Feel The Noize: The Singlez Box
Limited Edition box of 10 7” singles
Released on 6 September 2019
Back in the early Seventies, Slade were the biggest pop group in Britain, notching up a dozen top five hits (and six number ones) in an unbroken three-year run from the summer of 1971. Tim Cooper drops the needle on a new box set of seven-inch singles from Noddy and the boys.
It’s a sacred ritual. You slide the black vinyl disc out of its sleeve. Holding it gingerly by the hole in the middle, you place it gently on the record player. You lift the tone arm and check the turntable is spinning at 45rpm. You lower the needle carefully to the edge of the disc… and wait.
There’s a faint crackle as the needle finds its place in the groove. And then… BAM! There’s nothing quite like the seven-inch single.
For those of us over a certain age, this was our introduction to pop music: a small black vinyl disc usually enclosed in a white paper wrapper or a coloured one with the logo of the record company and a circular peephole so you could see the label and the names of the artist and song.
The emblems and logos were iconic, their shapes and colours enough to indicate that a record would be worth buying. The yellow sunburst of Memphis’s seminal rockabilly label Sun meant you might find Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis within. The handwritten black italics of Verve oozed the smoky sounds of jazz. The blue label with the red, green and gold lettering over a map of Detroit promised another soul classic off the Motown production line. The Roman gladiator’s helmet of Trojan signified fresh reggae or ska from Jamaica. Perhaps most iconic of all, the green Apple that brought a Beatles release, with the freshly-cut white half on the B-side.
In the early Seventies, the red Polydor logo on a single might have meant a record by The Who, The New Seekers or Slade. Usually it was Slade. Hard as it may be to believe now, Wolverhampton’s Noddy Holder, Dave Hill, Jim Lea and Don Powell were the biggest of all the Glam groups, notching up an astounding 12 top five hits in an unbroken three-year run from the summer of 1971. That’s more than T.Rex, more than Sweet, more than Bowie, Mud, Wizzard, Gary Glitter, Showaddywaddy and all the rest.
For five years Slade were unstoppable and unrivalled. Most of their songs still are.
There was always a pantomime element to Glam, at least in Britain, because it was essentially a bunch of working-class lads dressing up in make-up, glitter and girls’ clothes for a bit of a laugh. It might have been an era when ‘poofs’ were routinely mocked by the likes of Benny Hill and Dick Emery but you always felt Slade (and the others) were more likely to take you outside and give you a good hiding than totter away from trouble in their platform boots.
The look may have been gender-bending but the music was distinctly masculine: thumping drums, crunchy riffs, a backdrop of bovver boots and handclaps echoing to the rafters and, right up front, seemingly singing into a microphone about half an inch from your speaker, Noddy’s paint-stripper rasp, all of it wrapped up in Chas Chandler’s inimitable production which seemingly brought all the instruments – and Noddy, with his loud check suits and even louder voice – right into your living room on a wave of cacophonous reverb. Slade singles seemed to be recorded at twice the volume of anyone else’s.
This box set brings together nine of those dozen classic hits on vinyl, all international single releases in unfamiliar picture sleeves (my original copies, left over from my school days, are all in their red Polydor sleeves) and all, a bit disappointingly, with today’s less than iconic red BMG label in the middle, plus one rare promo single from the early Eighties.
Skipping their first hit, the skinhead anthem Get Down And Get With It (a cover of a minor Little Richard hit), the set starts with their first chart topper Coz I Luv You (October 1971), with its choppy guitar and Jim Lea’s gypsy-style violin solo: the first outing for their trademark mis-spelt title (a result of the band – and manager Chandler – thinking ‘Because I Love You’ would sound too soft for a group who had built up a hardcore skinhead following before ditching the braces and Ben Shermans for mirrored top hats, platform boots and a ‘SuperYob’ guitar.
Moving along chronologically, we get Take Me Bak ‘Ome and Mama Weer All Crazee Now: the instruments crackling out of the speakers on the brink of distortion, the foot-stomping and hand-clapping a vital signature of the band’s sound; Holder’s rasp, complete with off-mike ad-libs (“Stop it!”), the reverb turned up to 11, creating an almost trance-like effect towards the end: “I said: Mamamamamamamamamamamamamamamama… YEEEAH!”.
Gudbuy T’Jane (shamefully kept off the No.1 spot by Chuck Berry’s execrable double-entendre hit My Ding-A-Ling) keeps up the standard and Cum On Feel The Noize continues the run: Slade’s fourth chart topper and the first song to go straight into the charts at No.1 since The Beatles’ Get Back two years earlier, its inimitable descending bassline leading into Holder’s equally inimitable opening line: “So you think I’ve got an evil mind – well I’ll tell you honey.”
Like all great pop songs, the lyrics are simultaneously nonsensical and utterly relatable. “So you think my singin’s out of time/Well it makes me money… So you say I’ve got a funny face / Well I’ve got no worries… And I don’t know why / Any more”. And then, just as it gets repetitive, the handclaps come in, punctuated by muffled ad libs from Holder in the background, disguising the repetition and encouraging his imaginary audience to sing along.
Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me is the last of the Glam stompers, before the transitional pub piano singalong My Friend Stan and, in a stronger change of direction, the wistful Everyday and Far Far Away, showing Slade’s softer side. The set finishes with an oddity, the 1981 promo single Night Starvation, which harks back in style to their stomping heyday and, following the band’s punk-induced slump (and temporary migration to America), hinted at a potential comeback that never quite happened… apart from every December.
Listening now to the B-sides is an interesting experience. There are those who will doubtless claim they are ‘just as good as the hits’, just as there were rock fans at the time who insisted that Sweet’s self-penned soft-rock B-sides were far superior to their Chinn-and-Chapman-penned hits. But in both cases they really aren’t.
Initially, Slade’s B-sides were disposable, as B-sides tended to be in that era. The early ones (My Life Is Natural, Wonderin’ Y) were softer songs with harmonies and acoustic guitars, while Man Who Speaks Evil (B-side of Mama Weer All Crazee Now) is a lacklustre effort that sounds like one of those early Status Quo tunes before they discovered the boogie, with a weirdly disturbing lyric about the titular man who “watches as maggots flee from the throat of a dead man.”
The better ones came later, especially Kill ‘Em At The Hot Club Tonite (B-side of Skeeze Me, Pleeze me), a lovely tribute to Stefane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt showcasing Jim Lea’s considerable talent on the violin and Noddy displaying the surprising warmth behind his sandpaper rasp, while OK Yesterday Was Yesterday (B-side of Far Far Away) is like a hard-rocking mash-up of earlier hits. But no one bought Slade singles for the B-sides.
As far as presentation goes, the box is fairly basic: there’s no booklet or additional artwork – just the 10 singles – and it’s missing not only their first hit single but also their third, Look Wot U Dun, and later ones such as The Bangin’ Man and the poignant How Does It Feel (a disappointment at the time that went on to become a guilty pleasure), as well as the ubiquitous Merry Xmas Everybody. And, lazily and somewhat unforgiveably for a product that costs the best part of £50, the title of Coz I Luv You is misspelt on the tracklisting on the back of the box.
It’s one for completists, in that its only unique element is a chance to own the singles in their picture sleeves from releases in France, Germany, Belgium and Italy. But for any Slade fan who was foolish enough to dispose of their original singles (unlike me!), the abiding joy of playing these songs in their original – and best – seven-inch vinyl format makes it an attractive proposition.
Feel The Noize: The Singlez Box – track listing
* Country of origin for each single sleeve in brackets
1.Coz I Luv You / My Life Is Natural (France)
2.Take Me Bak ‘Ome / Wonderin’ Y (Germany)
3.Mama Weer All Crazee Now / Man Who Speeks Evil (France)
4.Gudbuy T’Jane / I Won’t Let It ‘Appen Agen (Germany)
5.Cum On Feel The Noize / I’m Mee I’m Now And That’s Orl (Italy)
6.Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me / Kill ’em At The Hot Club Tonite (France)
7.My Friend Stan / My Town (Spain)
8.Everyday / Good Time Gals (Belgium)
9.Far Far Away / O.K. Yesterday Was Yesterday (France)
10.Night Starvation / When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’ (UK)
Slade are online at their webshop.