No one can blame you if you dismiss Slade’s Play It Loud out of hand. After all, Slade was the original hair metal band, launching a thousand ill-begotten covers, their originals just as bombastic, screeching and spelling-challenged. Yet, the Slade catalogue is full of buried treasures; nearly every one of the band’s 70s albums contains at least one song worth the price of admission, from “Gudbye to Jane” to “How Does It Feel,” and in the case of Play It Loud, an entire album’s worth of great songs.
Released in 1970, Play It Loud is the band’s second proper album, and the first released under the name Slade; one previous album had been released under the name Ambrose Slade, yet another as the N’ Betweens. While the two previous albums had relied heavily upon covers and songs by outside writers, Play It Loud was composed almost completely by drummer Don Powell, bassist Jim Lea, and singer Noddy Holder. It’s Slade before they were all crazee, before the platform boots and shiny spacesuits, more early Deep Purple than Gary Glitter.
The name Play It Loud may be a sad predictor of the type of albums the band would release later on, but it’s apt nonetheless. You can’t help but want to play this one loud; on an iPod or tinny computer speakers, it’s impossible to appreciate the wallop Slade packs. It’s rough, garage-y and artless – like a collection of the best songs culled from Slade’s later albums and B-sides.
The best tracks on the album are those written by some combination of Powell, Lea and Holder. The rollicking opener “Raven,” the Black Sabbath-esque “See Us Here” and solid rockers “I Remember” and “One Way Hotel” are Slade with more grit than glitz, but the unexpected tenderness of “Dapple Rose” and the bluesy “Pouk Hill” show surprising range and depth. A standout is the album closer “Sweet Box,” which rolls as much as rocks, showing Slade’s nascent talent for a great groove.
A few covers pop up, too, such as the almost-psychedelic version of Mann-Weil’s “The Shape of Things to Come,” and Neil Innes’ “Angelina,” a boozy bar-room blues.
Both “The Shape of Things to Come” and band original “Know Who You Are” were released as singles, with “The Shape of Things to Come” getting the Top of the Pops treatment. Neither single went anywhere; despite being aligned with producer/manager/ex-Animal Chas Chandler, Slade seemed destined for obscurity. However, a string of singles – including “Get Down,” “Look Wot You Done,” and “Coz I Love You” – that combined the band’s hard-rocking sound with glammy, slick production and hideously bad grammar soon shot the band to stardom. Not surprisingly, from 1971 on, the band would become primarily a singles outfit, with most later albums built around a single already on the charts, and the straight-ahead, correctly-spelled rock of Play It Loud relegated to b-sides and album tracks. More’s the pity.