Friday, 4 July 2008

Review 28) Small Faces "Autumn Stone" (1968)





On which the Small Faces wave goodbye with a double set full of tracks representing their past, present and possible futures…



Track Listing: Here Comes The Nice/ The Autumn Stone/ Collibosher/ All Or Nothing/ Red Balloon/ Lazy Sunday//Call It Something Nice/ I Can’t Make It/ Afterglow/ Sha La La La Lee/ The Universal//Rollin’ Over (Live)/ If I Were A Carpenter (Live)/ Every Little Bit Hurts (Live)/ My Mind’s Eye//Tin Soldier/ Just Passing/ Itchycoo Park/ Hey Girl/ Wide-Eyed Girl On The Wall (UK and US tracklisting) 









ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES

28
 











































For The Record:



Ones to watch out for: Autumn Stone, Red Balloon, Call It Something Nice, Tin Soldier, Itchycoo Park

Ones to skip: The live tracks are only here to fill up the disc and certainly wouldn’t have been released at the time if the group hadn’t split up. However, even with a fed-up band playing out of tune while a deafening noise of screams drowns out most of the performance, Marriott’s passion and charisma still shines through unscathed.

The cover: A rather boring illustration of some leaves that have fallen over something we can’t properly see. A stone perhaps, presumably an ‘autumn’ one. Whatever that may mean. ‘Nuff said.

Key lyrics: “Yesterday is dead, but not my memories…” “Wouldn’t it be nice to get on with me neighbours?, but they make it very clear they’ve got no time for ravers” “Played with toys for children, as I child I got, haven’t any time for children, although I got a lot” “Please see the good and don’t see the bad in me, the good and the bad are both in yourself, oh no please don’t go, don’t grow to depend on me, don’t lean on me ‘cause I might let you down!” “Love has come to touch my soul with someone who really cares” “It’s all too beautiful!!!!” Also, its not on the album but honorary period track A Penny A Glass includes the delightful Ronnie Lane couplet summing up the Small Faces philosophy nicely: “I love things, I do my best, I eat sleep laugh and cry just like the rest, what becomes of me is meant to be, so I’ll just groove along quite naturally”

Original UK chart position: DNC. With no band left to promote it, this album was effectively dead in the water before it even began – despite Immediate pushing it like crazy and the fact that it followed a #1 hit album in Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.

Singles: A compilation of earlier singles and leftovers, this album features several of the Small Faces’ best known material including Hey Girl, All Or Nothing, Here Comes The Nice, Tin Solider, Lazy Sunday, Itchycoo Park, The Universal and Afterglow Of Your Love. Shame they couldn’t all be included in the right order though.

Official out-takes: Seeing as this is partly an ‘out-takes’ set itself, it’s hard to judge what else was in the running for the album. However, there are a couple more live tracks of a similar vintage that ended up on the hard-to-find 4CD Small Faces Immediate box-set (circa 1991) and a number of studio tracks like Don’t Burst My Bubble (a great rocking Marriott/Lane song that deserves to be better known), a different version of Every Little Bit Hurts (much better than the live cut that did make the album), Picaninny, The Pig Trotters, The War Of The Worlds and Take My Time (these last four are all un-finished backing tracks) have all been scattered across various Small Faces Immediate compilations down the years. Also, where was the period PP Arnold single If You Think You’re Groovy, where the nearest female equivalent of Steve Marriott gets backed bvy the Small Faces and borrows one of their best late-period songs? (you can hear all these songs on the Immediate Darlings Of Whapping Wharfe Laundrette album). As for the tracks which first came out on Autumn Stone, there are currently oodles of alternate versions available on various Immediate compilations, most notably the Small Faces box-set (circa 1991). These include a rougher alternate mix of Autumn Stone itself complete with a secondary, ultimately discarded Marriott guide vocal in addition to the one we know and love, a rougher mix of Red Balloon with a longer fade and an exquisite extended take of Collibosher which carries on with the horn lick for almost a full minute rather than simply fading as on the first released take. Look out too for the Decca mix of Just Passing,  which a lot of extra synthesiser effects later mixed out of the Immediate take.      

Availability: Small Faces fans get a choice here: available as a single album without bonus tracks, as a 3-CD with the other immediate albums or scattered across the excellent Darlings of Whapping Wharf Launderette Immediate compilation, which finally puts the material back in the right order.

This album came between: The last (unfinished) Small Faces album, it followed the classic-but-too-well-known-to-be-included-on-this-list Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (1968).



Line-up: Kenny Jones, Ronnie Lane, Steve Marriott and Ian McLagan (produced by Shel Talmy/ The Small Faces)







Putting The Album In Context:





FOLLOWING up a career-defining album is always a tricky process, handled in very different ways by the groups on the archives list. The Beatles decided to make a heavily-slated TV special (Magical Mystery Tour following Sgt Peppers), the Human League tried to milk it and remixed their most successful album as a largely-instrumental collection of dance music (Love and Dancing following Dare), the Dire Straits simply went to sleep for eight years following up their Brothers In Arms album and Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown when he tried to follow up Pet Sounds with Smile (much much more on that story later, as they say). For The Small Faces Ogden’s Not Gone Flake was the album they always wanted to make – playful, yet serious and full of some of the band’s hardest rock numbers among the hilarious comedy patter and Cockeny knees-ups and Steve Marriott had finally achieved his dream of being taken seriously by the music business instead of having his songs dismissed as being teenybopper fare for 60s teenagers. Marriott should have been at his happiest in the year of 1968 when the Small Faces ruled the world, but somehow it all went wrong. Again.





Despite their new-found critical appreciation, younger fans continued to scream their way through the band’s concerts so loudly that the Small Faces lost heart and the ability to really play, with Marriott simply exploding in frustration after a dismal London gig on New Year’s eve 1968 (you can hear that edgyness on many of the live songs included on Autumn Stone). Marriott was also still smarting from the fact that the Immediate label had released Lazy Sunday as a single – classic that it is, Steve thought it was an integral part of Ogdens and promoted just the sort of chirpy cockney persona he was trying to put behind him. To add insult to injury, the great artistic freedom promised by Immediate and hard won-by after the band’s turbulent spell with Decca (see album review no 12) was more or less finished, with the label – and the band – so heavily in debt that even the #1 sales of Ogden’s couldn’t soften the blow. Marriott and Lane started to disagree heavily about the band’s sound, with Steve erring towards the deeper, rockier ideas he would go on to develop with Humble Pie and Lane not wanting to mess with the formula. Also Steve’s latest epic – the charming but not terribly commercial The Universal, partly recorded in the singer’s garden complete with barking dogs and bird noises – flopped badly in the charts, losing the group’s sudden momentum and destroying Marriott’s always dodgy confidence almost completely. Because of all this the band officially broke up in January 1969, leaving their swansong fourth album unfinished and the remnants rush-released just two months later with seemingly desperate haste to clog up a few of Immediate’s financial holes. The album’s unfinished state (working title 1882 – a bizarre idea that jars rather badly with these decidedly late 60s recordings) is a great shame for us, because judging by the handful of new material released on this compilation it might well have been the best of the lot.





It’s a curiously beautiful but decidedly lopsided beast this album, mixing new finished tracks, new unfinished backing tracks, live recordings and a sprinkling of the best Small Faces songs that hadn’t yet made it onto album. The running order is rather bizarre as well, because despite all of the songs fitting into the nice neat piles described above, the four genres are actually jumbled together over all four of the album’s original sides, making for a chaotic and often uncomfortable mix of early Faces adrenalin-filled enthusiasm and later-period sour, downbeat ballads. Having said that, though, Autumn Stone is a surprisingly ‘up’ album despite its troubled history, without any of the why-did-she-leave? gloom of the 1st Immediate album or the neglected outsider at the heart of Ogden’s, who never finds a proper answer in his search for the moon despite singing a daft song about a bowl of all-bran at the end. Even on this set’s most mournful moment - when Marriott wails his way through the bluesy Ed Cobb song Every Little Bit Hurts surrounded by a stadium full of screams - the sheer excitement and power is enough to make you smile, even though the song is actually trying to break your heart.





 






























The Music:



Of the new songs on the compilation, Autumn Stone itself is probably the best, a delightful acoustic track that heads down the Universal road in more ways than one but sports a less personal lyric and a much more heartfelt, poignant vocal from Marriott. The best ballad the group ever did – although there are surprisingly few of them sprinkled across their four official albums – Steve proves that he really can sing with the best of them on this track. The acoustic arrangement is pretty unique in the band’s back catalogue too, even featuring a flute solo to enhance the mellow mood of the track. The song may be yet another take on the band’s struggling fortunes (it’s hard not to read lines like ‘I’m looking for an open door’ and ‘yesterday is dead’ as being on this theme, given that Marriott’s about to walk away from the group in just two months or so’s time). If so, then this song is also a delightful lyrical tip of the hat from lyricist Lane to composer Marriott, saying how lost he was before meeting his songwriting partner and how even though the road ahead looks bleak, he still has his fond memories of all the times that went by so quickly. A rocking ending, in which the band go electric four minutes in, can’t disguise the song’s beauty or the care with which it was made.

The Faces were never a nostalgic band in the way that the Kinks and the Beach Boys were, but Autumn Stone - with its suitably autumnal feeling of decay and change – also seems like something of a farewell bow to the band’s fans and pretty much the 60s as a whole. Of course, the band probably didn’t realise this song would only ever be released posthumously and may not have realised that they would break up so quickly and so bitterly, but if ever a track found a band waving goodbye to themselves it is this one. Annoyingly, Autumn Stone is so good and such a fresh development on the band’s old sound that it makes you pine for the album that Autumn Stone could have been, showing off how talented and rounded a group the Small faces were when they decided to call it a day.





Collibosher is the next of the 1882 album’s five unfinished songs, a backing track that sounds mighty fine even in it’s half-baked state thanks to its jazzy horn arrangement and some fine organ playing from Ian McLagan. Kenny Jones is also at his best here, tying the whole disparate band of musicians together on another track that proves how many musical muscles the band had to flex in this period. Goodness knows where the band would have fitted the lyrics (if indeed this song did have lyrics ready at the time it was recorded) as the song’s complex sequences jump around all over the place. Look out for a longer edit of this song complete with a full ending that’s been doing the rounds on a few compilations in recent years, a take that sounds much better to these ears. Oh and before you ask – I don’t have a clue what a collibosher is either!





Red Balloon does have lyrics meanwhile, being a murky blues version of a Tim Hardin song that would have seen the Small Faces reverting to their Decca past in the manner of the Beatles and Stones albums of the period if they had ever intended to release it. The song is a fine performance that strays into Stones territory with an impassioned Marriott vocal and some striking guitar playing, especially the electric solo which seems to come from another world in the otherwise acoustic arrangement. Interestingly Marriott, a singer who always wore his heart on his sleeve throughout his career, is pretty convincing in character here as a ladykiller lothario who suddenly falls in love properly for the first time when he spots the girl of his dreams behind a red balloon and is debating whether to give up his wayward ways in the name of stability (even though the narrator hasn’t actually got round to introducing himself to the girl in question yet!) The song then ends up much like one of those late-period obsessive Beatles song John Lennon wrote about Yoko, with wave after wave of instrumental tension taking over the second part of the song and putting into music how deeply attached the narrator has suddenly become, unable to move on and think about anything else.





Call It Something Nice is Ronnie Lane’s turn to shine as he trades lines with Marriott on an edgy, paranoid song that sounds like another of Ronnie’s parting messages to his old friend. Trying to make up and save the band, without backing down from his position or sacrificing his pride at the same time, this seems like a pretty fair assessment of where the bassist’s head was at the time. Lane’s bass playing is also pretty extraordinary on this song, a typically chunky rhythmic rise and fall that makes the rest of the band step into line, despite the chaotic mix that seems to spurt the song out in several different directions at once. With both Lane and Marriott on vocals pleading for the other to ‘look for the good’ in each other and a sudden minor key shift for the doubly wailed line ‘don’t lean on me ‘cause I might let you down’, its clear that the two of them are facing separate ways at a crossroads in their life. Both singers pull this track off well, with Lane’s more reserved but still pretty emotional vocals giving way to Marriott’s cathartic wail. Another song that shows how brightly the Faces were being lit up during this period and—annoyingly—how in tune the two main partners were with each other by the band’s demise.





Ronnie’s unique bass picking style is also heard at its best on the last unfinished track, Wide Eyed Girl On The Wall (what would the lyrics to this weird title have sounded like?!?), driving the song forward in place of Marriott’s more usual guitar. Wide Eyed is effectively a slower-paced version of Colllibosher, featuring another lovely brass arrangement and a last promising performance that could have really been special if it had been finished.





Other songs from the same period that might have been used on the finished album (all available on the brilliant Immediate anthology The Darlings of Whapping Wharf Launderette) include the studio version of the OTT ballad Every Little Bit Hurts, the frenetic but exquisite Don’t Burst My Bubble, the classic rocker B-side Wham Bam Thankyou Man, a Faces version of the song they wrote for PP Arnold If You Think You’re Groovy and a whole cartload of other unfinished backing tracks that weren’t released till the 1980s. Most curious absentee of all is the Universal B-side Donkey Rides, A Penny A Glass which for me is the last great classic Small Faces moment, mixing blokey all-is-right-with-the-world verses and some strident philosophical choruses. What other song of the period includes dodgy references to un-rhymeable words like ‘fishcakes’ and ‘caravans’ without a second thought  – why oh why oh why isn’t this great neglected song on the album?!?





Even so, its not a bad swap getting such classic singles as All Or Nothing, Here Comes The Nice, Lazy Sunday and Itchycoo Park in one handy volume instead. All four of these tracks are The Small Faces at their best – playful and seriously passionate all at the same time. Despite the band’s early labelling as a teeny-bopper band each of these songs is pretty different from its predecessors too, with each song building on the foundations of the song that came before it chronologically. In a nutshell, All Or Nothing is the surprisingly sombre Small Faces breakthrough song that finds Marriott putting forward his career-long philosophy that either he will be fully committed to something or leave it completely alone, an idea he certainly lived up to by leaving the band at the peak of their success. Here Comes The Nice is the summer of love collector’s favourite, mixing as it does a great pop tune and as many drug references as it can get away with (plus many it can’t!) Lazy Sunday will have you annoying your neighbours just as much as Marriott does in the song, turning the song up loud to get the full dose of that cheerful cockney charm. And Itchycoo Park will put you in a joyous psychedelic mood, despite the characters in the song getting their inspiration from something as simple as feeding the ducks in the park. It’s all too beautiful in fact.





Listen out too for some of the rarer singles included on the set, which are every bit the equal of their more famous brothers and sisters. I Can’t Make It is a barnstorming rocker from 1967, confusingly recorded during the Immediate years but released in more or less identical versions by both that label and Decca. One of the band’s toughest rockers, it’s a great frenetic album track but a rather odd choice as a single (it was, in fact, their biggest flop, even more than Universal). Still, Marriott’s vocal has never been more hysterical and the rush of energy going into each chorus is pretty jaw-dropping.





Afterglow is the odd song out on the set, having been released as the band’s last ever single the same month that Autumn Stone came out and having appeared only 10 months before as an album track on Ogden’s. Afterglow is always good to hear though, no matter how many times it’s re-released, switching between the band’s irreverent fun on the opening verse to later couplets of such open emotion and devotion Marriott seems to have plugged his guitar directly into his heartstrings.





The Universal, as discussed above, is a charming oddity with its homemade roughness and salvation army accompaniment, but it’s a song that somehow isn’t quite as good as the sum of its parts. Marriott’s whimsical delivery is charming, his lyrics pre-date much of his Humble Pie work with their half-bitter, half-mocking complaints of being skint all the time and the band gamely play along to Marriott’s demo recorded in the open air of his garden and full of microphone pops and drop-outs and whistling birds flying overhead that should be irritating but isn’t. The finished version has much to recommend it – but the song is ultimately a failed experiment that never quite suited the band or the pop market of the day and the salvation army backing sounds rather painfully grafted on as a last-minute compromise when Immediate wouldn’t release the single with just Steve, a guitar and bird-song playing. It’s no surprise, then, that the single flopped (albeit its #16 placing is 10 better than I Can Make It’s chart peak a year or so earlier), but it is a surprise that Marriott so took this song’s failure to heart and declared himself unable to write any more ‘Small Faces’ songs: its slightly peculiar novelty air was exactly the sort of thing he was trying to shake off at the time and the B-sides Wham Bam Thank Your Man and Donkey Rides A Penny A Glass recorded at about the same period represent far more of the ‘real’ Marriott. Interestingly, its Ronnie Lane who will go on to ape this style on his solo records, characteristically doing things properly and thoroughly by just using acoustic instruments and having all the musicians play outside together. Lane’s early solo records— especially The Poacher and Anymore For Anymore— are far more effortlessly successful than anything Marriott can do with this song, even though he tries his hardest to make the thing work.





Just Passing, meanwhile, is a short but sweet B-side from the earlier end of the Immediate spectrum, with some interesting psychedelic effects masking an intriguing sleepwalking tune and an offhand performance that suggests the band don’t quite see the same qualities in it that I do. This song is another of those Small Faces tracks with a confused history, having been released by both Decca and Immediate, undergoing several re-mixes and changes in writing credits (some credit occasional collaborator Ronnie O’Sullivan) along the way. Which all seems a bit of a fuss about nothing considering this song doesn’t quite reach the two minute mark and barely gets going, despite its lingering promise.





Jumping back in time again, Hey Girl is one of the band’s earliest effort at song-writing (where the heck is the first, the vastly superior Whatcha Gonna Do Bout It? on this compilation by the way?), a worthy second attempt at the All Or Nothing formula before the band got third time lucky. The song always sounded much better live than it ever did on record (there’s a German Beatclub show from 1966 that often does the rounds where Marriott is getting so into the song I swear he levitates during his guitar solo), with Lane’s call and response vocals the perfect foil to Marriott’s uncontrolled shouts.





The best track of all, though, is Tin Soldier: fans all praise it highly but it sold poorly compared to other Small Faces singles of their ‘classic period’ despite being released slap bang in the middle of it and the song still isn’t as widely known as it should be. A classy song in pretty much every respect, from its muted ear-catching opening to it’s double-time drum-lick, to the lyrics about hard-won victories and desperation to ‘jump into your fire’, to Marriott’s acceleration of power during every verse, everything about this song works. The loudest, most honest, claustrophobic powerhouse of a song this loudest, most honest and most claustrophobically powerful band ever made, their ensemble playing is so scarily together they sound like a band possessed. The ending of the song, when everything has been brought to a chilling climax (tired of waiting for his love to be returned, the song’s narrator asks for love ‘before mine fades away’, before making the line ‘all I want to do is sit with you’ sound like one of the most erotically charged lines in history) and the band suddenly teeter to a stop, leaving Jones to sound like he has kicked his drum-kit over in desperation. This ending is nothing short of one of the best 30-second moments on this list. Fragile yet powerful, with Marriott singing even more from the heart than normal in a plea for commitment from his then-girlfriend soon-to-be-wife Jenny and getting more histrionic with every twist of this classic song’s structure, Tin Soldier also adds yet another element to the Faces’ great sound (soul meets rock meets Motown) and remains one of my favourite deep-but-catchy singles of all time, the epitome of what a 45rpm single should be. (** see note, if you can be bothered).





As for the live songs on Autumn Stone, it’s a tough decision whether it’s worth putting up with the two days of earache that listening to the noisy screams in the right-hand channel will give you in order to hear a band crushed low in the mix playing largely perfunctory versions of some classic songs. Having said all that, Ogden’s song Rollin’ Over is a song well suited to playing live, sounding far more Humble Pie-ish than the studio version. If I Were A Carpenter is a second Tim Hardin cover that just about everybody covered in the 60s, but the Faces’ version is about the best (annoyingly they never did record it in the studio), with Marriott having great fun trying to get the crowd to join in with his ‘don’t it make you want to feel...’ improvisation at the song’s end. Every Little Bit Hurts is also a pretty strong performance (although the BBC recording from 1968 is better still), with Marriott back at his heart-tugging best. If only these songs had been better mixed – or better recorded for that matter – I wouldn’t have any complaints, but oh how that audience noise grates on the senses (no wonder all that yelling made the band so fed up). Incidentally, at least two more live tracks are also available on various Immediate-sponsored releases, presumably taken from this concert as they seem to follow on with the audience screams when they’re all placed together as on the Small Faces box-set. A rather ropey slowed-down version of All Or Nothing is no great loss to this album really, but a terrifically emotional version of Tin Soldier knocks spots off the other live tracks that did make it onto Autumn Stone and makes you question whether the Autumn Stone was put together at random by a monkey with a typewriter or whether Immediate were holding some unreleased Small Faces material back for a second compilation that enver got released.





While we’re on about things missing, surely any of the AWOL tracks discussed so far were more worthy of a re-release than the annoyingly twee single cover version of Kenny Lynch’s Sha La La La Lee. A fine melody set to some extremely toe-curling words and an annoying hook that seems to bear no relation to the rest of the song (what exactly is a ‘sha-la-la-la-lee’? A cry of excitement, endearment or some mild mid-60s euphemism?) and you can almost hear Marriott grinding his teeth in frustration at having to play this rubbish, the epitome of the image the Small faces were trying to break in this period. (Don’t worry Lynch fans – I still think this guy is a genius despite the odd lapse in taste here and there and his co-writes with Tony Hicks on various Hollies albums such as Distant Light were among the best that group ever did).





But then Autumn Stone never claims to be perfect and its many rarities and oddities still make for a pretty impressive mix, given that this album is really only a cash-in compilation thrown together at the last minute. A fine testament and epitaph for a fine band, it works well as both a ‘greatest hits’ and an ‘out-takes’ set – surely there can’t be that many bands in the world whose whole back catalogue was so fine both could nestle together so easily? An under-rated and forgotten album compared to the Faces’ other sets of the 60s, this double collection is as fine and fond a fiery farewell as any band could wish for.





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** Note: You probably don’t care but, what the heck, its my site so I’m going to tell you anyway: this single stands proud amongst several other Alan Album Archive recommended singles, sadly none of them included on albums on this list: clocking in at a number three is the Kinks’ gorgeous bittersweet tribute to the success stories and the failures of life on—typical—their first complete flop release Celluloid Heroes, second is Paul McCartney’s funkiest, ‘catchy but deep’ song Coming Up, which has a fine message about how change could be just around the corner if we all try hard enough underneath enough hooks to hang a pair of curtains on; in first place is CSNY’s ridiculously brave Nixon-baiting single Ohio that came out only a fortnight after the massacre of protesting students at the Kent State University in that very state and in an earlier decade would most probably have had the quartet all thrown in prison or hung, drawn and quartered (Has there ever been a better opening couplet than ‘Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, now we’re finally on our own…’?!?) OK, OK, so this paragraph has nothing to do with the Small Faces but you need to know these things for your own musical good, honest you do.






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