Monday, December 31, 2012

The Slam Beginneth: Slade: "Gudbuy T'Jane"

And now we have reached the very end of 1972; a year in which rock 'n' roll was pronounced dead, and then was found to be more alive than ever, due to a rag-tag combination of groups which didn't have much in common but a determination to show that rock - traditional or new-fangled or some combination of the two - was being introduced to a whole new generation, ones who were mere toddlers, if that, when the Beatles and Rolling Stones were raw acts with their first singles and albums.  I feel it's important to point out that it was pre-teens/early teens who were the cause of this scene, because there is a gap about to appear - not just between what the older siblings are listening to and their younger brothers are buying singles-wise, but also between the UK and US charts.  If someone was, say, 13 at this time and this song was their first single, then they (un)wittingly found themselves part of the Slade Army* and part of something that was about to happen that was uniquely British:  the Glam Slam of 1973.  This simply didn't happen in the US (oh, there were hits here and there; "Get It On" was already a hit, and there were a couple to come, but besides the New York Dolls there wasn't much going on). 

I am going to pause now, before getting back to Slade, to try to figure out why this was the case.  It could be down to the circumstances outside of the music itself.  There were just as many Grade 9 kids bored out of their minds in the US as here, not to mention rock writers who were eager for anything raucous to come along and wake them from their singer/songwriter-prog rock stupor, but it didn't happen.  This is in part due to the almighty forces of HRS**, which raised boogie to a gold standard of achievement and looked askance at anything artificial or too gussied up as disrespecting the music, which was always the main thing.  HRS was huge at this time, and the fact that it was full of good ol' boys who were badasses (particularly from the South) meant that the rebellious side was taken care of, as well.  Grand Funk Railroad and The Edgar Winter Group were going to have #1 singles in '73, and in the wings were everyone from Ted Nugent to Aerosmith, not forgetting Kiss themselves.  For anyone who was ever embarrassed to read Patti Smith' s fannish appreciation for this stuff (going out with one of Blue Oyster Cult, praising Johnny Winter) - well, it was the main thing, the big rock deal, at the time

The opposite side of all this was the soul/r&b resurgence that Greil Marcus describes so well in Mystery Train; music about hope and despair, telling truths and reflecting the increasingly (justifiably) troubled nation's condition after the exhausting end of the 60s, as well as the shady White House and the still-ongoing war in Vietnam.  Part of the music was political, part sensual; Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, The O'Jays; this was music to help the nation get to grips with itself, with what was happening and give it some sense of perspective.  That a lot of it you could dance to helped, of course; this time is the roots of both disco and hip hop, both styles bringing not just the funk but positive messages of unity and strength at a time when everything looked bleak. 

The UK reaction to bleakness - the economy, the oil crisis, strikes, the IRA - was to dress up and sing songs like this one.  What is it about?  I don't know.  I sometimes think it's just working-class rah-rah about saying bye-bye to a stuck-up girl who looks down on him.  That she is "painted up like a fancy young man" and wears "forties tip boots" means she's a...glam kid herself?  Is she a cross-dresser?  Whoever Jane is, "she's a queen" (hmmm...) and has gone off, a dark horse who he keeps repeating is "so young."  So maybe it's just about a young girl who is full of herself and the song is saying, well, good riddance?  That's about as much as I can figure - that Slade are full of songs about Us vs. Them (in this case, Us vs. Her) and if you're a teenager your whole life is made up of such moments, moments when someone decides (or has already decided) they are too cool for you and are going to leave, get up from that lunch table/study area/wherever and go someplace else.  This is a song of joy and relief from those left behind, the rejected, the working-class who don't need to be spat upon by those who have bespoke suits and think they're so great. 

Slade tried and tried to get somewhere in the US, only to find that...the kids wanted to love them but couldn't understand them.  They didn't dress normally and what was the lead singer saying?  Poor Noddy Holder yelled and hollered from one concert hall to the next and no one could figure him out.  The subtle movements underneath the stomp may have put the kids off as well; this was not the crushing power of Led Zeppelin as much as the fleet-footed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Which is to say that Slade were rock enough for Lester Bangs, but not enough for the kids who wanted guitar solos, drum solos, and head-walloping beats, as well as for the ladies.  Slade didn't really have any of that, and what they did have was too odd; they just right in the UK, where their rebellion and refusal to be anything but themselves was cherished, where the response to so many crises was more screeching, more ridiculous outfits, more misspellings and so on.  But that ladies component should never be ignored; an American girl of 13 is going to respond to Robert Plant or even Elton John in a way she never could to Noddy Holder, and that was that.

And so it was that the Glam Slam of 1973 began, with the US unable to understand what made the UK rock; for the next year or so I will be writing about Glam a lot, and trying to comprehend just why it was so big.  I know in part it's because it's the second part of rock 'n' roll UK style; but the insanity (going since T.Rex got to #1 with Electric Warrior) is peculiarly British, and not many in the US ever really caught the contagion, so to speak.  Maybe they were too busy mellowing out, if they weren't rockin' out, or too busy getting down to care for either of those.  In any case, in the UK things are looking up on the excitement front; suddenly there are singles worth saving up for, worth getting for Christmas, ones that are LOUD and confident and can scare any number of cares away. 

In the fallout from the 60s, people were starting to take sides; the sides would become sharper in '73, as if something had taken over the UK singles-buying populace, like a fever.  For those of you who enjoy hot chart action, I will be introducing yet another prominent chart into this mix, so that I can write about the year in as much detail as possible - the Radio Luxembourg chart #2s will be included from here on, for the next few years.  I am not exactly sure which song comes next, but the Glam Slam will continue soon, and a certain man who will actually be understood by Americans will appear sooner rather than later.          

*I have no idea if there was a Slade Army (I know there was a Kiss Army) but if there was ever a band who could muster one up, it's this one.

**Hard Rockin' Shit, which is what Slade ended up supporting across the US, logically but also kind of unfortunately. 


Mariela said...

Upon encountering "HRS" I tried to figure out what it meant before scrolling down and I came up with "Heterosexual Radio Syndication"!

MikeMCSG said...

The transatlantic bifurcation in taste ( at least as reflected in the singles chart ) is a very interesting phenomenon which lasted for a dozen years or so. I remember when I first started listening to Radio One around this time it seemed that many of the jocks (e.g Edmunds, Travis, Walker) or perhaps their producers preferred to play singles from the US charts in preference to the glam stuff so songs like "It Never Rains In Southern California" (Albert Hammond) and "You Got Me Anyway" ( Sutherland Brothers and Quiver ) got much airplay despite never charting here. Conversely in the late 70s/early 80s the post-punk writers in the music press made it a badge of national pride that we'd rejected the likes of Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad and Journey - naff pop like Mud, Pilot and Brotherhood of Man being less odious than naff rock.

Keith Shackleton said...

Slade weren't responsible for the first single I ever bought, but they were for the first album. My fading memory seems to recall Slade as more of a lad's band though their previous Ambrose Slade incarnation attracted some skinhead girls.. girls in my class at school were usually into pop and if they drifted glam-wards, Bolan and Bowie were their heroes.

I'm sure it's 'forties trip boots' and Noddy has the story about it somewhere on the net.. boots a la Granny Takes A Trip, I think, and some young lady refusing to go on TV without finding and wearing them first. But don't quote me.

And despite the flash, Slade were HRS, which assisted their comeback substituting for Ozzy at the Reading Festival of 1980 and satisfying a horde of metal fans who'd previously dismissed them, no doubt, as too chart oriented. Slade were LOUD, a whiff of which you can get from the most excellent clip in my link above.