Slade

TrackAlbum
Pity The MotherBeginnings
See Us HerePlay It Loud
Coz I Luv YouPolydor single 2058 155
How D’'You RideSlayed?
Cum On Feel The NoizePolydor single 2058 339
Do We Still Do ItOld New Borrowed and Blue
How Does It FeelSlade In Flame
Do The DirtyNobody’'s Fools
Dead Men Tell No TalesWhatever Happened To Slade
Wheels Ain'’t Coming DownWe'’ll Bring the House Down

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Take a skinhead rock band from Wolverhampton whose lead singer has a unique voice and who use a violin. Persuade them to abbreviate the name of the band, grow their hair and change their clothes and turn them into the biggest glam rock band of the early 1970s. And Ambrose Slade became Slade.

To begin at the beginning…

Steve Brett & The Mavericks (containing Noddy Holder) and The Vendors (with Don Powell and Dave Hill) were two Wolverhampton bands. The Vendors decided on a change of direction towards American blues and changed their name to The ‘N Betweens. In 1966, Powell and Hill recruited Holder from Steve Brett & The Mavericks and then Jim Lea who was a local bass player and multi-instrumentalist. In 1969, they were persuaded to change their name to Ambrose Slade by their then manager and, after meeting former Animal and future manager Chas Chandler, dropped the word Ambrose. The classic line-up from then until 1992 was Noddy Holder (vocals, guitar, bass) Dave Hill (guitar, vocals, bass), Jim Lea (bass, vocals, keyboards, violin, guitar) and Don Powell (drums, percussion). Holder and Lea were to become the lead songwriters for the band with Holder as the lead singer.

Slade were my band, by which I mean I didn’t discover them from my dad’s jazz records, or from what my older brother was listening to. I heard them on the radio and I liked what I heard; they were new, they were loud, they rocked and they sang short sharp songs. I only had my pocket money at that time so I bought the singles, it was only later that I discovered the albums.

As with most bands, Slade (a shorthand for the band that existed from 1966) started as a covers band and there are some odd versions of The Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin and The Beatles’ Getting Better on BBC Live.

Fourteen albums between 1969 and 1987, a plethora of singles, and between 1971 and 1975 the band could do no wrong. And somewhere in there they recorded the ultimate pop Christmas anthem. It would be easy to concentrate the 10 on that halcyon four year period but there is a short backstory to tell and some interesting life after the stardom to talk about.

After a growing reputation in the Wolverhampton area, Ambrose Slade released the album Beginnings (in the USA it was released as Ballzy with Slade’s trademark deliberate misspelling) in 1969. As a first album, with four original compositions and eight covers, it doesn’t set the world alight, too many different styles on show. It does, however, point towards the potential the future held. The album boasts a fine cover of Born To Be Wild which, for a while, Slade used to close their live shows, but I commend the Holder & Lea penned Pity The Mother as an early example of the duo’s songwriting skills. It looks at the plight of a mother widowed by war and there is possibly an element of Holder and/or Lea’s own childhood in it. It is quite unlike what was to follow. Mad Dog Cole, credited to the whole band, is a stomper of an instrumental. Sadly, the cover of The Beatles’ Martha My Dear is so bad it’s almost good. The cover photograph was taken on a cold day on Pouk Hill in Wolverhampton with the band wearing nothing! The photo session was captured in the song of the same name on the next album, Play It Loud.

Play It Loud has nine self-penned songs and three covers although none of them with the iconic attribution to Holder/Lea. Indeed, four songs are by Lea/Powell and five by Holder/Lea/Powell. But the talent was beginning to show and I believe the album to be underrated. See Us Here could have been penned by Black Sabbath with Holder starting to acquire confidence in his own vocals. The arrangement of Could I, a cover of a Bread song, is reminiscent of a Move single. Know Where You Are was to become a significant song in the live set. Don Powell was later quoted as saying that because he could only write lyrics, he had to sing the words to Jim Lea for him to write the music. It became a long process and once Holder and Lea formed their partnership he took a back seat. Dave Hill took the same stance and had one song credit across the whole canon.

The band had their first number one single in 1971 with Coz I Luv You. In a Facebook chat a few years ago I nominated this as one of five perfect pop songs. The follow-up, and also a number one single, was Take Me Bak ‘Ome. Neither appeared on an album until later compilations released by their record label, Polydor.

There was an eighteen month gap before the release of the next album, Slayed? in November 1972 by which time Noddy Holder and Jim Lea had honed their songwriting partnership. Mama Weer All Crazy Now was the lead single from the album and gave the band their third number one single, the other single from the album, Gudbuy T’Jane ‘only’ made number two. The whole album still sounds fresh after all these years and the opening track How D’You Ride exemplifies this. Also listen to the band cover Janis Joplin’s Move Over which was to become another live favourite. This was Slade’s first number one album.

Slade’s fourth No.1 single was Cum On Feel The Noize which was later covered by Oasis (Toppermost #197) and Quiet Riot.

1974 brought Old New Borrowed and Blue which lacked the freshness of Slayed? – you felt the band were looking for inspiration while recording more of the same. Despite that, the two singles, My Friend Stan and Everyday, were unlike those that had come before. Do We Still Do It has its feet in the glam present but its eyes pointing towards the rock future. After the hits, until around 1992 when Noddy Holder and Jim Lea left, Slade morphed from a glam rock band to become a quality live heavy rock act.

The seemingly-lacking inspiration came back with the making of the film Slade In Flame and the album of the same name. How Does It Feel broke a sequence of twelve top 4 hit singles, peaking at No.15, a piano led ballad and quite unlike the previous hit singles and at just short of six minutes nearly twice as long. Later it came to be acclaimed as one of the band’s best. The plot of the film was not far from the reality of Slade. Members of two bands disillusioned with the lack of success get together to form the band – Flame. The film tracks the band’s subsequent rise and fall. The soundtrack has an energy lacking in Old New Borrowed and Blue. The film was not well received having a dark undertone when Slade were seen as a good time band.

And then Slade went to America to have a tilt at breaking the only country that had not succumbed to their charms. The result was a reputation as a good live act but no real radio airplay or commercial chart success. Nobody’s Fools was recorded in New York in 1976. The album has its merits and Do The Dirty shows the American influence the band was trying to capture at that time, imploring us to ‘boogie’ before Dave Hill’s guitar kicks off the rock-funk. In For a Penny, released as a single, just failed to make the top 10 in the UK; l isten through the tune, the lyric is very English Music Hall risqué. Get On Up is the very English Slade trying too hard to sound American.

Having failed to ‘crack’ America, Slade returned to England in 1977 to find a different landscape to the one they had left two years earlier. The punks had moved into the space formerly occupied by Slade and the other glam rock bands. A piece of graffiti seen in London gave them the ironic name for the next album: Whatever Happened To Slade. The album is not quite the return to form the band had hoped for but it does have some good tracks on it. They’d hoped their fan base had moved with them but they had spread their listening wings and were exploring other music.

The opening track, Be, is derivative of Led Zeppelin’s Trampled Underfoot over which a quick-fire lyric has been written. Dead Men Tell No Tales is ‘Slade do Americana’ and that’s not meant to be detrimental; it’s a fun piece of music as against some of the more earthy lyrics found on the album. Noddy Holder was never shy about describing the pleasures of the flesh.

In August 1980, Slade headlined the Reading Festival as last minute replacements for Ozzy Osbourne, in front of an audience of 65,000. Slade were news again. We’ll Bring The House Down was released quickly to capitalise on this interest and attract new fans. Some of the tracks were from the material for 1979’s disappointing Return To Base but the band sound rejuvenated and back on form. The title track gave Slade a top 10 UK hit single. Wheels Ain’t Coming Down tells of a real experience Holder and Lea had flying from Los Angles to San Francisco. When I’m Dancing I Ain’t Fighting is the Slade us original ‘Sladeheads’ knew and loved, every one of their heyday singles rolled into one, just a huge smile of a song. Dizzy Mamma is Slade doing their best US Southern Rock ZZ Top. If you listen to this album sequentially with Slayed? you wonder why there was the dip in between.

Slade were never able to fully capitalise on the resurgence in interest following the appearance at Reading and split with long-time manager Chas Chandler. Till Deaf Do Us Part gave a minor hit single and a future live set favourite, Lock Up Your Daughters. For fans who had embraced heavy rock this was Slade not sure whether to go the whole way and reinvent themselves as a heavy rock band or continue to try to appeal to the fans they had attracted ten years before. A Night To Remember is a case in point; it is a piece of quality heavy rock that could have been at the core of the album.

1983 saw the release of the curiously titled The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome (released in America as Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply) that gave Slade a No.2 hit single with the anthemic My Oh My. Radio Wall Of Sound in 1988 just missed the top 20. The last studio album of new material was You Boyz Make Big Noize in 1987.

Slade never did recapture the success of the early 1970s and the albums slowed down, although they were always an exciting band to see live. Noddy Holder and Jim Lea quit in 1992. Powell and Hill formed Slade II with a variety of other musicians and still perform live shows. Meanwhile Polydor have released a succession of compilation albums.

For four years in the early 1970s glam rock ruled and I will argue the kings at the high table were Slade, no other band could touch them.

Slade biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #226

9 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Mar 18, 2014

    Age differences sometimes shows. To me and my associates in the 1970s, being a few years older, Slade were the Anti-Christ. Yes, we heard the singles, but we never explored any albums and I loathed them. I think a lot was down to appearance. Doing Glam when you had the good looks of Marc Bolan or David Bowie worked, but Dave Hill looked such a steaming prat that it was hard to get past that, and I’m afraid we sneered and sniggered at their every appearance on TV. Through years of exposure, Noddy Holder has become a much loved elder statesman. The sitcom ‘The Grimleys’ where he played the music teacher helped, then in retrospect I could see that he always had a hell of a Lennonesque voice and really, no one can be Scrooge enough to hate Merry Xmas Everyone. I got the DVD of Slade in Flame after positive reviews but thought it dire as a film. When I hear the singles now, they have a warm glow of 70s nostalgia surrounding them, much as I despised them at the time. And of course it wasn’t my teenage years, and that is such a vital factor. As to whether no other band could touch them, are you excluding T.Rex?

    I’ll look forward to exploring somewhat deeper with Ian’s admirable guidance!

    • Ian Ashleigh
      Mar 18, 2014

      Thanks for your comments Peter, at a guess you are possibly 7 years older than me. My brother, only 3 years older, reacted to Slade as ‘the band my kid brother likes’ and was agnostic towards them at best.

      I liked T Rex and Marc Bolan but not in the way I loved Slade and Bowie was far to serious for my nearly-teenage ears in 1971.

      I agree, Dave Hill looked ridiculous but the music was great.

  2. David Lewis
    Mar 18, 2014

    Thoroughly engrossing article. I always liked Gudbuy t’ Jane and the single from about 1984 Run Runaway: what I’d take out, though, I couldn’t say.

  3. Merric Davidson
    Mar 18, 2014

    Always loved Slade. The best hits group of their time. No doubt about that. Still sound magnifico. How Does It Feel – one of the finest of all pop songs. Great list Ian.

  4. Peter V
    Mar 18, 2014

    I often wondered if Dave Hill was their secret weapon, as in “I’m the ugliest guy in the class with the worst dress sense, and look at me! I’m in a pop group on TV!’ There’s a strong appeal there to teenagers.

    I’d say more than 7, Ian. I was 23 in 1970. And if you were into Marvin Gaye, The Band, Sly, The Flying Burritos it was a long step to accepting Slade … though as I said, I actually can see the appeal in retrospect. But it was teen spirit. And smelled like it.

    • Ian Ashleigh
      Mar 19, 2014

      It was pre-teen spirit in my case. I was 11 in August 1970 so you were an adult by then Peter, Slade were not aimed at you :).

      Should I still be enjoying them when I am looking age 55 in the face, why not! As my pop heroes once said, Play It Loud.

  5. Keith Shackleton
    Mar 18, 2014

    Of course another reason why there was a perceived loss of momentum with “Old, New..” was that Don was convalescing at the time from a horrendous car crash, and for a good while he looked like he might not continue, and the band were ready to call it a day if he couldn’t. Under those circumstances it’s perhaps not too surprising there was a change in direction. My memory tells me that album wasn’t as successful as earlier recordings – my memory is therefore an ass: #1 UK and #5 US chart placings brook no argument. And for a band that didn’t crack America (though Lester Bangs loved them and even Christgau was well disposed towards Slayed?), that’s pretty bloody good.

    I too purchased Slade in Flame on its reissue on DVD, and whilst I can’t say it’s a total must-see masterpiece, when the band remembered to stop acting and be themselves, they came across as completely believable, Jim Lea especially. All too believable, perhaps.. Flame and Slade became one in the eyes and ears of many. it’s a neat gritty little film with some very nice touches (Screaming Lord Sutch, anyone?). It has Mr. Diana Dors in it, Alan Lake. What’s not to love? Peter, I bet you laughed when Don dropped the cigarettes.

    Their success at Reading was no real surprise, given the benefit of hindsight. If there was one thing that remained constant throughout their career, they always wrecked the house and ‘left it all onstage’. By 1980, maybe that had been forgotten, or maybe Slade were just some kind of Mickie Most concoction in the minds of many. But of course they could really play.

    Bolan better than Slade? I’m not going to go there. Bolan had Visconti, and he wasn’t on stage. I’ll leave it at that.

    Dave Hill a prat? How dare you! Trace the origins of Lady Gaga’s art-pop weirdness right back to him. Go on, Google a few photos. Bacofoil, trimmed fringe, stack heels.. she nicked the bleedin’ lot. Trailblazer, Dave was.

    Great list, Ian. I don’t know where I’d find room for Gudbuy T’Jane or Wild Winds Are Blowing.. I’d probably push the later Slade offerings out. How Does It Feel, probably the greatest song Noel Gallagher never wrote, is utterly brilliant. I might have to have something off Slade Alive too.

    Sladest was the first album I ever bought. But enough of my hackery: for a beautiful deconstruction of the band, I refer you all to Marcello Carlin’s brilliant writing on Old, New… and Sladest.

  6. Peter Viney
    Mar 18, 2014

    Sorry, can’t compare Lady GaGa and Dave Hill. I have tried to think that one through seriously. One, like say Cyndi Lauper, is making a statement with humour. (she) The other (he) is just without any vestige of taste. Dave Hill was mind-numbingly awful, and probably the reason my ’half-generation’ never took Slade seriously. Remove him from the equation and I can start to admire Noddy’s vocals but with Dave Hill they are unwatcheable. Sorry. It must be a generation thing. Yet I could always see talent and pedigree in Marc Bolan.

    And no, I’m NOT volunteering for a T.Rex one!

  7. Ian Ashleigh
    Oct 26, 2014

    I wasn’t sure whether to post this here or with Martin Carthy’s Topper 15. Here is the great man with the Imagined Village covering Come on Feel the Noise here.

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