How Slade Began to Come Into Their Own With ‘Play It Loud’
After a few false starts to their career, Slade released their debut in May 1969 under the name Ambrose Slade. Their manager, former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, later suggested they drop the first part of the name in time to release Play It Loud in November 1970.
Chandler also suggested that they adopt the look of the U.K. subculture of skinheads, which at the time was simply a street-tough look that served as a reaction against hippies, without the association of racism that it would later take. "We'd been playing all the ballrooms to skinhead audiences," singer Noddy Holder later told Shindig. "Back then it was just a fashion with no political connections. They were all Rude Boys."
Play It Loud is a tight, focused and raucous rock and roll album, with hints of what would become the band's signature sound already in place. The album opens with "Raven," written by Holder along with bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell. It's a short-but-sweet raver that chugs along nicely before it explodes. "See Us Here" is a riff-heavy rocker that shows off Holder's signature gravel growl while "Dapple Rose" shows off a more melodic side of the band, ringing out like some beefed-up take on a lost Bee Gees tune.
Slade always had a good ear for a cover song, dating back to their first single (a cover of the Young Rascals' "You Better Run") and they prove that here with an obscure choice. "Could I" first appeared on the debut album from Bread a year prior. They take the song and, without much alteration, twist it into pure Slade. "One Way Hotel" is a modest rocker, again written by Holder, Lea and Powell, that shows off some fine guitar work from Dave Hill.
Side one closes out with the band's killer cover of the Mann & Weil song "The Shape of Things to Come." The song, as recorded by fictional band Max Frost and the Troopers, first appeared on the soundtrack of the 1968 teen exploitation film Wild In The Streets. Slade make the song their own and in the process created one of this album's highlights.
"Know Who You Are" kicks off side two and remains one of Slade's finest-ever songs. Showing off the band well on the way to their definitive sound, it's a Slade classic loaded with that dynamic tension the band would explore to greater success within the next year. "I Remember" is another charged up rocker that shows off their gritty prowess, while "Pouk Hill" is a folksy pop rocker that also highlights their use of simple, yet effective vocal harmonies.
Another odd cover choice is up next in "Angelina." Written by Bonzo Dog Band member (and future Rutle) Neil Innes, Slade take the Beatles-esque groover and, with Holder's plaintive vocal, turn it into a raunchier, more desperate rocker. "Dirty Joker" is another raw gem with a somewhat funkier approach. The album ends with the classic "Sweet Box," a not-so-subtle double-entendre tune that shows Slade truly coming into their own with another commanding vocal performance from Holder and some stylish guitar work from Hill.
Within six months following the release of Play It Loud, the band's fortunes would forever change with the release of the single "Get Down and Get With It," which hit the U.K. Top 20. A few months later, they launched the first in a long string of No. 1 hits in their homeland with "Coz I Love You." In that same time frame, the skinhead look would vanish, replaced by the over-the-top glam look that became Slade's trademark.