Life at 33 1/3: Betrayal and redemption

0
700

Slade, Sladest (Polydor)

1971 – Grisly times for people like me who had grown up with the UK charts and still tried to stay updated on the latest hits and trends.  All my old heroes preferred albums now, and so did I.  But albums were expensive. The 45 was more accessible for youngsters without regular income, and the format still possessed some of its old magic, even if it was waning fast.

We were subjected to ordeals.  In the summer 1971, when I was in London for the first time, the ordeals were called Middle Of The Road, Sweet (in “Co-Co” mode), New World, White Plains, Dawn, New Seekers.  Disgusting stuff, they sounded like Coca Cola ads and looked the part, brainless smiles and all. The teenyboppers who turned these nobodies into stars and the hit parade into a pile of garbage, were actually destroying the idea of the vinyl single as a work of art.  Civilization as we know it was on the brink of collapse.

But there were glimmers of hope.  Like T. Rex blasting from all the jukeboxes I came across during my few weeks in London.  I bought their transitional album, “T. Rex”.  And when I returned to Norway, I quickly purchased the hit-singles “Hot Love” and “Get It On” too.

T. Rex were the real thing.  But even with his elf-like looks Marc Bolan was an old hero.  He’d been in the game for years.  I already had a couple of the Tyrannosaurus Rex-albums, hippie-folksongs for Tolkien-heads.  Bolan was one of the rare species, an established artist focusing on hit-singles while the rest of his peers had abandoned the format.  Singles were for kids.  Albums ruled.

There was another group doing good business on the jukeboxes of London too.  Slade.  They were new to me and looked funny with their short haircuts, but their singer sounded like a cross between a chiming alarm and a bull being skinned alive, they made a lot of noise and played real rock ’n’ roll.  “Get Down And Get With It” was stomping around in the lower regions of the Top 20, it made an impression.  I bought that single too when I got back home.

Slade were genuine.  They sounded fresh and angry.  And even better, I had never seen any albums by them.  I thought this single was their debut.  (It wasn’t, it was their fifth, and they already had two albums out, but they both bombed, so I was excused.)

Interviewing Don Powell (left) of Slade in Norway in 1973.

I was on their case now,  and the sequel “Coz I Luv You” convinced me.  Slade had more to them than foot stomping, hollering and electric guitars.  This tune was quirky, playful and shamelessly catchy in a Beatles sort of way.  And so was the next one, “Look Wot You Dun”.

By now I should have been a fan, but unfortunately, I was also a patronising snob.  With the group’s enormous breakthrough among the treacherous teenyboppers, I raised myself above the group just as I raised myself above T. Rex.  No way I was gonna be caught supporting the same teams as the silly little girls and boys did.  Slade and T. Rex weren’t cool anymore, they dominated the front pages of all the glossy teen mags.  I was a fool, my prejudice clouded my eyes and ears, even more so when the daily newspapers started comparing the popularity of Slade and T. Rex with Beatlemania.

Beatlemania it was not.  That could never happen again.  I was annoyed.  The painful break-up of The Beatles was still too close for comfort, the wounds had not yet healed.  And now those unworthy upstarts claimed their throne.  How dare they!

Consequently, I ignored Slade’s most intense scream, stomp and yell phase, I didn’t care to investigate, it was all teenybopper-trash to me, the idiot side of glam.  This was 1972.  The year of classic albums like “Exile On Main St.”, “Machine Head”, “Harvest”, “Manassas”, “Roxy Music”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Close To The Edge”, “Black Sabbath Vol. 4”, “Rock Of Ages”, “Foxtrot”, “Transformer”, and “Made In Japan”.

Go away with your “Crazeee Mamas” and silly top hats.  It took me a full year to come to my senses.  An embarrassing moment.  How could I have missed out on the marvellous power pop of “Gudbuy T’Jane”, one of the singles of ’72?

By Christmas 1973 everything was different.  With “Merry Xmas Everybody” Slade delivered a rousing ending to a year that had restored The Beatles to their former glory with two massive million sellers, the red and the blue compilations, “1962-1966” and “1967-1970”.  George had done good business during summer with “Living In The Material World”, and now Ringo surprised everyone with “Ringo”, bringing all four ex-Beatles together again on one album (not on the same song, however).  And Paul finally hit back after two years of struggle, with “Band On The Run”.  Hell, I even started to like Slade again, playing their Christmas-anthem to death.

My appreciation of Slade got a new boost in 1974 with the fabulous “Far Far Away”.  By then they were slowly sliding, losing their grip on the teens. They were learning: Never trust a teenybopper, they leave you cold when they turn 15.

“Merry Xmas Everybody” probably is the greatest Yuletide pop single of all time, it’s impossible to dislike.  The fact that I had met the group a couple of weeks before its release made it even easier to cave in.  Slade visited Norway in November 1973, playing for a packed indoor stadium in Oslo.  I had the pleasure of interviewing them for a daily newspaper, and they appeared to be a very likeable, down to earth bunch, even forgiving me for having dismissed them as teenybop fodder: “That’s OK”, said Noddy, patting me on my head, “we wouldn’t have liked us either.  If we were you, that is.”  I think I was forgiven.

They had a new album out, “Sladest”, a summary of their career so far.  It was my first Slade-LP.  I played it a lot in the coming years while Slade’s star on teenage heaven slowly faded, and I became increasingly fond of songs that had owned 1972 and 1973, but had eluded me: “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, “Gudbuy T’Jane,” “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me”.  They were all included on this 14 track collection, along with my early Slade favourites from before I betrayed them, “Get Down And Get With It,” “Coz I Luv You” and “Look Wot You Dun”.

In addition to these seven classics, the album offered the transitional hit “Take Me Bak ‘Ome” (which I’ve never liked), and the three early misses, “Wild Winds Are Blowing”, “Know Who You Are” and “The Shape Of Things To Come”, plus three cleverly picked album tracks.  A superb package and an excellent introduction to a band that deserved far more honour than they were given by the critics, contemporary musicians and people like me.

“Sladest” also contains numerous examples of what a wonderful song-writing team Noddy Holder and Jim Lea was.

Slade and T. Rex held the fort during the difficult years 1971-72 when pop music faded away, apparently to be reborn as Tony Orlando.  And when T. Rex started running out of fuel, Slade soldiered on through 1973, spearheading the rehabilitation of the pop single.  Suddenly it was all fun again.

So let’s drink to Slade. Unassuming, unpretentious and damned strong on what it’s all about: Electric guitars, a voice drugged on life, and choruses made of superglue.

Released: September 28, 1973

Produced by: Chas Chandler

Contents: Cum on Feel the Noize/ Look Wot You Dun/ Gudbuy T’Jane/ One Way Hotel/ Skweeze Me Pleeze Me/ Pouk Hill/ The Shape of Things to Come/ Take Me Bak ‘Ome/ Coz I Luv You/ Wild Winds are Blowing/ Know Who You Are/ Get Down and Get With It/ Look at Last Nite/ Mama Weer All Crazee Now.

Personnel:

Noddy Holder – lead vocals, rhythm guitar

Dave Hill – lead guitar

Jim Lea – bass guitar, violin on “Coz I Luv You”

Don Powell – drums