Monday, 9 December 2013
"The Small Faces" (Decca Album) (1966) (Album Review)
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"Oooh Ah Eh Ow!" "Woah yeah, woah alright, I feel alright, you know I feel alright, I feel alright, you know I feel alright, I'm going to think about the hard times and make you pay, gonna think about a good thing we've done together, think about grey sky and stormy weather, come on children!" "I just gotta let it out...Mmm as I lay sleeping baby, I dreamed I held you in my arms, but when I woke up I found tout that I was mistaken, and don't you know that I hung my head and I cried, I sais you are my sunshine baby, I do believe you are my sunshine..." "I'm asking you baby, what makes you wait? You better love me now, before it's too late" "When my name was comin' on something, illusion struck me down, but times have changed and my name's in lights, so you just hang around!" "You may take her hand and think you're doing fine, but bad luck fellers, sorry she's mine" "Well I've been earning, and I've been yearning, for you to get some learning, because deep down inside your heart you need loving, you know you need loving baby, yeah yeah alright!!!" "You're feeling just like a high flying bird, that's the sweetest thing you've ever heard, I don't know what made you feel this way, but I hope you never fly away!" "Picked her up on a Friday night, sha la la la lee, I knew everything was gonna be alright, sha la la la lee" "Won't to knwo how my story ends?, sha la la la lee, we invited just a few good friends, sha la la la lee, yeah"
"The Small Faces" (Decca Album) (1965)
Shake/Come On Children/You Better Believe It/It's Too Late/One Night Stand/What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?//Sorry She's Mine/Own Up[ Time/You Need Loving/Don't Stop What You're Doing/E Too D/Sha La La La Lee
There's a wonderful concert that exists that was used to promote this album, originally broadcast for Germany's superb TV series 'Beatclub' in 1966 and a favourite of satellite TV broadcasters ever since (it's now available officially as part of the equally superb Small Faces DVD 'All Or Nothing') that says a lot about this album. The band only get 15 odd minutes to strut their stuff, but strut they do like never before, putting such effort into their playing it's visible on everyone's faces and Steve Marriott in particular is having such fun that I swear he levitates during the guitar solo for 'Hey Girl' (a single released a month after this album and sadly not included here). Suddenly, after a painful first year, it's all coming right. The band might all be still in their teens but they'd already gone through an awkward and sometimes painful birth: ripped off by managers, a failed coup y first keyboard player Jimmy Winstun to become the focal point of the band and a couple of flop singles had really put the band on their backfoot in the first half of 1966. Suddenly, though, it's all going right: new boy Ian Mclagan is on board and fitted in right from the start, the single 'All Or Nothing' is being prepared and the band already know it's going to be a hit, whilst after an unhappy time at Decca the Small Faces are already in the process of moving to the smaller but much hipper new label Immediate. There's a feeling in the concert - and in this debut album - that all the obstacles are out the way and suddenly anything is possible.
'Small Faces' (we're calling this one the 'Decca Record' so that fans don't get confused with the first Immediate album, also called 'Small Faces', at least in the UK - if you've come here expecting to read about that then please have a look at our 'links' page at the bottom!) isn't the most polished or most intelligent debut album you'll ever hear. For the most part this is rough R and B covers with a few pop oddities thrown in and only the very first beginnings of the powerhouse writing team Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane are about to become. At times it's so raw and ready it makes 'Please Please Me' sound sophisticated and the first three Stones albums like polished works of art. Despite all that, 'Small Faces' is a lot of fun and almost all these recordings get by simply through the sheer charisma of the band's playing, especially Marriott who has never sounded more magnetic or charismatic than he does here. Of course we know now that the Small Faces are going to become experts at finesse, coming up with small vignettes of everyday life in songs like 'Lazy Sunday' and 'Itchycoo Park' or write pure r and b hollerers like 'Tin Soldier' that are carefully thought out and planned with meticulous detail. Anyone coming to this record expecting another 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' are going to be disappointed because the songs aren't really songs but band jams played with power and bluster, apart from the pop songs which sound deeply out of place and show just how little a clue Decca had about how to market a band that looked this cute and yet sounded this heavy. But put yourself back in time to 1966 (arguably this record sounds more like one from 1964 or 1965, heavy on power and short on subtlety but we'll overlook that for now), to a time when rock operas didn't exist and flower power meant how long your plants lasted in a heavy wind, and you'll find much to enjoy.
In retrospect I can't decide whether The Small Faces were allowed too much slack with this album or not enough. Most bands when they come to record their debut album have known what they wanted to do for months, if not years. Each cover song has been polished, each original has been hand-crafted and there's a feeling that the band know the direction they're going in (generally speaking, it's the second album and - especially - the third that cause all the trouble). The Small Faces hadn't been together very long at all by this stage (they are all 18 or 19 here for a start) and Marriott and Lane have only just begun writing together. As a result most of the 'songs' here are really just jamming sessions with Steve Marriott grooving away over the top. It's a measure of how 'together' the band are already and how exciting the music is that they can get away with this for so many songs across an LP. Nobody, and I mean nobody, was doing this sort of thing in 1966: it's not until 1967 that bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane turn improvisation in the studio into an art form. Take 'Come On Children' for instance, which out-raps anything Pigpen comes up with for the Dead and for the era it's 4:10 running time was incredibly daring. Remember, this was an era when choruses and verses were king in white Western music - the Small Faces are the only R and B beat group of the early to mid 1960s who took things this far, building up 'songs' to steaming peaks of tension before playing cat-and-mouse with our senses for the rest of the song. What's an even bigger puzzle is that the Small Faces never ever do this again for the rest of their career, preferring instead to write traditional songs with psychedelic twinges that rarely last more than two minutes (indeed, as we saw a couple of weeks ago, the 'Small Faces' album for Immediate is the equal 9th shortest AAA album in terms of average running times and only the 3rd shortest that isn't by The Beach Boys who made a name for that sort of thing). Only in Humble Pie will Marriott go back to what he does best, dragging out these songs long past their natural length and building up to sometimes an unbelievable rate of tension a natural part of his performances (see the 22 minute 'I Don't Need No Doctor' on the Pie's Fillmore West album, which is a joy to behold). Admittedly the Small Faces only ever 'finished' two more albums (plus the 2/3rds done 'Autumn Stone' and non-album compilation 'From The Beginning') so it's hard to trace their career arc as easily as, say, The Rolling Stones, but what's the biggest surprise about this whole album is how unique it is compared to the two other records, which at least have some kind of a logical progression to them. However the Decca Small Faces sound like a completely different band to the Immediate one, a range that in AAA terms is only matched by the difference between the Decca and Island Cat Stevens (pre and post TB illness).
'Small Faces' should have made the band into a well-loved powerhouse of R and B standards, rawer than the Stones, more hypnotic than The Kinks and more 'out-there' than anything The Who were doing in 1965 and 1966. To their bitter regret, however, The Small Faces were painted then and sometimes now as a teeny bopper band who looked cute and sounded even cuter (they're not unlike The Searchers in this respect, although their career was over commercially long before this album came out). That's partly down to the naiveté of the band who were pushed around a little too easily by their manager Don Arden and made some very questionable decisions, such as appearing in the rather twee movie 'Dateline Diamonds' (recorded so early in their career that the Small Faces' cameo makes them look aged about twelve) and some less than flattering photo sheets (take a long again at the cover for this album: do these four sweet teenagers with cheesy grins really look like the quartet who've been playing such distorted R and B standards for the past half hour? Well, technically, only three of them are but we'll look at that in a second...) Let's not forget, too, that the Small Faces are, well, small (that's why they got their name after all, with a 'Face' being a trendsetter in Mod terminology - putting the two together made them sound less pretentious!) - in the eyes of everyone over 30 they looked delicate and so by rights should have been singing delicate and fragile material like those nice young Herman's Hermits. This is a problem that will anger the band until the day they break up - the day they die in some cases, with the release of 'Lazy Sunday' against their band wishes labelling the Small Faces a 'teeny' singles band against their better wishes. No wonder the band try so hard to sound louder, angrier and more powerful than their contemporaries here.
That - and the comparative flop of Marriott and Lane's second single 'I've Got Mine' - is presumably why Decca brought in two tried and tested hands to provide new material for the band. Now, Kenny Lynch is nothing short of an AAA hero - he was the first person to ever cover a Lennon/McCartney song ('Misery') back in the days when nobody outside Liverpool or Hamburg knew who The Beatles were and he'll end up writing some of the greatest Hollies songs alongside their guitarist Tony Hicks (the two were even neighbours for a time). Jerry Ragavoy, too, is something of an unheralded AAA star, providing some of the greatest songs Janis Joplin ever sang ('Piece Of My Heart' among them). The two together should be fabulous and the dream team any young hotshots would want writing for them. Unfortunately, neither man has a clue what the Small Faces are all about. All three of their songs for the band are shallow and twee pop songs, miles away from the r and b style of the rest of their album. One of these - the sappy and silly 'Sha La La La Lee' (which is about as good as the title sounds) - is even forced onto the band as their fourth single; despite being one of the band's bigger hits for Decca it's probably safe to say that the band have tried to bury it ever since. Had the whole album sounded like this, then it might have been OK too - there's a place for silly empty fluffy pop sometimes after all; but heard here in the middle of a holocaust of screaming feedback r and b and pounding drums, it sounds like Decca really really really didn't 'get' this band at all or at least 'got' them a good three years too late.
That's the biggest problem with this album, which goes from track to track to sounding as if it was made in 1963, 1965 or looking ahead to 1967/68. As we've said much of this album sounds musically like it should belong at the end of 1964 /early 1965, a contemporary to the early Kinks songs and what The Who did on their first three singles. If 1963/64 was the period of Merseybeat and laidback r and b covers from down South, then this is the period of intensity and fizz and energy, which this album has in spades. On that basis, even what the Small Faces are doing is slightly behind the times, never mind what Lynch and Ragavoy are writing. However, it's worth noting that at least two of the songs here, both Marriott-Lane songs, really point the way forward to psychedelia a full year before the Summer of Love. 'It's Too Late' is a Merseybeat song dressed up in colourful finery, with a swirling guitar part that's one of Marriott's best, varispeeded instruments and a kind of whooshing, mixed up mix that makes the band sound as if they're playing down a wind tunnel. 'E Too D' sounds like nothing less than the West Coast of America flowering into blossom, Marriott declaring 'I don't like what I see' and that 'I've messed up my mind...watch those voices!' while chugging on the same fat chord while hell breaks out behind him (it's a dead ringer for the first Quicksilver Messenger Service LP in particular, or Big Brother and the Holding Company if you can imagine Marriott replaced by Janis Joplin; actually that's surprisingly easy their vocal power is so similar!) Indeed, only 'Eddie's Dreaming' from the band's sole album released in 1967 comes close to matching this for psychedelia.
Interestingly, the bulk of this album (not the Lynch-Ragavoy stuff) is a dead ringer for what Jimmy Winstun will be doing in his band (Winstun's Thumbs - check out 'Real Crazy Apartment' from the Nuggets box sets of obscure psychedelia gems in particular). That's interesting for two reasons: one, Winstun isn't thought to have much of a hand in making this album (only the first single from a few months earlier 'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' and the co-credit he recieves for 'It's Too late')) and two the band have always downplayed just how much input the keyboardist had into the band. The official version usually runs something along the lines of 'we were filling in time until we met Mac and the band fell into place' and Wikipedia (admittedly not the best source of material in the world) claims that he was kicked out of the band for a 'lack of musical talent'. Great as Ian 'Mac' Mclagan was for the band, I've always felt that poor Jimmy was hard done by. His gritty backing vocals are a neat foil for Marriott and his keyboard playing - more like Alan Price's playing with the Animals than the R and B feel Mac brings to the band - always sounded pretty great to me. I think the problem was more that Winstun was such a forceful personality the rest of the band felt they were being sucked in slightly to 'his' style; certainly its notable that, even if he doesn't play on most of this album, it's Winstun who'll work on the shouty r and b style of this record and make it his own, while his ex-colleagues end up writing two minute psychedelic pop songs and spoof prog rock concepts. It wouldn't surprise me if these songs were at least rehearsed with him in the band and I'm fairly sure by the sound of them that some of the rougher, earlier versions of these songs (released on various European EPs and thankfully sensibly tacked onto the CD re-issue of this album as bonus tracks) feature his playing rather than Mac's. Just to add a bit more fuel to the fire, note that one of the first things Jimmy recorded after leaving the band was 'Sorry She's Mine', the very same Kenny Lynch song that appears on this album (it sounds good too - I actually his version to the bands).
Talking of those bonus tracks, these are fascinating finds, effectively in-progress versions of no less than five of the album's songs. All of these run longer, bare 'Shake' (which is played a little quicker and runs shorter by four seconds) and 'Come On Children' (which runs almost a minute shorter, Marriott pulling out of his improvisations much quicker this time around). All of them sound pretty good to me, especially 'E Too D' which is played 'straight' without the reverb of the album cut, and makes you wonder why the band didn't take the easy way out and release these songs again on the album (none of them came out in Britain at the time and it was common practice to put EP cuts on your next LP in 1965/1966). What's more these early versions sound even more 'psychedelic' than what appears on the album - just check out the feedback drenched guitar stutter to the 'bonus' version of 'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' which instantly moves the song forward in time by about two years (this riff is replaced by a crashing drum chord from Kenney on the record and the riff is played on the organ most of the way through, Marriott's guitar only crashing in for the solo, a full minute into the 1:59 song).
Overall, then, 'Small Faces' is a mixed bag. had the band been older and wiser there's no way the rather twee pop songs would have made the record and it has to be said that the band's one attempt at a genuine r and b song ('Shake') is a bit of a mess, a million miles away from the original by Otis Redding or even The Hollies' BBC cover of the song. However, the other eight songs are a different prospect altogether: undiluted Small Faces at their peak as a band, trying their hardest to stretch the natural template for a song as far as it will go. Yes some of the lyrics for these songs are poor, many of them indeed seemingly made up on the spot, but boy this band could play and album highlights like 'Come On Children' and 'E Too D' are among the most exciting records of their era. Kenney Jones plays with such power, Ronnie Lane somehow manages to add dynamics and range to the urgent bass parts the songs demand and the two keyboardists share between them a unique sound that somehow manages to sound deeply contemporary and timeless (I've noticed while writing this site that it's nearly always the keyboards that give the 'date' of an album away much more than the guitars, bass and drums - the sudden evolution of synths since the 1970s has quite a lot to do with it, but even before then the organ sounds change a great deal from 1960-70). Above it all rides Steve Marriott, pouring heart and soul into his gritty, howling vocals and some wild, ferocious guitar playings that are amongst the loudest and most powerful on record. Yes this album is a tad predictable and yes there are almost as many bad moments as there are food. But when the band finally let fly there's clearly magic in the room. How could anyone ever mistake The Small Faces for a teeny bopper band after hearing this? Come on children!
'Shake' is clearly first on the record because a record company executive had a look at the track listing and went 'gee, I know that one!' (Otis Redding's original was less than a year old at this point). It has almost nothing in common with everything else on this debut album - for a kick-off it features not Marriott but Ronnie Lane's debut lead vocal and his only one for the record - and it's the only cover of a famous r and b song the band ever do. The band, sensibly, know that they can't match Otis' charisma and power yet and make their take on 'Shake' almost a parody of the original (much as I love Ronnie's whimsically English voice, if the band had meant this as a 'serious' cover surely they'd have given it to Steve to sing?) As a result, this version is quite funny, with Ronnie doing some wonderful spoofs of his idea of soul singing (going 'ooh! ouch! Wooh! Ow!' on the fadeout, as if he's just stood on something sharp and pointy) and Lane actually a pretty good 'pub' impression of Otis' singing as if the great singer had been moved from Memphis to Whapping Wharf. We know now, of course, that humour is going to be an intrinsic part of the Small Faces story - their ability not to take themselves seriously is one of their greatest assets in fact and people feel a lot fonder of their gentle parody of a rock opera in 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' than most other rock operas done with commitment and passion because they sound like they were having a right 'larf and want you to as well. Imagine for a minute though that you don't know about this side of the band yet - they're either cute pop band or a bunch of r and b howlers. Back in the day music fans used to get record shops to 'play' a sample track before they decided which song to play and invariably most harassed shop assistants chose the first track on side one. Imagine people's surprise when they hear a cute version of an r and b song instead of what the band have been playing on their early singles? As a result, 'Shake' is a real novelty, with Ronnie at least clearly in it for laughs, although listen for Kenney Jones' classy drumming, which is the most authentic thing here (his 'sideway' rolls across the kit during each chorus is even better than what Al Jackson plays on Otis' original and I say that as a huge fan of his playing). All in all, the oddest start to a debut album since...well actually it's only since The Who started their career with the equally unlikely r and b spoof song 'Out In The Street' in 1965, but still a mighty strange way to begin an album career, with the band's second lead vocalist singing a cover of a song in a style the band will never make use of again. Listen out too for Steve's gleeful cheer of 'yeah...hey, nice one!' encouragement to Ronnie - still unsure of himself as vocalist - at the very end! By the way, this is also the first time we'll hear Steve Marriott use his trademark phrase 'come on my children!' It won't be the last...
'Come On Children' is next in fact, my candidate for best track on the album, which by contrast to 'Shake' features so much grit and passion it sounds as if the band are playing double speed by the time they reach the middle of the song. Kenney and Ronnie make for one of the greatest rhythm sections in 1960s music as they lock horns on a song that's high on tension and short on subtlety. Steve Marriott is born for this sort of a song and out-Townshends The Who with his wild, swinging screaming guitar, layered with feedback and with all the mistakes left in (you can even hear him hastily re-plug his guitar 0:55 into the song - leaving this mistake in is a great idea, adding to the delightful aural mess at the heart of the song). Above it all sits the first real evidence of what a masterful vocalist Marriott is, apparently improvising the lyrics (or at least the detail of them - the general gist was already there on the earlier French EP version) and stringing out each line with such gravel and grit and power it's brilliantly exciting. The earlier Small Faces songs have proved Marriott to be one of the better vocalists around - this song proves him to be one of the very best, rapping with all the charisma and power of the later singers on the West Coast (Janis Joplin and Pigpen among others), but a year earlier and - a couple of key Joplin performances aside - better. You can't take your ears off Marriott as he gloriously explores the unknown, even audaciously 'borrowing' the words from 'You Are My Sunshine' (a song that sounds as if it's been around forever, but was in fact only written in 1939) in his quest to stretch the song to breaking point (the song thus making its second unexpected appearance on this website after once being part of The Beach Boys' 'Smile'; if Brian's take on the song is reverential and mournful, though, this one is pure audacity, a new generation taking one of their parents' generations songs and making it not only their own but a small insignificant part of their own song, to be played with and improvised around as opposed to revered). Meantime the whole band chip in with some of the greatest off-mike 'hustling' on record, mouthing 'yeah-yeah's 'uh-huhs' 'woohs' 'alrights' 'ahhhs' and a hundred things besides not just on the choruses but throughout the whole song - the fact that you can't hear what the band are singing but that they sound like a baying mob only drives the song on and builds up the atmosphere. It's a crying shame that The Small Faces never do this sort of improvised masterclass again as Marriott in particular has a real feel for the form - the tension going into the song at 3:30 is almost unbearably exciting. Goodness knows what the public thought: this song sounds nothing like the Small Faces' singles either and for the day its 4:10 is hugely daring (it was only a matter of months ago the world was shocked by the 4:00 Animals cover of 'The House Of The Rising Sun', but at least that was a 'proper' song with choruses and verses and everything). As for the title, this was Marriott's tongue in-cheek war cry for the band, at first mickey-taking the fact that all the 'grown-ups' in charge of the band called them 'children' (their height probably didn't help), even though at 18-19 they felt quite old enough thank-you; in time it became a term of endearment and Marriott included the band's audience with the cry as well, a real us-versus-them moment that tells you more about the 1960s than any number of concept albums and hippie clothes well. All in all a sterling track and one of the best things The Small Faces ever did, even with so many classic tracks to come.
'You Better Believe It', the first of the Lynch-Ragavoy songs, is quite a fun track as cute pop songs with a meaty backing goes, but it's clearly out of time here with the rest of the album. Arguably the best and most suitable of the three songs Kenny Lynch writes for the band, I'm surprised this wasn't chosen for the single instead of 'Sha La La La Lee' because it's far more in keeping with the first two band singles ('What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' and 'I've Got Mine'). Lyrically this is all pretty banal (Given what great songs Jerry Ragavoy will go on to write, almost embarrassing trite), with Marriott replying to every question his friend asks him about his girl with 'you better believe it!' (you wonder what would have happened if his friend had asked a less revelry sort of question - all I'm saying for a sequel is 'stop being silly' scans to the music just as well!) Musically, though, there's a nice sing-songy melody about this music and, perfectionist that he is, Lynch has even provided a strong middle eight, which is always the sign of a good song ('I'm so happy when my girl's around...') The band turn in another great performance here too, with special praise for whoever's playing the organ solo (most sources say Winstun, though to my ears it sounds more like McLagan, making his first really valuable contribution to a Small Faces recording) and Marriott again, who barks out this rather stupid song with such conviction that you can't help but, err, believe it. However, coming after two songs that have shown us both a great song built on hard and fast writing rules ('Shake', even if the band don't treat it so iconically here) and 'Come On Children', a song that broke all the rules brilliantly, you can't help but feel that this song comes across as a bit second rate.
'It's Too Late' is one of the earliest songs here (note the credit to the full band including Jimmy Winstun), but is perhaps the song here that most points the way forward to what the band will do. The Faces are still playing with the same power and weight they've always used in their Decca years (and which is all about to change for album two), but there's a really eerie psychedelic feel to this song that's much more in keeping with the 'Immediate' years. Marriott's guitar is again first-class - he might not have had that much belief in his own playing but in another lifetime (and not overshadowed by that ear-catching voice) he could have been another Hendrix: these solos aren't just played, they're drilled into the song, showing a real flair for tone control and stopping the song just short of a mess (even if, like every other album made for Decca in the 1960s, the whole recording tone is deeply muddy and foggy). Unusually, the band must have done some overdubbing on this song, too, with the presence of an acoustic guitar part as well deeply unusual (considering this album was made in 1966, there's refreshingly little 'extra' on most of this album). Only The Who have come close to this sort of thing in the past (this song is a dead ringer for 'The Good's Gone' off their debut album the year before, in fact) and this is another area The Small Faces could have mined forever had they not wanted to escape their r and b/pop roots. Lyrically, too, this is a cut above the average, with the narrator sounding much older than Marriott's 19 years as he talks about having his heart broken and pleading for a second chance with much more weight and threats than the usual mid-60s lyric, with repercussions and everything ('I can't fool myself no longer and I keep hearing my conscience say who was I fooling? Only myself and I can't stay here...') Incidentally what do the band sing in the second verse: It sounds like 'My daddy had his heart times two' which makes no sense. Did Marriott miss out the word 'broken' in the middle?! All in all, another great track.
'One Night Stand' is a Marriott-Lane song that sounds to me as if the band have been asked to write something that sounds like Lynch's work. The song is simpler than most of the band's early originals and the 'ooba-wooba oomba-wumba' backing vocals suggest the band aren't taking this song entirely seriously either. Even the lyrics seem to be a step backwards, with the recognised concept of a 'one night stand' not really having anywhere to go and being clearly teenage (Ray Davies uses this very title this very year when asked to write a generic song for another artist, Dave Berry, that his manager is looking after, which speaks volumes to me). What's oddest about this song, though, is the way it ends suddenly at just 1:45. At first it sounds as if this is a false ending and Marriott is just playing up the drama of the line 'you leaving me behind...' before Kenney Jones adds what's effectively a death rattle, silencing the song. Only the band's usual powerhouse performance comes close to redeeming this odd and rather uninvolving little song, although even then you can tell the band aren't quite as committed as they were before. A bit of a filler song this.
'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' is, ungrammatical title and all, a Slade prototype back before that became slang for something badly written, released as the band's debut single in August 1965. This is a song that's short on message but high on power and has at the heart of it such a great ear-catching 'duh-duh' riff and a distinctive stop-start 'Whatchagonna...Do...Aboutit?') that it couldn't help but be chosen as the band's debut single and make the charts (indeed, I'm amazed this song didn't do better than just #14 in the UK, even for a new small - no pun intended - band with a measly advertising budget; that goes double considering that band manager Don Arden admitted decades later that he'd spent £12,000 of his own money 'hyping' this song into the charts). Again, the song threatens to sound a little backward, a little too 1964 and Merseybeatish for the period, but the band do nothing less than open a hole in the middle and show a vision of the future with Marriott's extraordinary guitar solo. Drenched in feedback, plunging down on note in the exact way anyone who took guitar lessons in 1965 would have been told was completely wrong and unmusical, it suddenly pings straight into a clean-sounding Chuck Berry-ish riff that's exactly what this stop-start song, waiting for a loved one to give her reply to the question of marriage, needs. By turns affectionate and taunting (the phrase is actually spoken by the narrator having popped the question of marriage, but it sounds like a thug about to beat someone up), this is a tightly hewed mini-masterpiece that does a pretty neat job at summing up what The Small Faces have got that's different to other bands: they can't out write the likes of The Beatles (not yet, anyway), they don't have the laidback leer of the Stones and there's more to them than the power of The Who; however no other white band around in 1965 could play cat-and-mouse with their audience like this. What's missing to stop this song becoming a fully fledged classic is any sense of going somewhere different except during the solo: the chorus is simply tacked onto the end of the verse, there's no middle eight and at 1:59 this song sounds as if it's built for speed not substance. Still, though, it's a mighty fine single by mid 1965 standards. Footnote to this song: in 1978 The Sex Pistols recorded a rather odd cover version of this song, despite rejecting pretty much every other 60s dinosaurs around, clearly falling in love with the song's simple chords and power slashes; however they clearly don't like the message it gives, changing the lyrics to 'I want you to know that I hate you baby...'
'Sorry She's Mine' is a solo Kenny Lynch song that would sound twee in anyone else's hands - it still sounds terribly backward even played with all the power of the Small faces full throttle. Lynch's song is another very 60s tale of jealousy and has the narrator smugly telling all his friends the girl they fancy is taken (you just don't get songs like this anymore - well, not without the narrator of the song getting stabbed or the friend secretly making the girl pregnant in rap songs anyway). As I've already said, I actually prefer the version of this song Jimmy Winstun did with his own band after leaving the group - he's clearly had a great deal to do with the arrangement even though it's Mac playing the organ here again. Winstun's version is even meatier than this, taking breath now and again to let the instruments rip the song into a frenzy; The Small Faces version just plods along rather boringly without any of their usual invention. Marriott does all he can to emote on the vocal and make this song work, but sadly he's the wrong sort of singer for a song as bland as this one and the band's 'hey hey hey hey's behind is another example of how this album seems determined to model itself on albums from 1963 rather than 1966. Only the middle of the song - when the group drop the dynamics down for a spooky middle eight (that's actually not that different to the verse) - and the very ending of the song, which suddenly changes key Tamla Motown style and increases the tension tenfold about ten seconds from the end, really excites the ear (perhaps they could have done this a minute earlier?!) Another band might have got away with it, but The Small Faces have too much power to make such a light song sound convincing and 'Sorry She's Mine' just sounds out of place here. Give Jimmy Winstun's version a go though if you can -he's much more 'in tune' with this song than Marriott is and way more exciting.
'Own Up Time' is the second improvised song, dating back to the days when the Small Faces had such a short setlist that they decided to extend all their songs as long as they could a la The Beatles in Hamburg. This instrumental isn't quite as intense as 'Come On Children' and might have benefitted from another made-up Marriott vocal line, but it does belatedly give Ian McLagan some space to prove his worth and Marriott's wild guitar part again steals the show (though sadly the whole song gets cut off just as he's got into his stride, ending at 1:45 which was stingy even for a song from 1966: did one of the band make a mistake?!) The music owes much to two very different sources who've already dominated the sound of this LP: one is Otis Redding's backing band Booker T and the MGs (all organ plays past about 1964 owe a great deal to Booker T, but the debt is rarely as obvious in a white band as it is here) and the other is The Who, particularly the Entwistle-led jam 'The Ox' from their debut album 'My Generation' the year before. Less pretty than 'Green Onions' et al from Booker and less powerful than 'The Ox' and The Small Faces' own 'Come On Children', this song doesn't quite have the muscle of the other improvised songs here. That said, the band are on cracking form and Marriott and McLagan's interplay is already tremendous, the two having a fascinating musical conversation all the way through (and, again, the sheer power of this recording will come as a shock to fans who only The Small Faces as a comic cockney band from later in their career). Somehow, though, without the words and with such a short running time 'Own Up Time' just sounds like one of the other songs with the vocals removed. Incidentally, why is this song called 'Own Up Time' - was this the band owning up to the fact that they didn't have any material ready and would have to make something up to record that day? (For all its good and bad points, that is what it sounds like!)
'You Need Loving' is more like it, a Marriott-Lane song that's another powerhouse for Marriott's intense personality, firmly rooted by one of Lane's finest bass riffs. The song might not be much cop by later Small Faces standards, but boy does this song show off their partnership at it's best, with Ronnie's melodic and sensible yin calming down Marriott's wild, uncontrollable improvised yang. For all the problems these two will have years on down the line, you just know that these two are destined to work together and know each other really well. The theme of this song is repetition, the song not really moving off its static chords, but the band know each other well enough to pull it off. Bluesier than most Small Faces recordings, Marriott promises to send his woman 'back to school' before declaring that the best lesson for her is 'loving', fully in the vein of so many black American artists (in fact, of the white English bands in thrall to their idols, only The Yardbirds ever managed to sound this genuinely 'black' in the 60s). Marriott seems to have written at least the first verse this time around before reaching out for some new ideas - sadly these aren't the best ('Eeny meeny miny mo' indeed), but listen out for how quickly Ronnie guesses where he's going with his list of dances he wants to show his girl and opens the song with some thrilling 'oh yeahs' that simply make the song. The pair then fall over each other screaming 'alright' over and over, both ending up at the same point despite travelling in quite different directions, in a magical, memorable ending that still isn't quite enough to rescue an insipid start.
'Don't Stop What You're Doing' is another early original credited to the whole band from the Jimmy Winstun era and it sounds like it belongs from a slightly different era: it's slightly more traditional and the power is only about half what it is on the rest of the record. This song is fairly complex though, the narrator of the song shyly calling his girl over (signified by Ronnie and Jimmy's quite lovely harmonies on the phrase 'hey girl', which is about to be used by the band as the title of their next single - perhaps they're already playing with the phrase here?), with Marriott at full power 'filling in' the listener on all that he wants to say to her (but is tongue-tied to tell her). There's copious images to 'high flying birds' which suggests that the band have been listening to the Jefferson Airplane in concert that year (Ed Wheeler's 'High Flying Bird' is a highlight of their set, although it won't end up on record till 1972; Small Faces fan Noel Gallagher may well have named his new 'band' after this song as well as the Airplane one), tieing this song in once again to older blues performers (where a bird usually signifies freedom, in the earliest blues songs to slaves while they work, although their significance here is never really explained). Eventually the narrator manages to blurt out 'don't stop what you're doing (meaning 'I think you're perfect as you are!') but quite what the love interest of the song thinks about being accosted in the street and told 'hey girl...don't stop what you're doing' is anyone's guess (her most likely reply: 'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?') A lesser song from the band's early days, this is another example of the band being torn between being cute and going all out and in the end succeed at neither. The harmonies are nice though. By the way, this is about the only song with a vocal from this album not to feature Marriott intoning 'come on children!'; instead it's the first appearance of his trademark cackle 'hah!' (it's a toss up whether Steve or Tom Jones was first with this trademark in 1966!)
'E Too D' is the second album highlight (for me, anyway - it well be for you too for all I know) and is similar in structure to 'Come On Children'; thankfully the two songs are kept eight songs apart so you've got time to separate them in your head. Named for the distinctive chord change that's at the heart of the song ('dum-der-duh-duh-duh-duh') Lane's bass is the focal point of the whole song for once and sounds terrific, especially when playing in tandem with Marriott's sudden spikes of guitar. Marriott appears to improvise his way round the song again, telling us - truthfully by the sound of it - that 'my brain is running wild' and then pouring out his troubles and fears in one huge ball of complex emotions, punctuating each pause with a colourful swirl of his guitar that tries hard to act as a full stop but can't stop the nagging chords of the song imitating his conscience again. 'They were right and I was wrong - they have messed up my mind!' he cries at one point, possibly referring to drugs (the band became heavy users - see 'Here Comes The Nice' for starters - but it seems a bit early here); it's pretty unusual to hear a 60s music star admit to anything in 1966, never mind the fact that the 'elder generation' might be right. More close to home, possibly, is Marriott's opening cry of 'feeling like a frustrated child' - led around by manager and younger than most bands making it big in the 1960s he probably had a point. More alarming is his comment that 'I've looked into my mind...and I don't like what I see'. A complex, mainly carefree but often moody character, Marriott will end up adopting his own split personality towards the end of his troubled life (nicknamed 'Melvin The Bald-Headed Wrestler') to explain away his 'nastier' side to those he loved; read that way 'E Too D' sounds like a truly heartfelt outpouring of grief, the confusion as to having on the one hand such a generous and the other such a mean personality (the fact that he then hears 'noises' and the rest of the band start creepily chanting, like it's midnight on Halloween, might well point to this struggle too). This all seems remarkably early though: aside from 'farewell' flop single 'The Universal' Marriott never comes close to dropping his guard again and it may well be that all we have here is simply words that sound like they belong with the rather relentless riff the band have thought up. Whatever your take on it, 'E Too D' is a fascinating song and like 'Come On Children' seems remarkably advanced for this period in time, completely rejecting the 'chorus-verse' structure of most music around at the time (even the band's beloved r and b) and the band turning in yet another breathtaking performance. As a footnote, Richie Havens' most famous song 'Freedom' (its the song that starts 'Woodstock', both the concert and the film) owes more than a little to this song, especially the line 'Sometimes I feel like a frustrated child...'
After 'E Too D' anything would sound like an anti-climax,. but sadly that goes double for 'Sha La La La Lee'. This Kenny Lynch/Mort Shuman song tries hard to please, at least, but that's possibly the problem: it tries so hard to be innocently daft and a demonstration of happiness at a pair of lover's eyes meeting each other for the first time that it can't help seeming a bit soft (certainly in context with what else was around in 1966 - again, this would have raised eyebrows in 1964 never mind two years later). A bouncy puppy dog of a song, Lynch has caught the band's bouncy verve and restless spirit well and the 'what happens next? I'll tell you' ending (the pair get married and invite 'a few close friends' in case you missed it) will be pinched by the band for 'Ogden's a couple of years down the road. But there's something wrong about hearing one of the greatest singers of his generation wasting his vocal chords yelling 'sha la la la lee' like he means it - and it's a tall order trying to make us believe this song even for Marriott. In fact, the band hated this song, which didn't stay in their setlist for very long (it got booted out in favour of 'All Or Nothing' six months on and never came back again). Only the opening, with Steve's Townshend-esque chord slashing guitar, catches the ear and even that sounds as if it's been tacked onto the wrong song entirely (are the band hinting that they can do much better than this? It's mighty similar to the angry snarl of chords with which Keith Richards brings the Stones' too-cute-by-three-quarters 'She's A Rainbow' to a close). Heard at the end of the album, it seems like an afterthought, an unwanted encore that's chosen because it's the easiest song to play. Released as a single, I'd have considered it commercial suicide after the superior flop 'I've Got Mine' (which sadly isn't on this LP) and it's clearly the case of a record company taking charge and thinking they know best for someone when they clearly don't (this isn't the first time Decca have done this to one of the AAA bands). However, amazingly, this song made it all the way up#3 in the charts, which shows how much I know (perhaps Herman's Hermits and Dave Clark fans bought it by accident?)
Overall, then, 'The Small Faces' sounds like the kind of debut we've spoken about before on this website: one where the band know exactly what they're doing but other people who don't have meddled with and tried to make their way, ending up with a product that doesn't really satisfy either of them. At times this isn't just a good album considering the circumstances, though, it's a glorious one: the two lengthy improvised jams 'Come On Children' and 'E Too D' are for me about as great as music gets up until The Beatles release 'Revolver' three months after this album. Wild and raw, exciting and hypnotic, Marriott has never sounded better and the band have never sounded tighter, with a heavy year of playing lengthy sets with songs stretched out to breaking point paying off handsomely by the time the band make this LP. Then there's the twee pop song filler, which would have sounded badly dated at the time and sounds like it belongs in a different era altogether, the band not quite having the lightness of touch yet to pull them off (not that many bands could, arguably). And then there's the material in between that to varying degrees gets something right, without quite nailing each song. Marriott and Lane aren't yet the unbreakable songwriting team they'll become and for now are getting away on the sheer power of the band's playing and the charisma of Marriott's voice. But then, at least they have the sense to use both of these strengths: had they listened to Decca The Small Faces would have ended their days singing chorus lines like 'Sha La La La Lee' forever. In a way this debut album is a close cousin of The Who's second LP 'A Quick One': revolutionary at times, pointing the way light years ahead on some songs and breathtakingly exciting at quite a few points - but woefully mistaken and backwards at others. You can already hear the band moving forward and trying to throw off the shackles of their 'teenybopper' image, which at times isn't simply rejected but smashed into smithereens (where else in Britain 1966 could you hear a song as intense as either 'Come On Children' or 'E Too D'? Not in the charts you couldn't and even The Who aren't quite this intense this early). If only The Small Faces had recorded a whole album on this level then, well, they'd be regarded as one of the 1960s top league of bands, instead of some mighty talented runners up who broke up far too soon. Even diluted, however, this album certainly packs quite a power and even the twee pop songs aren't the very worst twee pop songs ever written (heck, even Lennon-McCartney came up with worse, although sensibly they gave most of those away to other people). Quite what fans who only know the band's later, lighter but more complex material will make of this album I'm not quite sure, but for me 'The Small Faces' is at times as great as anything else in their small canon and at it's worst isn't quite as bad as some of the mistakes other bands were making. Our advice is to buy it - especially the 23 track version with period A and B sides although the 17 track version will do nicely too - if you love the Small Faces and want to know more of how they began, love The Who or Animals from this period or you want to hear some of the best music from the first half of 1966 and have the patience to sit through a few mistakes. Overall rating - 7/10
Other Small Faces album review from this site you might be interested in:
'The Small Faces' (Immediate Album) (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-12-small-faces-1967-immediate.html
'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/news-views-and-music-issue-69-small.html
'The Autumn Stone' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-28-small-faces-autumn-stone-1968.html