When you read articles looking back at Britpop there are always trite references to how much Oasis were influenced by The Beatles (admittedly, a flame fanned by the Gallagher brothers openly discussing the topic, at least until they developed their “angry northerner” persona). It’s much rarer to read about the obvious influences on the other pinnacle of the nineties music war that sold so many copies of NME.
If you’ve ever listened to The Small Faces you can’t help but hear how much they, along with The Kinks, shaped the mockney tones of Damon Albarn and Blur. Though they started out as a rhythm & blues combo (no bad place to start, it served The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds well enough), they later developed a sound all their own, mixing jaunty tunes and London street lingo on their seminal 1968 release Ogdens’ nut Gone Flake.
This week I received special edition re-releases of the four albums from The Small Faces original 1965-1969 run (founder Steve Marriott would then leave to form Humble Pie with peter Frampton, prompting the remaining band members to bring in Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart and rename themselves The Faces, putting out a string of successful records over the next five years before reuniting with Marriott and touring the original line up once more). I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve heard from the band and was intrigued to dip more deeply into their back catalogue.
The bands self-titled debut was released on the Decca label in 1966, a raw and bluesy piece featuring a number of their own compositions alongside tunes by the likes of Sam Cooke and Kenny Lynch. If you’ve listened to early albums from The Who or the Stones then the sound here will be familiar with. The standout here is Whatcha Gonna Do About It, a song that owes an obvious debt to Soloman Burke’s brilliant Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (yes, the song from The Blues Brothers). The song never made the top 10, despite manager Don Arden spending upwards of £12,000 trying to fix the chart. Nevertheless, it’s a cracking tune and one that announced a very special band to the nation! The rest of the album stands up well too, aside from the slightly asinine Sha-La-La-La-Lee, a song that miscast the Small Faces as a teenybopper band and could all too easily have been their death knell.
By this time the band were growing disenchanted with Don “Sharon Osbourne’s Dad” Arden’s strong-arm managerial style. Despite four hit singles and numerous sell-out live shows the band had barely seen a penny. Things came to a head when the band confronted Arden, who responded by trying to convince their parents that the band had become drug addicts. The move backfired and the band severed their ties with Decca, almost immediately being picked up by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s fledgeling Immediate label.
The band were given free reign and immediately set to work on a new album, confusingly also self-titled. Their first single on their new label would be Here Comes The Nice, it’s lyrics obviously influenced by the boys burgeoning drug use the song was considered extremely edgy at the time and reinforced the idea that The Small Faces weren’t a throwaway pop act. The track would not feature on the original UK release of the album, but was included in an alternate US release (retitled There Are But Four Small Faces), as was the song that would become the bands calling card. If you’ve never heard Itchycoo Park before it’s difficult to put into words how ground-breaking the song must have sounded when it was first released. Psychedelic Pop was on the upswing and the band latched onto the movement with gusto on a track that easily stands up to the test of time. Interestingly (if, like me, you enjoy a pointless fact) the record was possibly the first mainstream single to include flanging, a technique that involves two guitar signals, the second with a miniscule delay, that create an effect not dissimilar to the sound of a jet flying overhead…
The two versions of the album would be combined together in later releases, creating a superb upbeat record that perfectly captures the time in which it was written.
Around the same time Decca would put out From The Beginning, a mix of previous singles and unreleased tunes including a superb run through You Really Got A Hold On Me. Aside from that track and the previous releases the album is most notable as it charts the bands move from the blues to psychadelia.
In 1968 the band would release their second album for Immediate, the disc that would cement their place in the upper echelons of UK rock acts (though, if anything, it may have hindered their continuing attempts to break big in the US).
Utilising the fact that albums were naturally split into two at the time (we miss out on a lot in the age of the mp3), Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake would present the yin and yang of the band. The first side comprises a mix of styles from the heavier rock of the unsung but excellent Song Of A Baker, to the cockney pub singalong that eclipses the band even today. Lazy Sunday is the one Small Faces song everyone knows, even when they don’t know who wrote it. As is often the case it’s a good tune but far from the band’s best work, nonetheless it captured the wider public and is still popular today.
Side two of the album was a concept piece known as Happiness Stan, narrated by Stanley Unwin in his usual style of gibberish and gobbledigook. The plot involves Stan looking into the sky and seeing a half moon, he decides to set out on a quest to find the other half, eventually riding a giant fly to the cave of John The Hermit… a piece so complex it was never performed live!
These new releases of the albums, beautifully packaged double (or in the case of the latter tripe) disc releases in gatefold cases, add on an enticing mix of extra tracks, live recordings, demo releases and the like.
If you’ve never heard The Small Faces you’re certainly not alone, but you are missing out. These four releases are everything you need to hear and, trust me, you need them in your life!
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