The track that sparked today’s post might fall into the category of “guilty pleasure” but hearing it made me smile at a time when little else did, and that earns it a place here. Don’t judge me too harshly, but it’s “Run Runaway” by Slade.
Actually, some would class Slade‘s entire output as a guilty pleasure, but that’s doing them a disservice. Look beyond Dave Hill‘s ridiculous outfits, the (surprisingly short-lived) mizspeld titlez gimmik, and the ubiquity of that CHRISSSSSST-MAAAAAASS! song, and you find a pretty solid rock band with a catalogue of great songs that most groups would sell their own drummer for.
But one thing I think Slade could have capitalised more on, is the electric violin. It powers two of Slade’s most fondly-remembered (by me, at least) hits, “Coz I Luv You” and “Run Runaway”, and you would think such a distinctive sound would be used more. But no. Bassist and chief tunesmith Jim Lea wasn’t shy about taking to the piano, but his violin didn’t get out of its case much. Still, when it did, the results were always worth a spin. So here is an alternative history of Slade in five electric violin solos (if we’re being picky, there isn’t really a solo in the fourth one, but hey)…
In the beginning there was The ‘N Betweens. Guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell started the group, and then poached bassist Jim Lea and singer Neville “Noddy” Holder from other bands. Having gained a reputation as a live act, they signed to Fontana, and on the instruction of A&R man Jack Baverstock, changed their name to Ambrose Slade. It was under this name that their first LP, Beginnings, appeared in 1969. Two-thirds covers (including Steppenwolf‘s “Born To Be Wild”, which would remain a mainstay of their live set for years to come) to one-third original material, Beginnings was a bit of a false start. But the venture did allow Jim Lea to wield his bow on a couple of tracks, including this one, the first to feature the soon-to-be-familiar Holder / Lea writing credit. Its folkiness is definitely not the Slade we would come to know:
Having failed to make much impact with either Beginnings or its follow-up Play It Loud, Slade finally broke through in 1971 with their heavily-reworked version of “Get Down And Get With It”, a number they’d picked up from Little Richard (and originally mistakenly credited to him instead of the actual writer, Bobby Marchan). For a follow-up, they turned to one of their own songs, and were rewarded with a number one hit – the first of six. “Coz I Luv You”‘s liberal use of the violin helped it stand out, and of their phenomenal run of hits, to my mind it’s one of the ones that’s aged best. You know you luv it really.
Link: Slade – Coz I Luv You
Two years later, and Slade were at the height of their powers, and confident enough to experiment with something very different: a number inspired by Holder’s love of jazz and paying tribute to Django Reinhardt‘s influential Quintette du Hot Club de France. It was briefly considered as a single in its own right, but they thought better of it and instead hid it away on the B-side of formula glam stomper “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me”. The single may have been a throwaway, but it went to number one, so a lot of people must have played the flip side at least once. And at least a few of them will have gone on to check out the work of Stephane Grappelli as a result…
Five years later, we find Slade in the midst of their “wilderness years”. They’re not at rock bottom yet – “Okey Cokey” is still a year away – but Slade are clearly seen as yesterday’s men. Glam rock contemporaries Sweet and Suzi Quatro have both bounced back from apparently dead careers with big hits that year, yet Slade remain completely out of fashion. Latest album “Whatever Happened To Slade” is a return to form, but nobody’s buying it. Nobody’s buying this standalone 45 either, which is a pity because I bet they would if this had said “10cc” or “Electric Light Orchestra” on the label instead of “Slade”. Bit of a lost classic.
ACT 5: 1984 – All things to everyone?
By the time “Run Runaway” came out in 1984, Slade’s fortunes were looking good. Their latest LP The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome had been well received and spawned their biggest hit single in a decade, the christmas number two “My Oh My” (IMO not really worthy of its success, but anyway). At the same time, they were finally starting to get the attention they’d always sought from the American market. The time they’d spent trying to crack the States in the 1970s had infamously been less successful than they’d hoped (their biggest Hot Hundred entry of the decade, “Gudbuy T’Jane”, topped out at an underwhelming #68), but their electrifying stage act had influenced a generation of rock stars who now lined up to sing their praises, while Quiet Riot‘s top five cover of “Cum On Feel The Noize” (and the subsequent realisation that Quiet Riot didn’t have the original material to match it) suddenly made Slade a marketable commodity in the USA.
When “Run Runaway” hit the UK top ten in early ’84, Slade were in the States, preparing for a tour supporting their old midlander pal Ozzy Osbourne. Alas, it wasn’t to be. After a warm-up gig in San Francisco, Jim Lea took ill, with what turned out to be hepatitis C, and Slade pulled out. “Run Runaway”, supported by an entertaining video (the inclusion of a kilted pipe band and a bald man toting a caber being enough to convince most viewers that they were in the Scottish Highlands, though it was actually filmed at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire) made the US top 20 anyway, and both “My Oh My” and the US configuration of …Syndrome, retitled Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply, went top 40.
In retrospect, the cancelled tour was the beginning of the end for Slade. The original line-up never toured again, and although the official split didn’t come until 1992, Slade effectively ceased to exist even as a studio act after 1987’s slick but hitless You Boyz Make Big Noize. The big dumb fun of “Radio Wall Of Sound”, effectively a Jim Lea solo effort, was issued to promote a greatest hits compilation in 1991 and reached a respectable number 21, allowing Slade to bow out on a relative high. (Nobody remembers the final final Slade single, “Universe”, so we’ll gloss over that. And before anyone mentions it, Slade II never happened, OK?)
So there you have it, Slade in four-and-a-bit violin solos. To finish off, here’s a song with no violins, but a great one all the same. Taken from the soundtrack Slade in Flame, it reached number 2 in 1974 and is (apparently) Noddy’s favourite Slade song. One of mine as well.
Link: Slade – Far Far Away