Then And Now - John Peel 1974

Super Star Magazine 1974
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DISC JOCKEY JOHN PEEL TAKES AN OBJECTIVE LOOK AT SLADE'S MUSIC

"Stand by" they said, "for a new group that'll really blow your mind. No kidding;' they said, "These boys are different. Wait till you hear them" they said, "then you'll know what it really means to flip” Thus spake Peter Jones in the first paragraph of his sleeve-note to a 1969 LP called "Beginnings" by Ambrose Slade. As informed folk all over the galaxy are aware, Ambrose Slade eventually became Slade, and "Beginnings" (released on Fontana STL 5492) must now be some sort of a collector's item. Certainly I had never seen or heard the album before and I had to go to the BBC's record library for the copy I did hear. "Beginnings" is a remarkable LP - not so much for the music that is on it but rather for the pointers which indicate not only what Slade have done since, but directions they may take in the future. The opening track is "Genesis" which, together with "Roach Daddy" was released as a single (Fontana TF 1015). "Genesis" starts with an electronic whine and wind noises and evolves into a fairly moody instrumental, featuring a bevy of electronic effects but displaying at once that Slade were, even at this early date, better than average on their chosen instruments. "Genesis" is followed by "Everybody's Next One”, one of two Steppenwolf songs on the LP. The other is the classic "Born To Be Wild;' which was later re-recorded for the "Slade Alive" album. On both of these there are strong indications of the Slade to come. Noddy's voice was already taking on the strong identity it has now - and this was recorded at a time when lead singers tended toward blandness and anonymity. The third track on Side 1 is "Knocking Nails Into My House" and this, a song written by Jeff Lynne who was then with Idle Race but now leads The Electric Light Orchestra, shows the band's Midland origins. The song and Ambrose Slade's treatment of it show the strong influence The Move had on popular music all through the region. There's some particularly fine guitar from Dave Hill here and the sound of nails being knocked in, Noddy yells "Look out" and the music is submerged beneath the uproar of the collapsing house. "Roach Daddy;' which follows, has a walking beat and a vaguely country-ish feel to it.

The vocals are a bit hesitant and this has to be one of the least satisfying tracks on "Beginnings” Ambrose Slade next turn their attention to "Ain't Got No Heart”, a nifty wee piece written by the curious Frank Zappa, leader of the Mothers of Invention. Zappa numbers are never easy things to play, involving numerous musical changes and vocal stylings which are often odd, to say the least. The embryo Slade acquit themselves well here and by this stage of the LP the impression is growing that the band and producer Roger Wake are anxious to prove that this is a group with the ability to work successfully on a wide range of material. "Pity The Mother;' which ends Side 1, heightens this suspicion. A Holder/Lea composition, it features more excellent guitar work and a basinful of tricky drumming from Don Powell. Side 2 opens with a number more representative of Slade as they are today. It's called "Mad Dog Cole;' all four members of the band took up their pencils to write it, and it's a solid rocker. There's an interesting section in which someone sings falsetto along with the lead guitar, following Dave's fast playing note for note. Not an easy thing to do and for this reason, and for Jimmy Lea's crunching bass playing, this is, for me, the best and the most interesting track on the LP. Ambrose Slade ring the changes yet again for the next track, which is another song written and performed by a major Midlands band, the Moody Blues. It's Justin Hayward's "Fly Me High" and the main interest here comes from the band's flexibility, their skill and from the fact that, briefly, Noddy sounds like Rod Stewart. Marvin Gaye's "If This World Were Mine" follows but it is not a success. The sleeve-note to "Beginnings" claims that Ambrose Slade give Lennon/McCartney's "Martha My Dear;' which comes after "If This World Were Mine;' "a somewhat astonishing new treatment” Despite featuring Jimmy Lea at the controls of his violin, the band stick fairly closely to the Beatles' original. "Born To Be Wild" is next, Noddy giving the lyrics, written by the extraordinarily named Mars Bonfire, a fair old going over. The quartet sound at their happiest on rockers and they end with another highlight, "Journey To The Centre Of Your Mind” This was originally performed by the American Amboy Dukes -at this period (1969) personal favourites of mine - and the Ambrose Slade version of "Journey" is no less hairy than the original.

"Beginnings" is an extraordinary LP -I wish I didn't have to return this copy to the BBC -because it shows so clearly all those features that were to lead, several years later, to the string of huge successes that Slade have to their credit. I'm slightly embarrassed that so-called experts like myself failed to notice the signs.

Also released in 1969 but produced now by Chas Chandler, was the single "Wild Winds Are Blowing" backed with "One Way Hotel” Both tracks are, of course, on the "Sladest" LP. Chas put more emphasis on Jimmy Lea's bass guitar and this new emphasis brings the sound of "The Slade" (as they're described on the label) closer to their 1974 sound. In addition to the mighty bass playing, there's also a load of highly inventive guitar from Dave. The song, however, isn't that great. In fact, the "B" side, a Holder, Lea, Powell composition, is a lot better. The playing on "One Way Hotel" is a revelation, showing that when Slade became a successful band in the singles market, that area of music that was until recently described as "progressive" may well have been the loser. "Hotel" is a most impressive performance, beautifully put together, with Noddy singing with real feeling and with each musician contributing strongly to the track. When I played this in an office at the BBC several friends who were present were hugely impressed and were not persuaded that this was indeed Slade recorded in 1969 until I showed them the label.

The following year (1970), the band lead off with "The Shape Of Things To Come" and "C'mon, C'mon” The" A" side, also on "Sladest” again demonstrates just how good Noddy, Don, Dave and Jimmy were becoming on their various instruments. It all drives along beautifully, the energy and the vitality of it all again causing me to wonder why so few people were paying attention to Slade at that time. Also in 1970 was released "Know Who You Are" and "Dapple Rose” The latter is a melancholy little number, a sort of horse's equivalent of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby” It's a story of common neglect, of the waning interest of a once-proud owner in a horse that has become "cold and old and slow” As a man who has been known to cry at a Tom and Jerry cartoon (there's photographic evidence to the fact) I was profoundly depressed by "Dapple Rose” "Know Who You Are" is a different pan of fish. It's dramatic stuff, opening softly but with an atmosphere of menace. Noddy's vocals are delivered with rare power and style before the band crunches into some great choruses. Again the guitar playing here is excellent, owing something to the Yardbirds and those two masters of the electric guitar, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The band show a fine sense of dynamics and there's more of the falsetto-with-guitar singing that we remarked on "Mad Dog Cole”, "Know Who You Are" is another tour-de-force for Slade, another major step in their musical development.

Both "Know Who You Are" and "Dapple Rose" are on the 1970 LP, "Play It Loud”. So is "The Shape Of Things To Come” Throughout "Play It Loud" there are countless examples of Slade's skill. Also their self-penned songs are improving all the time. They are well constructed, perhaps slightly over-elaborate at times, but showing clearly the strong melody lines that distinguish the most raucous Slade rockers and make these rockers more durable and more listen-able than the drab and colourless offerings of Slade's rivals. Some of the lyrics tend towards being rather poetic but in 1970 this was the fashion and none of the words sound as embarrassing as the lyrics written by ... well, I'd better not say, but there were a lot of bad songs written in 1970. The musicianship throughout "Play It Loud" is of a remarkably high standard. Don's drumming is varied, exciting and always apt. He is always contributing to the record, never content to just sit back and whack out the basic rhythm needed to keep the music rolling forward. The bass-playing is again an important feature - if you have the LP handy, then listen to "See Us Here" and you'll understand what I mean. Also, with Chas' help, the band's sound has improved, become clearer and brighter. The tracks on the LP may, in the main, be too complex to dance to very easily, but they make for pleasant listening. "Could I" has the sort of sing-a-long chorus that has distinguished Slade's greatest hits, while Dave plays some beautiful singing lead guitar. "I Remember" is another indication of the good things to come, with Noddy peeling layers of skin off his throat as he roars his way through the words, and the band rocking as though there were no tomorrow.

"Pouk Hill" is a glance back to the Midlands tradition of Idle Race and Move records, a sometimes tender, sometimes fey, little song of real charm. "Dirty Joker" is something of a curiosity, opening, as it does, with the type of guitar, bass, drums sound that distinguishes the best dance records coming from Black America in 1974. Both this track and “Sweet Box” which follows and also closes the LP, illustrate yet again the powers of invention within the band. The sudden shifts of emphasis, the impressive skills, are of the type that have made such bands as Yes and Genesis so widely popular with the LP buying audience. The only complaint that could be made against "Play It Loud" is that the songs and arrangements may have been too complicated. This complaint would have been erased with some violence by the next single release, the epic "Get Down And Get With It”

In some 27 years of buying records I cannot remember having ever sat down and listened to a band's entire recorded output as I have done with Slade's today. Hearing the early material for the first time and hearing the great hits again after a year or two, I'm genuinely impressed with the part the band have played in making the 1970s such an exciting musical era. And I don't say that because I'm paid to say it either. Looking back to "Get Down And Get With It" from the wet end of 1974, I'm amazed at the effect it's had on our charts since its release in the summer of 1971. The thunderous, very simple, beat and Noddy's exhortations to the listener to join in, to participate, have been echoed in countless records since. Each week's record releases bring more examples of this, although recently they've begun to sound rather flat and dated. Slade themselves have, naturally, moved on to other things, but their "Get Down And Get With It" still sounds just fine after nearly 3+ years. I am amazed to observe that the record rose no higher than 15th in the charts. I doubt that many of the 14 records that were above it still sound half as good. Of course, "Get Down And Get With It" was one side of a maxi-single. The other side is every bit as interesting and I must admit that, until yesterday, I'd never heard it. "Do You Want Me" has the same sort of lean and sensual accompaniment that has recently seen David Essex in the charts with "Rock On" and similar records. The difference is that "Do You Want Me" has a much stronger tune than "Rock On" and it was released 2 years earlier. Amazing! Also pretty amazing is "Gospel According To Rasputin" which completes the maxi-single. The playing here is incredible, the vocal harmonies majestic. Slade doing everything that Yes can do but doing it with energy and brevity. In 4 minutes and 20 seconds and without ever forgetting that this music is supposed to excite and stimulate, Slade get down more good music than you'll find on many fashionable triple-albums. By now we're moving into Slade's continuing golden period. All the records from Down And Get With It" are as well known to a whole generation of record buyers as their own names. Nevertheless I'd like to slither through the list with you for various reasons which may or may not emerge as I drone on.

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Special Secret
October, 1971, brought us "'Cos I Love You" and "My Life Is Natural” The" A" side combined a great Holder/Lea tune with a backing that had all the power and drive of the Faces, my own favourite band. There's a special secret to the very best of rock 'n' roll, a sort of magic ingredient. Somehow, while putting down a storming beat, the very best rock musicians manage to inject a certain lightness, some subtlety of phrasing, that makes the whole sound of the band dance. In his day Chuck Berry could do it, the Stones and Faces still can - and Slade showed with "'Cos I Love You" that they too shared the secret. Slade have never been content with throwaway "B" sides either. "My Life Is Natural" boasts more stunning harmonies and deft playing. The same is true of "Candidate;' the "B" side of "Look Wot You Dun;' which followed in January of 1972. Clarity, simplicity and tunefulness were again the keys. It is sometimes easy to forget just how good those early records were - perhaps the shrillness of Slade's competition has diverted our attention somewhat. Instrumentally Slade invariably give the lie to Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore, who is quoted in the sleeve of "Slade Alive" as saying, "they don't care about the notes”

"Take Me Bak 'Ome" has endured the passage of time slightly less well. It's a more obvious crowd-pleaser - not that there's much wrong with that - with a less worthy tune. Nevertheless, even now many bands and producers seek the same sound, the raucous and echo-ey vocals, the massed hand clapping. The "B" side, "Wonderin' Y" is a surprising change of pace, a song of McCartney-esque poignancy and grandeur. A lovely tune. "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" is another of the greats. Released in August, 1972, it moved back· to the great dance beat of "Get Down” It had a great tune and a superior roar-along chorus too. The same was true of the November follow-up, "Gudbuy T’Jane”. Chas Chandler and Slade continued to cling to the central spirit of rock 'n' roll -simplicity. No half-baked suites, no famous friends sitting in on guitar. Although I have no doubt they'll continue to develop, Slade will, I reckon, always avoid these pitfalls, pitfalls into which lesser talents are all too keen to fling themselves, smiling softly.

February, 1973, and "Cum On Feel The Noize” Prior to this the LP "Slayed" had been released, and earlier still "Slade Alive” The latter is, at best, a souvenir of the band's gigs and "Slayed" brought together some of the singles and a few new numbers but generally suffered from a lack of variety. Two of the best tracks were Janis Joplin's "Move Over" and Shirley & Lee's "Let The Good Times Roll” Slade performed these, together with "Take Me Bak 'Ome;' "Darling Be Home Soon" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now;' on a memorable session for one of my own BBC radio programmes. Note the small plug for me. "Cum On Feel The Noize" is another hit that doesn't sound quite as good now. Nevertheless and despite the curious spellings of the titles, it's to the group's credit that their lyrics have never sunk to the "shang-a-lang-a-yep-yep" level. Agreed that they may not be particularly deep (for which I'm grateful) but they always mean something and have some basic relevance.

"Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me” released in June 1973, continued the hit tradition. As a record reviewer I was beginning to ask whether, as Noddy continued to inflict injuries and insults upon his throat with every release, Slade would ever adjust slightly from storming rockers and try something a mite different. They did this in September of the same year with "My Friend Stan;' released a week after the LP "Sladest”, "My Friend Stan" remains my lady wife's favourite record and for months she tormented me by bellowing the chorus, with severe inaccuracies of both lyric and tune, as she went about the house. Nevertheless "Stan" is one of the greats, less raucous perhaps but still exciting. A demonstration that the best songwriters have this ability to pluck a great song out of the air and leave you wondering how you never discovered it first.

At the end of 1973 Slade, in company with Elton John, re-introduced one of the great pop traditions -the Christmas single. It marked another step in Slade's progress towards a more controlled, more durable style. Still, the more melodic approach never caused the drive of the single to slacken and it is this facility for combining energy with simple and memorable tunes that will ensure Slade's survival. The "B" side of "Merry Xmas Everybody" was "Don't Blame Me", like David Bowie's "Jean Genie", a nod back to the British rhythm 'n' blues boom in the early 1960s, a time during which producer Chas Chandler must have played, as a member of The Animals, numbers similar in spirit to the Holder/Lea composition. This again displays the range of the band's talents; also featuring some rather fine noises that could well have come from a guitar.

Early 1974 and the LP "Old, New, Borrowed and Blue" together with "Everyday" and subsequent singles are probably too fresh in the mind to merit discussion. Suffice to say that in "Everyday" and "Far Far Away" they have two of the year's best pop songs and in "Bangin' Man" one of the year's best rockers. The expanding talents of Noddy, Jimmy, Don and Dave have been on public display now for nearly five years. Listening to the records again brought me new pleasures I'd hardly expected. When the dust and glitter has cleared, I'm confident that we'll be able to look back at the 1970s and say, without fear of contradiction, that Slade have been responsible for the very best of British popular music. I expect too that they'll still be making great records in the 1980s. I certainly hope they will. Peter Jones concluded his notes to "Beginnings" by writing "Ambrose Slade Is For Real” Amend that to "Slade Is For Real" and I'm with you all the way.

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This article was written by John Peel and is taken from the Super Star Magazine #1/2 which is entitled "Slade In Flame" and priced 30p back in 1974.

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