Slade ~ The Seventies
And then it was gone... the sixties, the decade that had brought English music and their musicians to worldwide appeal passed by, and Slade started the new year with a renewed vigour and self belief instilled into them at every opportunity by manager Chas Chandler.
The decade would see the band start it by playing a venue they knew inside out, Aldridge Community Centre in their own backyard. That would all change in the coming years as Slade would go from strength to strength, peaking by becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet before falling out of favour and ending the decade in almost total obscurity.
Through 1970 they continued to work hard on the live circuit as well as augmenting their live work with national radio exposure as well as making their debut on the nations favourite weekly pop music show, Top Of The Pops, a show that they would in time dominate with Superyob Dave Hill and his ridiculous outfits making sure that the band were visually remembered and talked about.
A catalyst in their future success would be the record lable they operated under. Fontana had proved a good stepping stone, but Chandler knew he could sell the band and get a better deal elsewhere. He had contacts with Polydor from his time managing Hendrix, and a new deal with the German company was quickly sealed and their mighty PR organisation began working on getting the band more widely known.
They released their first single and LP under Polydor that year with ' Know Who You Are' and 'Play It Loud'' respectively, neither troubled the record buying public. The Skinhead look was proving to be a double edged sword, yes it had gained them publicity, unfortunately more often than not it hampered them as they sought wider public acceptance. A Skinhead band had little crossover appeal, and musically they were not even accepted by Skinheads who preferred their music with more of a Jamaican flavour.
They did continue their song writing apprenticeship and certainly 'Play It Loud' as a slice of vinyl is lauded by pretty much all Slade fans as being one of their LP's that has gotten better with time. It wasn't quite the wall of noise that Slade would make their own signature sound in a few years time, but it showed their flexibility and the ability to write tracks with a hook, be it vocally or musically, those hooks were to evolve into the hooks that had millions whistling, humming or singing Slade music to this day.
Their Skinhead look was gradually being replaced with a more colourful hued image, one of bright primary colours, just perfect for the advent of colour television broadcasting in the UK.
Their breakthrough year in terms of chart success came in 1971 when their cover of what they thought was a Little Richard number, 'Get Down With It' made the top 20 and stayed on the chart for fourteen weeks in the summer. The success of the single opened a zillion doors for the band, it was a hit on the continent and a quick follow up single and album were needed.
The follow up came in the shape of the self penned 'Coz I Luv You' which became the bands first chart topper in November of the year, knocking Rod Stewart's 'Maggie May' off of the top slot. As well as gigging and travelling abroad for TV appearances the band also found the time to record three nights of performances at the Command Studios which were edited down to provide the material for the upcoming album release of 'Slade Alive'. All of a sudden the band achieved 'overnight success' which piqued the interest of the music press, some who were now reporting the band as serious contenders for superstardom, others, irritated by them having had a number one chart record treated them with distain and dismissed them as a novelty band, clearly these people had not been listening.
Their number one single 'Coz I Luv You' carried the all important hook that meant the tune got into your head and wouldn't go easily. The infectious handclapping and sing-a-long chorus gave the record instant appeal. The band started to turn up in teenage girlie magazines as their fan club membership applications were showing a huge increase in young girls, a demographic that manager Chandler wanted to tap into.
It worked, before long there was not a week go by without the band appearing in the major teenage girl magazines...Jackie, Mirabelle and their ilk all seemed crammed packed with photographs and articles from the banal to ridiculous. The serious music press didn't seem to know which way to turn. Their live album 'Slade Alive' was then considered to be one of the finest live albums ever released...raw, powerful, aggressive and a far cry from their singles 'Coz I Luv You' and the follow up 'Look Wot You Dun', which made number two in the UK charts. Some were suggesting that the happy go lucky instant hooks, handclaps 'stomping' and sing-a-long chorus of those records, plus the novelty misspelling of the song titles made Slade nothing more than a boy band for teenage girl's, more style (sic) than substance.
The band started to play theatre venues more and more as their popularity rocketed, a move which Lea claims unleash them as a live act as there was more stage to work in and 'go absolutely berserk'. Up until 1972 the band had played nothing bigger than University halls outside of their own territory. The clamour for tickets meant that they had to play the bigger venues and all were being sold out within hours of tickets being available.
Chandler also got them a spot at Stanley Bakers 'Great Western Festival' where they wiped the floor with everyone else on the bill. By all accounts a triumph and the gathered 'serious' music press were blown away by the sheer professionalism of the band and the force of their music.Those that had been caught in the headlights not knowing which way or how they could report Slade knew now. Whatever their chart positions and no matter who was buying their singles, Slade were a shit hot live band, as tight as a duck's arse and in Holder they had a frontman who was a showman supreme.
The Lincoln Festival saw Slade now lauded as one of the countries finest live bands, Slade Alive was high in the charts and selling well. They also notched up their second number one single in the summer of 1972 with 'Take Me Bak Ome' and started recording the tracks for their next LP 'Slayed?' . The next single release was to see the band elevated to a different level, their first Rock N' Roll anthem 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now' crashed into the charts at the number two position, their highest chart entry to date, in September and made the single their third number one hit a week later.
The hype surrounding the band was incredible, surely it couldn't get any higher as they stepped up their status with showpiece gigs at The Rainbow, Sundown and The Empire Pool Wembley. A fourth single of the year came in the form of 'Gudbuy T' Jane' which narrowly missed out on the number one position due to Chuck Berry and his Ding A Ling hogging the limelight, and their seminal LP 'Slayed?' promoted with a tour easily topped the charts giving the band their first number one LP. In between time they found time to tour Europe and make their first tentative steps to the US to test the water.......oh...and Dave Hill bosted his ankle during a gig in Liverpool and played on for a while afterwards with his right leg in plaster that was sprayed silver and wrapped in bacofoil....
After the success of the 1972 how were the band going to exceed what they had already achieved in the 15 months or so since they broke into the charts. Would they stutter and fall or would they go on to scale further heights?
'Cum On Feel The Noize' was released in March of 73' and went straight into the national charts at the number one position, a feat that had not been achieved by anyone else since The Beatles. Slade, it seemed, had all they could have ever wished for. They were winning awards left right and centre and often voted as the 'Top' bass, drum,guitar player and vocalist in individual catagories by their faithful following and press alike.
They also announced that they would be playing shows at London's massive Earls Court Arena, touring Europe and America as well as huge UK tours. To follow 'Cum On Feel The Noize' , and to prove it was no fluke, their next single 'Skweeze Me Pleeze Me' also battered its way into the charts at the number one position in its first week of release. With a new album planned for an autumn release and further singles in the pipeline, Slade were assured a solid future.
That, was all cast into doubt when drummer Don Powell was almost killed in a road traffic accident which cost the life of his girlfriend Angela Morris. For a few weeks Slade fans around the world held their collective breath as Don battled to stay alive. The reports were grim, but finally Powell returned from the brink to be told the tragic news of Angela's death. The band had vowed to carry on regardless, and while Powell continued his recovery Jim Lea's brother Frank was drafted in as drummer for the bands appearances in a blue riband event on the Isle Of Man.
By the autumn, with Powell healthy enough to tour again te band undertook a trip to the States for a hectic whistle stop tour before undertaking a major European tour. Possibly because of Powell's recovery it was decided by Polydor to release a retrospective LP of the bands music. 'Sladest' was a greatest hits LP liberally sprinkled with some of their earlier hitherto unavailable tracks which topped the charts towards the end of the year....A year that was to end with the band riding the crest of a Christmas wave as 'Merry Xmas Everybody' swept all before it to become the nations Yuletide number one record......
Seemingly back on form and dominating the charts and press of the day Slade's lack of US success was starting to niggle more and more as they tried with little impact to make a name for themselves in the largest and most elusive market on the planet. 1974 started with a two month tour of the States, quickly followed by a trip to Japan with a second visit to our antipodean colonies thrown in for good measure. A new LP was promised and duly arrived in the form of 'Old New Borrowed & Blue', the bands least appealing LP to date. It wasn't that it was a bad album, but was certainly not up to the level that had been created with 'Slayed?'
I have always felt that Chandler and the band took a chance with the release and relied on the bands incredible popularity for sales, more alarmingly for them was the small fervent following they had managed to cultivate on the East Coast and Mid West in the States were turned off almost en masse by the US version bizarrely entitled 'Stomp Your Hands And Clap Your Feet'.
Back home they still commanded a huge following although it was clear that the fickleness of Teeny pop fans meant that swathes of younger fans were turning from them and realigning themselves to the upcoming teeny sensation the Bay City Rollers. A good thing as the band were clearly trying to move in a slightly different direction. It was a year of consolodation, with more extensive touring home and away, the records still made the higher reaches of the charts, 'Everyday, The Bangin' Man and Far Far Away all becoming massive hits. The band also announced they were to star in a feature film about a ficticious northern band plucked from obscurity and moulded Simon Cowell like into a merchandisable but ultimately expendable commodity.