Slade is an English Glam rock and hard rock band. As one of the most recognizable acts of the Glam rock movement, they were the most commercially popular band in the UK. They are well known for the deliberate misspelling of their song titles and for the song “Merry Xmas Everybody” (released December 1973), now one of the most iconic Christmas pop songs in the United Kingdom.
One of the most acclaimed British Rock bands of the 1970s, Slade is especially remembered for brash songwriting and praised live performances. Today, the band is often regarded as an obvious pre-cursor to late 1970s British Punk (Sex Pistols, The Clash).
The group dominated the British charts during the 1970s. During the height of their success, Slade achieved twelve Top Five hits from 1971 to 1974, six of which topped the charts. In total, Slade had 17 top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976 including six Number Ones, three Number Twos and two Number Threess. No other UK act of the period enjoyed such consistency in the UK Top 40, as Slade actually came the closest to emulating The Beatles’ 22 Top Ten records in a single decade (1960s). Three of their singles entered the charts at Number One and they sold more singles in the UK than any other group of the 1970s.
While Slade’s attempts at cracking the United States market were largely unsuccessful, they left their mark on several US bands who cite Slade as an influence. Kiss bassist Gene Simmons readily admits that his band’s early songwriting ethos and stage performance style was influenced by Slade. In his book, Kiss and Make-Up, Simmons writes “the one we kept returning to was Slade,” and “we liked the way they connected with the crowd, and the way they wrote anthems. . . . we wanted that same energy, that same irresistible simplicity. But we wanted it American-style.
The band started out as The ‘N Betweens in 1966, formed from members of two Midlands bands, The Vendors and Steve Brett & The Mavericks. They initially had little success, apart from on the local club circuit. In the late ‘60s, the band changed its name to Ambrose Slade and hooked up with manager Chas Chandler. Their name was eventually shortened to Slade, and the band adopted a skinhead look, as an attempt to gain publicity from what was a newsworthy youth fashion trend. They later abandoned this look, due to the unwelcome association with football hooliganism. They grew their hair long again, in time to become a leading part of the Glam Rock movement, releasing songs with deliberately Black Country-style misspelled titles, which made them stand out.
From 1971 to 1975, the band scored many huge-selling consecutive hit albums and singles. After dominating the chart in 1973, Slade made a slight change in musical direction. The self-titled Slade in Flame album contained a more mature sound and perhaps remains to this day their most influential album, with clever use of brass and piano. Their concerts were all automatic sellouts, and the band was the first to take the risk of booking the massive Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London for a couple of nights. Following the ground-breaking shows, Don Powell was critically injured in a car crash and with his life in danger, the band’s future was left in the balance. Powell eventually recovered, although he still suffers from acute short-term memory loss and sensory problems.
Partly due to changes in music trends and the advent of punk rock and New Wave music, Slade’s success faded somewhat by the late 1970s, although the group continued to release records. They enjoyed a return to the UK charts, after their 1980 Reading Festival appearance and finally managed to enter the higher reaches of the United States charts.
In August 1980, Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz cancelled their appearance at the Reading Festival. Slade, who had all but disbanded, were recommended to replace them. A demoralized Dave Hill had effectively left the band and initially refused to do the show when asked by the other band members, but manager Chas Chandler convinced Hill to play what could very well have been their last ever live show in front of a huge crowd. To Hill’s utter astonishment, the band was well-received and quickly became darlings of the music press.
A new run of chart success followed, though not on the large scale of their 1970s heights. Holder and Lea became in-demand for production and songwriting duties for other acts for a while. Slade had another two UK Top Ten hits in 1984, with the singles “Run Runaway” and “My Oh My” (Number Two, UK, Number 36, U.S.) “Run Runaway” reached Number Seven, which would be their second Top 40 hit in the U.S. — and their first since “Gudbuy T’Jane”, which barely made the Top 40 in 1972. Interestingly enough, these hits happened despite Slade not touring to support the releases.
They later returned to the UK Singles Chart in 1991 with the song “Radio Wall of Sound”.
Noddy Holder became weary of constant touring, effectively managing the band and of the music business and left the band in late 1991 after 25 years. The remainder of the band were given a period of notice in which to consider their options. Rather than take on another singer, Jimmy Lea effectively retired from live work, preferring to work quietly, at his own pace, alone in the studio.
Dave Hill and Don Powell (the band’s founder members) formed Slade II with three other local musicians at that point. The name was once again shortened to Slade after a period and over the years new members have come and gone with Dave Hill and Don Powell remaining constant throughout.
Save for the release in 1991 of an album of demo recordings and gathered songs that had previously been released under the pseudonym, The Dummies, Jimmy Lea remained resolutely silent. In 2007, however, he finally released an album of mainly unheard new original material, entitled Therapy.