Let’s do the obvious (though also the most tenuous) one first. Soul classic “Want Ads” by The Honey Cone was a US number one in 1971 and has inevitably been covered by a whole load of other people since. But here’s the original, which according to Wikipedia features a young Ray Parker Jr on rhythm guitar. And I know what a huge selling point that is.
The second song was also an American number one, the last of the 1970s in fact. But this time I haven’t gone for the hit version (by Rupert Holmes), but instead for a more recent cover by Jack Johnson, who actually pronounces the ñ in piña colada. So one for the linguistic pedants out there.
I suppose writing about personal ads does rather lend itself to the set up – punchline approach heard in “Escape”, and that’s used even more blatantly in my final song of the day. “Two For The Price Of One” is the token Björn-sung track on Abba‘s final studio album The Visitors, and is quite a departure from the notoriously gloomy mood of much of that album. That may be why a lot of people seem to interpret this as much darker than it really is. Also, a lot of people seem to take the title literally and assume it’s about prostitutes, which I’m pretty sure is not actually the implication.
It’s the usual thing, but this time with four in a row… from jangly 70s blues-pop to piano-led 70s blues-rock to 80s indie rock (with very dated Mel & Kim reference) to 2000s (but only just) gloomy indie rock.
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
No April Fool gags on this blog; if I was going to do a spoof post, I’d hardly do it on this of all days. Give me some credit! Instead, we have a proper classic. I know this is a ridiculously obvious choice for April Fools’ Day and it’s a very mainstream track to boot, but seriously, it’s just such a great record. You hear the opening and you think “oh right, this again”… but by a couple of minutes in, you’re swept up in it. Take eight and a half minutes out of your day and play it loud – I guarantee you, it’ll be a hell of a lot more entertaining than any of those crap “jokes” that even their creators know aren’t good enough to bring out on any other day of the year…
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is one of the songs that emerged from The Who’s (well, mainly Pete Townshend’s) failed Lifehouse project (from whence arose the terrific Who’s Next album). I’ve recently been reading Richie Unterberger’s book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse to Quadrophenia, and if you don’t already know the story of Pete Townshend’s sanity-straining concept for a rock opera to top Tommy – or even if you do – I recommend you get hold of a copy. And then read it. Obviously.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” went through a few stages before it became the monster rock anthem we know it as, so here are three more versions. Firstly, Pete Townshend’s relatively measured original demo:
Then, the first attempt at a full-band recording. It’s good, but it’s plainly not good enough (and the sequencer-style synth part is all wrong – they couldn’t replicate that part, so for the final version, they simply played it in from the original demo), so it’s hardly surprising they scrapped this one.
And while nowadays nobody ever plays anything but the full album version, there was a 7″ edit, and this is the version you’d have heard on wonderful Radio 1 back in 1971…
Of course, having done both the Stones and The Who, at some point I’m going to have to do The Beatles…