Glam rockers Slade could teach today’s gloomy songwriters how to cheer up – Aidan Smith
It’s all over now, baby blue. The sad songs have won. New research has found that while once pop music echoed to a generally happy refrain, it’s all gloom and despair these days, often worse.
The study reveals a decline in positive words in lyrics such as “love” and “joy”, while down is on the up. Negative words like “pain” have become ever more popular and “hate” rears its ugly head at five times the frequency of 15 years ago.
How’s it come to this? I think back to my youth club discos and the DJ knowing the precise moment to pop Nilsson’s Without You onto the turntable – knowing that the clomp of fast-exiting platform shoes, leaving behind the faint waft of Charlie perfume irresistibly mixed with Bazooka Joe bubblegum, meant I’d been chucked again and that the refrain “Can’t live if living is without you” would be the perfect soundtrack to my vale of tears. But these Friday nights always ended with an upbeat 45. A choon to send everyone home smiling and optimistic that soon – the very next Friday, perhaps – there would be someone new, somebody else to skweeze. No group, at that time or since, has done upbeatness better than Slade.
Imagine my shock, then, when on the very day the study was published Slade announced they were no more. At first I wondered if the two things were linked: that the band still capable of cheering me up by thinking of grannies jiving after almost half a century, to the extent that I would contemplate a fringed mullet even now, had decided that if all people wanted was mawkish self-obsession, bitterness and bile, they might as well clomp off themselves.
Fixing, not trashing, hotel rooms
The truth, as is often the case, is more prosaic. Dave Hill has sacked Don Powell, the only other remaining original member. In future there will be two Slades – Dave Hill’s Slade and, wait for it, Don Powell’s Slade – but really, the band as fondly remembered by me and anyone who skweezed their first plooks to the glam-rock stomp, are finished. It’s gudbuy to Slade.
Do you know how the end came? Via email. Which self-respecting rock star does that? We, the poor saps stuck in offices live by email so four working-class hooligans who can’t spell but know the secret of thundering No 1 hits, don’t have to. This may be bigger than just the demise of Slade. It could be the death of classic rock ’n’ roll behaviour.
I suppose, though, that Slade, while making an almighty din like classic rock ’n’ roll, didn’t always behave according to the hoary rulebook in their early 1970s heyday. Just as fellow glammers Roxy Music, those world-weary aesthetes, would redecorate hotel rooms rather than trash them, so Slade never threw a TV into a pool, with the band’s obits revealing that singer Noddy Holder used to carry a tool-set to fix faulty electrics and wobbly furniture, so leaving the place “nice” for the next guests.
They never suffered any of the time-honoured musical differences, at least not until now. Hit parade rivals Sweet were the ones for fights, flouncing-off and feuds which simmered for years. Glasgow-born singer Brian Connolly was the half-brother of Taggart actor Mark McManus, he of the “There’s been a murder” catchphrase. The Sweet story turned very dark, but even though the other Slade originals, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, quit back in the 1990s this didn’t seem to involve any rancour. So it’s distressing to we fans that Hill and Powell have fallen out when both have reached the ripe old age of 73. It’s the same kind of sadness you feel when a long-time-married couple call it a day and have to bring in the lawyers to decide who gets the Teasmade and the stairlift.
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Slade emerged from the Black Country in the English Midlands and with Holder’s rasping roar possessed a sound that was Industrial Revolution in its power. As damage-limitation, his doctor recommended he drink vodka and blackcurrant every day for his throat and gargle with TCP. A larynx specialist once declared him beyond treatment but he hardly ever lost his voice and Slade hardly ever released a record which didn’t shoot straight to No 1.
Coz I Luv You (the first single I ever bought), Look Wot You Dun, Take Me Back ’Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Cum on Feel the Noise, Skweeze Me, Please Me – school-teachers hated the misspellings and complained to Slade’s record company, and we loved them even more because of that. And let’s not forget Merry Xmas Everybody, the Herod of the in-store yule soundtrack, causing shoppers to flee online, killing the high street.
The band were even better live. “You reel in joy as the whole building shakes,” wrote the notoriously hard-to-please American rock critic Lester Bangs about his first Slade gig. “Clay floors, planks in the walls, the giant pipe organ behind the stage all tremble and slap. The band rock the rafters and meanwhile people are spilling out of the balcony. Eight-year-old children writhing like dervishes, teen birds crying and fainting and tugging their curls in total Hard Day’s Night hysteria, boys jumping up and tromping on the chairs like they were trampolines. There was a kid who said it all: maybe 17, short hair and horn rims … sweating and shuddering in ecstasy, wriggling his entire body and flinging his arms out in wild erratic arcs, eyes shut, gaping, blessed by total beautiful mindless transport.”
Audience reaction was pretty similar at Leith Town Hall in May 1975, the week after I left school. Sad songs and hate songs cannot do this, you see.