Songs of 84: Run Runaway / Slade

There seemed to be a thing in the production of pop singles in the early 80s, where it was trendy to use advanced technology to make electric guitars sound like they were anything but. By the time 1984 had come around, Brian May from Queen had been doing this for years, organically layering up his guitars with overdubs to make a massively orchestral sound. Adrian Belew had a swathe of dinky toys and gadgets and used them to great effect in his work on David Bowie’s album “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”, as well as his work in King Crimson. Trevor Rabin used some cutting edge technology to make the solo in “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes sound totally other worldly, and he did the same thing for the solo on “The Runner” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Meanwhile, Scottish band Big Country attempted to make their guitars sound like bagpipes on their 1983 hit “In a Big Country”.

Which brings me to a band who were huge in the 1970s, and had something of a brief, phoenix-like resurgence in the mid 1980s, only to drift away again shortly after. The band was Slade.

By the end of the 1970s the band were all but spent. Exhausted by constant touring, and near broke after unsuccessfully trying to break into the American music market, they were ready to call it a day. By accident rather than design, they received a call from the promoters of the 1980 Reading festival, desperate to fill in a vacancy on the festival at short notice, after Ozzy Osbourne pulled out. They said “yes” with the idea it would be their final show. They went on and played a short set of their hits, and went down a storm. That led the band to go back into the studio and start making some amped up, hard rocking albums such as “Till Deaf Do Us Part” and “We’ll Bring the House Down”.

Their fortunes fared better with the release of “The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome” late in 1983. The band’s overall profile was lifted thanks to a major hit reworking of their classic single “Cum On Feel The Noize” by US hard rock band Quiet Riot in 1983. The second single from album “My Oh My’ reached number 2 in the UK in November 1983 and the album was rush-released for the Christmas market.   The third single from the album was issued in January 1984 and it was an earworm of a track called “Run Runaway”. It had that lead guitar part that will leap into your head long before you can recall the words.

The tune is based on a 19th century Scottish jig called “There is a Happy Land” and the guitars are layered up with Jim Lea’s violins to sound suspiciously like bagpipes. On point, and on trend it would seem.

Slade have never been afraid of including traditional British folk music concepts in their work. Jim Lea was playing violin on their records as far back as 1971 on “‘Coz I Luv You”, itself a tune with some rustic folk vibes throughout. “Run Runaway” takes this idea to the logical extreme, with a massive hard rocking guitar roar, Noddy Holder’s trademark growl up the front, and the football-terrace backing vocals that the band were known for. The track also features some typical 80s technological flourishes, such as a drum machine to keep the pulse. On paper it reads like a mess, but it all blended seamlessly to bring a sonic power to the airwaves unlike any other.

“The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome” was only a modest success in Australia, reaching number 50 on the national album charts, and it remains one of this writer’s desert island discs. “Run Runaway” remains something of a lost classic, peaking at number 17 in Australia. It was the last time the band ever troubled the singles charts in this country again.

Thanks largely to the aforementioned Quiet Riot, the track was a hit in the US, however a tour there didn’t eventuate beyond a handful of shows, and a major tour of the UK fell through, and beyond 1984 the band never played live again with the original four members, with the exception of a one-off, one song performance organised by the fanclub at a party in honour of the band’s 25th anniversary. They made two new studio albums, “Rogues Gallery” in 1985 and “You Boyz Make Big Noise” in 1987, before coming back for two new tracks for a 1991 compilation album (one of which was the brilliant “Radio (Wall of Sound)” which failed to chart in Australia). After the success of the compilation, Noddy and Jim agreed to walk away from the stage, never to play together again. Noddy did some acting and worked as an announcer on BBC Radio for many years, Jim Lea has made music but largely existed under the radar, while Dave Hill and Don Powell have hit the road again playing the old hits under the Slade name.

Run Runaway is still a compelling record. I prefer the longer album version with the intense build up at the start rather than the shortened for radio 7” version, however any version will still make the hair stand up and the goosebumps arrive in quick succession. It really was the last hurrah for one of the most iconic British bands of the late 20th century.

David Kowalski, a writer and podcaster, is celebrating songs that turn 40 this year.

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