a/k/a Flame) is a lot of fun—duh, it’s got Slade playing in it—but it’s also the only rock movie I know of that shows how desperately sad and awful show business can be. Set in the ‘60s, the movie starts out in the dingy, Broadway Danny Rose world of small-time entertainers: the cramped offices of talent agents who book jugglers and rock bands alike into bingo halls, wedding tents and bars. From there, Slade’s alter egos, Flame, climb to the top, but I wouldn’t say things get better for them.
Andrew Birkin (brother of Jane) based his screenplay on road stories he heard from Slade and their manager and producer Chas Chandler, who had a story or two to tell, having played bass in the Animals and managed Jimi Hendrix. Slade wanted Birkin and director Richard Loncraine to put the harsh reality of the rock biz onscreen, as Noddy Holder explained in a 2002 interview about the movie (embedded below):
When we read [the treatment], we liked the story, the basic idea of the story, but it wasn’t true to life of what a band’s all about. Unless you’ve been in a band, [screenwriters] tend to write about the myth of rock ‘n’ roll, not the reality of rock ‘n’ roll, and we wanted to show what rock ‘n’ roll was really like behind the scenes, not what the fantasy out front is, y’know, that everybody sees, the glitz and glamour and the parties and all that—we wanted to show the other side of the business.
Though the soundtrack and book were enormously successful in the UK, drummer Don Powell’s book, Look Wot I Dun, reports that Slade didn’t see any profits from the movie itself. However, Slade in Flame has consistently appeared in best-of lists since its release, and critic Mark Kermode has called it “the Citizen Kane of British pop movies.”
Watch it here before it gets yanked!
After the jump, a nearly hour-long interview with Noddy Holder that was an extra on the 2004 DVD of ‘Slade in Flame’...
I love Slade so much. While a lot of the ‘70s glam movement’s extra-musical lexicon emphasized the trashed elegance of the beautiful, untouchable, rock-star-on-a-pedestal figure (basically the Ziggy Stardust template), Slade were unabashedly lumpen, ugly cusses embracing a joyous buttrock stomp and bare-knuckle production values. This wasn’t a rejection of glamor, but a livelier embrace of it, and a roadmap for how the proles could join in the fun, bringing it all down to Earth even as their guitarist dressed up like a spaceman.
Apart from their music and their abundant love of plaid, Slade were known for goofy misspellings in their song titles—“Mama Weer all Crazee Now,” “Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me,” “Look Wot You Dun,” and my favorite of their songs, “Gudbuy T’Jane.” After the band slipped into decline in the late ‘70s, they experienced a sudden, unexpected early ‘80s US breakout when the L.A. pop-metal band Quiet Riot had a huge out-of-nowhere hit with a totally half-assed cover of “Cum On Feel the Noize,” which sold well enough to make them the first heavy metal band to score a US #1 album. This in turn drove a renewed interest in Slade themselves, who by then had jettisoned their tartan-and-lamé glam trappings in favor of a broader hard-rock approach, which actually did goose their UK success. Their 1983 album Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome was re-released in the US under the title Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply, which, on the backs of the incredibly fun single “Run Runaway” and the obligatory power ballad “My Oh My,” became Slade’s first and only US top-40 LP.
So it’s astonishing that Slade’s single biggest song has never been especially well known in the US. In 1973, the band threw its mirrored top hat into the Christmas music ring—and why the hell not? If your holiday song connects, you’re looking at mailbox money every winter in perpetuity, it’s a career triumph and retirement fund stuffer second only to penning a sports arena anthem. The affable “Merry X’Mas Everybody” is a perennial holiday favorite in England, and has been in the UK top 40 more than ten times, but, bafflingly, was never released as a single in the US, even at the band’s height. It can be found on Slade’s 1985 holiday cash-in Crackers and the 2011 4-disc Slade Box, an anthology covering the band’s beginnings as a ‘60s skinhead outfit to the end of its original lineup in the early ‘90s.
This video is cobbled together from several of the surely zillions of times the band mimed the song on British TV. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and to everyone else, enjoy the long weekend!
Beat Club was the German TV show dedicated to rock performance that later became Musikladen (Music Store), a show we’ve featured here at DM many times. I don’t know exactly what kind of acid they put into the performers’ (or the producers’) drinks, but this compilation, known as “The Crazy World” (and originally released on a Laserdisc) is totally out-o-sight and generally kicks ass. Enhancing all the rockin’ are a lot of groove-tastic green screen effects. The visuals on this show were almost as mind-bending as the audio.
The Three Faces of Vliet
The music is tuneful and heavy, all around. I’d scarcely heard any Flo & Eddie, but they hang right in there with the rest of them. I was prepared not to dig the Slade number much, but it rocked. Everything on this compilation rocks, even the otherwise sprightly number by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
They really don’t show music like this on TV anymore, like ever. I’m not sure people can even make music like this any more, maybe the iPhones are slowly sucking it out of us. Hmmm. I’m open to hypotheses.
In June 1972, Slade showcased a selection of tracks from their recently released album Slade Alive! on Granada TV’s Set of Six. It was an unforgettable performance, and as important, in Pop Cultural terms, as David Bowie (with his arm draped over Mick Ronson’s shoulder) singing “Starman” on Top of the Pops or Marc Bolan belting out Jeepster.
Slade’s performance on Set of Six explained why Noddy Holder, Jimmy Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell were soon tipped, by the press and fans alike, to replace The Beatles and The Stones. Slade may have looked like Fagin’s Glam ragamuffins, but as a band they delivered powerful, pulsating, exciting, entertaining and timeless Rock and Roll.
01. “Hear Me Calling”
02. “Look What You Dun”
03. “Darling Be Home Soon”
04. “Coz I Luv You”
05. “Get Down And Get With It”
06. “Born To Be Wild”
Sadly, Slade got lost somewhere in the mid-seventies. A car crash, a tour of the U.S.A., and misunderstood movie Flame, saw the band lose much of their following to Punk, Queen, Heavy Metal and Disco. A shame, as Slade were a far greater band than the critics and even the fans allowed them to be. Here, for no other reason than it is a fan-bloody-tastic cover, is Slade’s version of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Wild” - the final track from the classic Slade Alive! album - as performed live on Pop Shop from 1971.
Slade never looked cool, but that wasn’t the point. They were four young lads out for a good time, and they wanted you to have a good time too. You can hear it on their classic album Slade Alive, when lead singer, Noddy Holder encourages everyone to get up, get ripping and really let themselves go. And during the 1970s, that’s just what their fans did.
Slade were Noddy Holder, Jimmy lea, Don Powell and the sequined Dave (“You write ‘em I’ll sell ‘em”) Hill. Between 1970 and 1975, they sold over 6.5 million records in the UK alone, chalking up 6 number ones, 3 of which went straight to the top of the charts - a feat not achieved since The Beatles - and this at a time of 3-day weeks, power cuts and food shortages.
For their energy, dynamism and 4-chord songs, Slade were more of an influence on Punk than Iggy and The Stooges. Just listen to the opening riff for “Cum on Feel the Noize”, it sounds like the start of a Sex Pistols track. Or try “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. As latter-day Mod-Father and frontman for The Jam, Paul Weller noted:
“The whole punk rock thing really happened because of bands such as Slade and the like; rock bands that wouldn’t back off.”
Then there’s Noddy Holder, who may have looked like a grown-up Artful Dodger, but had a brilliant and unmistakable voice, which inspired Joey Ramone:
“I spent most of the early 70s listening to Slade Alive thinking to myself, ‘Wow - this is what I want to do. I want to make that kind of intensity for myself.’ A couple of years later I found myself at CBGB’s doing my best Noddy Holder.”
The tags were all there: Slade’s first single was produced by Kim Fowley; their manager, was ex-Animal, Chas Chandler, who had managed Jimi Hendrix; and their writing partnership of Holder and Lea was compared to the greats who’d gone before, one of which, Paul McCartney saw the future of pop divided between Slade and T.Rex, just like The Beatles and The Stones.
It should have been, but in 1973, drummer Don Powell was seriously injured in a car crash that tragically killed his girlfriend. Slade nearly split. Then, there was their film Flame, not a mop-top romp, but a long-hard look at the music business - it alienated fans though is now considered the “Citizen Kane of rock musicals”. Then, in a bid to conquer America, they spent 2 years Stateside, when Slade returned to the UK, Punk had taken over, and they were “old farts”, even though the Pistols’ Steve Jones thought that:
“Slade never compromised. We always had the feeling that they were on our side. I don’t know but I think we were right.”
It’s Slade is a well-deserved and refreshing reassessment of one Britain’s greatly under-rated bands, with excellent archive and contributions from Slade, Ozzy Osbourne, Toyah Wilcox and Noel Gallagher.
The rest of ‘It’s Slade’, plus bonus clips, after the jump…