In the UK at this time of year, you can't leave the house without having Noddy Holder bellow "IT'S CHRISTMAAAS!!!" at you from every shop doorway. Depending on your personal taste, this can either be a reason to barricade yourself indoors and shop online for all your presents, or act as an annual reminder that Slade were one of the greatest charts-hogging bands that this country has ever produced. On 10th December London's Evening Standard newspaper reported that Noddy Holder and bass player Jim Lea, writers of Merry Xmas Everybody, will earn an estimated £512,000 of royalties from their yuletide classic this (and every) year. Now, that's what I call a pension plan! As an integral part of my childhood, I can't help but love the song. I daresay Noddy and Jim don't give a monkey's what you may think!
But, there is so much more to Slade than that song and their well-known chart hits. When a band has the kind of era-defining singles chart success that Slade enjoyed in the early Seventies, it is easy to forget, or remain blissfully unaware of the fact, that they were a damned tidy hard rock band. Early material, released as Ambrose Slade, then under their abridged moniker, demonstrates a band that, whilst clearly in possession of some serious chops honed on Hamburg's Reeperbahn, had yet to fully distill their own style from their R&B, Motown and Psychedelic influences. In many ways this search for an identity is what makes the Beginnings and Play It Loud albums so listenable. With covers of songs popularised by The Beatles, Steppenwolf, The Amboy Dukes, Marvin Gaye, The Yardbirds and Frank Zappa rubbing shoulders with confident, well-crafted originals, this brace of albums will surprise anyone dumb enough to have dismissed Slade as a cheesy novelty act.
Beginnings offers up Genesis, a slow-burning, atmospheric instrumental with swirling, phased guitar, propulsive bass and wind sound effects. From the same LP, Pity The Mother couches delicate finger-picked acoustic guitar, a sensitive vocal performance, tension-building violin sawing and acid-fried lead guitar runs within a tune that pays homage to the kind of rattling dynamics that Pete Townshend employed in Tommy.
Choosing just one stand-out from Play It Loud is quite a task, but I'll plump for Dirty Joker which is a noisy, groovy and yes, dirty, three-and-a-bit minutes of Hard Psych complete with sitar-aping guitar, hand claps, heaven-rattling vocal harmonies and an unusually tasty spot of bass wankery.
For any of you wanting your seasonal fix of the big Christmas tune, check out this brief and decidedly unseasonal live rendition (with vocal duties handled by a raucous and adoring crowd) taken from Slade's triumphant Reading Festival set in August 1980. Not a version that's likely to chalk up as much airplay as the original single, but a nice way of documenting the affection that British punters have for this outstanding band. Merry Xmas Everybody!