Saturday, February 10, 2018

Stairway to the Stars - Amazing Tales of Glam Rock


Slade, Glam Rock History, Simon Reynolds

Second post of 2018 and another belated book recommendation - this being Simon Reynolds' Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and it's Legacy from last year. This is an excellent narrative companion to Dave Thompson's Children of the Revolution which was a month-by-month breakdown of all relevant record releases of the period - still essential and retrospectively throwaway alike.

Reynolds' work is an incredibly intelligent, witty and well-written deconstruction of the Glam phenomena as played out on both sides of the Atlantic - that comparatively brief half-decade-long crafting of pie-eyed lovestruck Fifties nostalgia onto hyper-commercial Seventies musical soundcraft. Intriguing to read how this transcendental marriage played out across the board and beyond the more obvious linkages to be heard on the records of Roy Wood's Wizzard, Mud or the poppier Rubettes for example. The author also traces the afterglow of Glam which of course can be found in the music and stylistics of Hanoi Rocks, Manic Street Preachers, The Darkness and many others.

I was way too young to have caught the Glam tide at its peak though am extremely proud to recall that the first record I ever bought back in an especially glitter-free downtown Seventies Belfast was the faux-Roxy of Sailor and their classy girl-magnetising Glass of Champagne single in 1976. Finally got to see David Bowie at Slane Castle in County Meath in 1987 and over the Eighties and Nineties in London I also caught the Hunter Ronson Band, Steve Harley and a certain gang show at the Hammersmith Palais. During my time in the capital I lived for a few years very near the site of Marc Bolan's fatal car accident on Queen's Ride in Barnes in South West London and for a longer period resided close to North London's Waterlow Park which was the subject of a well-regarded 1971 Mott the Hoople album track.

The take-off of Glam rock I assume can be fundamentally sourced to the T Rex singles Ride A White Swan and Hot Love in 1970 and 1971 though it's hard to pin down an end point beyond the obvious historical qualifications that David Bowie, Roxy Music and Sparks' careers cantered on way beyond the end of the decade. 1975 was clearly the year that the run of great Glam singles came to closure - these would include The Sweet's Fox on the Run, David Essex's Stardust,  T Rex's New York City, Cockney Rebel's Come Up and See Me and Sparks Something for the Girl With Everything. However even though I always have loved the former's gloriously macho bluster on Stairway to the Stars from 1977 - alongside Maid in Heaven by Be Bop Deluxe and late T Rex's Funky London Childhood - I personally like to ground the final hurrah of the genre within the revival of Slade's fortunes following upon their 1980 appearance at the Reading Festival.

The Black Country group were added to the bill at the last minute to replace Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Oz on the August 24th lineup. Guitarist Dave Hill was uncertain about reconvening the group for the concert in light of a radical decline in their commercial fortunes of late but was encouraged by manager Chas Chandler to see it as a significant public farewell for their career at the very least. The reaction from the 65,000 crowd to their 13-song set - as discussed in joyful detail on the Official Slade in England site - was unexpected and completely uproarious. Youtube commentary upon the event notes:

Probably the greatest and most underrated performance ever. 

I was there,everyone went mad,they worked hard got the crowd behind them and made up for all the dodgy stuff and showed what they could really do,crowd would not let them go,one of the most unexpected triumphs I have ever seen. 

I think they really shut everybody up by being so IN YOUR FACE that day. I had been a fan since puberty almost and feared for them when I heard the day before they had replaced OZZY of all people but they came on Nod just leering at the knockers who were throwing beer cans etc at the stage and they started rather weakly but song by song they grew in popularity and volume that by the time they left that stage even old whistle test whispering Bob was leaping around whooping. Slade were on fire!
 
I was there,bloody brilliant , as previously stated they took Reading by the balls and shook it . 

they were totally awesome at Reading.....remember Def Leppard came on after them and people were still shouting for Slade. 

I remember, I was there. 19 years old at the time and grew up with the band. One of the best and overwhelming sets of theirs I'd ever experienced. The atmosphere was indescribable.

so true, they blew everyone away, but that never surprised me,,,,it just reinforced my belief in the fact that slade were as good as any live rock band bar none,,even years after their explosive introduction to our youthfull ears,legends,

Slade's musical output continued on throughout the Eighties with significant success - My Oh My was a number 2 British hit in 1983 while the following year the Celtic-tinged Run Run Away would reach numbers 7 and 20 in the UK and American charts. Their last hit was the wonderful metal chant of  Radio Wall of Sound of 1991 which affectionately namechecked Bolan's Telegram Sam and reached number 21 in the United Kingdom.

Returning to Reading and there is one song I particularly adore from their legendary performance that day - in my personal opinion the last Glam classic of all. Alongside the run through of Seventies yobbo hits - Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Get Down and Get With It and Cum On Feel the Noize - sits the effortlessly magnificent When I'm Dancin' I Ain't Fightin'. Sunderland punk band The Wall brilliantly covered this in 1982. The Slade original would appear on a live EP culled from the Reading gig and also on the 1981 album We'll Bring the House Down alongside two lifted singles - Wheels Ain't Coming Down and the title track.

When I'm Dancin' I Ain't Fightin' by Noddy Holder and Jim Lea is a criminally overlooked yet truly classic slice of driving British hard rock. The title alone is reflective of how the dynamics and iconography of the gender-bending Glam wave diffused through to the more ultra recesses of youth culture in the scary uncontrollable Seventies - from English football hooligan hordes to Ulster's Tartan gangs.  The lyrics may not attune easily into the political sensitivity of the modern day but pay direct tribute nonetheless -  in the most proletarian hard man fashion imaginable - to live-and-let-live sexual inclusivity:

Let me tell you bout' the ins and outs of love
Let me tell you bout' a bit of push and shove
Let me tell you when the holy terror strikes

He's a ladykiller doin' what he likes
Doesn't matter if you're naturally one way
Doesn't matter if you're actually, well gay
There's nothing like it when sensations coincide

Hidden mysteries that lies can never hide

During the Seventies Slade had an extraordinary 17 consecutive Top Twenty singles in Britain including six Number Ones. By virtue of their singles sales alone they were probably the most successful British group of the decade. Their influence was recognised by many major artists across the world from The Ramones to The Sex Pistols to Kiss - at one point Holder was considered as Bon Scott's replacement in AC/DC. On a personal level my connectivity with the group goes way way back to 1973 and my sister's Arcade 20 Fantastic Hits by the Original Artists (As Advertised On TV) compilation which incorporated their first hit Cuz I Love You alongside Edison Lighthouse's Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, The Piglet's Johhny Reggae, Melanie's Brand New Key et al.

To this day I sincerely hold that the 1972 clip of Slade peforming Take Me Back 'Ome with their female shadow dancers on London Weekend Television's 2Gs and the Pop People is one of the most joyous moments in television history - I always half expect to see Witchiepoo stomping in the background with Jack Wild. In turn, and although it received a mixed critical reaction at the time, Slade's 1975 venture into cinema Flame is very highly regarded today by serious film aficionados as a core slab of gritty British noir. Indeed the group continues to be frequently referenced within many popular British modern social histories of the Dominic Sandbrook/Alwyn Turner ilk. 

Slade's 1977 studio album Whatever Happened to Slade followed upon a career sojourn by the band in North America and was named after some London graffiti that had been spotted during this period. In similar fashion the Reynolds volume notes how Slade are in essence rarely talked about or recalled  much today compared to many of their peers - this beyond their obligatory inclusion in generic television documentaries of British pop history and despite the genuine authenticity of their hard rock profile as displayed on album track, b-side and compiled BBC studio sessions of 2009.  (Full previews of all fourteen Ambrose Slade/Slade albums by the way can be found on Ashley Smith's youtube video uploads).

Last week while perusing Spotify I noticed that barely a handful of Slade's songs were available for listening to and no albums whatsoever - this even compared to The Sweet or Mott and let alone the enormous Bowie and Bolan digital footprints. A melancholy reflection on the distance between the warm grounded memories of our shared folk past and the unanchored drift of the British now. Or to quote the world-weary, common sense and earthy wisdom of one magnificent Slade b-side no less - OK Yesterday Was Yesterday.


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