Slade is a band near unfamiliar to American ears. This Wolverhampton band had 17 consecutive top 20 hits — three of those singles entered the charts at number one — and six number ones on the UK Singles Chart, making them the most successful British band of the 1970’s. They may have sold over 50 million records worldwide, but despite living in the United States in the 1970’s, they never really broke here.
That changed in 1983 when Quiet Riot released “Cum on Feel the Noize,” a Slade cover (they also would release a version of “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”), which broke the band in the US and led to their song “Run Runaway” charting in the top twenty. Despite numerous breakups, the band still plays today and has influenced artists as diverse as KISS, Nirvana, The Clash, The Ramones and Oasis.
But back in 1975, Slade was big enough to make a movie. Despite all their success, the band just found that they were doing more of the same and wanted something different. Manager Chas Chandler suggested a movie, but the band didn’t want to do a Beatles comedy film, despite the band’s happy-go-lucky image.
They almost made Quite a Mess, a comedy cover version of The Quatermass Experiment before deciding to make a gritty look at the underside of the music business. Writer Andrew Birkin created the story of a fictional band named Flame, but the band felt it was missing something. They invited Birkin and the film’s director, Richard Loncraine, on tour. After seeing band life first-hand and hearing numerous anecdotes of things that had happened to them and other bands, the script was closer to the band’s vision.
Lead vocalist Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea also pushed for the movie’s soundtrack to expand on the band’s formula and try new ideas. If the film wasn’t a success, the soundtrack was, hitting number 6 on the UK charts with two singles, “Far Far Away” (Hodder’s favorite Slade song) and “How Does It Feel,” a song that Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher says is “one of the best songs written, in the history of pop, ever.”
Slade in Flame, much like many of the movies we’ve covered this week, wasn’t met with initial success. The band’s fans didn’t expect such a downer of a movie and the band, out of the public eye working on the film for so long, were met with a decline in popularity.
As the film begins, the members of Flame are in two rival bands. Despite numerous pranks and fisticuffs, they form a new band and become an overnight sensation. However, tensions within the band develop just as immediately and the ghosts of their past — an old manager with thugs ready to cut the toes off of band members and threaten their children — doom our heroes before they even get started.
There’s a great sequence in this movie where the band appears on the pirate radio station Radio City that’s soon attacked during the Ricky Storm Show. I love how far the band has to climb to find their way to the studio and how this part contributes a bit of the surreal to what is otherwise a very earthbound affair.