‘Tis the season when even those who are either too young, too old or too cool to acknowledge the existence of Slade are forced into submission with a particular festive tune recorded some 40 years ago this year, the time is ripe to re-appraise the Wolverhampton wonders. This year for the first time in my 38 years I discovered the greatness of their recorded ouevre, and I urge any serious music fan to do the same.
The missing link between The Beatles and The Sex Pistols. Yes, there other hipper exponents of rude energy such as The Stooges, MC5, the Velvet Underground, but self-conscious art-rock and drug-fuelled garage rock aren’t where this is heading. Although Joey Ramone did cite “Slade Alive” as a major influence. They were more like the fab four in that respect; fun, irreverent and distinctly British working class. Let’s not forget Dave Hill’s “Super Yob” guitar, although it was always with a wink rather than a snarl. “Slade In Flame” was a “Hard Day’s Night” for the Mid-70s, bleak and seemingly less colourful than it’s black and white counterpart. Their glory years of 1971-74 gave us some classic pop hits but delve deeper into the albums that followed into the 70s and 80s and the music reveals a curious mix of raw power that would rival any metal band worth their salt and sophistication that belies their no-nonsense roots.
I’m not going to pore over the history of the band and their entire discography, as there are other websites that do that very well. Suffice to say that the 13 proper albums released from 1969 to 1987 (skip Crackers:The Christmas Album, please forgive them) are for the most part, a joy. A roller coaster ride historically as well, they document the psychedelic beginnings (with ’69’s “Beginnings” fittingly), through the short-lived skinhead phase at the turn of the 70s, the glam rock years, the failed ‘breaking America’ sojourn, the late 70’s down the dumper (only commercially mind) period, the 1980 re-birth, pop stars again and second commercial decline as the 80s wore on. Perversely though, it is the two periods of fallow sales that I think produced the most satisfying work.
“Rogue’s Gallery” gives us a very polished techno-rock sound that for some might be just a little too 80s (but that’s OK with me)- each track is a killer pop song, hooks aplenty and with a production that packs a melodic punch that stays the right side of smooth. There are times when it sounds like they might be trying a little too hard to emulate the likes of ZZ Top and Van Halen and it loses points there, but it’s a solid album that few bands can pull off almost 20 years into their career.
“Nobody’s Fools” was where Slade attempted, like many others, to break the States. They failed. After the release of Slade In Flame in ’75 failed to set the world alight (ahem), they upped sticks and spent the best part of a year touring, resulting in this collection of sophisticated gems. For the first time we have female backing vocals. Black soul-influenced ones at that. The US influence is rife, with country elements and a widening of the musical palette but it still stays resolutely Slade, losing none of their identity in the process. While The Clash broadened their musical horizons with “London Calling” and US success came in droves, the same cannot be said here as it marked a commercial downturn in fortunes for the rest of the decade, thanks partly to young upstarts such as the aforementioned sweeping away the previous generation. Anyway, back to the matter in hand; this is a fabulous album showing a three-dimensional side to the band, so the perfect place to start with their back catalogue. It will surprise you; if you think you know Slade already give this a spin and banish all preconceptions of them as comedy (Vic and Bob, I love but it did no favours for musical credibility) They deserve better, far better than that. And it is time for the accepted lists of ‘important’ artists of the period (which always favours the earnest and entertainment is a dirty word ) to recognise the rich musical legacy they left behind.