Small Faces

TrackAlbum / Single
(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen MeSmall Faces (Immediate 1967)
Itchycoo ParkImmediate IM 057
Red BalloonThe Autumn Stone
All Or NothingDecca F 12470
AfterglowOgdens' Nut Gone Flake
Get Yourself TogetherSmall Faces (Immediate 1967)
Song Of A BakerOgdens' Nut Gone Flake
Whatcha Gonna Do About ItSmall Faces (Decca 1966)
You Need LovingSmall Faces (Decca 1966)
Tin SoldierImmediate IM 062

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Contributor: Glenn Smith

For me there would be two things I would do if I could rock and roll time travel. The first and most important one would be to push a certain individual into oncoming New York traffic in December 1980, and the other would be to sneak into Stevie Marriott’s house in 1991 and put his ciggie out. Amazing to think that, as I write this Toppermost, there is but one of the four Small Faces still standing and, in a reverse Spinal Tap, it’s the drummer.

R&B, psychedelic, heavy rocking, the Small Faces had it all, a great song writing front man with a voice for the ages (who could also play some mean guitar), a bass playing song writing genius, the man who arguably invented the Hammond organ sound for rock and roll (bring it on all comers who want to argue otherwise … Georgie Fame, Matthew Fisher, Stevie Winwood all have claims, but I reckon McLagan is the original …) and a drummer good enough to replace Keith Moon in The Who. As a vocalist, Stevie Marriott wrote the how-to manual for rock singing. Drawing heavily on a heady mix of English and American influences he was the best at everything; soul singer, R&B shouter and he could croon and cry sotto voce when needed. When you added in his phenomenal guitar playing and song writing and powerhouse live performances he was a star, truly one of a kind.

I was only two when they started so I missed their famous 1968 tour of the Antipodes with Paul Jones and The Who. In fact the closest I ever came was seeing Ian McLagan with Billy Bragg’s touring band in the early 2000s; at least he had the famous B3 with him. Despite that, I’ve been a hardcore fan from the first time I heard Itchycoo Park sometime in the mid-seventies when the single had been re-released. Hearing that song set me off on the typical vinyl completist journey that we all undertook in those hard-to-get-records days. You try comprehending that an album could be called Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake let alone find a decent copy in suburban Sydney circa 1977.

In terms of output it is pretty slim, with the band recording and performing between 1965-1969. But what an output; two self-titled albums, a brilliant concept album and a string of incredible single releases that rivalled that of their more illustrious First Division competitors, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Here are my favourites, and it is truly all too beautiful.

(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me
For the uninitiated this track is on two Small Faces albums; the 1966 R&B release and the one I’m choosing which kicks off their psychedelic 1967 LP with this crazy bit of pop from Marriott/Lane, with a “yea hea” harmony, thundering drum intro and plenty of swirling mellotron and organ. This is the perfect introduction to Marriott’s superb R&B shouting balanced by Ronnie Lane’s hippy trippy psychedelic lyrics.

 

Itchycoo Park
Ronnie Lane had quite a few greatest song writing moments; Debris, Annie, April Fool but nothing matches this acid crazy flip out from 1967. Inspired by an Oxford pamphlet which talked of dreaming spires, this is the ultimate in psychedelic pop with the Hammond leading us down a dreamy whimsical path to a place that Lane and Marriott knew where they grew up, Little Ilford Park known to the locals as Itchycoo. It was a place where Ronnie went to have fun and the high they sing of is a natural one, beautifully wrapped up in a stellar call and response vocal performance by Ronnie, Ian and Stevie. Paul Weller loves this song and the Small Faces so much he had a go at rewriting it, have a listen his BBC live version of Speak Like a Child to hear what I mean.

Red Balloon
A cover of Tim Hardin’s paean to the “joys” of heroin addiction on the 1969 compilation album, The Autumn Stone, Marriott brings a heavier more threatening edge to Hardin’s sadder version. Stevie takes us to the dark place that is smack; no need for love in this tune, the smack has taken the love light from his eyes, his dealer being so easy to get to know. The acoustic guitar drives this with superb bass playing from Ronnie and a country blues piano solo from McLagan. Marriott then drops in with a guitar riff which points us towards Humble Pie. He finishes with a reprise of the first verse, screaming his drug addled pain.

 

All Or Nothing / Afterglow
These two songs highlight both the power of the band musically and the range and dynamic in Stevie’s vocals. He was at his best with an impassioned love song, low key in the verses and roaring in the chorus. All Or Nothing is one of their first steps away from the R&B of the first records; we really get to hear Stevie fully work the vocal range with the band complementing his vocals with a heavier sound. In Afterglow, the band crashes in together, and then Stevie hurtles in with love being all around him, power chords pumping out. Then we are hit in the face with the chorus, Stevie resting in the afterglow of this girl and her love. The organ soars on the chorus as Lane and Jones plunder together, a portent of things to come with The Faces.

 

Get Yourself Together
Another highlight from their self-titled 1967 album, this has McLagan on piano and organ, featuring a classic, slightly out of tune, honky tonk refrain. The chords and bass slide in as Stevie addresses the girl who needs to move on and hopefully move straight into his arms. He doesn’t want to be a friend; he’s a friend with needs is our lad. Weller understood the genius of this song and The Jam played their own frenetic live version which is also well worth tracking down.

 

Song Of A Baker
Another hard rocking track from their classic concept album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. This is a Ronnie Lane lead vocal with lyrics that reflect his interests in the bucolic; post Small Faces/Faces he went travelling, lived on a farm in Wales and put together a travelling tent show. A highlight of this blistering rocker is the superb Marriott guitar solo, worthy of Hendrix in his pomp.

Whatcha Gonna Do About It
The mod boy wig out that started it all; it features lyrics written by Ian Samwell, the writer of Cliff Richard’s Move It. All the elements are immediately present, and although it is not played by McLagan (yes there was a fifth Small Face, apparently he was too tall …) the organ is out front in the mix. Marriott is shouting and urging, the guitar howls and the rhythm section is tight, perfect for the mod boy dance floor.

You Need Loving
“Woman, a you need, love yeah …” Sound familiar? Ok so the first thing we need to say here is that Willie Dixon has every right to be mighty miffed. The Led Zeppelin plagiarism issue is well documented, especially as it relates to Whole Lotta Love being a lift from the Willie Dixon penned Muddy Waters song of 1963, You Need Love. But what is often missed is that Page and Plant got to Whole Lotta Love via this rework of Muddy’s tune You Need Loving from the Small Faces eponymous album of 1966. And in this performance, Plant sees the way forward as Stevie rips out every vocal riff Plant becomes famous for. It is a thundering version of Muddy’s tune with distorted guitar and a loud, loud Hammond pushed way out in front. I’d suggest Toppermost readers just listen to the opening bars to hear Marriott set the heavy rock singer template, but I’m hoping you’ll want to hear the whole thing and be shaken to the very core of your being.

 

Tin Soldier
This writer’s candidate for the greatest rock and roll song ever. Marriott could teach Nirvana and the Seattle boys a thing or two about the quiet/loud dynamic. P P Arnold (see Toppermost #178) is on backing vocals and the band tears up the greatest demand for love you will ever hear. A count in leads us to the keyboard setting out the melody, Stevie shouts us in with a “c’mon” and starts to thrash out the chords. The guitar riff rumbles ominously throughout as he and P P howl into the chorus. The middle eight has him on his knees, begging, pleading; he’ll sing any song she wants him to. He finishes with the same desperation, he just needs the whispered hello, give him something before he fades away. The song is an explosion of unfulfilled lust and desire, and its power lies in the fact that nothing is resolved, he’s still howling at the moon in frustration as the song fades.

 

Steve Marriott (1947–1991)

Ronnie Lane (1946–1997)

Ian McLagan (1945–2014)

 

Small Faces Official Website

My Generation – Small Faces Documentary Part 1

Steve Marriott (Wikipedia)

The life and music of Ronnie Lane

Ian McLagan Official Website

Room for Ravers

Official Facebook page for Faces

Small Faces biography (iTunes)

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles …

TopperPost #439

4 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Apr 27, 2015

    ‘We can miss out on school (won’t that be cool?)’ Puritanical 8 year old me was offended hearing this line. Older, less uptight me loved it, mainly because it’s a great song…

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 27, 2015

    Brilliant. I’d have to find room for My Mind’s Eye, but god knows where.

  3. Peter Viney
    Apr 28, 2015

    Thoroughly enjoyed that, Glenn. All or Nothing, like the Spencer Davis hits, was one that I’d hear in a disco surrounded by great American soul, and it fitted perfectly. My “Wot no?” has to be Lazy Sunday, my first choice of all. It has a quality, along with Itchycoo Park of Britishness that only Ray Davies approaches. I’d want to squeeze in Sha-La-La-Lee and Here Come The Nice too. Ian MacLagan’s autobiography is one of the very best rock memoirs.

  4. Alex Lifson
    Apr 29, 2015

    Must get a vote in for “The Universal”. Great essay.

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