For most of the first month of 1974, Slade held firm at the top. This is often the case with Christmas number 1s, which I’ve always found strange. Surely you’ve had enough of that song by the time the decorations have come down?
However, you can’t blame the British public for holding on to Merry Xmaƨ Everybody for a few weeks longer. The Three-Day Week began on New Year’s Day, the country was in its first recession since the Second World War, and living in fear of explosions courtesy of the IRA. But eventually people stopped buying it, which left The New Seekers to move up a few notches and claim their second number 1, and this time, they didn’t owe it to Coca-Cola.
Fresh off the success of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony), the group represented the UK in the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Edinburgh. Beg, Steal or Borrow finished in second place and reached number two in the charts. Circles climbed to number four later that year, but 1973 saw a dip in their fortunes and their chart placings dropped for singles including their medley of The Who’s Pinball Wizard-See Me, Feel Me. Peter Doyle perhaps felt they couldn’t recover, so he left and was replaced by Peter Oliver. They took to putting members in the forefront and singing leads more often than the five-piece harmonies of old, and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me was Lyn Paul’s turn.
Lynda Susan Belcher, born 16 February 1949 in Wythenshawe, Manchester, became a child actress as early as 1960, attending regular classes in dance and musical theatre. She led teenage girl band The Crys-Do-Lyns before qualifying as a dance teacher. With the 60s drawing to a close, she changed her name to Tanzy Paul and tried to become a solo star before joining Mancunian group The Nocturnes. Also in its line-up was Eve Graham, who left to join The New Seekers. When Sally Graham left the group, it was Eve who suggested Paul.
Opening with a bawdy blast of brass, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me is too upbeat sounding for its theme, really. Paul gives a great performance, belting the lyrics with gusto, but it’s a pretty sad song deep down, seemingly about a girl who’s in love with someone in a relationship elsewhere, who won’t commit to her, but keeps going back for more anyway. Having said that, it’s not as if lyrics have to fit the mood of the song, and for what it is, it’s not a bad piece of pop, really. I enjoy it more than their previous number 1.
However, after one-more big hit in March (I Get a Little Sentimental Over You), it was announced that The New Seekers were to split. There had been arguments from the band that they weren’t being paid enough, and both Graham and Paul wanted out. They had recorded enough material for Polydor Records to release Farewell Album.
It only took two years though, and The New Seekers were back, but with Kathy Ann Rae and Danny Finn replacing Paul and Peter Oliver. They couldn’t recapture their earlier success, and only I Wanna Go Back in 1976 and Anthem (One Day in Every Week) in 1978 troubled the top 30, and that year, Graham and Finn left the group to marry. In 1980 Marty Kristian was the only original member remaining in the group when they were disqualified from entering the Eurovision Song Contest due to performing a song they had already performed a year earlier. The competition was won by Prima Donna, a group featuring Finn in the line-up.
Since then there have been several versions of The New Seekers. Graham and Finn occasionally toured together and Graham recorded a couple of solo albums. Finn died in 2016 of of pulmonary embolism. Kristian finally left the group in 2002 and has recorded solo work. Doyle also went solo and made advertising jingles for Sugar Puffs and Ribena, before returning to Australia. He died of throat cancer in 2001.
Out of all the members, Paul became the most famous. She had success with It Oughta Sell a Million in 1975, which featured Doyle on backing vocals, and it was used on a Coca-Cola advert, of all things. After a quiet decade in the 80s, she became a West End star in the musical Blood Brothers in 1997 until 2010, and also appeared in Footloose – The Musical! and Cabaret, among others. Paul has also been a semi-regular on Emmerdale and starred in Doctors and Holby City.
‘IT’S CHRISTMAAAASSSSSSS!’. It’s not. It’s currently mid-August 2020 and we’re coming to the end of a blistering heatwave, which, if you know the story behind Slade’s final number 1, you’ll know is how the song was recorded. Little did they know it would become not only the most famous of their six number 1s, it would become perhaps pop’s greatest festive staple.
And yet, in summer 1973, the future of the band looked in doubt. While Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me was at number 1, drummer Don Powell was in a car crash that killed his girlfriend Angela Morris and left him in a coma for nearly a week. Luckily he successfully recovered, although he still suffers acute short-term memory loss and sensory problems.
Back in 1967 when Slade were The ‘N Betweens, Noddy Holder had written a song called Buy Me a Rocking Chair, with the very psychedelic chorus ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Despite liking the chorus, the verse needed work, so they scrapped it. Speaking to the Record Mirror in 1984, bassist Jim Lea recalled he was taking a shower in New York in 1973 when he came up with ‘Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall?’. Lea remembered Holder’s chorus and thought the two could fit together well, and producer and manager Chas Chandler had been nagging them to write a Christmas song. Holder thought the idea had legs, and penned the lyrics at his mother’s house in Walsall in one draft. They played the finished song to Chandler on acoustic guitars.
As hinted at earlier, Slade recorded Merry Xmaƨ Everybody in the middle of a September heatwave in New York while on tour there. Powell had returned to the fray at the Power Plant, where John Lennon had just finished recording his album Mind Games. Lea didn’t look back on the recording fondly, claiming the others weren’t as interested in him at rehearsing, though he did acknowledge Powell was still recovering and his memory was shot. Lea put in the most work, laying down the bass, piano and harmonium (the latter on loan from Lennon). They weren’t happy with the first completed mix as they wanted a bigger sound for the chorus, so they re-recorded it down a corridor, getting baffled looks from passers-by (Slade were virtually unknown in the US). After five days, the song was complete.
With several months to go until they could release their hopeful festive number 1, Slade released a compilation, Sladest, and new single MY FRIEИD STAИ (which looks slightly satanic). For the first time since Christmas 1972, they didn’t get to number 1. It was a departure from the usual Slade formula, but they had to change tack at some point, and it’s a nice little song. So, were they going to miss out on the Christmas top spot for the second year in a row?
Of course not. Merry Xmaƨ Everybody became the first Christmas-themed Christmas number 1 since Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957, and couldn’t have come at a better time. As everyone knows, the UK was going through a particularly grim time in late-1973. You’ve only got to look down at the ‘Meanwhile…’ section to see the Three-Day Week was about to begin, and the first post-war recession had started. Plus there was the OPEC oil crisis, and the IRA could strike at any moment. Glam acts like Slade and Wizzard were sorely needed to keep spirits up, and they did the job then and still do close to 50 years later. ‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun’. How we could do with some of that optimism in winter 2020.
One of the most important factors that explains the magic of Merry Xmaƨ Everybody is its inclusivity. It’s less rocking and more poppy than previous material. It’s aimed at all the family, with mentions of Granny ‘up and rock and rolling with the rest’. ‘ In 1971 Lennon asked ‘So this is Christmas, and what have you done’, in 1973 Slade said ‘everybody’s having fun’. There’s a nod (pardon the pun) to Christmas songs of old with the reference to ‘momma kissing Santa Claus’.
In 2017 I listened to every Christmas number 1 in one sitting and wrote about it here, and came to the conclusion Merry Xmaƨ Everybody is the best festive chart-topper of all time. I pointed out the production is lacking all the trimmings such as sleigh bells etc, and I think that’s another reason it’s stood the test of time so well. It doesn’t need them, as Holder’s ‘IIIIIITTTTT’S CHRIIIISSSTTTMMMMMASSSS!’ at the song’s conclusion gets the childhood joy of Christmas Day across like nobody has before or since.
Slade won the chart battle with Wizzard, who actually only reached number four in Christmas week, but nevertheless the sense of competition between the two glam rock outfits helped to create the battle for christmas number 1 that the media have latched on to ever since. The singles chart for Christmas week was now an event, and that’s thanks to Slade. Which is entirely appropriate, when you consider how glam’s low-budget sense of fun, bordering on the tacky, is Christmassy like no other genre.
Slade’s biggest seller was also a great way for the band to finish their run of number 1s. Six within just over two years is pretty impressive and puts them up there with some of the biggest acts of all time. Their fall was slow and steady, but there were also unexpected twists and turns.
1974 began with the release of the LP Old New Borrowed and Blue, which showcased a more piano-led sound and even a ballad as a single, Everyday, which went to number three. Much of the year was spent filming their film Slade In Flame, a surprisingly gritty drama about the rise and fall of a fictional group called Flame, played by the members of Slade. It was released in November, and although it was critically acclaimed (it has gained somewhat of a cult following in recent years), and the first single from the soundtrack Far Far Away reached number two, the theme song How Does It Feel only made it to number 15. Thanks for the Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam), in 1975, was their last top 10 hit of the 70s.
Understandably feeling they had peaked in the UK, in 1975 Slade decided to move to the US and try and hit the big time there. They toured with rock acts like Aerosmith and ZZ Top, and released an eclectic album. Nobody’s Fool, but not only did they fail to make much of an impact, their UK fans accused them of selling out.
By the time they returned to the UK in 1977, punk and the subsequent new wave rendered Slade very unfashionable. Their contract with major label Polydor had ran out and instead they signed with Chandler’s Barn Records. They performed single Gypsy Roadhog on Blue Peter and found themselves banned by the BBC due to its drug references, but the notoriety couldn’t help them up the charts. The next album, Whatever Happened to Slade, was an all too appropriate name.
As the band slid into irrelevance they would release singles based on football chants (1978’s Give Us a Goal) and covers of cheesy party classics (Okey Cokey in 1979) and some material failed to even reach the top 200. Disagreements between Lea and Chandler resulted in the former and Holder producing their back to basics album Return to Base in 1979. It was another failure, and the band briefly went their separate ways. Lea formed a new group, The Dummies, with his brother Frank, poor Hill resorted to driving couples to their weddings in his own Rolls-Royce to make money (it didn’t work), and Holder was briefly considered as AC/DC’s new singer following the death of Bon Scott, but he still thought Slade may have a future and reportedly turned the Australian rockers down.
In 1980, Slade had some luck at last when Ozzy Osbourne cancelled his headlining appearance at Reading Festival late in the day. Organisers rushed around looking for a last-minute replacement, and asked Slade. All but Hill were keen, but the only way he could be persuaded was when Chandler visited him at home and pointed out it could be their big farewell gig. To Hill’s surprise, they went down a storm. The split was forgotten about, and they acted fast to keep the momentum going. Showcasing a sound more in keeping with heavy metal, therefore pleasing the Reading Festival crowd, 1981’s We’ll Bring the House Down (title track to their next album) became their first top 10 hit in six years, and they returned to larger venues after years of touring small clubs and universities.
Slade and Chandler finally parted ways and they signed with RCA Records, who released their heaviest material yet, Till Deaf Us Do Part. That Christmas saw the first of many re-releases of Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, which reached 32. RCA began to demand hits from the band, and set them to work with producer John Punter. The resulting album, The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome, was released in December 1983, and featured two decent tracks. Power ballad My Oh My very nearly gave them their second festive chart-topper, but was held at bay by The Flying Pickets’ version of Only You. It was followed by Run Runaway, a fair stab at a Celtic-flavoured, Big Country-style sound.
Unfortunately, Holder wasn’t keen on Punter, and troubles in his private life resulted in a cancelled tour. They tried again for another Christmas single, All Join Hands (an inferior retread of My Oh My), but it couldn’t crack the top 10. And the final decline began, with a mainly synth-led album in 1985, Rogues Gallery, followed by a cheap Christmas cash-in LP, Crackers – The Christmas Party Album, along with the umpteenth release of their final number 1. It would take more than returning to deliberately mis-spelling their material to return Slade to form, and You Boyz Make Big Noize, released in 1987, was their final album. They did (sort-of) return to number 1 with Wizzard and lots of other festive hits, courtesy of Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ sampling them on Let’s Party in 1989.
In 1991 the Slade fan club organised a 25th anniversary show, and it was the last time they played live. Radio Wall of Sound, recorded for a compilation, was their final chart hit. In March 1992, Holder finally called it a day, and Lea, his much underrated songwriting partner, couldn’t see a future for Slade without their singer. He retired too, leaving Hill and Powell to form Slade II.
Slade II have continued since with various other members, and made the news in 2003 when convicted serial killer Rosemary West announced her engagement to bassist Dave Glover. Glover claimed this was a misunderstanding and he had only written to her about her case, but Hill of course sacked him. In February 2020 Powell claimed he had been sacked by Hill via a rather cold email, which Hill denied. He was all set to start Don Powell’s Slade but suffered a stroke, and with live music practically comatose post-lockdown, it remains to be seen if we end up with two separate Slades on the road.
Lea has largely remained out of the public eye, other than making solo album Therapy in 2007, and revealing he had been treated for prostate cancer.
Holder became a national treasure following Slade’s demise, taking up acting and making a decent job of it in ITV comedy drama The Grimleys. He has presented radio shows, documentaries, and made numerous cameos on TV. He reportedly loved Vic Reeves’ portrayal of him in the Slade at Home sketches on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer in the early-90s, but Hill wasn’t so fond of Bob Mortimer’s portrayal of him as a disapproving mother figure.
All four members of Slade attended Chandler’s funeral in 1996, and in 2010 had a group meeting to consider a farewell tour, but nothing came of it. It’s unlikely they will ever play together.
Slade deserve more credit. Yes, this final number 1 is the best Christmas chart-topper of all time, but before then they released some excellent singles too. Holder had one of the best rock voices of all time, and together with Lea, they wrote several classics. The flamboyant Hill was mainly responsible for their showmanship, and Powell fought back from a near-death experience and continued to belt out the beat. They may have lacked in innovation, but like all the best glam acts, they sparkled and rocked the nation during stormy years.
1973 was by and large very similar to 1972 for number 1s, but better. There was still some old-fashioned pop doing very well, and Donny Osmond and David Cassidy catering for the teens, but there were also glam classics that have stood the test of time.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 December 1973-18 January 1974)
Historian Lucy Worsley – 18 December Comedian Paul Foot – 24 December Matt Tebbutt – 24 December 1973 Spice Girl Melanie C – 12 January 1974 Radio DJ Edith Bowman – 15 January Model Kate Moss – 16 January
Princess Patricia of Connaught – 12 January 1974
19 December: The 17.18 Paddington to Oxford express train was derailed between Ealing Broadway and West Ealing. 10 died and 94 were injured.
31 December 1973: As a result of coal shortages caused by industrial action by the miners, Prime Minister Edward Heath’s energy-saving measures, the Three-Day Work Order, came into effect at midnight, making for the darkest New Year celebrations for decades. Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days, TV broadcasts would end at 10.30pm on alternate nights for BBC and ITV, and most pubs were closed.
1 January 1974: But it wasn’t all bad news, as New Year’s Day was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time. Also that day, the Northern Ireland Power-sharing Executive is set up in Belfast.
Glam rock’s debt to rock’n’roll continued apace in the autumn of 1973, as Wizzard enjoyed their second number 1 within months with Roy Wood’s lesser-known paen to his 50s youth with Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad).
I mentioned in my blog for See My Baby Jive that Wizzard’s debut album, Wizzard Brew, wasn’t anything like their singles. Released just before that single, it wasn’t very much like anything before or since. A lo-fi kaleidoscopic trawl through psychedelia, blues, rock, brass, metal, it’s a much underrated piece of work and I urge you to find it.
Inbetween Wizzard’s two number 1s, Wood also released solo album Boulders. Recorded between 1969-71, he wrote every song, played every instrument and drew the artwork. This is also considered a lost classic.
Although all Wizzard’s singles harked back to the 50s, Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) is Wood’s most overt tribute. The clue, not that you need one here, is in the bracketed part of the title. The lyrics are full of romantic 50s teen imagery, including Wood driving a motorbike to a cafe, a Dion poster on his girlfriends’s wall, a record playing… It’s as if Bruce Springsteen grew up in Birmingham in the 50s.
Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) may not be as instant as See My Baby Jive or I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, but it’s a lovely track with a real yearning quality, as Wood strives to capture the feeling of young love, rock’n’roll and those magical teenage years. It’s also slightly less cluttered, which gives the poignancy more of a chance to shine through. Spector would be impressed. Or would have threatened to shoot him, depending on how much cocaine he had in his system.
And then came I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. One of the best festive songs of all time, Wood took See My Baby Jive and added extra tinsel, in yet another tribute to Spector’s Wall of Sound. Unfortunately for Wood, it was up against one of the other greatest yuletide anthems, and Wizzard lost out to Slade. Incredibly, it wasn’t even number two in the top 10 that Christmas, lagging behind Gary Glitter and The New Seekers. This is very, very wrong.
It’s worth noting that nobody hears the 1973 version of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday anymore. It doesn’t exist. In 1981, EMI contacted Wood to say they wanted to give the single another crack at the Christmas charts, but they couldn’t find the master tapes. They were never found, and Wood had to re-record the song in a week with Muff Murfin producing. Murfin recalled Wood painstakingly recreated the original, and played every single instrument. The original choristers, from Stockland Green Bilateral School in Birmingham, were replaced by pupils at Kempsey Primary School. So the only way to hear the original is if you have a copy of the original 1973 vinyl. And if the versions on YouTube that are 1973 versions are real, there is no discernible difference. Which makes Wood’s remake an amazing feat, really.
1973 was intense for Wood, and it took its toll the following year. Several live dates were cancelled and the single Rock’n’Roll Winter (Looney’s Tune) was delayed until the spring. Second album IntroducingEddy and the Falcons was another tribute to the 50s, a concept album about a fictional band, inspired, no doubt by The Beatles. It was supposed to be a double LP, with the second half an experimental jazz-rock collection, but this material didn’t see the light of day until 2000’s Main Street.
The early momentum of Wizzard soon dissipated. Wood struggled to afford such a large line-up and ran up huge studio costs. Bassist Rick Price once recalled a rumour that the group spent more time recording their last number 1 than Paul McCartney & Wings spent on the whole of the Band On the Run album. Cellist Hugh McDowell departed in 1973 to return to the Electric Light Orchestra, and keyboardist Bill Hunt left a year later. In 1975, Wood split Wizzard up. Farewell single Rattlesnake Roll failed to chart.
Saxophonist Mike Burney went on to work with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and The Old Horns Band, which was a joint venture with other former Wizzard members. He was also a session player for a wide variety of stars including Chaka Khan, The Beach Boys and Cliff Richard. Burney died in 2014. After ELO, McDowell joined new wave group Radio Stars and featured on albums by Saint Etienne and Asia. He died in 2018.
Price joined Wood in his short-lived project Wizzo Band after Wizzard, a jazz-rock project that was ill-received critically and commercially, with only one album, Super Active Wizzo in 1977. They split the following year. He married Diane Lee of Peters and Lee in the 90s, and they tour performing hits and new material. He’s also a member of The Rockin’ Berries.
Wood released a second solo LP, Mustard, in 1975, which featured Phil Everly. It wasn’t as successful as his first however, and his third, On the Road Again, didn’t even get a UK release in 1979. After The Wizzo Band’s demise he largely disappeared from the public eye. He led Roy Wood’s Helicopters between 1980 and 1982, and the following year recorded with Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Chas Hodges as The Rockers. 1986 saw him record the ABBA song Waterloo with Doctor and the Medics. In 1987 came another solo album, Starting Up, and then another group, Roy Wood’s Army. Two years later he recorded with his former ELO bandmate Jeff Lynne, but the songs never saw the light of day.
Like Slade, Wood will always be associated with Christmas, and it helps that he looks rather like Santa Claus. There was a remake of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday in 1995, credited to Roy Wood’s Big Band. Weirdly, he and Mike Batt’s The Wombles teamed up in 2000 for an ill-advised mash-up called I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Everyday. It was awful. Seven years later, thanks to his appearance in an Argos Christmas advert, it reached number 16. In 2010, Wood featured in a cameo on the Christmas special of ITV comedy drama Benidorm.
Wood’s most recent troupe of musicians call themselves The Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band. In 2018 they made the news when their touring equipment was stolen in a ram-raid on a warehouse in Leeds, but it was later recovered. Sadly, it transpired that he was a hardcore Brexiter. So much so, he joined The Brexit Party in 2019. Ah well, everyone has their flaws, even a musical genius.
It’s a shame Wood is only remembered for one song, even if it is a bona fide classic. From his days in The Move, to forming ELO, to Wizzard, Wood was an eccentric musical magpie in the 60s and 70s, able to turn his hand to most forms of music, but always with an eye for a winning pop tune. Perhaps his unassuming nature and inherent shyness are further reasons he is underappreciated. He’s not bothered about reminding the world about his number 1s Blackberry Way, See My Baby Jive and Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) and his other classics like 10538 Overture, he’s content to show up from time to time at Christmas and then he’s gone again. I imagine it will sadly take his death before his resume is reappraised, but until then, the UK remains grateful at least that Wizzard kept the UK smiling during The Troubles and the Three-Day Week.
Written & produced by: Roy Wood
Vocal backing: The Suedettes & The Bleach Boys
Weeks at number 1: 1 (22-28 September)
Peeress Barbara Freyberg, Baroness Freyberg – 24 September Labour Party MP George Porter – 25 September
Those number 1s just kept on coming for Slade in 1973. Fresh off the success of Cum On Feel the Noize, this was their second chart-topper in a row to go straight in at pole position – a rare feat, unsurpassed for over 20 years.
Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me was recorded by the band at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Bassist Jim Lea had been inspired to write the call-and-response chorus after visiting the Trumpet pub in Bilston, Wolverhampton, where local pianist Reg Kierle was performing.
Earlier in 1973, the flamboyant Dave Hill debuted his ‘Superyob’ custom-built spaceship-styled guitar, and it’s this you can hear, triple-tracked, in the intro.
Unfortunately, Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me is a bit mediocre, especially compared to Slade’s other number 1s. It’s better than Take Me Bak ‘Ome, but that’s lukewarm praise. The chorus gets very repetitive, and for once, Noddy Holder’s vocal is veering into irritating territory. The lyrics are a bit iffy, too: ‘And I thought you might like to know/When a girl’s meaning yes she says no”. That wouldn’t get through in 2020, that’s for sure. But the reference to their female fans not knowing how to spell is a nice sly dig at those critics who hated Slade misspelling their song titles.
To be fair to the Black Country boys, they must have known this particular well was running dry, as this was the last single with a critic-baiting title, and next single My Friend Stan saw Slade take a new tack.
But on 4 July, during Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me‘s first of three weeks at number 1, Slade nearly lost drummer Don Powell. A car crash left him in a coma and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Angela Morris, dead. Instead of celebrating, the future of Slade hung in the balance.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 June-20 July)
Comedian Peter Kay – 2 July Actress Emma Cunniffe – 3 July Golfer Bradley Dredge – 6 July
Soldier Charles Ernest Garforth – 1 July Cricketer Wilfred Rhodes – 8 July Scottish soldier John Brown Hamilton – 18 July Actor Jack Hawkins – 18 July
1 July: The British Library was established by the merger of the British Museum Library in London with the National Lending Library for Science and Technology at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.
6 July: The James Bond movie Live and Let Die was released in British cinemas, with the spy being played by 45-year-old Roger Moore for the first time. I’m no big Bond fan, but Moore would always be my favourite.
10 July: The Bahamas gained full independence within the Commonwealth.
‘BABY BABY BAAAAAABY!’. From one glam classic to another, The Sweet’s Block Buster ! was toppled after five weeks in pole position by another 1973 anthem. Slade finally achieved their goal with their fourth number 1 – Cum On Feel the Noize was the first chart-topper since Get Back to enter the charts as a number 1. There was no stopping the Wolverhampton wonders now.
Slade had recently suffered a slight dip in fortunes however. For the first time since 1971, they released a single that didn’t climb to number 1. Gudbuy T’Jane was kept from the top by Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling, of all things – although Noddy Holder is in the crowd of that actual performance.
This single was originally called Cum On Hear the Noize, but, recalling a 1972 concert by his band, Holder described being able to feel the sound of the crowd pounding in his chest. A wise move, as it makes the song that much more visceral. As Stuart Braithwaite of Scottish post-rockers Mogwai once said, music should be felt, not heard.
It was another tailor-made anthem by Holder and bassist Jim Lea, building upon their last number 1, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, in which the band describe the atmosphere of performing for their ever-growing army of fans. The initial ‘Baby, baby, baby’ was intended as a mic test, but it worked as a great intro to such an exciting song.
This brilliant call-to-arms stomp is Slade firing on all cylinders. Were it not for Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, it would probably be even better recognised, but this is a Slade single that’s for life, not just for Christmas.
The lyrics, as always with Slade, are pretty simple, but there’s some wit displayed here, as Holder winds up his detractors, most notably with ‘So you think my singing’s out of time, well it makes me money’. As with their previous single, it’s a masterstroke to add audience-style backing vocals chanting the chorus, creating another easy chant for maximum audience interaction. Everyone involved is having the time of their lives here, knowing that this was their time. I particularly like Lea’s busy bass throughout. This song remains a total joy from start to finish, and must have been immense at live shows of the time. A welcome distraction from continuous IRA-related terrible news in the early spring of 1973.
In 1983, US heavy metal act Quiet Riot had a big US hit with their cover, with slightly different lyrics and a very hair-metal sound. Then in 1996 at the height of their fame, Oasis made it an extra track of their single Don’t Look Back In Anger, memorably performing both tracks on one edition ofTop of the Pops. While it may have made sense for a band like Oasis to cover this (both acts had large followings, distinctive lead singers, were at the height of their powers), neither of these covers match the original.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 March)
Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt – 4 March
Ornithologist David Lack – 12 March Playwright Noël Coward – 26 March Conservative MP Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton – 30 March
3 March: Two IRA bombs exploded in London, killing one person and injuring 250 others. 10 people were arrested later that day at Heathrow Airport.
8 March: In the Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, 98.9% of voters in the province wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. This was the first referendum on regional government in the UK.
Also that day, more IRA bombs exploded in Whitehall and the Old Bailey in London.
10 March: Richard Sharples, the governor of Bermuda, and his aide-de-camp were assasinated.
17 March: The new London Bridge, replacing a 19th-century stone-arched bridge, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.
21 March: Seven men are killed in flooding at the Lofthouse Colliery disaster in West Riding, Yorkshire.
26 March: Women were admitted into the London Stock Exchange for the first time.
As mentioned in my blog for Mouldy Old Dough, the UK seemed to be having a nervous breakdown as far as its number 1 singles are concerned in late-1972. Here’s further proof. Rock’n’roll pioneer Chuck Berry, one of the most influential guitarists in musical history, at the top of the charts for his one and only time with his nadir – a live recording of tawdry jokes about his penis.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born 18 October 1926 in St Louis, Missouri. He grew up in the middle-class area known as the Ville. Berry was into music from an early age, and he gave his first public performance at Sumner High School in 1941. He was still a student there when he had his first of several run-ins with the law. In 1944 he was arrested for armed robbery after robbing three shops in Kansas City, Missouri. Berry was sent to a reformatory, where he spent his time learning to box and performing in a singing quartet. He was released on his 21st birthday in 1947.
Berry married a year later and became a father for the first time in 1950. To support his family he worked in car assembly factories and as a janitor, and he also trained to be a beautician. To help make ends meet he also played blues with local bands, and learnt riffs and tips on showmanship from T-Bone Walker. By 1953 he was performing in pianist Johnnie Johnson’s Trio, a relationship that endured, and would win over skeptical black audiences by playing country music, mixed in with ballads, blues and R&B. Soon white audiences were attending too.
Everything changed when Berry met Muddy Waters in 1955. The blues legend suggested Berry get in touch with Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Although he thought they may like his take on the blues, Chess loved his version of traditional tune Ida Red, which Berry called Maybellene. There is a strong argument for rock’n’roll beginning right here.
Classic after classic followed. In 1956 there was Roll Over Beethoven and You Can’t Catch Me (inspiration for The Beatles’ Come Together). In 1957, as rock’n’roll peaked, School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell), became his first chart hit in the UK. He went on tour that year with other greats including Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers.
Berry’s classics kept coming for the rest of the 50s, including Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode and Memphis, Tennessee. For some reason, only Sweet Little Sixteen and Memphis, Tennessee charted over here – was this down to distribution problems? Whatever the reason, by the end of the decade he was a huge star, had starred in films, opened a racially integrated nightclub and invested in real estate. But in December 1959 he was arrested for alleged underage sex with a girl he had transported over state lines.
The 60s got off to a terrible start, with Berry sentenced in March 1960 to five years in prison. He appealed and claimed the judge was racist, but he was convicted again, and a further appeal failed. His last single before jail time was Come On in 1961, which became the first single by The Rolling Stones.
Fortunately for Berry, his release from prison in 1963 coincided with the rise of The Beatles, who covered his material, and The Beach Boys Surfin’ U.S.A. reworked Sweet Little Sixteen. Although he never reached the same commercial heights as the 50s again, there were still some great songs, and UK hits with No Particular Place to Go and You Never Can Tell in 1964. The latter of course is now best known for its use in 1994 Quentin Tarantino smash Pulp Fiction. After that his career went on the slide. He jumped ship to Mercury Records and earned a reputation for erratic live performances.
Berry returned to Chess in 1970 with the appropriately named LP Back Home. His album The London Chuck Berry Sessions was a mix of studio tracks and three live performances recorded on 3 February 1972 at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry. Amazingly, the venue of the festival, the Locarno, was also the site of The Specials’ live EP Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live!, a number 1 in 1980. Berry was late for his slot, which annoyed headliners Pink Floyd as it meant they were an hour late for their set. In his band were guitarist Onnie McIntyre, drummer Robbie McIntosh, who went on to form Scottish funk outfit Average White Band, and bassist Nic Potter from prog-rockers Van Der Graaf Generator.
I’d thought in the past that My Ding-a-Ling was likely an off-the-cuff skit by Berry, but no, it’s an actual cover of a song by Dave Bartholomew, writer of many rock’n’roll hits including I Hear You Knocking, the Christmas number 1 by Dave Edmunds in 1970. Bartholomew released it first back in 1952. Berry first recorded it as My Tambourine in 1968.
I of course was within my rights to think this was a skit, of course, because it’s bloody awful. Thankfully hacked down from over 11 minutes on the album, it may well be that Berry had no say in the release of this as a single, but whether it was him or Chess, what the hell made them think it was a good idea, and more to the point, why did the UK prove them right? An eager audience including Noddy Holder (Slade were one of the acts on earlier that day) lap up every minute of this Carry On-style ditty disguised as a playground rhyme. Believe me, I’m all for that type of humour at the right time, but this is just terrible. Perhaps there was just a lot of nsotalgic affection for Berry at the time, with a rock’n’roll revival ongoing and bands like T. Rex paying respect?
And once again, it’s unavoidable to think of My Ding-a-Ling without context, without thinking about all the light entertainment and pop stars since outed as paedophiles and Berry’s many misdemeanours with women… it makes jokes that weren’t funny to begin with even worse.
My Ding-a-Ling reached number 1 here and in the US, but thankfully it didn’t stick around long enough to reach the Christmas number 1 spot in 1972. Unfortunately it was beaten by an even worse song…
Another live track from the album, Reelin’ and Rockin’, was Berry’s final hit. He spent much of the 70s touring along with his Gibson guitar, relying on local bands wherever he went, which often did his reputation damage, but along the way, pre-fame Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller were among those helping out. Springsteen later revealed Berry didn’t give the band a setlist and didn’t interact with them afterwards, but it didn’t stop him helping out again when Berry was entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
The ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ ended the decade with a gig at the White House for President Jimmy Carter in June 1979, but that year he was also sentenced to jail again – four months and 1,000 hours of community service for tax evasion.
The 80s saw Berry continue his one-man tours. In 1986, documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll covered two concerts for his 60th birthday featuring Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Etta James, among others. But he just couldn’t keep out of trouble. In 1987 Berry was charged with assaulting a woman at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. He pleaded guilty to harassment and paid a fine. Three years later, he was sued by women who claimed he had installed a video camera in the cubicle of his restaurant. Although his guilt wasn’t proven he opted to settle… with all 59 women. 59 women. During this scandal his home was raided and police found a huge stash of pornography, videos, slides and books, some of which appeared to show underage girls. The child abuse allegations were eventually dropped, and seem to have been largely forgotten in many of his obituaries.
In 2000, Johnson sued Berry, claiming he deserved co-writing credits on over 50 of his songs but the case was dismissed when the judge said too much time had passed. He continued to tour, and played festivals across the globe, but on New Year’s Day 2011 he passed out with exhaustion and had to be helped off stage.
On his 90th birthday in 2017 he announced he would be releasing his first new studio album since Rockit in 1979. Chuck featured his children Charles Berry Jr and Ingrid and was dedicated to his wife Toddy, who had remained all those years. It was to be his swansong, as Berry died of a cardiac arrest on 18 March. Chuck was released to critical acclaim two months later.
Without Chuck Berry, who knows which direction pop would have gone in. He inspired some of the greatest musicians of all time, and his iconic duckwalk is fondly remembered. Sadly, he was also a sex offender and maybe a paedophile, and this lone number 1 really doesn’t help his legacy.
Written by: Dave Batholomew
Producer: Esmond Edwards
Weeks at number 1: 4 (25 November-22 December)
Labour MP Dan Jarvis – 30 November Scientist Ewan Birney – 6 December Footballer Nicky Eaden – 12 December Comedian Miranda Hart – 14 December Actor Jonathan Slinger – 14 December Labour MP Sarah Jones – 20 December Labour MP Gloria De Piero – 21 December
Composer Havergal Brian – 28 November Scottish novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie – 30 November Writer LP Hartley – 13 December
In 1972 Slade were becoming wise to the glam rock movement springing up around them. They were already changing from their skinhead look, growing their hair out again, but they also began wearing increasingly outlandish outfits – particularly guitarist Dave Hill.
They also became obsessed with the idea of entering the charts at number 1 in week one, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since The Beatles and Billy Preston with Get Back. Last single Take Me Bak ‘Ome had been number 1 for a week earlier that year, but… well it wasn’t great, really. They needed something stronger. While recording it, as stated in the accompanying blog, Noddy Holder ad-libbed halfway through, and bassist Jim Lea liked what he heard… but asked him to save it as it had given him an idea for a new song.
The tune for Mama Weer All Crazee Now was for the first totally written by Lea. In a 1984 interview with Record Mirror, he recalled he had attended a Chuck Berry gig in 1972 where the legendary guitarist kept stopping his songs to let the crowd sing them for him, and he decided to write a readymade anthem where they could do the same. Combining it with the aforementioned ad-libs and recalling Holder’s comment after surveying the aftermath of one of their own gigs at Wembley Arena (‘Christ, everyone must have been crazy tonight’) he came up with My My We’re All Crazy Now.
And thus, the Slade formula was finally born. And what a formula it was. Holder letting rip over a simple but memorable riff, a simple ear-worm chorus fit for a stadium with crowd-like backing vocals, lyrics about having a good time… that’s all there is to it. But it hits that sweet spot so well. There were even better number 1s to come, but Mama Weer All Crazee Now is great fun. Ok, not a lot going on lyrically – it’s basically about wanting to get pissed on whisky. But what’s that bit about filling up ‘H’ Hill’s left shoe – is that a reference to their guitarist?
It doesn’t matter, it’s about the energy, and the climax, where Don Powell hits the drums repeatedly and Holder shouts ‘MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA’ is brilliant.
Slade didn’t quite go straight in at number 1 this time around, but they did enter at two, and they got there in the end.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 3 (9-29 September)
Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky – 9 September Oasis singer Liam Gallagher – 21 September Breaststroke swimmer Richard Maden – 21 September
Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher – 15 September
11 September: BBC One broadcast long-running quiz series Mastermind was broadcast for the first time, with Magnus Magnusson asking the questions until 1997. John Humphrys has been presenter since 2003.
12 September: The second Cod War was triggered when two British trawlers were sunk by an Icelandic gunboat.
13 September: 20 years after their debut in France, hypermarkets came to the UK when Carrefour opened in Caerphilly, South Wales.
18 September: On the orders of dictator Idi Amin, thousands of deported Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK.
19 September: A parcel bomb killed a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in London.
How fitting. As I write this, school’s out completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m still recovering from a ‘week off’ work where I was responsible for home-schooling my children. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice moments, but I hated science at school and a day of experiments with an eight-year-old demanding answers and a five-year-old who would rather show me a fairy she’d sat on a tree stump left me in pieces. My mum has always insisted I should be a teacher and last week proved I was right all along.
UPDATE: as I prepare this to go live, the kids have actually returned to school at last, making this all rather ironic. How long it will last before another lockdown, we shall see.
Anyway, School’s Out. A summertime classic and rock standard, used in every film or TV show that wants to capture that feeling of childhood ecstasy, knowing that for a few weeks, freedom is there for the taking. This song turned Alice Cooper into a superstar. But did you know that originally, Alice Cooper was the name of his band? Me neither.
Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier on 4 February 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. Far from the ‘Godfather of Shock Rock’ he became, Furnier was from a family of evangelists and was active in church too as a boy. He was a sickly child, and following several bouts of illness, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended Cortez High School. Years later, Furnier’s high-school yearbook was found and inside he had written his ambition was to be ‘a million record seller’.
When Furnier was 16 in 1964, he was keen to take part in a school talent show, so he and four of his cross-country teammates, including future Alice Cooper band members Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway, became a Beatles spoof group called The Earwigs. Guitarist Buxton was the only one with an instrument so the others mimed. Their parodies of Fab Four hits went down a storm and they won.
They decided to form a garage rock band and bought instruments from a pawn shop, and with Buxton writing songs and teaching the others how to play, they became The Spiders. Furnier sang, with Dunaway on bass. In 1966 Michael Bruce became their rhythm guitarist, and a year later, now known as Nazz, Neal Smith became their drummer.
In 1968, now living in Los Angeles, they discovered there was already a band called The Nazz (featuring Todd Rundgren). Searching for a new name, Furnier believed they needed a gimmick and reckoned an innocuous name like Alice Cooper made for a nice counterpoint to the grisly theatrics they began to adopt when performing. For a long time there was an urban legend that the band came up with the name via a ouija board, but it was later discredited.
Developing outrageous antics on stage via cross-dressing, face paint and their primitive psychedelic rock, they began to cause a stir. One gig in Venice, California saw Alice Cooper empty the venue in 10 minutes. Music manager Shep Gordon thought this was brilliant and saw a way such negativity could get them noticed. He arranged them an audition with cult counterculture icon Frank Zappa, then looking for unusual acts for his new label Straight Records. He asked Alice Cooper to be at his house for seven. They thought he meant in the morning and woke him, but he was impressed by their commitment and signed them.
Alice Cooper’s first LP, Pretties for You, was released in 1969, the same year they made the papers for an incident in which a live chicken was thrown into the crowd, where the wheelchair users of the front row proceeded to tear it to pieces. Horrible, but the singer later claimed it was an accident. Whether it was or not, the press made it even more extreme and claimed he bit the chicken’s head off and drank its blood. He denied this but Zappa told him to pretend otherwise.
Despite the controversy, Alice Cooper weren’t actually selling many records. Their first two albums tanked. They were teamed up with Bob Ezrin for their final Straight Records release, Love It to Death, scheduled for 1971. Preceding single I’m Eighteen was a hit, and this is very much down to the partnership of Ezrin with the band, who Cooper later described as ‘our George Martin’. He toned down the weirdness and cranked up the volume, with a heavy but clean sound, more palatable for rock fans.
Despite the work on their recorded output, the live shows became ever more theatrical and dark, featuring the androgynoius Furnier (by now calling himself Alice Cooper) wrapped in a boa constrictor, baby dolls covered in blood and even a mock execution at the gallows. There had never been anything quite like it. This was the Devil’s version of glam rock. Next album Killer was also a success, and in the summer of 1972, just in time for the holidays, came the follow-up School’s Out and then the title track hit the singles chart.
So ingrained is School’s Out in popular culture, it’s hard to critically assess it with fresh ears. That mighty riff from Buxton is very memorable, and fits in perfectly with the glam rock scene in the UK. But of course, a song with lyrics about blowing up your school, featuring the nursery rhyme ‘No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks’ being sung by children… how could it not be a hit? Cooper’s snarling vocal is perfect, and actually, listening anew has made me appreciate what a great pop song it is. And the balls of Cooper, to actually sing in one verse ‘We can’t even think of a word that rhymes’, just because he could. Great stuff, and pretty shocking for the 1972 charts. The teachers complaining about Slade misspelling their song titles must have been beside themselves when this toppled them.
Among those complaining was miserable busybody campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who persuaded the BBC to ban the video. Cooper sent her flowers for the free publicity.
Alice Cooper’s tours broke box office records in 1973, and they reached their commercial peak with the album Billion Dollar Babies, but their gruelling schedule was taking its toll. Muscle of Love, released in 1974, was the last album by Alice Cooper, the band.
As we all know, Alice Cooper, the man with the woman’s name, continued. He changed his name legally to avoid any legal issues with his former group, and his first solo album Welcome to my Nightmare, recorded with Lou Reed’s backing musicians, was a big hit in 1975. Bruce, Dunaway and Smith formed a short-lived new group, Billion Dollar Babies, which split after one album in 1977. They would occasionally reunite with Buxton, but sadly he died of pneumonia in 1997, aged 49.
Although Cooper has remained a star throughout his solo years, there have been struggles with alcoholism, which became so bad, he entered a sanitarium in 1977. It provided inspiration for his 1978 album From the Inside, co-written with Bernie Taupin. His recovery was short-lived though – Cooper claims to have no recollection of recording any of his albums from the early-80s. With fortunes fading, he was hospitalised with cirrhosis of the liver, and the next few years he dealt with his own personal demons and divorce.
He returned to the fray in 1986, and fitted in very nicely during the years of slasher horror films. His song He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) was used in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives that year, and he had cameos in Prince of Darkness (1987) and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). Cooper also had a guest spot at WrestleMania III in 1987, standing in Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ corner against the Honky Tonk Man.
In 1991, Cooper guested on the Guns N’ Roses album Use Your Illusion I and had a memorable, brilliant cameo in the music comedy Wayne’s World in 1992. His musical output became more sporadic, and as the decade continued his brand of rock went out of fashion, to be replaced by grunge. In October 1999, fans of the band Alice Cooper rejoiced as all four surviving members performed together at the second Glen Buxton Memorial Weekend. Since then they have reunited several times with guest guitarists, including for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
2015 saw Cooper unveil Hollywood Vampires, a rock supergroup also featuring actor Johnny Depp and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. The group honours and is named after a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 70s. Aged 72, Cooper has defied the odds to outlive many of those old club members.
Written by: Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Denis Dunaway & Neal Smith
Producer: Bob Ezrin
Weeks at number 1: 3 (12 August-1 September)
Scottish field hockey forward David Ralph – 17 August Presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell – 18 August
Aviator Francis Chichester – 26 August Prince William of Gloucester – 28 August
26 August-10 September: Great Britain and Northern Ireland won four gold, five silver and nine bronze medals at the Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
28 August: Prince William of Gloucester, 30-year-old cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is killed in an air crash near Wolverhampton.
1 September: The school leaving age at the end of the academic year in England and Wales was raised from 15 to 16. Temporary buildings were erected in secondary modern and comprehensive schools to accommodate the older pupils, while some authorities raised the secondary school transfer age from 11 to 12 or 13. The age was also raised in Scotland and Northern Ireland. ‘Well we’ve got no choice/All the girls and boys’…
By the dry, dull summer of 1972, glam rock was on the rise. T. Rex had already peaked with their four number 1s, but other acts were now breaking through. The Sweet had scored several hits with Co-Co and Little Willy and two landmark albums were released in June – Roxy Music’s eponymous debut LP, and most importantly, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the first week of July he made his famous appearance on Top of the Pops for Starman, putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson and making rock history.
That same week, Slade were celebrating their second number 1. Since 1971’s Cos I Luv You, the Wolverhampton glam-rockers had turned down a multi-million-dollar campaign in the US to star in their own TV series and tour. But while the chance to become the next Monkees must have been appealing, singer Noddy Holder reportedly told the NME that they didn’t want to cancel commitments and let down their UK fans.
In January 1972 they released follow-up single Look Wot You Dun, written mostly by bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell, with some help from Holder. The song reached number four, and Record Mirror reported they were annoying teachers by setting a bad example and releasing two misspelt singles in a row. Look Wot You Dun wasn’t as good as their number 1, but it proved Slade were no one-hit wonders. In March came Slade Alive!, recorded in front of 300 fan club members and featuring a storming version of Get Down and Get With It.
Take Me Bak ‘Ome, like their previous number 1, was written by Holder and Lea but according to Lea in the group’s 1984 biography Feel the Noize! it originated from an old tune he had made, with a bit of revamping and a phrase or two from The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.
Of Slade’s six number 1s, this ranks as the least memorable. It’s only really worth hearing to get a better insight into how the band were striving and struggling to find the winning formula that they achieved from their next number 1 onwards. It’s meat-and-potatoes rock without the unique element of danger in Cos I Luv You and no anthemic chorus to latch on to, which they later excelled at. Lyrically, it’s a laddish story of boy-meets-drunken-girl-who-stinks-of-brandy. He tries it on, only to flee in fear of her boyfriend a ‘Superman’ who’s twice his size. And it was ‘alright’, apparently.
Take Me Bak ‘Ome climbed to number 13, and Slade were booked to perform at the Great Western Festival in Lincoln. The field of rock fans booed when Slade were announced to be performing imminently. They were worried they were considered too ‘pop’ and had blown it before even starting, but they won over the crowd with their heavy material, and it helped propel them to their second number 1.
Interestingly, Holder had ad-libbed over the riff in the middle of the song’s recording but Lea suggested he change what he came up with as it had given him an idea for their next single…
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 July)
1 July: The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in London, with approximately 2,000 participants.
“Get down and get with it!” Wolverhampton glam rockers Slade are one of the most fondly remembered bands of the 70s. Six number 1s between 1971-73, 17 consecutive top 20 singles, and according to The British Hit Singles & Albums, they were the most successful British group of the decade for singles sales. And I’m only just getting round to mentioning Merry Xmas Everybody, which I picked as the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time here.
All four members of Slade grew up in the Black Country area of the West Midlands. In 1964, drummer Don Powell, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was in a band with Dave Hill (born in Devon) called The Vendors. Meanwhile, Walsall’s Noddy Holder was guitarist and occasional singer with Steve Brett & the Mavericks. who released three records on Columbia in 1965.
The Vendors became The ‘N Betweens and gained momentum, supporting The Hollies and The Yardbirds, among others. Meeting on a ferry on the way to separate gigs in Germany, Powell and Hill tried to persuade Holder to join The ‘N Betweens, but he declined. Once they were all back home though, Holder changed his mind and became their lead singer. They had recently recruited multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea on bass, too.
By 1966 The ‘N Betweens had moved on from blues to a more R’n’B sound. They released their first single, a cover of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run, in 1966, produced by Kim Fowley, arranger of Nut Rocker.
They didn’t return to a studio for a few years, but in 1967, with flower power at its peak, Holder worked on an unnamed song with a chorus that went: ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Six years later it became Merry Xmas Everybody.
A local promoter alerted the band to Jack Baverstock, head of A&R at Philips. After spending a week recording their debut album Beginnings in the label’s studio, he offered them a deal with Fontana Records – if they changed their name. Despite misgivings, they became Ambrose Slade, inspired by Baverstock’s secretary, who had named her handbag ‘Ambrose’ and her shoes ‘Slade’… as you do…
Beginnings and instrumental single Genesis sank, but on the plus side, they found a new manager in Chas Chandler, former bassist with The Animals, who helped Jimi Hendrix rocket to fame. It didn’t mean instant success, but Chandler did set them on the right path, telling them they needed more original material and a new image. They adopted the skinhead look in an attempt to keep up with prevailing trends and as The Slade they released the single Wild Winds Are Blowing, which tanked.
A new decade, a new name: Slade. They featured on Top of the Pops in 1970 with their cover of Shape of Things to Come, but to no avail. They added lyrics to Genesis and reworked it as Know Who You Are, but neither that nor November’s LP, Play It Loud, got anywhere either.
Finally, their fortunes changed. In 1971 Chandler suggested they record one of their most popular live numbers. Their cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down with It (later covered by Little Richard) – retitled Get Down and Get with It, came out that May, and it climbed to number 18 in August. And for good reason, it’s an electrifying performance, particularly Holder’s raw vocal, and really captures an infectious, fun, live sound.
Slade were already growing their hair long once more when Chandler demanded they come up with a follow-up themselves. One evening Lea turned up at Holder’s house with his violin and an idea for a simple song, along the lines of T. Rex’s Hot Love, and half an hour later, they had written their first number 1.
They played Because I Love You acoustically to an enthusiastic Chandler the next day, who confidently predicted it would be their first chart-topper. He booked them into Olympic Studios in Barnes. Slade were less keen on its chances, thinking it too soft and poppy, until they were allowed to add foot-stomping to the rhythm. They also decided to change its title, and Holder came up with the idea to misspell it to fit in with their dialect. Thus, Coz I Luv You, the first of their songs littered with spelling errors, was born.
Coz I Luv You is a nice signpost to the full-on glam sound Slade would develop. It doesn’t have the immediate ‘wow’ factor of Hot Love or Get It On, but it’s a great introduction to what was to come. It’s interesting that they all thought it was too lightweight, and maybe the footstomping really did make the difference, but this track actually has a bit of a sinister edge to it, thanks to Holder’s vocal styling. Inadvertently or not, he makes ‘Don’t you change the things you do’ sound like a threat, and Lea’s violin at times adds to the slightly uneasy feeling.
Soon Slade developed their more raucous, straightforward take on Bolan’s glam rock. They were never bothered with maintaining a cool mystique like he was, and began to also be known for their ridiculous glam outfits, before going on to become national treasures. For now though, they were just a slightly weird rock band who had finally made the big time.
Coz I Luv You would later be covered by fellow Black Country musicians, indie band, The Wonder Stuff.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)
Olympic rower Cath Bishop – 22 November Actress Emily Mortimer – 1 December Triple jumper Ashia Hansen – 5 December
Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November
22 November: Five children and one adult die after becoming stranded for two nights in blizzards on the Cairngorm Plateau. It is still regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.
2 December: The Queen’s yearly allowance was increased from £475,000 to £980,000. I’m sure millions of republicans were very pleased for her.
4 December: The highest death toll from a single incident in The Troubles to date took place when 15 people were killed and 17 injured in the McGurk’s Bar bombing. The Ulster Volunteer Force are believed to have been behind the bombing.