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The 25 Best Live Rock Recordings
No. 25 - Slade Alive! (Polydor, 1972)
Sometimes it begins with an album cover: something simple and iconic. A treated black and red photograph showing lead guitarist Dave Hill leaning far enough backward to reveal a hunched Noddy Holder, peering away from a microphone over his right shoulder into the eye of the camera. The shot is reminiscent of the famous “Red Album,” Grand Funk (Capitol, 1969) record cover, predating a similar gestalt achieved on Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin (Columbia, 1969) and B.B. King’s Live At Cook County Jail (ABC Records, 1971). A good cover captures the imagination.
The best live rock recordings also manage to have a bit of dirt on their shoes. Something that makes them less than studio perfect. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? The British band Slade’s Slade Alive! Is such a recording. The band’s third commercial release is mentioned in many live rock best-of lists. While the album was recorded in a studio before a live audience, it still sounds as if it was taped while tumbling down the stairs of a burning building during a hurricane. It was the first live recording by the band, solidifying the band’s reputation as loud, raucous, rude, and in-your-face.
Slade Alive! has not aged well. Still, for this writer, it summons a profound and dense nostalgia of adolescence, an introduction to 12-bar rock and roll, the power ballad, and the angst that exists in the addled teenaged mind. The staggering “In Like A Shot From My Gun” highlighted many feverish late Friday nights listening to Clyde Clifford’s “Beaker Street” on the “Mighty 1090 AM” KAAY in the early 1970s. It is a potent memory of an exciting time.
Formed in Wolverhampton in 1966, Slade was a British power quartet led by the distinctive voice of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Noddy Holder. “Distinctively powerful” is the diplomatic way of describing the shrill and overdriven pipes that a few years hence would belt out the offending anthems "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" from the band's first release after Slayed Alive!, Slayed? (Polydor, 1972) and the non-LP-associated "Cum On Feel the Noize" (Polydor, 1973). The remainder of the band was made up with lead guitarist Dave Hill, bassist Jim Lea, and drummer Don Powell. These four were capable of making quite a racket..
Slade released two recordings ahead of Slade Alive!, Beginnings (Fontana, 1969) and Play It Loud (Polydor, 1970), the latter providing the single “Know Who You Are” which was included on the live recording. Alive! was recorded over three performances at the Command Studios before a live audience. The setlist culled from these performances consisted of three original songs, plus cover versions of songs by Ten Years After, The Lovin' Spoonful, Bobby Marchan, and Steppenwolf.
“Hear Me Calling” opens the program with no band introduction, only the driving, blues insinuating guitar figure originally conceived by Alvin Lee for the Ten Years After album Stonehenge (Deram, 1969). Slade turns the almost chaste TYA dirge into a driving statement intended to soften the audience. The Slade original “In Like A Shot From My Gun” provides Holder the vehicle to show off the voice that defines the band in the future. Ragged harmonies and slashing guitars inject menace and suspense.
John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon” follows. First released on the Lovin’ Spoonful album You’re A Big Boy Now (Kama Sutra, 1967), what Sebastian crafted as a quaint folk song is translated by Holder into a crushing power ballad. The song begins politely with Holder singing with his inside voice led by bassist Lea’s almost melodic propulsion. As the song develops an urgency resistant to any calm emerges and explodes in a violent interlude that subsides as quickly as it came on. With whatever drama the band can muster, they bring the song back to a ballad volume, the song entering a diminuendo section punctuated appropriately with a Noddy Holder burp only to crank up for the coda where Holder gives the listener an idea what to expect in the future.
The originals “Know Who You Are” and “Keep On Rocking” are throwaways, the latter being a Chuck Berry twelve-bar rave up with lyrics purloined by Holder from a dozen songs. It is from the molten stew of “Keep On Rocking” that the Georgia Satellites will emerge 15 years later. On Bobby Marchan’s 1964 period R&B release “Get Down And Get With It” the band just managed to build a bridge between Marchan and Little Richard a decade later.
The showstopper is the eight minute slab-o-rock that is “Born To Be Wild.” Composed by Mars Bonfire for Steppenwolf, the third single release from their debut recording Steppenwolf (Dunhill Records, 1968), Slade covered the song first on their debut recording Beginnings. In concert, the band uses the song to lay waste to its crowd with a loud and complex performance. There is no finesse here, only rock and roll with no apology. This kind of music was made specifically to impress the attractive danger of the music. In the early 1970s, it was just what the doctor ordered. If Slade is to be remembered for anything (and their subsequent musical sins were many) it should be the raw and terrible noise made on Slade Alive!
Slayed Alive, Vol. 2 (Barn, 1967) or Slade Alive! – The Live Anthology (Salvo, 2006) try to build on the original release only to pollute the sheer angst of that recording with the silliness that came later.