Friday, 4 July 2008
"The Small Faces" (1967) (Immediate) ('Core' Review #12, Revised Edition 2016)
You can now buy 'All Our Yesterdays - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Small Faces' in e-book form by clicking here
(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me? / Something I Want To Tell You/ Feeling Lonely/ Happy Boys Happy/ Things Are Going To Get Better/My Way OF Giving/ Green Circles// Become Like You/ Get Yourself Together/ All Of Our Yesterdays/ Talk To You/ Show Me The Way/ Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire/ Eddie’s Dreaming
"I said flowers are breaking through the concrete – listen, can you hear them breathing?”
The second album to be titled ‘The Small Faces’ (and considered by the band their ‘proper’ debut) has been dividing fans and critics ever since its release. Where once the band had been R and B groove cover merchants and occasional songwriters dressed in smart hip suits, left to their own devices on the hipper tripper Immediate label suddenly they've flowered into psychedelic wonderkins and pioneering songwriters dressed in smart hip...well whatever Steve Marriott thought he was wearing, you have to say it suited him. A lot of the AAA bands around in the fast-changing era of the 1960s grow record by record, but the leap between albums one and two (there only ever were three) is one of the most extreme of anybody. Oddly few people seem to equate The Small Faces with psychedelia but the band spent a lot of time there (1967 being the middle of their three year run) and understood the genre better than most. There's undoubtedly a 'change' on this album and there's no way to describe it except as 'psychedelic'; the world has changed, consciousness has altered and life seems different somehow. Every song feels infused with strangeness, as if a whole world has just opened up, while the productions have that feathery other-worldly quality peculiar to this time period. What’s odd is that The Small Faces do this while avoiding almost all the, ah, immediately obvious psychedelic trappings of the era: there are no Indian mystic gurus here (not till album and even then he’s called the very English  ‘John’), no sitars, no backwards guitar, not even a wah-wah pedal. In terms of subject matter too rather than silly songs about flying horses (sorry Hollies), monsters named gompers (sorry Stones) and Lucy in the sky with a walrus (sorry Beatles), this is an album about discovery (very psychedelic) but not from anywhere else except inside your own mind (vaguely psychedelic) and certainly not from colourful chats with God on mushroom clouds but what's effectively a tete a tete with your inner soul (which, oddly, is more folk-rock). There are, even more curiously, no actual drug references which will surprise anyone whose heard the period singles (substitute the word ‘trip’ for ‘sleep’ mind and there might actually be quite a few). Most surprisingly of all, though, the epic songs of the debut album have been replaced with shorter pop songs, most of whom clock in at two minutes, the longest being 2:54 worth of ‘Eddie’s Dreaming’ – and by 1967 standards its hardly a magnum opus is it? The album contains fourteen whole songs yet lasts just 30:24.
There’s also a strange sense of ‘earthiness’ to this record, which continues the band’s R and B stylings from the last album beneath the stylish trappings beneath. Together with period singles  ‘Here Come The Nice’ and  ‘Itchycoo Park’ this sounds like an album that will show you the delights of the universe, but only after its picked your pockets first. In retrospect its no wonder the next album was the piss-taking concept album ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ – this album too sounds tongue-in-cheek in places, delivered with a sense that the band means everything they sing and yet are still laughing at it simultaneously for being pretentious. Usually that sort of thing doesn’t work; it ends up sounding like Donovan and the sort of thing that led to punks ribbing hippies and ignoring their better ideas. The Small faces, though, aren’t going to stand for that nonsense: they truly believe wholeheartedly in this brave new world’s politics and messages of love and even go in for some of the natty clothing. However they’re also East End boys enough to see through how daft a lot of this era is and keep their sharpness behind all those ideas rather than drifting off in a drug-filled haze as so many of their peers did. Many albums from 1967 sound pretentious now – that’s part of the fun, as if the people who made these records have been let off the leash of a timetable – but what’s so impressive about this record is how disciplined it is, with barely a repeated idea across a song, never mind a five minute gonzo guitar solo or mystic guru chanting.
Maybe what was really keeping The Small Faces 'grounded' in this era is this record's troubled background, which is as about as far away from psychedelic utopia as it's possible to get. Back in 1965 some bright spark at Decca decided that marketing the band as a bunch of teeny-bopper-loving teen idols who wrote harmless pop songs was the way to go. Amazingly, most of their fan-base and the music press in general followed the PR line and either screamed or took it as read that the screaming was the whole point of the act. In truth, despite their young age (Kenney was only sixteen when the band signed with Decca and eighteen here) The Small Faces were always a band older than their years who hated being considered young: Marriott's R and B roar made him sound at least a decade older than twenty and Ronnie Lane, though only twenty-one himself, was born a wise old man. The band were also blessed/cursed with looking cute and short, a world away from the ‘threatening’ figures of Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey, even though they never for one minute considered themselves in this light and saw themselves as musical heavyweights from the first. The band was sick of being portrayed as sweet young things when they didn’t want to be young or sweet anymore. The Small Faces, like many of our AAA bands, yearned to be more than they were being allowed to be – but unlike The Monkees (who thrived) The Hollies (who bounced between extremes every album) or The Kinks (who re-wrote the rules of what pop stars were meant to do) The Small Faces were punished for it. Decca may have given the band their big break but they broke them too, with hopelessly wrong marketing techniques, inane Kenny Lynch cover songs and a record contract so miserly it would have given Scrooge some sleepless nights. It didn’t help that their manager was using them as an ATM machine and that the band, despite their recent UK chart-topper  ‘All or Nothing’, were flat broke.
The Small Faces would have been stuck like this forever if they’d stayed with Decca – they had to do something. It was Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham who gave the band their big chance: he was forming a new record label named Immediate that was young and hip and wanted an established band for the launch (Decca was never going to give a cash-cow like The Stones up...) where they were promised artistic freedom, creative control and the chance to break out of their pop-single exile and create something more meaningful and progressive. Of course as we now know, nothing in the Small Faces story ever went to plan and this move was no exception, but at the time the move made perfect sense. The Small Faces – or at least the version of the band they wanted to be – slotted in nicely into the context of what else was being released on Immediate at first, a cross between soul (PP Arnold, who soon became a good friend of the band) and heavy rock (The Herd, whose guitarist Peter Frampton will be eating Humble Pie with Marriott before the decade is out). Oldham was as keen for the band to become their true selves as they were - no more forced exploitative marketing opportunities, less control over the singles (hence the deeply daring  'Here Come The Nice' released at the start of the year), limitless money and what's more they could be free of Don Arden forever after being ripped off badly in 1966 (surely even mod suits don't cost that much?!); the only thing the band couldn't get shot of was the screaming fans who still turned up to gigs as loud as ever. The Small Faces must have been so desperate to sign nothing would have stopped them.
Not even the fact that, technically, they couldn't actually leave Decca yet. Eventually the band came to a compromise where they could get shot of the label, but as part of the terms they had to hand over every master-tape recorded up to a certain date - a date which came after their starting date for this album. Much to their horror, The Small Faces started their bright new futures half an album down, written off as Decca cobbled a few outtakes and unfinished demos with some old singles and released them all as 'From The Beginning' in the same month as this album. This is hardly peace and love material and The Small Faces started their second career fearing the end of the first one had wrecked it. Worse, they were already beginning to wonder if their second career wasn't going to turn out like the first; Oldham was an impressive salesman but many of his promises never arrived: The Small Faces never did get that big account and though they had more time to record than at Decca, this was hardly what The Beatles got to make 'Sgt Pepper' around the same time. They were flat broke all over again, the only act on the label making any real money and one that was subsidizing all the rest. In time Immediate will fall flat on its face, declared bankrupt in 1970 and in ill health long before then (The Small Faces' early split probably didn't help, but you have to be pretty bad at accounts if even a hit album like 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' can't sell enough copies to save you). Immediate lived up to its name, coming and going within three years and it pretty much took The Small Faces with it. Steve Marriott also split with his girlfriend Sue for good during the making of this album, inspiring some of his most thoughtful and introverted lyrics along the way. Ronnie may well have done too – all we know about his first brief marriage is that, well, it didn’t last very long.
No wonder, then, that 'The Small Faces' is actually quite a worried and confused little album, even if it is wrapped up in psychedelic robes. There’s no time to mess around on this album, the way there is on other albums from the summer of love – this is the band’s big chance and they’re not going to screw it up if they can help it (not with enough people around them doing that already!) Though Marriott gets his usual space to assert his authority and show off his confidence many of his songs are less sure of themselves than usual, while Ronnie Lane - far more at home with thoughtful psychedelia than he ever was with R and B – follows his trippy coming-of-age tale  ‘My Mind’s Eye’ with five whole lead vocals (he got just one on the debut!), his more fragile voice more consistent with these troubled sounding songs than Marriott's (though Marriott's pretty good at 'troubled' too when he needs to be). 'Mac' McLagan on his first completely full album with the band also gets a thoughtful first song that couldn't have been less like predecessor Jimmy Winston's brash cameo if it tried. The album starts with Marriott promising the sight of 'flowers breaking through the concrete', but it's a wish not a reality as he turns schizophrenic on us (Pete Townshend, a big Small Faces fan, probably filed this song away for 'Quadrophenia' years later). The second track has Ronnie with 'Something I Want To Tell Yer', a snide love put-down that may well be addressed to Decca accompanied by Mac's wildest organ parts yet. Next Marriott is feeling lonely, his 'achilles heel', that takes all the colour and splendour out of even life in 1967, despite what the backing tries. 'Things Are Going To Get Better' sounds more like a threat than a promise, with weary sounding organ chords and a vocal line that pushes even Marriott to exhaustion as he tried hard to look forward to the future. 'My Way Of Giving' is about opening doors in a relationship sense, Marriott acknowledging 'the pain of too much tenderness' as he effectively writes a first draft of his intense love for future first wife Jenny on  ‘Tin Soldier’. 'Get Yourself Together' adds that even in love things won't work out though, Marriott offering his services and leaving the idea of a relationship impatiently up to her, frustrated that he’s given her a perfect deal and she won’t take it. Even this album's comedy spot and our book title song ‘All Our Yesterdays’, Ronnie 'the darling of Whapping Wharf Laundrette', is singing what's actually a pretty sad song about an impending split. 'Show Me The Way' further has Ronnie looking for guidance, contacting his inner 'wise old man' for advice because he's completely stuck over his problems, the chorus extending into an eerie 'pleeeease!' Whatever drugs The Small Faces are on (and they are clearly on rather a lot) isn't enough to blot out the pain. Once again there's no other psychedelic album like this one out there - no other record manages to be quite this chirpily upbeat and genuinely psychedelic and full of colour while being simultaneously so depressed.
Not that this is an entirely unhappy record you see: it's hard to believe that Marriott in this period was ever miserable for very long, with a bounce and swing to this album that prevents it from being too self-pitying or shoe-gazing for long. Mac's R and B organ instrumental 'Happy Boys Happy’ does what it says in the title and is perfectly caught in the middle of the band's Decca and Immediate styles, somehow combining both. The band spend ‘Eddie’s Dreaming’ and ‘All Our Yesterdays’ whooping and yelling on the backing vocals like they’re having the greatest party ever. Instead it's an album that seems to be more concerned with getting a 'complete' feel about it - reflecting both the good and bad changes of the band's new life of the time.
There is a psychedelic suite of sorts at the end of side two though, that points at things beyond this life and a similarly compact three minute drug trip at the end of side one. Dealing with that first, 'Green Circles' proves that The Small Faces can do 'normal' psychedelia as well as anyone else, with a looping cyclical song that comes in technicolour as Ronnie's inner wise old man starts dreaming of a 'strange man' with green circles in his eyes: like so many of the songs on this album, caught between two record companies and two paths, it's a song about transformation as Ronnie tries so hard to see through the man's 'turned on' eyes that suddenly he starts seeing green circles too, accompanied by a phasing mix that really does sound like a 'journey' and some of the greatest drumming of Kenney Jones' life, physically rowing us away to goodness knows where. The air of mystery and intrigue is so strong that by the end you're probably seeing green circles everywhere too. Perhaps I should have put a warning up at the start of this review (don't start sending me in your opticians bills for goodness sake!) Then there's the two songs about sleep at the end of side two, another 'change of consciousness' that anyone can relate to whether they've taken drugs or not, though The Small Faces clearly have. Mac's 'Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire' is a peculiar nonsense English axiom for 'going to bed' that confused the hell out of many foreign fans (it's from a poem by Vera Lyne - no not that Vera Lynn - in 1936 and she sounds like she was on drugs too when she wrote it to be honest!'Wooden Hills' was period slang for stairs, with 'Bed-fordshire' a bad 1930s pun: Bedfordshire being a county in the East of England). However while Mac starts the song by 'slipping into sleep', he's clearly taken something instead as he 'leaves your body behind with a different feeling' and goes to play in a land where 'the day is night and night is day'. Sleep in this sense, then, means a 'trip', of waking up into not a new world but the old one magnified. Ronnie then introduces us to Eddie whose always dreaming, even though there's such a groove going on (the drum break being appropriated for more than one music programme down the years) it's clear that he's not getting our 'usual' idea of sleep either. It's as if The Small Faces have re-acted to their problems by 'dreaming' their way out of them, using drugs as a means to escape the limits of their reality in this world, which probably made just about as much sense anyway.
No wonder the band decided to name this album after the name of the band (again!) – it really does feel as if the Small Faces have been re-born on this album and are determined to rid themselves of all the pop-star trappings they felt they had fallen into in the 1965-66 period. The title continues to give collectors headaches to this day (except in America where it is known as the equally confusing ‘There Are But Four Small Faces’ - somebody didn’t count poor Jimmy Winston then!) and is now more commonly known as ‘The First Immediate Album’, which is kind of what we'll be calling it from now on, except when it's fun to keep you on your collector toes. Just to add to the confusion, many of these tracks - but not necessarily all of them and certainly not in the same order – have been released on a myriad of other Small Faces albums, mainly because when Immediate went through their financial difficulties they ended up leasing Small Faces material to pretty much anyone who could press up a CD for quick cash. Luckily for us collectors, there’s loads of legitimate out-takes and alternate mixes scattered across various compilations, re-issues and box sets that are well worth keeping an eye and an ear out for – but if you’re new to the band and don’t know really where to turn, then it really is these ‘proper’ albums you want to get hold of first! Talking of which, it's intriguing to think what this album might have been in other circumstances: several tracks on Decca's 'Something Better Beginning' really belong here, with the even more overtly psychedelia of  'That Man' and  'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow' that would have settled in well, plus early passes at this album's 'My Way Of Giving' and 'Tell Me Have You Ever Seen Me?' The Decca B-side  'Patterns' may well have been on this album too, though Marriott and Lane admitted later they'd written and recorded it for a giggle more than as releasable material. Finally there's also the cheery  'Picaninny', a soulful horn-drenched instrumental that may have been intended as a pair with 'Happy Boys Happy' which came out on the posthumous 1969 compilation 'The Autumn Stone' instead. Not to mention the period singles: imagine how great an album with the under-rated  'I Can't Make It',  'Itchycoo' and the gorgeous  'Tin Soldier' might have sounded (actually you don't have to as that's what the Americans got under the 'There Are But Four Small Faces' title).
That's what might have been though; this is what is, man. The group are also pulling together as a team for the first time here, not just working as Marriott and occasionally early keyboard player Jimmy Winston’s back-up band as they did in the Decca days and they are all on top form for this album. Marriott’s voice is extraordinary, emotional and loud and tender and expressive all at the same time, belting out the songs with so much power you would want anyone else trying the same trick to shut up, but instead you’re admiring the subtle changes of tone going on in his voice and calling for more. His partnership with
is never better than on this album either, with Ronnie working overtime on
these songs vocally, musicianally and compositionally, bringing Marriott gently
to earth without getting in his way. Marriott’s tunes are simply gorgeous and
for the most part far more melodic than either the singer’s hell-raising image
or much of his later bluesy/heavy rock material suggests (check out a decent Marriott
compilation from any era and a good half of it is acoustic ballads). Lane’s
words are the perfect match for Marriott’s tunes, as deep and worldly wise as
any band could go in 1967 and the introvert and inner poet to his extrovert
rabble-rouser showman, touching on themes like nostalgia and loss of
communication pretty much unheard of for this period in pop history. Ian
McLagan was always badly under-used in the group (he has a bigger role to play
when the band become the plain Faces in 1970, but they’re not really the same
thing at all) - and considering he’s been with the group for only a few months
at this point he hasn’t half slotted in well; starting out with two fine
co-writes, a rather edgy lead vocal on ‘Up The Wooden Hills’ and some of his
best swirling organ fills. Meanwhile drummer Kenny Jones wraps the whole thing
together, with tight crashing percussion dominating much of the sound without
getting in the way – compare his playing on the last two Who albums in the 1980s
with Keith Moon’s equally flamboyant and yet somehow wilder 60s attack and
you’ll know what I mean.
What you have here is the sound of a brave new world being forged before your very ears, as the band celebrate their unexpected lease of life while already worrying about the dark clouds looming on the horizon and finally prove themselves to be the exciting psychedelic forward-looking band they always wanted to be. With only three 'finished' albums it's hard to compare Small Faces records to the others, but this may well be my favourite, Ogden's many highlights notwithstanding. This is, you see, an album that has everything: noise and bluster, fragile thought, emotional songs competing with intellectual songs competing with pure pop, rock or R and B, a touch of comedy in 'All Our Yesterdays' and a psychedelic master-class that sums up the era perfectly. There's very little filler on this LP (only 'Happy Boys Happy' isn't a song you'd want to play that often - and it’s still arguably the best instrumental the band did) and there's some terrific interplay between Marriott and Lane. Best of all, though, there's a sense of something deeper and darker here lurking in the shadows beneath this album's still genuine brightness and cheerfulness that makes it one of the most three dimensional and least dated of psychedelic albums. 'The Small Faces' is the sound of a band and an era in transition and it really does have the best of every world, this one and the next. The only thing it doesn't have is a decent front cover, with some rather basic pictures of the Faces' faces used instead, as its Immediate’s turn to sting the band this time. Typical. There are but four of 'em you know!
 Have You Ever Seen Me? Is one of the best Small Faces rockers, clearly written with their defection to ‘Immediate’ and the chance to be themselves – even if a first tentative mix was recorded during the dying days on Decca and released by them. Though perhaps the one song on this album performed with the togetherness and tightness of the first album, this song also sounds like a culmination of all the confusion in their lives at the moment in terms of record labels and personal relationships. Marriott wonders aloud if he’s ever understand his ‘real’ partner after his confusing breakup with Sue – and whether she in turn has understood the real him. At the same time, though, it’s all about transformation and the chance to be your true selves after ‘acting’, with the delightfully bonkers image of ‘flowers breaking through the concrete and ‘breathing’ an oddly apt metaphor for how the band must have been feeling after all those promises Immediate made to them about being themselves. This song is easily the most ‘Who’ like of all the Small Faces songs, searching for identity as the narrator loses sight of his ‘real’ self – it is, if you like, ‘The Real Me’ six years early and sounding even more ‘mod’ from a band who were generally more confident than their rivals. This is too another early drug song, perhaps the first mainly written by Steve who followed Ronnie into taking LSD sometime in 1966, with a middle eight that again looks at the idea of reincarnation and fate as he sings about his new love Jenny with a line about how ‘all my life I’ve known your face’. It’s a sweet song performed to make it sound as tough as nails, punctuated by an angry chorus cry of ‘have you ever seen me?’ as Steve asks his lovers, his label, his fans and maybe even his bandmates to see him as really is for the first time. What’s very Small faces though is that the doubt in the lyric isn’t there in the straightforward melody which has a much larger sense of scope and scale than usual for Marriott/Lane or the powerhouse performance where Kenney’s drumming particularly makes the song roar along full of breezy confidence. This is Steve’s show though and his yelled vocal is one of his best, playing cat-and-mouse with the audience as he moves from crooning to yelling without warning. It’s hard not to disagree with the song’s claims of freedom and excitement when it’s wrapped up in a track as sumptuous as this. However, catchy as the tune is, it’s a little disjointed compared to the band’s more usual straightforward tone and the use of backing vocal call-and-responses (‘Yeah!Yeah!Yeah!) smacks a little too much of the pop formula the Small Faces are so pleased to have just ditched. A strange choice for an abandoned single (there are at least six other tracks here that could have done the job better!), it’s nevertheless the perfect choice as an opening track for this album, laying out all the forthcoming delights in the band’s new sound.
 Something I Want To Say is the perfect counterpart, Ronnie’s second lead vocal for the band sounding like a wounded lover replying to the demands laid out in the last track. A long list of complaints about being ignored, it’s clear that Lane too was suffering marital woes in this period, going in a different direction to his lover who is beginning to irritate him. However I’ve often wondered if this song is really what it seems on face value – after all, few of Ronnie’s later songs ever were. Marriott is conspicuous by his absence on this song – the first of only three released Small Faces songs not to feature him somewhere, all of them on this album – and it’s harder to imagine someone more opposite to Ronnie’s quiet and kind introvert character than Steve’s (the only things they really shared was a love of mod, music and a similar intensity). The two friends hadn’t really known each other long before the whirlwind of fame and all that time spent in each other’s pockets will only exacerbate the differences between you. Many later companions will find Steve blooming difficult, to say the least – the general consensus is that Marriott has his shit together in The Small Faces, but what if he didn’t? The very title sounds like a gentle soul trying to make his worries heard against a more forceful personality, who worries that the ‘light in their eyes has faded’ and that they’ve forgotten how special they are together. Alas Ronnie doesn’t get very far through his list of complaints, the fact that he’s getting a chance to express himself at all sounding far more important than anything he is actually saying and the song isn’t as developed as it might have been. The track does represent a lovely change of pace though, highlighted musically by Mac’s best vehicle so far, doing double duty on some sturdy twinkling piano and some soulful Booker T style soul-searching. Perhaps fittingly, this is a very overlooked song in the Small Faces canon and of all their songs it is perhaps this track and  ‘Rene’ that sound the most like The Faces style to come. Listen out for Ronnie’s ‘guide vocal’ leaking through quite loudly in the ‘I have cried all my tears already’ section; though probably a mistake caused by Immediate’s need to rush every album out for quick return, it is also oddly fitting as if Ronnie a ‘ghost’ that no one listens to.
This album really does start off like a conversation, with Steve ‘replying’ to that last song as if hurt.  Feeling Lonely has a similar plea of ‘don’t blow our everything’ while worried that yet another person the narrator is close to is going to up and leave. While many Marriott songs sound as if they’ve been poured over for a long time (especially those with Ronnie’s help) this one sounds as if it tumbled out fully-formed, complete with its irregular lop-sided riff that most songwriters would have ‘tidied up’ a bit before releasing. Like many of Marriott’s most immediate ‘Immediate’ songs, its highly revealing, digging behind that confident veneer to someone who figures they have to be the life and soul of the party to keep people hanging around and interested. Facing up to his darkest fears, Marriott agrees here that it’s being abandoned, his ‘Achilles Heel’ that drives him on – even though his need ironically often drives the people he loves away. He doesn’t want to play mind games though, pleading tearfully ‘just stay with me, don’t play with me’. This time all the band take p[art, Ronnie delivering a quite furious bass rumble just enough off the note to give this song a sense of brooding menace, while once again Mac acts as the go-between playing some natty harpsichord for the first time (perhaps signifying the happier past, before a mellotron perhaps representing the future finally joins in near the end). By the time of recording, though, Marriott is in playful mood, undercutting the darkness of his lyrics with a double-tracked vocal (his first?) that suddenly finds his lyrics very funny indeed. The song ends violently with a dramatic thump on Jones’ bass drum: somebody slamming the door on a relationship perhaps? Whether symbolic or not it is a very arresting moment that drags you into the song just as its disappearing down a big ol’ hole.
 Happy Boys Happy finally pushes both Steve and Ronnie out the way for Mac’s starring moment on the album. This song is an instrumental that sounds much like its title suggests: a bouncy organ-led tune given extra emphasis by some dramatic swoops from Lane’s bass, it must have gone down a storm in the clubs but sounds a tad empty compared to the songs nestling either side of it on this album. Interestingly, McLagan’s name is missing from the writing credits despite the fact that his dual keyboard parts are by far the most prominent instruments again here and that again guitarist Marriott seems to have popped out for a spot of lunch. The result fills in two minutes nicely, although it’s not the sort of track you play too many times for pleasure.
 Things Are Going To Get Better is despite the title a third stab at melancholy that sounds not unlike The Beatles’ later ‘Getting Better’, both in the way the lyrics effectively sigh ‘couldn’t get much worse’ and are dominated by a similar piano part (here played on harpsichord). ‘being true to myself makes me feel all the more’ is one of Marriott’s greatest one-liners (unless of course it’s Ronnie’s moment on a song that’s otherwise pure Steve) and like ‘Have You Ever Seen Me?’ this is a song about life becoming easier the more you grow into yourself, that your problems are an extension of you being you rather than what people wrongly think you are. To the end, though, Marriott doesn’t sound convinced and the line ‘it’s time for a change!’ is sung with real pathos and regret rather than pride. Even the melodic sequence is an odd fit for the lyrics as they stand, always falling downwards into a minor key as Marriott wearily tries to set the song ‘right’ again all the way through. It is the performance that rescues this song, with a really tight intricate go at what may well be the most complex Small Faces original so far. Mac and Kenney star on this, with piano organ and harpsichord all weaving their way around a drum part that really sounds like its sulking. Marriott, playing some driving rhythm guitar desolately in the right-hand channel, is still moved enough to holler a heartfelt ‘hey!’ somewhere near the middle as the band successfully navigate the trickiest section of the song.
 My Way Of Giving is the album’s ‘standard’, the song that sounds the most rounded and complete, an obvious sequel to  ‘All or Nothing’ as Marriott pours out his heart and soul over his split with Sue one last time. Everyone else around the couple says its just ‘a matter of time’ but he fears that ‘our love won’t work’ and shows her the ‘confusion in my clouded eyes’. What’s suddenly struck him like a smackeral-blurdy, though, is that nobody has done anything wrong. They both gave generously to each other – it’s just that what they gave wasn’t what the other wanted, both of them responding with confusion to the other’s offer with ‘but what more would you have me do?’ Though it lasts a fraction under two minutes this song packs in quite a story, Marriott realising that they are very fond of each other but that both of them are young enough to find someone else who is a better fit so they owe it to each other to part amicably. I wonder too if Steve wrote this song for someone else to sing (new squeeze P P Arnold perhaps, newly signed to Immediate too) or at any rate as a duet as he sings the second verse from the ‘girl’s point of view (‘Although I met a guy who means to hurt…’) and in a slightly higher key. This sounds, too, as if more time was spent on it than some of the album’s other songs as if the band knew they had a potential hit on their hands. They sort of did too, with Rod Stewart falling in love with this song and making it one of the few Small Faces songs The Faces ever returned to (though its actually on a solo album, 1976’s ‘Gasoline Alley’). Rod’s vocal is one of his better ones, purely because he admires the song and sings it properly, but Marriott’s original is hard to beat, invested in so much emotion and soul. The result is a real fan favourite and a catalogue highlight.
The first side ends with an epic,  Green Circles (or ‘Gurdy Verdi’ as it’s rather musically known in Italy – check out the quite brilliant Italian language version on ‘The Steve Marriott Anthology’, though oddly enough its mostly written and sung by Ronnie in both versions). . Like many a summer of love record, it looks back as well as forward, updating the vocal rounds used in madrigals and traditional folk songs, albeit one accompanied by a rummage through the percussion sound effects box and lots of 1960s vocal echo that gives the song a hazy, hallucinatory feel. We said in our introduction that this album somehow managed to sound psychedelic without ever going near the usual tropes of the period – the same is particularly true of the album’s most psychedelic moment even though the instruments are the usual ones joined by a harpsichord and the lyrics are unlike any other flower power song around. It’s what the band do with it though: Kenney’s drums roll like thunder, coming in at the most unexpected of moments and with a slightly different sound each time, Mac’s harpsichord is varispeeded to sound slow and old, each note hanging in the breeze and the sound is dominated by Ronnie playing so far down the bottom of his bass you fear he’s about to fall right off it. Atmospheric as the track is, however, its lack of clarity is a shame because the lyrics are fascinating, a pot pourri of Small Faces images old and new, including wise old strangers passing on messages that nobody ever listens to, the need to be as ‘free’ as ‘green circles’ (whatever that may mean!) and the idea that the old man’s lived-in lines and dusty face hide a progressive and pioneering mind. Lyrically this song is the bridge between  ‘My Mind’s Eye’ and  ‘Mad John’, a stranger whose eyes are ‘filled with love and pain’ showing the world how beautiful it is beyond what they can see, showing them the ‘green circles’ that hang everywhere. This is a very unusual psychedelic image – yes there are usually bright colours but green isn’t one of them, whilst shapes are less common and ‘circles’ least common of all. It almost sounds as spoof psychedelic song, but Ronnie’s folky purity – ducked so far down the mix it’s barely a whisper – is clearly too heartfelt for that, suggesting Lane really is recounting a trip of some sorts, but that his very differently wired brain gave him a very unusual acid journey. Somehow it really does sound as if all you need is…not love but green circles, with a quite thrilling finale where Ronnie and Steve keep dreaming, their very different vocals overlapping each other for the first time as they finally put down their differences and combine on this need to have more circles in our lives, Marriott’s sudden yells a delight (one possibility is that circles represent a ‘whole’ for a band who are used to feeling broken and bent out of shape – or perhaps Ronnie was watching early hippies blowing bubbles in the air on the news. Still not sure why they’re green though). Throughout this song the backing phases in and out, suddenly being plastered with echo or compression or every button the band can find in the studio as they make the most of Immediate’s promise to let them do what they want (it’s interesting and rather darned impressive that as early as this second album they are effectively producing themselves, although technically there is no producer’s credit on this album). It all adds up to a thrilling psychedelic experience as the listener gets lost in the hypnotic music which in other band’s hands would have been a show-stopping epic but here still clocks in at a mere 2:46 despite sounding like one of the most epic journeys you have ever been on in your life.
Meanwhile, on side two, it’s as if ‘Green Circles’ had never happened. Reverting back to cockney innocence,  Become Like You sounds like Marriott again wondering where his once promising relationship went wrong and why two people who really wanted it to work still couldn’t get it together. Or maybe its another early song about the growing gulf between Steve and Ronnie’s personalities? My guess is that this song started out a tragedy – but never blessed with one of the world’s longest attention spans, Steve got bored and took the mickey out of his idea, turning it into a silly comedy. The first verse though is quite heartfelt: if Steve could become more like his partner and give her what she wants, would he take it or would he be better off being true to himself? It’s the root of an idea for a far better song than this, but even the one we end up with has a certain charm, as Marriott wonders if he can become more like his best friend (Ronnie?) if he ‘gives him a kick’ and whether his heart would be better ‘made out of wood’ so it doesn’t get hurt. Mischievously Steve may also have written the song to make his colleague look daft – it is one of those tracks that just calls for someone to answer the last four syllables of each verse like a ventriloquist and his dummy and it gets positively ‘Two Ronnies’ at times as poor lane is left to chirrup such odd lines as ‘made out of wood!’ and ‘where I was at!’ Ronnie seems to find the whole thing quite funny, thankfully and the result is one of their cutest performances as at the end Mac’s piano suddenly starts up again out of nowhere and a confused Marriott ad libs ‘hello, are they playing it again?’ causing them both to break out in much giggling. It speaks volumes about how close they really were that they also stop giggling on the spot and come in on the song’s harmony passage in order. !) An interesting arrangement featuring both the backward-looking harpsichord and the forward-looking mellotron complements this simple song well too, though it’s a rare Small Faces song that finds Kenney missing this time. Silly and short – but sweet.
 Get Yourself Together is another of this album’s stepping stones between the old Decca and new Immediate Small Faces. But whereas the earlier songs sound a little bit forced and artificial, the enthusiasm of this song is positively infectious. Yet another song of disgruntlement, this song is again written by a love letter but could just as easily be about the two main writers in the band. Though Marriott sings and the urgent, snappy riff that underpins this song is surely his too full of his usual confidence bluster turning to doubt, the lyrics could be either man’s. Frustrated and short-tempered, many fans assume they’re Steve’s too but Ronnie had a grumpy side too and it sounds like another lyric aimed squarely at Steve, telling him to stop moping effectively and join a ‘friend in need’ before they both lose out. Mac, unusually, gets to do most of the angry stuff on some stabbing organ parts though, while Kenney does his usual sergeant major drilling behind on the drums. This is another Small Faces song you can imagine being done outside the band, with clever rhymes of ‘miss him’ and ‘kiss him’ while Marriott’s lover hops about from foot to foot, waiting for his new lover to get over her ex. After all, why mope over someone you can’t have when there is someone waiting here with so much love? It seems odd actually that in 500 odd albums reviewed on our site (triple that with solo albums thrown in) no other act I can think of had really done this sort of a song before as it seems to be an obvious one to do. An intriguing stately guitar opening gives way to one of the band’s typical pop/blues hybrids, some percussive vocal effects and a Lane bass part that keeps escaping from its tidy verse-structure cage every time the chorus comes along highlight an eventful track. The result isn’t up to the best on the album but keeps the second half moving along nicely.
Ronnie is control again on the next track, the confusingly titled  All Of Our Yesterdays. The title, which is never used in the song, seems completely out of keeping with this jaunty cockney knees-up which starts with a spoof introduction from Marriott about the singer being the ‘darling of Whapping Wharf Launderette’ (though a gift for this book I have to say – thanks lads!) The rest of the band might do their best to upstage him - yelling, giggling and even squeaking at one point behind the lead vocal – but even this early in his lead vocal career, Lane’s charisma shines through the distractions. The road can do some silly things to you and this song sounds to me like a party piece, Ronnie taking off one of the crooner’s on a tour bus radio or something. I can just imagine the rest of the band egging him on to record it (‘nobody will know who you are, it’ll be great, it’s really funny!’) but Ronnie isn’t yet as comfortable and indeed won’t ever be as comfortable in the spotlight as Steve and you can tell in the quiver in his voice that what started off as a joke suddenly sounds less funny now and he worries if he can pull it off. His parting quip to his mocking bandmates (‘Come and have a go if you think you can do any better!’) is perhaps the most genuinely funny bit of the song. Fun as this version is, the presence of a great horn lick and some interesting lyrics - about how the narrator ‘knew her love wasn’t true’ from the beginning but stayed around to prove herself right anyway - make you wish the band had treated this song with a little more respect. It does, after all, sound at one with the rest of this stormy album and may well have started life as yet another Marriott misery memoir about his breakup with Sue. Or maybe, following the last track, it’s Ronnie singing what he wants to hear from Steve, that ‘I need to wake up, I’ve been hung up’. Either way this track would have made for a typically quirky Small Faces B-side, full of giggles and character, but sounds very out of place on what’s generally a very serious LP.
 Show Me The Way is yet another
Ronnie Lane special and like his other
tracks is far more muted and under-stated than Marriott’s lead vocals for the
record. A candidate for the album’s best track, this is another harpsichord-led
melancholy sing-along with the narrator getting rather Shakesperean in his
grief at losing his girlfriend =- or perhaps his writing partner. After looking
for guidance, a request that’s answered with some ghostly but decidedly
impenetrable rattles by Jones on the kettle-drums, Lane reflects that he is no
longer able to act like himself without his love by his side, as he only really
found his identity through her. He is, you see, not like his peers: he has ‘an
old man in me who I talk to you see, as old as the sun’. Though Ronnie was as
smart and fashionable as a mod should be, in many ways he feels alien to this
materialistic world full of trends and fashions. He can see through it all and the
mistakes that everyone around him makes in their first selfish steps towards
dating – but that just leaves him feeling lonely, unable to understand anyone
around him. Figuring that he feels a fraud being a trendy mod rock star, he
ponders ‘someone else’s part I am playing’ and pleads, whether to his
bandmates, loved ones, fans or his beloved guru Meher Baba (who he hasn’t
discovered yet but says he long ‘sensed’ was out there) for direction. This
lovely song is very affecting and quite beautiful, sung without the archness of
laughs of many of the other songs here and it is easily Ronnie’s best lead
vocal so far, ironically finding his true writing and singing voice (more
pastoral than before, quiet and gentle and troubled like all his solo LPs to
come) on a song about not knowing who he really is anymore. A lovely forgotten
song, it’s possible that Marriott has again gone AWOL for this recording
despite his co-writing credit (like a surprisingly large amount of this album,
there is no guitar on the track at any point – just a bass playing notes in a
higher register than usual).
Writing for the first time as the ‘new boy’ in a group full of established writers cannot be an easy thing to do – never mind quality or quantity, what if the songs you are writing sound nothing like the ones by your established songwriters?  Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire is though exactly what mac needed to be doing. The song fits snuggly on this album being similarly dotty and dark and as trippy as the most out-there moments too, even though it sounds nothing like Marriott’s directness or Lane’s doubt. Even the title is bonkers, as befits most of this album and tied to a particular generation and country. In the post-war years it was common slang for British parents to tell their children to go to bed in a colourful way: ‘Up the wooden hills’ is really just an instruction to go up the family stairs, the sentence usually followed by ‘to bed’, but inventive Londoner Mac – who had never been there till playing with The Small Faces – turns the saying into ‘Bedfordshire’, a county in East Anglia. Did the Small Faces really have natural dreams this psychedelic? Or were they, yet again, trying to get as many references to their drug-taking experiences onto record as they possibly can? No, surely this is Mac slipping into the band vernacular for ‘tripping’ with this tale of dreaming. After all the lyrics aren’t about preparing for bed at all surely but preparing for a drug trip: to get comfortable so as to have as good a chance of a positive trip as possible, to not be afraid as sounds ‘seem to take on a new meaning’ and to prepare to ‘leave your body behind’ sleeping. Like many of the tracks on this album, it’s un-developed to the point of hardly being there at all, but the opening verse at least is fascinating: talking about the different states of consciousness between being awake and dreaming, the band gradually turn the whole thing into a Lewis Carroll-esque experience full of lurking organ bleeps, eerie-sounding tapped wood blocks and a rather discordant ending that muddles all the sounds into one, just as if the listener really was sinking into a deep muffled sleep. There is of course some superb keyboard playing on this track as Mac’s piano and organ combine into a very slinky, complex riff, but he’s ably supported by a fine band performance where the bass and drums really cook up a groove. Goodness knows why the band, often in a hole and needing compositions, didn’t use Mac more: he’s utterly nailed at least one of the two slots he was given for the record. A psychedelic classic that sits alongside any of the era’s better known stabs at spooky nonsense, even though once again there’s no actual psychedelic traditions on this track at all.
Despite its barely thirty-three-minutes running time, Small Faces seems like it lasts for much longer somehow, not least because of all the sections packed into the album farewell and second ode to sleep,  Eddie’s Dreaming. Amazingly this song, which clocks in at 2:50, is the longest on the whole album and sounds remarkably similar in theme to the last track (perhaps that is why McLagan gets a co-write with Steve and Ronnie for the first time). Lane takes the lead vocal again for this closing song, which features some daft lyrics about waving palm trees and peeling bananas, with the title character who always seems to be lost in another world probably yet another Small Faces reference to their drug-addled selves. This trip though is not as life-changing as the one on  ‘My Mind’s Eye’; instead it’s a colourful world of make believe and escape, the Small Faces equivalent of a novelty song like ‘Yellow Submarine’. Note though the last line, which is as close as the band dare get to risking a ban for drug references: as girls dance ‘I’ll have a smoke and I’ll watch them’. Erm, something tells me it wasn’t the tobacco from the ‘Ogden’s tin that was being smoked somehow given this song’s surreal feel! The song is enhanced by a delightful arrangement that features some pretty flute playing and a great horn lick in the song’s instrumental break that was so catchy VH-1 even pinched for use as their ‘advert break’ jingle in the 1990s. In truth, though, there’s not much of substance underneath it and the result is a song that’s as cute as the rest of the album without being quite as clever. A suitably cheeky yet psychedelic way to close the album, it’s another of those Small Faces tracks that are perfectly poised between the sounds of their past and the sounds of their future.
The result is a consistent and consistently overlooked gem from the frontiers of psychedelia. Against the odds The Small Faces have dropped almost every one of their signature sounds from the Decca days (everything, perhaps, except Kenney’s powerful drumming) in their quest to become reborn on ‘Immediate’ – and yet somehow still come out sounding the same: intense, with great shades of whimsy. Though largely a downbeat album about splintering relationships and self-doubt, this is a record that’s also strangely uplifting, full of lyrical nuggets of philosophy that are smartly matched by some clever hooks, beautiful melodies and powerhouse performances. For all the misery on this album, this still sounds like a band I would have signed up to join straight away as they’re also having a right laff, while taking their music very seriously – more so than their old label or fanbase ever expected them to. The reason this album didn’t sell better or become as well known as the more inconsistent ‘Ogden’s was the double tragedy of Decca trying to sabotage the sales out of spite and Immediate themselves dropping the ball out of incompetence and experience. Modern-day fans though rate this album higher and offer it much more respect than it ever received at the time and quite right too: a catchy melodic album with a deep heart in there if you’re prepared to look for it, this is one of the 1960’s most complete sounding records, with a bit of everything and not really a major foot wrong anywhere. The Small Faces should have been huge with this record – it’s not their fault they had to wait another year for the fame and respect that should have come their way much earlier than this. This album – playful yet dark in places, progressive and somehow traditional and noisy but gentle – is the perfect place to start their rollercoaster ride from; teaching you the meaning of life while letting you have fun along the way. Just like an album from 1967 should, in fact, even though this is an album that sounds nothing like any other album released in that milestone year (and yet fits all the same).