Music Features

Overlooked Albums #10: Slade - Slayed?

I first heard Slayed? in December 1972 when a neighbor friend of mine, the arbiter of hip around our block, bought it as a UK import. The record bowled me over: here was the antidote to bleating singer-songwriters, to metal’s tuneless sludge, to prog rock’s endless snooze noodlings. Slade cut through all that tripe, and I've been a fan ever since.

Slade had been around since the late sixties, first as the ‘N Betweens, then for a while as Ambrose Slade. They flirted briefly with the skinhead look before seeing greener pastures in glam rock. It was a shrewd move encouraged by manager/producer Chas Chandler, who had steered the group through two hitless years. The group finally scored big with Little Richard’s Get Down And Get With It, gaining momentum with the release of Slade Alive! (1972). By the time Slayed? was released, Slade had become a top concert draw, with a huge, rabid fan base that made every single a hit. It would have meant nothing on this side of the globe, but the music was irresistible.

Slade were an unlikely glam bland, having none of Marc Bolan’s pretty-boy appeal. Slade’s strategy relied on caricature. Singer Noddy Holder and guitarist Dave Hill were the main focus on stage. Hill, with fringed pudding-bowl haircut, stomped around in a shiny superyob costume. Holder wore checked trousers and suspenders. His hairy sideburns and wide-brimmed hat made him look like an oversized leprechaun in platform shoes. Bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell rounded up the lineup, a great rhythm section that is undervalued today.

Slade presented themselves as four louts from Wolverhampton, brash and oafish, and proud of it. Just a quick glance at Slayed?'s misspelled song titles puts that message across: Gudbuy T’ Jane, I Won’t Let It ‘Appen AgenMama Weer All Crazee Now. These crimes against the English language would be taken as hooligan mischief, and indeed they were. But they also state what the music is (raw, direct, unbridled) and what it’s not (sensitive, complicated, intellectual). This approach would inform the punk music that would come later. The similarities end there because Slade’s music was never political, except to uphold the right to party and have a good time.

Slayed? captures the group in peak form. It starts with How D’You Ride, a burst of electric energy that is maintained throughout. Eight of its ten tracks are Holder-Lea originals, and each one sparks. Lea was the group’s most accomplished player, a schooled musician that had switched from violin to bass. The building blocks for the songs are simple, mostly major chords, but Lea imparts magic to the verse-chorus-verse structure.

Holder has been blessed with a strong set of pipes, sounding like an unholy union between Little Richard and Janis Joplin, whose Move Over is covered here. That song is a good example of Holder’s range, alternating between soft pleadings and hair-raising wails.

Producer Chas Chandler gave the album a live feel, with a mix that emphasizes Powell’s marching rhythms. It’s a sound that invites the listener to join in with handclaps and foot-stomping, as many did in the winter of 1972.

After Slayed?, some momentum was lost when Powell had a car crash that killed his girlfriend, broke both his ankles and five of his ribs, and caused short-term memory loss. Some songs were recorded during this downtime, including Merry Xmas Everybody, their biggest seller. With glam’s demise in 1974, Slade tried to meet the challenge. Ballads and keyboards started to feature more on albums and singles. The music was still loud, the clothes less so.

The group’s sole film came out in 1974, Slade in Flame: a gritty, bleak portrayal of the music business that ran contrary to Slade’s happy-go-lucky image and scared fans away. It is now considered one of the best rock movies ever, but it harmed the band’s career.

Some of the band’s best songs were written around this period, yet the last half of the seventies saw a steep decline in record sales. It could partly be be blamed on the rise of punk; a paradox, given the fact that most punks started as glam kids. It was mainly because Slade fans had a fixed idea about what the group’s music and image should be, leaving no way to move except in circles.

Bands like Kiss had taken the Slade model and turned it into a successful marketing scheme, but Slade never became that crass. They certainly toured hard trying to crack open the American market, but their sole hit there, Run Runaway, came as the result of an MTV video. By then, Slade were winding down, and they stopped touring that year. Holder and Lea left the group in 1992. Hill and Powell continue as Slade to this day.

There’s a vast catalog of Slade songs that still sounds fresh and vital, and Slayed? should be the starting point for the uninitiated. I could go on at length about the impact and influence this music had on musicians, groups, and scenes, but the music speaks for itself. Just pick up a copy of Slayed? and play it loud.