Slade in Flame: How Does it Feel 40 Years On?

On the 40th anniversary of its release, I look back at the soundtrack to the movie Slade in Flame (1975), one of the band’s greatest albums.
Released: 29 November 1974
Label: Polydor
Words and Music: Noddy Holder and Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
UK chart position: #6
Singles: Far Far Away (11/10/1974, #2), How Does it Feel (07/02/1975, #15)


Noddy Holder – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Dave Hill – backing vocals, lead guitar
Jim Lea – backing vocals, bass guitar, piano
Don Powell – drums

There are few things that give me more pleasure than unearthing a musical treasure to which I have hitherto been oblivious, and that, from the moment of first hearing, I know I will never be without.

One of these magical experiences came courtesy of British rock group Slade when one evening, my television came alight with their 1975 film Slade in Flame. Set in the 1960s and starring the band alongside Tom Conti and Alan Lake, the movie charts the rise and fall of the group Flame against the seedy backdrop of a money-grubbing music industry motivated solely by financial gain.

The first two scenes set the tone for the entire film. A brawling wedding band with a suitably cheeky guitarist named Barry (Dave Hill) is juxtaposed with the gritty realism of soon-to-be-drummer Charlie (Don Powell) toiling in the heat of a Sheffield foundry. As he makes his way home, he cuts out an ad in the newspaper against the backdrop of his grim working class surroundings, and his youthful hopefulness is both celebrated and lamented by the swell of the beautiful lyrics and melancholy melody that accompany his strivings.

As these opening scenes unfolded, I learned three things; there was a lot more to Slade than thumping glam rock floor stompers; this movie was not going to see them cavorting around like The Monkees, or emulating The Beatles’ cinematic offerings, and opening track How Does It Feel was one of the greatest songs I had ever heard.

Written by bassist Jim Lea years before, the piano based melody had been waiting patiently for its moment to shine, and found a perfect home in Flame, being entirely conducive to a score. Charting outside the top 10 meant it was considered unsuccessful compared with their previous hits, but history has been deservedly kind to the song with it now rightly recognised as an exceptional track, and one of their best. Asking the listener if they can imagine what it’s like “to be searchin’ in your own time, all your attempting, experimenting, all on the climb”, it sets the perfect context from the outset for a film portraying the struggles of a band negotiating their lives and career.

Slade had enjoyed immense success up to the point where they decided to make their foray into the world of film, with numerous chart toppers and a large, loyal fanbase wild for their life affirming brand of fervent, happy-go-lucky music and entertainment.

In an interview about the movie which accompanies the 2007 DVD re-release, the band revealed how they insisted on making a serious, gritty film about the realities of the music business which, in the words of Jim Lea, would have “weight and gravitas”. While they acknowledge that Dave Hill was the only band member with reservations, and that his fears were realised when fans responded negatively to Flame which, as Noddy would have it, “had killed the myth of what Slade were all about”, the band are proud to have stuck to their guns and made the film and music they wanted to. Both have garnered critical acclaim and are considered by many to be one of the best rock movies and soundtracks ever made. It’s notable that the soundtrack contains none of their previous tried and tested hits and, like the movie it accompanies, is very much Slade breaking new ground. Today, the 29th of November 2014, marks the 40th anniversary of its release.

Like How Does it Feel, the first single, Far Far Away, is another striking opus which charted at a more impressive number 2, but it’s notable that this was released four months before the film, and Slade never managed to replicate the preceding run of chart success after it; an indicator that the movie may indeed have damaged the band, although they appear to have no regrets on this score, satisfied that they made the film they wanted to.

Similarly melancholic in tone, yet simultaneously uplifting, Far Far Away portrays life on the road and the band’s wonderment at the world they encounter while they nevertheless yearn for home. Its appearance in the film during a live scene in which the band members are incandescent in white flames acts as the soundtrack to their implosion, and lends a real pathos to the ensuing scenes. The participation of real Slade fans in the live segments ensures that the group’s magnetism, like the light projected upon them, is impressed upon their fictitious counterparts Flame, lending a thorough authenticity to the scenes.

Noddy Holder considers the soundtrack to be Slade’s most diverse album and it’s easy to see why. The pensive melancholic beauty of the aforementioned, the deliciously sinister grind of This Girl, Lay It Down’s musings on the mechanics of songwriting itself, the happy positivity of Heaven Knows, the pure belting rock ‘n’ roll of Standin’ on the Corner and the thumping glam rock punk prelude Them Kinda Monkey’s Can’t Swing all blend together to form a truly unique piece of work. While there’s no arguing that Far Far Away and How Does It Feel are the stand out tracks in this collection, if not Slade’s career, the soundtrack to Flame is as much an emotional and aural rollercoaster as it is a collection of songs.

It would have been very easy for Slade to create both a movie and album that lived up to fans’ expectations, but the fact that they held fast to their own desires and were willing to accept the consequences lends an integrity to both the film and the soundtrack that is reflective of Slade’s maturity and determination to realise their full potential. The fact that the music endures forty years on is a testament to Slade’s talent and conviction, and the immense quality of their work, and continues to validate their decision to be true to themselves. You can’t ask for a greater legacy than that.

By Emma Hynes
Twitter: @ELHynes

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