Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Post About The Small Faces (Why Not)

the fuck

Hope everybody's been enjoying the requested reviews! I read through some of them and I think they have gone perfectly OK. If you haven't been particularly excited by the requested selections so far (I don't know why in God's name you wouldn't be excited by an LMFAO review, but then again I'm not you), no need to worry! We're not even halfway through the requests I've gotten and I've saved some of the more compelling ones for last. (By that I mean, I'm doing them in the order that people actually requested them and I'm not actually choosing the order myself, so apparently I am a complete and total liar who should not be listened to.) So sit tight and you will receive more of them in due time.

It is honestly shocking to me that I last asked for these requests way back in early July. That's almost two months ago! And in that time I've listened to all these other records of my own choosing that I've listened to more than the requests! Jeez. Not very nice of me. I can say with a bit of pride, however, that those aforementioned request-delaying albums were all real good. I already talked about one of those a couple weeks back, so I figured it might be nice of me to talk about a couple more: The Small Faces' There Are But Four Small Faces and Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, two albums that were way way way too good for me to ignore.

One thing you might notice is that, yes, like the other album, these Small Faces records also feature Ronnie Lane. I'll do you a favor and not talk about how much I enjoy his cherubic feel-good personality for the umpteenth time. The Small Faces, in case you do not know, were a British mod-pop-rock group from the mid-to-late 60's. Their lead singer/songwriter/guitarist was a man by the name of Steve Marriott, whose speaking voice was the most cockney British thing you could possibly hear and whose singing voice was the best Sam Cooke-inspired vocal thing you could possibly hear. He was very good at switching between goofy over-the-top British snarls and powerful rock 'n roll bellows, often within the same song. The bassist for this band was the aforementioned Lane, who wrote songs with Marriott and sang lead once in a blue moon; I won't say any more about him. The other two dudes were Ian McLagan, who didn't sing at all I don't think but was a very talented keyboardist, and Kenney Jones, whose poundy-pound-pound drum sound (I don't know how to describe the way drums sound) gave every Small Faces song a super-heavy backbone. Once Marriott left the band in '69 to do music things with the great Pete Frampton, the rest recruited the now-very-well-known-but-not-so-much-so-in-ninteen-sixty-nine Rod Stewart and the kinda-sorta-well-known-now-but-only-cuz-he's-in-the-Stones Ronnie Wood and became the Faces, another real cool band that were great for completely different reasons (The Faces = loose, sloppy and rootsy; The Small Faces = tight, poppy and rockin'). Then they broke up too, at some point. The end.

I judged the Small Faces harshly before I even heard one song by them. Once I was told they were considered "rivals of the Who" in their prime, my initial response was something along the lines of "Pshhh. Also rans." I was a hardcore Who guy at the time, you see, and I had no more room in my heart for Mod-influenced British rock groups. From their band name and image, I'd always thought of theme as a bunch of whimsical British flower-power men. Their big hit was called "Itchycoo Park," for crying out loud!! But of course I was wrong about all of this, like usual. "Itchycoo Park," while a little cutesy, is the greatest song, featuring a classic call-and-response between Marriott and Lane that alternates between Lane's innocent questions and Marriott's unhinged responses ("What didja do there?" "I GOT HIIIIIIIII-IGH!"). Then I heard their classic '68 concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, which features some cute-yet-sinister whimsical Britishisms ("Rene" and "Lazy Sunday", the latter being the best possible example of Marriott's ability to switch between vocal mannerisms) and songs like "Song Of A Baker," maybe the most (read: ONLY) badass song ever written about baking. How could a song featuring the lyrics "I'll jug some water, bake some flower, store some salt and wait the hour" be badass, you ask? Especially one sung mostly by all-around nice man Ronnie Lane?? You'll just have to listen for yourself, friend.

That was what really surprised me about the Small Faces - they were a pretty rockin' band! Sure, they would sometimes be prone to the cutesier side of British psychedelia (see the entire second side of Ogden's), but most of the time they had as heavy of a sound as anybody during the mid 60's - and that includes the Who. Hell, if anything, they were heavier than the Who - on record, at least. While the Who were always powerful onstage, by the time of The Who Sell Out (and especially Tommy) they were adopting a more pop-oriented sound. The Small Faces wrote pop songs as well, but even on Ogden's the force of their sound is unrelenting. My love of that album eventually led me to pick up There Are But Four Small Faces - the album immediately preceding it - on vinyl, and I would have to say I like it even better. It's an American version of the original British release, so purists may take issue with the tracks on here, but I certainly can't complain - a bunch of great, great singles are tacked on, including "Itchycoo Park" and "Tin Soldier," the latter being maybe my favorite Small Faces song ever. Not unlike "Song Of A Baker," I expected it to be almost Kinks-ian just from its title (see the Kinks' goofy "Tin Soldier Man"), but instead it is one of the most powerfully soulful songs they ever recorded! Who knew?? That, and you've got "Green Circles" and "Here Come The Nice" and "Get Yourself Together" - there is not a track on this album that I do not like. While the second side of Ogden's can be a little off-putting, Four Small Faces is primo British psych-rock from top to bottom. Twelve great tracks. Not bad at all.

So yes, yes. The Small Faces were one of those "really great bands from the Sixties" that you hear so much about. I don't have their first album but one day I am destined to own it. And, by extension, every album by the Faces and the Humble Pie (ehhhh not so sure about that last one). If you don't believe me about These Small Faces, take it from a band that was influenced by them a heckuva lot - the Greatest Band Alive, OASIS.

Hah! Yeah, that's right. God-damn OASIS. If you don't love the Small Faces just from hearing that name, what kind of awful good-music-hating cretin are you? The worst worst kind, that's what.


Adam said...

You ever hear "All or Nothing"? That's a Marriott showstopper if there ever was one.

And ya know I'm not too big on hits compilations, but "The Autumn Stone" is just stellar. I'll make a pointless comparison and say that it does for 60s British pop what "Singles Going Steady" did for 70s punk.

Anonymous said...

Small Faces are the greatest band most Americans have never heard. I'm a 43 year old brand spanking new fan myself. Time is not kind to most bands, but it has been very kind to Marriott, Lane, et al. I've you've never heard them, give them a listen and you'll be shocked at how great they were. If you were a fan at the time, give them a re-listen and you'll be even more shocked at how great they were.

singwell said...

Small Faces were a mighty band. They were just moving into the big time and would have outstripped The Who without doubt, had Steve Marriott not pulled out of the band. But then, had that not happened, two other fine bands would not have formed: The Faces and Humble Pie (which also featured Peter Frmapton, as well as Steve Marriott). As Adam said, "All Or Nothing" is just amazing and 'Tin Soldier" still leaves me breathless. I'm actually working with Ian McLagan's manager now (on a voluntary basis) and can say that Ian CAN sing, even though he only did backing while in Small Faces (no one could outshine Marriott and Lane). ALso,l would like to point out that THE definitive DVD bio of Small Faces comes out in the US/Canada March 31st, Australia April 1st. It is called Small Faces: All or NOthing and is produced by Reelin' In The Years. It features interviews with the surviving members, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones and 27 performances! It is amazing. Signed NTSC copies are available from Ian at Stay cool, man.
Ian will also be appearing at SXSW in Austin, TX in March. Info on his site.

Anonymous said...

I've got to get me one of those DVDs. Every time I pull up a Small Faces tune on youtube, I thank God for the internet. Because without it, I'd never have heard anything but Itchycoo Park, and I'm sure I'm not alone. I do resent all those years I lived without the Small Faces in my life but they're here to stay now.

Mac actually sings pretty well (saw him on Letterman a few months back) but I can't imagine the band without that organ of his. Or without Kenney's unique drumming style. There were but four Small Faces, but what remarkable blend they were. Perfection.

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