April 25, 2022

The ‘Slayed?’ album looked and sounded as if it was going to bully your other records as soon as you left the room, and this edition, with its replication of the original sleeve, looks like it will do it again. If you have the original vinyl as well, and store both together, they might do prison time.

Ah, Slade! If there’s a person alive in the UK today who was in their teens in the first half of the 1970s and doesn’t get a tingle of nostalgia at the name, I’d be very surprised. Basically, if you were a certain age at school around that time, you liked Slade. You might not have loved them, or you might not have admitted it, but everyone liked Slade just a bit. For my part, I was in the T Rex camp in 1972-73 (to younger readers, think Oasis v Blur, only much more so!), and I wasn’t ‘supposed to’ like Slade. But who was I kidding? I bought the compilation album Sladest, immediately backtracked to Slayed? and grabbed Old New Borrowed And Blue when it was released (advertised on TV, no less). I went to the cinema to see their superb, and very underrated, feature film Slade In Flame. In later years I picked up a four disc box set and simply revelled in the quality. Slade had the lot – they had the best ‘four of the lads’ image in the business, they had an utterly iconic look (come on, Noddy Holder and Dave Hill, you can see them now can’t you?), and most importantly they were a great, solid, straight-up-and-down-the-wicket rock band. Put simply, Slade were cool without trying to be. For all these reasons and more I was delighted to see the appearance of these four impressively coloured ‘splatter vinyl’ releases, in replicas of the original packaging and all sounding top-drawer. Let’s dive in and taste some of that nostalgia shall we?

The first album to get this treatment is 1972’s Slade Alive!. This is fair enough, as the albums omitted are the rather formative Beginnings and Play It Loud. Slade Alive!, despite being recorded in 1971 at a time before the band had any hit singles apart from the relatively minor success of Get Down And Get With It, is often – quite correctly – lauded as being one of the quintessential live rock albums of the decade. So much so, in fact, that Kiss reportedly named their own landmark 1975 album Alive! in direct homage to this record. Given the recording dates (October 1971), naturally none of the band’s signature songs appear, except for a bulldozing assault on Get Down And Get With It, but it really doesn’t matter as this is searing stuff. Four of the songs are covers with only three originals, but again that doesn’t really matter as the covers are not what you would expect. Even the closing take on Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild was fresh at the time, as it had not yet become a staple for bands to cover, and few people would have known the Ten Years After track Hear Me Calling or the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Darling Be Home Soon, with even fewer expecting them! Of the band’s originals, only the superb Know Who You Are, from the Play It Loud album, had previously been released. In Like A Shot From My Gun was planned to be recorded for a studio album, but such was the quality of this live rendition that plans for a studio take were abandoned, feeling that it would be pointless. Keep On Rocking is something of an oddity which was never recorded nor, seemingly, spoken of again! The album is raw and earthy throughout, crackling with energy and power, with one particularly amusing moment coming when Noddy Holder burps into the microphone during Darling Be Home Soon. It was, he explained, a complete accident caused by their beer consumption before shows, but it became such an iconic moment that he had to recreate it during every performance after the album’s release!

In actual fact, the album wasn’t recorded at regular shows, but in fact three specially arranged dates in Command Theatre Studio in Piccadilly, London, with, of course, a live audience. If anyone expected this to affect the ambience they were entirely wrong, as the result sounds as if it was recorded in a sweaty, sticky, boozy club venue, and all the better for it. The packaging is superb here, with the marvellously iconic red and black cover shot intact, as is the inner gatefold spread featuring press reviews of the band and also a bizarre illustration of a a naked fat man at an altar in his bedroom apparently worshipping a giant Teddy Bear! This wonderfully surreal painting was actually the winner of a newspaper competition to design the album cover, though in the UK at least it was wisely kept for the inner! Italy and, astonishingly, Israel used the inner design as the front cover! Only in the early ’70s…

In late 1972, the next studio album, Slayed? appeared, and here makes up the second of these releases, in yellow and black to match the general cover colour scheme (as do all of these releases, satisfyingly). By this time Slade had become a household name, and begun the gimmick of misspelling their song titles, with the singles Gudbuy T’ Jane and Mama Weer All Crazee Now appearing here. Great as they are, those two aren’t even particular highlights of this astonishingly strong collection, at a time which may well have represented the band’s studio peak. Almost every track on here is a winner, but the standouts to these ears are opener How D’You Ride, the brilliantly cynical look at the false nature of fame Look At Last Nite, the B-side to the Gudbuy T’Jane single I Won’t Let It ‘Appen Agen and, perhaps best of all, an astonishing assault on the Janis Joplin classic Move Over. Closing the first side, it’s a track so brutally in-your-face aggressive that it should come with a mandatory suit of body armour and a protective helmet, taking the already powerful Joplin version and making it sound like the Pan Pipes Of The Andes in the process. Anyone who ever doubted Slade were a seriously powerful rock band should be directed here, and then made to say that they are very, very sorry. Even the cover photo of the four members looks like they’ve just got up with hangovers following a particularly enjoyable pub brawl the night before. The album looked and sounded as if it was going to bully your other records as soon as you left the room, and this edition, with its replication of the original sleeve, looks like it will do it again. If you have the original vinyl as well, and store both together, they might do prison time.

By the time the next album, 1974’s Old New Borrowed And Blue appeared, Slade were massive beyond their imagining, at least in the UK. Two consecutive singles went straight to Number One in the first week of release – something unheard of since the Beatles – and everyone knew them. Marc Bolan was on an irreversible downward trajectory, and Slade were standing proud as the undisputed kings of Glam Rock, above the likes of Sweet. Mud and Suzi Quatro – despite being about as glamorous themselves as a punch in the face! Looking back now, it seems incredible that the image of Noddy Holder – all half-mast tartan trousers, wild sideburns and big mirrored top hat – or drummer Don Powell, who looked as if he sparred with Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier in his spare time, were considered ‘glam’, but things were strange in the early ’70s! And indeed, perhaps in a way Slade’s own ‘blokes down the pub who made it as pop stars’ appearance worked in their favour with much of the audience. So ubiquitous were the band that the fanfare around the album’s release even led to it being advertised on peak-time television – it had the same ‘you can’t escape this album’ air about it as did Bat Out Of Hell or Brothers In Arms a decade later, and more importantly it was another damn fine rock album. My Town is one of the all time great Slade ‘deep cuts’, burrowing into your head with a chorus you can’t resist, and the heavy rock credentials are reinforced by the likes of Do We Still Do It, We’re Really Gonna Raise The Roof and the closing Good Time Gals (the misspelling gimmick had wisely been retired here, but irritatingly replaced by all instances of the letter S being reversed). Elsewhere, however, there was a lot of variety creeping in to the record, which displays more depth than the band had previously shown. When The Lights Are Out is sung by bassist Jim Lea (with Holder joining on the chorus), and is an excellent Beatlesque melodic rocker, which Lea delivers well – despite Holder later jokingly remarking ‘There’s nothing like a good singer. And Jim is nothing like a good singer’. Miles Out To Sea is cut from a similar semi-rocking cloth, and is another fine song, while the hit single Everyday was a straight ballad full of gravitas which is still highly regarded today. How Can It Be even has an acoustic country flavour to it, in a sign that Slade were more confident in their abilities than ever. There are lower points; My Friend Stan was one of their weaker singles, Find Yourself A Rainbow is a matter of taste, being a music hall sort of number driven by honky tonk piano (courtesy of local pub landlord Tommy Burton, bizarrely), which has echoes of the Kinks, and the B-Side to the Merry Xmas Everybody monster hit, Don’t Blame Me, is a feeble and uninspired rocker. Better might have been the flip to Come On Feel The Noise, the terrific I’m Mee, I’m Now And That’s Orl. Still, despite these weaknesses, it remains a fine album, its delayed appearance well over a year after Slayed? being due to the fact that Don Powell had suffered a near fatal car accident, from which he eventually recovered but still suffered from short term memory issues. The red and blue vinyl looks great on this one, and the cover again reproduces the original faithfully – even down to the hard-to-read lyrics in blue on the inner gatefold, which if anything have become even more illegible this time out!

The final entry in this vinyl collection of releases is rounded off by Slade In Flame, appearing nine months later in November 1974. The soundtrack to the film of the same name, it is a sad fact that both album and film were dreadfully underrated at the time by an audience (and critics) who wanted them to simply do something else. The film even now is brilliant, a gritty and satirical look at the seamier side of the music biz through a fictional ’60s group called Flame, played of course by our lads. It was pretty true to life in a lot of ways, being based on plenty of the band’s own experiences, but people didn’t want that in 1974. They wanted to see Slade looning about in a ’70s version of A Hard Days Night, so the music equivalent of Get Carter really threw them for a loop. Similarly the album saw the band experimenting perhaps even more than on Old New Borrowed And Blue, and this also didn’t sit well with people yearning for some more ‘You know how to skweeze me, woah oh!’ choruses, or cries of ‘Baby baby baaaaabyyy!’ or (God help us) ‘It’s Chriiiiiiiiistmas!! For the most part they weren’t getting that here – but what they were getting, if they could have only seen it, was an album which showed just how many other strings Slade had to their collective bow. The two singles from the album set the stall out, with the excellent (and reasonably successful) Far Far Away and the even better (and less successful) How Does It Feel both taking the example set by Everyday, and improving it significantly. This might be a different sounding band, but it was arguably an even better one. Elsewhere on the album there is a wealth of good stuff. There are a couple of great pop-rockers in the vein of When The Lights Are Out or Miles Out To Sea from the previous album, in the shape of So Far So Good and the brilliantly nostalgic feel of Summer Song (Wishing You Were Here), which makes you want to lament your lost youth and the days when fairgrounds were the real deal, while sighing wistfully into your beer. There’s even a hint of funk creeping in with the slinky This Girl, and those wanting some good old fashioned Slade heavy rock crunch can get their kicks with OK Today Was Yesterday, the tongue-twisting chorus of Standin’ On The Corner and the tremendous Them Kinda Monkeys Can’t Swing. It may not be a perfect album (Lay It Down and Heaven Knows aren’t the strongest), but it’s a very good one, and the fact that it precipitated the start of Slade’s fall from grace in the UK is a real shame – a slide which they couldn’t arrest for several years, until a barnstorming appearance at the Reading festival earned them a resurgence, and a newfound rock respectability, but that’s another story – perhaps to be chronicled with more fine releases like these.

Which album or albums you want from these depends very much on what Slade floats your boat – if you want the raw early rockers, Slade Alive is for you; if you want the start of the commercial heavy rocking glory years, you need Slayed?; if you want a band still riding that wave but hanging ten with a couple of wider influences, then Old New Borrowed And Blue is for you; and finally, if you want a band stretching their boundaries a little with an audience uneasy about following, well, try Slade In Flame. But if so, then do ensure you see the film as well, as it remains one of the best rock movies ever made. At least, if nothing else, American fans now get the real version of the latter album – when it originally came out across the Atlantic, the glorious Summer Song was replaced by the less-than-subtle single The Bangin’ Man. And that’s just so, so wrong.