Death by Power Ballad: Slade, “My Oh My”

I was lucky. I turned 14 in 1984—a goofy, hormonal, awkward, music-obsessed 14. To have been an adolescent tuned into the radio in 1984 was to have experienced musical nirvana (with a little N—kids who were seven years old in ’84 would have their own moment seven years later). The winter gave us Van Halen’s 1984, the Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl, Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” the Go-Go’s Talk Show, the Footloose soundtrack, and the Cars’ Heartbeat City. Spring saw the release of Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Steve Perry’s Street Talk, Laura Branigan’s “Self Control,” Chicago 17, and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer.

The summer, however, was the mother lode: Born in the USA, Purple Rain, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” The Warrior, “I Can’t Drive 55,” “Infatuation,” Ice Cream Castle, Diamond Life, “Lights Out,” “Sister Christian,” “Naughty Naughty”; the radio filled with those and others by Wham, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Phil Collins, Rick Springfield, Huey Lewis, the Pointer Sisters, Madonna, Deniece Williams, Ratt, Rockwell, Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams, Genesis, Ray Parker Jr., ZZ Top, Duran Duran, and so on and so forth. I won’t even get into what cool shit was to come in the fall, or even what was happening on college radio and in metal. Suffice to say, it was a great year, the very best of years, a year that comes along once an adolescence, if you’re lucky.

I was lucky.

I had been a fan of Quiet Riot’s 1983 chart-topper Metal Health and immediately bought its follow-up, Condition Critical, when it came out in the summer of ’84. Like others, I was taken with “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “Mama Weer all Crazee Now,” which turned out to be cover tunes originally written and released by Slade—a glam band from the UK that had never so much as made a dent in America. Turned out, though, that they were huge in England, scoring 17 Top 20 hits, including six Number Ones, and the originals Quiet Riot covered were the tip of the proverbial iceberg—songs like “Gudbuy T’ Jane,” “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me,” and “Look Wot You Dun” were absurdly catchy, not to mention absurdly spelled.

When, in the wake of Quiet Riot’s success, Slade landed on these shores in glorious 1984, it was with an oddly Celtic-tinged rocker called “Run Runaway” and an oddly titled album, Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply (which was a re-released version of a record called The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome that they’d put out in Europe the previous year). “Run Runaway” landed them in the US Top 20, and its strange performance video became an MTV hit.

Slade’s success seemed to stem in large part from their incredible aptitude at writing anthems—songs that armed the glam kiddies, punters, and yobs alike with shoutable choruses and fist-in-the-air attitudes. Their stab at the power ballad arts was likewise anthemic, and likewise huge in their homeland and throughout Europe. “My Oh My” hit Number Two in the UK in ’83, and was a months-long Number One hit in countries like Norway and Sweden, whose propensity for odd spelling made Slade’s songs that much more appealing.

Written by cheeky frontman Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea, “My Oh My” replaces choruses (the hallmark of just about every great power ballad) with the repetitive refrain of its title, punctuating most lines in each verse like I’m using periods now. Holder starts out with a peculiar comment on relationships that appears torn from Ye Olde He-Man Woman-Haters Handbook, in its more tolerant later editions:

I believe in woman, my oh my
I believe in lovin’, my oh my
Don’t a woman need a man
Try and catch one if you can
I believe in woman, my oh my

Perhaps the women who hung out at Slade shows had trouble catching men, but Holder’s belief in lovin’ likely slowed him down enough that such a chase was brief, indeed. He continues his observations in the next verse:

We all need someone to talk to, my oh my
We all need someone to talk to, my oh my
You need a shoulder to cry on
Call me I’ll be standing by
We all need someone to talk to, my oh my

Notice what he does here? He moves the lens outward, off him and his beliefs, encompassing everyone’s need of conversational companionship, and by doing so engages in the communal spirit that any anthem worth its salt must engage, pulling every listener into the song’s orbit, forging a connection with all who hear him sing. He goes back to his own personal entreaties to the woman who apparently successfully caught him, briefly, before doing this in the third verse:

We all need a lotta lovin’, my oh my
Yeah, a whole lotta lovin’, my oh my
I can lend a helping hand
If you ain’t got nothing planned
We all need some lovin’, my oh my

The communal and the carnal meet—Holder can now talk about lovin’ (though he’s left catchin’ behind) as a common need. And it’s not just ordinary lovin’ we all need—it’s a whole lotta lovin’, and when he sings of the volume of lovin’ we all need, his voice goes into mini-howl mode, showing us he really means it, though not in a scary or off-putting way or anything. He can lend a helping hand (though let’s be honest—where has that hand been?), but it’s really up to us to agree or disagree with his declaration. And in order to convince us he’s right, he has elfin guitarist Dave Hill come in and solo; the lighters we raise at this moment are our votes of approval and agreement; the rate of our swaying is a measure of our need for lovin’. By the time Hill is done, we’re all ready to sing along:

So let’s all swing together, my oh my
We can all swing together, my oh my
You’ve got troubles of your own
No need to face them all alone
We can all swing together, my oh my

Well, we’re not talking about lovin’ anymore. Damn. Or maybe we are indeed talking about lovin’, but only as a segment of a greater call to action—of helping each other through bad times, of swinging together. Or maybe it is all about lovin’, but in a Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice-kinda way. The meaning is further complicated by the final verse:

So let’s all pull together, my oh my
Yeah let’s all pull together, my oh my
We can ride the stormy weather
If we all get out and try
So let’s all pull together, my oh my
Yeah let’s all pull together, my oh my

So we’re swinging, yes, and we’re pulling. We need a whole lotta lovin’, and we’re swinging and pulling. At 14, I didn’t care; I’da swung and pulled damn near anything at that point, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked on the Slade record, it’s misspellings, and its anthems. “My Oh My” clipped the US Top 40, and made it onto my personal soundtrack that summer; to this day, I hear it and immediately flash back to that wonderful year of music.

Sadly, on these shores, Slade wuz barely hurd frum again. Itz a little sad, reelee, when you thynk abowdit.




  • http://twitter.com/CultureBrats Culture Brats

    God, I loved this song.

  • Jesselun

    Slade rules…and 84 was smokin

  • Jesselun

    Slade rules…and 84 was smokin

  • Anonymous

    Two other really nice Slade ballads: “Everyday” from 1974′s Old New Borrowed Blue (superior US title: Clap Your Feet Stomp Your Hands), and 1975′s “How Does it Feel” from Slade in Flame.

    This one has that same down-the-pub sing-a-long feel as so many of their songs did, but it’s no less great for it.

    I caught on to Slade earlier than you did, but still a bit after their Glam-days peak; I picked up a cutout copy of Clap Your Feet in 1976 and listened to it over and over again. I had read about them before that in CREEM, but since I’m American of course I didn’t actually hear them. Made up for lost time after that, though, picking up any and every LP I could find by them including Sladest and Slayed?…of course, by then they were done until their 1984 comeback which you write about so well here.

    Oh, and you should watch their film Flame if you get the chance; it’s a lot better than the run of the mill rock group vanity movie…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1011363683 Clive Young

    Those two US hits owed a heck of a lot to Big Country.

  • Mfudgester

    This is worryingly close to Queen’s Friends will be Friends. Not a high point for either band.

    This was pretty much the end of the road for Slade as chart act in the UK, though they continued to knock about until about 1990. A few years later we were given Oasis (who also covered Come on feel the noize) and so everything was about equal.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    I was gonna say. There was nothing odd about the Celtic tinge to “Run Runaway”: Slade, canny old whorehorses that they were, always knew a good shtick when they stole one.

  • Russ

    Even Slade’s bad records are good.

  • Ajsmith

    Actually the melody of Run Runaway was inspired by the hymn “There Is a Happy Land” and My Oh My is nothing like Big Country.

  • Ajsmith

    Friends Will Be Friends was recorded in 1986

  • Anonymous

    It’s pretty funny that you cite the song “Naughty Naughty” in an article about Noddy Holder.

  • smf2271

    My wife and I just played a geeky music game and picked our top 100 songs of the ’80s. I don’t know about her list yet, but on mine, 48 of the 100 songs came from either 1983 or 1984. It was a great time to be an early adolescent (I’m just a sliver younger than you). The total awesomeness of top 40 music came to an end in mid-1986, in my opinion, oddly coincidental with the demise of Boston’s WHTT, on which my dial was permanently fixed for a period of about three years.

  • EightE1

    Ha! Never thought of that. “Noddy, Noddy / Mutton-choppy / Puh-puh-puh-puh-plaid pants …”

  • Anonymous

    I saw the video to “Run Runaway” a few years ago and loved it. I had no idea what was going on with that guy and his tongue, but I still loved it.

    I’d never heard “My Oh My,” but it sounds familiar to me because I heard a version of it on Joe Piscopo’s album “New Jersey.” He does a skit on the record where he plays David Letterman, and at the end “Paul” gets the band going and he sings:

    “We’re having some fun now, my oh my.
    Yes, we’re having some fun now, my oh my.
    We’re having more fun now
    Than humans should be allowed.
    Oh we’re having some fun now, my oh my.”
    (repeat numerous times with more singers until fade)

    I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that I didn’t know that was a parody of the Slade song, or that I could remember that so clearly!

    Tony

  • EightE1

    It’s funny that Piscopo — who was as hot as he’d ever be when he put out that record — would choose a relatively minor hit for that parody. I’m going to have to find that.

    Thanks for the comment.