Humble Pie "Smokin"
Monday, 15 May 2017
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Humble Pie "Smokin"
(A&M, March 1972)
The Fixer/You're So Good For Me/C'Mon Everybody!/Old Time Feelin'//30 Days In The Hole/Road Runner-Road Run/I Wonder/Sweet Peace and Time
"You gotta do it with feeling! And then you're gonna hit the ceiling!!!"
Smokin' is the word as again Humble Pie prove their best to prove they don't need Peter Frampton to rock and can work just as well without him (augmented now by non-singing second guitarist Clem Clemson, who rarely steps out of Marriott's shadow for now, and a return of those gospel/soul backing singers who seem to have joined the band full time). Though as uneven as every other Humble Pie record and if anything even more directionless than the slightly scrappy records of the past, there's a playfulness about this record that makes it one of the band's best and it's a highly colourful album despite the plain black sleeve. Marriott not only rocks as hard as he always has but lets his guard down a few times, with the use of outtakes, rehearsals and much giggling going on across this album: there's a great and very Humble Pie moment at the start of one of their greatest songs (the jailbound '30 Days In The Hole') where Marriott tries to direct his backing crew into what he wants, turning them from scrappy tentative chorus into preening soul legends within a few seconds. 'That'll do, right!' he audibly grins before launching into the final product - a mesmerising concoction of rock and soul as Marriott screams what should be a very silly lyric with every fibre of his being. It is perhaps the ultimate Humble Pie anthem on an album (and their last big hit) that's full of similar moments - and not just from the band's now clear leader either. Bassist Greg Ridley moves up from his occasional-part 'Ian McLagan' role to being Marriott's new 'Ronnie Lane' partner, the pair trading some gorgeous ideas and even more beautiful voices on this album's more-than-token ballad 'You're So Good For Me'. Even a soul legend like namesake Steve Stills (surely America's equivalent of Steve Marriott) can't keep up as this album's special guest on a never-ending cover of 'Road Runner' or singing along to 'Hot 'n' Nasty' (oddly he's not on 'I Wonder' whose wah-wah pedal madness makes it a near Stills replica - Manassas were making their similarly eclectic first album in the next door studio at the time); neither can Alexis Korner on 'Old Time Feelin'.
Of course, Humble Pie can't keep this up (they never did get the hang of making one truly great LP the way the Small Faces did, just lots of pretty-great ones) and there's more than this album's share fair of filler and recycled slowed-down standards here too. Eddie Cochran's 'C'mon Everybody' starts off well but slows down rapidly and ends up losing all the excitement and intensity of the original in favour for rock and roll posing. 'Road Runner' isn't exactly as fast on its legs as the title implies either, being more Wile E Coyote slammed by an anvil to be honest. 'I Wonder's nine minutes is a by now typically Humble Pie mixture of inspired and tired, another slowed down gospel tune that goes on for at least seven minutes too long, though the glorious two minutes in the middle when everything comes together somehow makes up for everything either side of them. Some of the new originals too feel a bit lumpy and rushed: 'Hot 'n' Nasty' is so Humble Pie-ish as to sound like a Rutles tribute equivalent (called 'Shy Pie' perhaps?), 'Old Time Feelin' is more plodding sodding country and 'The Fixer' is just shouting.
Sadly this is also the beginning of the end: Marriott, exhausted after multiple tours and an endless string of records, hadn't really taken a rest since before The Small Faces started in 1965 and collapsed during the final sessions for this album. Luckily 'Smokin' was close enough to completion to carry on without him and he'll bounce back and be close to normal in no time, but the later records good as most of them are lack a little of the energy levels and excitement of the good ol' days which come to a bit of an end here. 'Smokin' indeed then, but the trouble with smoking too much is that you catch on fire and burn yourselves out. This album is poised right on the thin wedge between the two, part great and part indulgence. Or just another Humble Pie record in other words.
'Hot 'n' Nasty' is, umm, well, hot and nasty really - an uptempo hybrid of rock and soul that's everything you might expect a Humble Pie song to be. The band hit a nice groove, but the song never really gets anywhere and Marriott wastes a fine lead vocal singing about a dance routine of all things, shaking a leg while offering the chorus line 'Hey boogaloo, I do love you!' The song worked better live where it calmed down a little bit and had slightly less going on - like much of Smokin' this slightly cluttered recording would have benefitted from the clarity of Glyn John's mix of 'Rock On'.
'The Fixer', like much of this album, has music credited to the band and lyrics to Marriott even though it sounds much like every other Humble Pie song with a big fat groove and a band that are actually playing slower to sound louder. Marriott is good and the guitar interplay with newboy Clemson is as fine as anything from the Frampton years but this song is another wasted opportunity (sample lyric: 'I don't need no magic potion to walk on tar, boy!') and this is another over-used Humble Pie template.
'You're So Good To Me' is everything that makes this band special though. Starting off sad and reflective, cosy acoustic and intimate, the song grows bit by bit into another song of joyous exuberance and celebration. Ridley starts the song off with his best work with the band before passing over to Marriott at his most intimate and warm. Marriott's half at least is clearly another love song for Jenny with Steve again back in bed getting nursed back to health by a woman who gives him the gift of hope. Though written before Marriott's breakdown, it sounds like a pretty neat guess at what's about to happen. The soulful backing singers this time sound like they should be there on a song that manages to sum up both clouds and sunshine. Much under-rated and proof why Marriott was one of the best ballad singers around, whatever his reputation as a rock star.
The slowed down 'C'mon Everybody' is one of those songs that sounds better live but here sounds a little wooden and forced. Humble Pie have a particular telepathy on this one with drummer Jerry Shirley on especially strong form, while Marriott grooves like nobody's business. But this song is just a tad too slow and too long and the half-time riff is no substitute for the original sadly.
'Old Time Feelin', as written mainly by Steve but sung by Greg, is another of those occasional country-blues Humble Pie moments that don't quite work. Even Alexis Korner on second vocal and harmonica can't give this old-time number the sincerity and reality it deserves.
Thank goodness then for the dynamic pulsating throb of '30 Days In The Hole' in which Marriott and co have a great time while wrecking the establishment. Perhaps surprisingly, Marriott never served jail-time in his life but sings from the heart on a song that's a close cousin of 'Here Comes The Nice', slipping every current slang name for drugs past the radio airplay censors. Popular with fans partly for this bare-faced cheek but also for its good time groove and the best use yet of the chorus of soul singers (who arrive out of nowhere to join Marriott in solitary and turn his sentence into a party) which make for one of Humble Pie's most memorable recordings. Only Greg's slightly awkward mid-song patter ('Hey there boy, get your long hair cut or they'll give you thirty days!') doesn't sound authentic: in every other way this is Humble Pie at their rocking best. Sadly it's pretty much the last hit Marriott will have in his life.
'Road Runner' is a second straight song in a row to start with a giggle, but there's nothing facile about this version, which mixes Marriott's earnest guitar with Stills' equally earnest organ work. The two make for a strong groove together, held in place by more fine drumming from Jerry Shirley, but like so many Marriott covers this one is just too slow and too different to work, losing the essence that made Bo Dilley's original so special.
The nine minute cover song 'I Wonder' is pushed past all common sense too, Marriott starting the plodding 12 bar blues so slow the song feels at times as if it's running backwards. There's some nice harmonica work and Clemson is bedding into the band well, with his only guitar solo of the album taking over from Marriott's own midway through, but this is a song that has too little happening for such a long track and should have been either cut down to size or kept as a band jamming session.
Thank goodness, then, for closing song 'Sweet Peace and Time' which is Humble Pie back to their speedy best. Greg Ridley gets political as he dismisses war and politics when everyone really knows they want peace, before collaborator Marriott goes for a 'Tin Soldier' and reaches out to some individual who can 'free my soul'. Sadly his over-echoed vocal makes his words hard to hear and the song ends up in another noisy jam anyway, but at least the band are playing at a 'proper' speed this time and it's good to hear them stretching out their lyrics beyond sex and rock star posing.
Overall, then, 'Smokin' is the last of the classic Humble Pie records but also in many ways the first that doesn't quite live up to its predecessors. It's the musical equivalent of the drunk at the party whose still feeling great though he knows he's about to fall over any minute now, with the music possessing shades of both. Though there are plenty of strong moments and two out and out classics this record doesn't quite match the range and wit of its predecessors and remains both the last Humble Pie album chronologically you need and the first that'll truly disappoint you.
The Small Faces "Early Faces"
Sha-La-La-La-Lee/Come Back And Take This Hurt Off Me/Runaway/I've Got Mine/Hey Girl//My Mind's Eye/Sorry She's Mine/What's A Matter Baby?/Shake/What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?
"Come back and take this hurt off me!"
This is an unashamed cash-in on the sudden success of The Faces (the 'Small Faces' tag is in very small letters, which together with the lack of a band picture - or indeed a picture of anything - must have confused many a contemporary fan who wondered why Rod Stewart was suddenly singing properly). The first compilation of The Small Faces' Decca material since 'From The Beginning' in 1967, it should have set the template of future compilations to come the way 'The Autumn Stone' did for the Immediate recordings, except that it's missing some essential basics. All the Decca hit singles are here, for instance, except by far the band's biggest hit in this era: 'All Or Nothing'. How did a UK #1 hit get overlooked like that? Especially given some of the filler material that is included on this set instead: even disregarding Decca recordings that Immediate claimed to own (like early versions of 'I Can't Make It' 'Have You Ever Seen Me?' 'My Way Of Giving' and 'Just Passing', released by both labels) record label Pride had about 30 tracks to choose from for this ten song set: that's classics like 'Come On Children!' and 'E Too D' or from the psychedelic era 'That Man' and 'Yesterday Today and Tomorrow'. Instead we get 'Sha-La-La-La-Bloody-Lee' and 'Come Back And Take This Hurt Off Me', the only forgettable recording from The Small Faces in across the 1960s. Add in the off-putting off-colour fading yellow jacket and it's clear that it's not a case of The Small Faces hurting their pride (two-thirds of this compilation is of course great!) but Pride hurting The Small Faces. Oddly a fall didn't come after Pride either, with this budget compilation a respectable seller at the time although it's never yet appeared on CD having been outclassed by several later versions on a similar theme.
The Faces "Ooh La La"
(Warner Brothers, March 1973)
Silicone Grown/Cindy Incidentally/Flags and Banners/My Fault/Borstal Boys//Fly In The Ointment/If I'm On The Late Side/Glad and Sorry/Just Another Honky/Ooh La La
"This dream can pass just as fast as lightning"
We nearly didn't get this fourth and final Faces album, which was close enough for the fat lady to be opening her mouth if not actually singing. Ronnie Lane has already handed his notice in, making it clear that this would be his last album with the band, whatever happened in the future (he was replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi for live appearances). Rod Stewart was otherwise indisposed, having been distracted by the little matter of his first really big solo hits with 'Every Picture Tells A Story' and especially 'Maggie May' a couple of years earlier, his recording sessions for new record 'Never A Dull Moment' effectively putting this album on hold (he only arrived for the final album sessions, with less vocals on this album than the other three). Ronnie Wood was already being poached by The Rolling Stones, who recorded their weakest single 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' with the guitarist at his house at around the same time (bored, Ronnie was also working with George Harrison on his 'Dark Horse' record). Only Ian Mclagan and Kenney Jones stayed patiently waiting for the call to the studio and felt more than a little cheesed off that the loss of attention and split between The Small Faces in their later years seemed to be happening again. It was more with relief that The Faces reconvened at the end of 1972 than any expectation that the band was going to go on to do bigger and better things. In the end The Faces stayed together long enough for another three non-album songs, without Ronnie Lane and without much input from Rod, but this album still feels like an ending.
As a result there's a rather melancholy tinge to 'Ooh La La' which seems at odds with the good-time party atmosphere the band are still trying to create. Ronnie Lane, especially, sounds down in the dumps as he pens some of his saddest lyrics including album highlight 'Flags and Banners', a sad acceptance that the band is over with a few digs at Rod even while fans are still celebrating their achievements. 'My fault' is as angry as Ronnie Lane ever got, complaining that anything that goes wrong is 'my fault - and no one else!', given to Rod to sing to make things ever more pointed. 'If 'I'm On The Late Side' is Ronnie giving Rod a pointed lyric to sing about turning up 'late', pleading for a message from anyone - the porter will do - as long as it says they're still coming. 'Glad and Sorry' is a similar bitter riposte that opens with the words 'thankyou kindly' but is actually a deeply sarcastic farewell song, sung by the band's least 'bitter' member Ian Mclagan for good measure.
The other album highlight, though, is surely the title track, a final hit single sung by Ronnie Wood in Rod's absence (and who complained that it was in the 'wrong key' anyway though he covered it later) that looks back fondly on happier times and how much wiser the band are compared to when they started. Sad but glad, catchy but scrappy, it's The faces to a tee and a natural place to say goodbye, both regretting and celebrating the boozy days of yesteryear. The other songs on the album like 'Borstal Boys' 'Silicone Grown' and the 'Happy Boys Happy' instrumental update 'Fly In The Ointment' also recall the earlier groovier Faces. Together with 'Ooh La La's odd circus album cover (the Victorian clown 'Gastone', whose happy smile and eyes could be turned to sad ones if you put the record sleeve in the 'other' way round) which recalls The Stones' 'Exile On Main Street', it's an album that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Nor do the audience: the general thought is that this final album is better than the first but not up to the middle two, which sounds about right: this is a patchy, sloppy record but one that still has many highlights.
'Silicone Grown' is a last Stewart/Wood collaboration that sounds like every other Faces song of the past few years, good time rocking music balanced by slightly angry lyrics. The song is a bit lazy to be honest, never really leaving its central rock and roll riff or even containing a chorus.
Hit single 'Cindy Incidentally' was written by the remaining Faces when Rod was out of town, though they left him space to record a vocal. Rod feels out of place and far too raucous on a song that probably started life as another tender Ronnie Lane ballad (the bass player revived the song for his own solo shows and turned it into much more of a 'Slim Chance' kind of track). A tale of someone whose stayed at the party just a little too long when everyone else has gone home, it's a rather acerbic 'goodbye' message and ends suddenly on a howl of Wood slide guitar, as if Cindy has just passed out.
The gorgeous 'Flags and Banners' is pure Ronnie Lane and points the way ahead to his future work (it even has a banjo!) Woken from his sleep by his own crying out loud, Ronnie can't work out what's reality and what's still him sleeping: surely the band isn't over? Surely he isn't out of a job? He sees someone who surely must be Rod, but he's wearing another name and dressed in a multi-coloured coat while he and his friends are all in grey. 'Through a scarlet door I watched you slipping away' sighs Ronnie 'and your brother's helpless cries were all in vain'.
'My Fault' may feature Rod on lead vocals but was written by the rest of the band when he wasn't there again and sounds like it too: the song starts with the defensive 'take me as you find me - don't try to change me"!' before a chorus about how everything the narrator does is bound to be seen as 'wrong' anyway. probably another Lane pop at Stewart, Rod does at least sing better on this one than his other vocals on the album and the Faces come close to recapturing their old groove.
The noisy 'Borstal Boys', also written by the others minus Rod, is one last slab of good time rocking where The Faces get to act like children. It's a rather ugly song, starting with a earning siren that's probably the most musical thing here. Probably the album's weakest track.
Not that the interminable four minute soul/funk instrumental 'Fly In The Ointment' is much better, recalling the similarly directionless instrumentals from 'Long Player'. At least 'Mac' is given a rare moment to shine, but this really isn't close to his best playing on a song that's sarcastically but aptly named.
Ronnie Lane and Rod Stewart make an unlikely pairing on 'If I'm On The late Side', which I would guess was another postmodern band-referencing ballad from Ronnie that got re-written into more of a love song by Rod. If so then it's a shame it got re-made: the idea of Rod effectively singing goodbye to himself while the others wonder where the hell he's got to makes for a memorable song - Rod's billing and coo-ing as he hopes his absent girl is safe less so.
'Glad and Sorry' sees Mac making a rare lead vocal on another Lane piece that features many of his trademarks: the rumbling bass lines, the high pitched acoustic strumming and the melancholy mood. This song is either a sweet and genuinely fond farewell - the way it's sung here by Mac and Ronnie - or the most bitter and scathing lyric Ronnie ever wrote in his life - if you read the lyric sheet. 'Can you show me a dream? Can you show me what's a better dream than mine?' the narrator demands, but in a cute dream-like way. An intriguing song with one of Ronnie Wood's better, gutsier guitar solos too.
Ronnie L also wrote 'Just Another Honky', a final chance to write in a Faces style. Caught halfway between rocker and ballad Rod sings that he's finally 'begun to believe my own lies' and croons his way through a song of regrets and missed opportunities. Ronnie should have kept this song for himself though: Rod's blaring voice isn't quite right for what's actually another sweet and thoughtful Lane song.
The album then ends with 'Ooh La La', with the two Ronnies getting the last word before it's goodnight from The Faces. Wood gets a rare chance to sing - sort of - against a catchy backing in which he urges the audience to be true to themselves but also wishes 'I knew what I know when I was younger!' Caught halfway between respectable middle aged and a rock and roll youth, it's a fitting final song and features strong turns by all the band (except Rod who refused to sing it) - a rocking piano solo, Ronnie W's urgent rock acoustic strumming meeting Ronnie L's folkier style and some tricky sturdy Kenney Jones drumming. I kinda wish The Faces had learnt what they knew here a bit earlier too...
The Faces will be back on our 'non album recordings' page but other than that this really is a farewell, half-fond, half-not. Any album that includes lashings of Ronnie Ooh-La-La Lane is already going to be high in estimation and the bassist is on top form as he effectively crafts the album single-handedly bar the opening track. The rest of the band fare less well: Rod over-sings, Ronnie and Mac struggle to sing at all and there are far too many filler songs here for comfort. Still, The Faces were facing an uphill battle to record anything with half the band disappearing to make other records - the wonder, really, is that 'Ooh La La' ended up coming even close to past peaks.
Humble Pie "Eat It"
(A&M, April 1973)
Get Down To It/Good Booze and Bad Words/Is It For Love?/Drugstore Cowboy/Black Coffee/I Believe To My Soul/Shut Up and Don't Interrupt Me/That's How Strong My Love Is/Say No More/Oh Bella (That's All Hers)/Summer Song/Beckton Dumps/Up Our Sleeve/Honky Tonk Women/(I'm A) Road Runner
"You know my skin is white but my soul is black!"
Marriott and co responded to criticisms of 'Smokin' that it was lacking a certain something by offering up a monster of an album, a double half-studio, half-live set that tried to make up in excess what it lacked in finesse. The idea was originally for side one to be pure rock originals, side two to be soul and R and B standards, side three to be acoustic and side four live, but sadly the concept got watered down to the point where this is the usual Pie sound for three sides with the odd acoustic song thrown in and a poorly recorded gig makes up the fourth. How much you like this album rather depends on how far you're willing to be sucked into Steve's vision for the band: while enjoyable in parts, an hour of almost pure rock and roll headbanging from a band who make AC/DC look subtle with an even louder female backing section making everything sound even louder is pure hell for many fans who still remember the Pie's earlier days. Even the addition of 'The Blackberries' - Vanetta Fields, Clydie King and Sherley Matthews, hired from Ike and Tina Turner's band - don't impress as much as Doris Troy and PP Arnold's work on past Pie albums. Marriott feels like he's missing a partner more than ever, with Greg Ridley keeping quiet and Steve dominating everything here. This record would be truly awful if not for his charisma, which is unquestionably fading by now the more he loses that distinctive voice to booze and drugs and the longer he spends songs shouting rather than singing. But at this album's best and often even at its worst it's impossible to take your ears away from Marriott as he howls, pleads, cajoles, screams and roars his way through another mixture of blues, motown, rockabilly, folk and uncategorisable originals.
If ever an album deserved marks for effort then 'Eat It' is it, but what's being sung is more of a buffet than a banquet and even after a full fifteen lengthy tracks of this stuff you still feel strangely unsatisfied, as even with all these chances Humble Pie still can't get it spot on and match the triumphs of just a few years ago. The Pie is just being sliced too thinly, without the mix of ingredients we had even a year ago as they continue their slide into heavy rockers with The Small Faces' old lightness of touch all but gone. It doesn't help that Marriott now has his own home studio, so he can tinker with the recordings to his heart's delight, overdubbing another layer of noise on top of the band's already rowdy backing tracks.
It's the final side that disappoints the most: a live set taped in Glasgow to pad out the album, it's poorly recorded and chaotic in stark contrast to the tightly controlled crystal-clear 'Rockin' The Fillmore' from just two years previously. A 'Road Runner' stretched out to thirteen minutes is no substitute for 'I Don't Need No Doctor' either. Perhaps Humble Pie would have been better off recording a full album properly and throwing out some of the noisier, more generic rock-blues howling. By contrast the songs that work best are the ones that return - for pretty much the last time - to Marriott's softer, folkier side, with all of these tracks more convincing than the ones on 'Town and Country'. 'Is It For Love?' is a sweet lamenting folk number, 'Oh Bella' adds a touch of psychedelia to the Pie's genre-hops, 'Say No More' the prettiest country number Marriott ever wrote and 'Summer Song' a final return to the lamenting self-mocking 'Universal' side of Marriott's nature with some impressive acoustic strumming. The third side in fact is easily the best with four of this album's five highlights and the Pie might have been better to develop that side's more acoustic sound. It's when Marriott plugs in during the rest of the album that things fall apart, with no other range of dynamics across the album and the usual number of heavy rock originals and slowed down rock and Motown standards.
That said opening number 'Get Down To It' is probably the strongest of the heavier tunes on the album. Marriott is having fun interacting with the Blackberries and behind him there's a monster jam session going on between the bass, drums and organ. The mixture of soulful vocals and distinctly rock backing works better here than it ever will for the Pie again and somehow the messyness of the mix only adds to the urgency.
'Good Booze and Bad Women' opens with a howl of feedback unusual for the Pie, but that's about as authentic as this generic good-time rocker ever gets. It's great to hear Marriott back on harmonica but his promise to 'smoke, choke and rock and roll all night' as a 'weekend raver stoned as a tank!' pans out exactly how you know it will.
'Is It For Love?' is probably the album highlight, as Steve tries to come to terms with his fading first marriage to Jenny and wonders why the harder he tries to keep them together the further they keep growing apart. Marriott is at first jealous and then understanding that girl has found 'another man' and that he believed her promises that things would be different but finds out they're 'just the same'. Most of this track features just a single guitar, a few cymbal 'tickles' and the sea of voices which is really affective, building with each verse as if trying to comfort Marriott in his misery. At 4:41 the song is probably more than a little overlong and peaks into the inevitable soulful cry at about 2:45, but if the rest of the album had felt this 'real' I'd have been more than happy.
'Drugstore Cowboy' starts off well with a spooky Frampton-like guitar riff but soon turns into another generic shouty rocker, apparently about the 'other man' of the last track. Urging his girl to remember how they felt when they were first happy, the Blackberries chirp 'Remember!' across the song while Marriott pleads for 'more time to think' and try to put things right.
'Black Coffee' is pure Marriott as he plays a 'white' character given the nickname for his 'black' personality and favoured friends, as written by Ike and Tina Turner (and probably taught to Humble Pie by The Blackberries). An unusual stop-start riff backs a lyric that must have appealed to the singer where Marriott admits to getting his first hangover at the age of ten and how black music helps keep his mind clear as a 'workingman' in 'the land of the free'. 'You can get what you want if you know some Do-Re-Mi' he grins, but the song fizzles rather than grooves, never quite letting loose enough to fly.
Over four long slow intense minutes Marriott doesn't so much sing as ooze Ray Charles' 'I Believe To My Soul'. Another anguished song of torment about a lost love, Marriott and the Blackberries give their all on one of Humble Pie's better slowed-down covers, but you still long for the band to speed back up to 'proper' tempo at some point. There's also a saxophone solo, which is a waste when you have a guitarist of Marriott's or even Clem Clempson's talents in the band.
'Shut Up and Don't Interrupt Me!' isn't quite as hard and harsh as the title implies, opening with a nagging line from one of the Blackberries before settling down into a slinky R and B groove and yet more saxophone squeals. There aren't many lyrics to this track which sounds suspiciously like it started as a simple 12 bar groove jam.
Soul standard 'That's How Strong My Love Is' is a gorgeous song that we've already covered in our Hollies, Otis Redding and Stones books. It should be right up Marriott's street: a smoky song of devotion and authenticity that had he performed it alongside the similar 'Every Little Bit Hurts' back in 1968 would have brought the Empire State Building down, never mind the 'house'. But alas this version is slowed down to a crawl, re-worked as a duet with the Blackberries who with all respect for their obvious talents are too professional to match Marriott's level of emotional pain and which just kind of slogs around it's chord structure not going anywhere for four interminable minutes. This is a terrible cover that ought by rights to put me off Humble Pie for life, but I'm still listening (just about) - that's how strong my love is.
The low-key and pretty 'Say No More' immediately shines out with its different set of dynamics and cheery tone. Though it starts as another song of depression Marriott manages to make another go of it with his loved one (almost certainly Jenny) and vows that he's going to give up the millionaire star life to spend time with her: 'I don't need gold records hanging on my wall, I just need you babe and that's all!' and in true 'Humble Pie' style Marriott sighs that he now knows 'I ain't no bigshot'. Actually 'Eat It' proved him wrong, with the last return to the top twenty of Marriott's lifetime, higher even than the Small Faces reunion LPs.
Marriott's 'Oh Bella' starts off as another pretty acoustic ballad before growing into a sort of folk-soul-psychedelia hybrid. Another album highlight, it's the Humble Pie equivalent of 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' as Marriott remembers his girl's hallucinogenic colourful dream world and wonders why 'there's not so much to see today'. The vibe of this one shimmers between colourful and creepy as Marriott first raises then lowers his voice over a busy Greg Ridley part and some nice pedal steel guitar. Highly impressive, this unusual track deserves to be much better known.
'Summer Song' is nice too, a bluesy acoustic number that sees Marriott alone howling out his pain over a recent separation on a track that you could easily believe was an early blues original rather than another Marriott original. 'I'm trying to stay where I've been because I've been where I stay!' howls Marriott as he laments the passing of 'his' summer and fears the darker days ahead. His fingers are still nimble enough for some impressive guitar runs though, even if his voice is slightly shot.
The studio set ends with the noisy strutting of 'Beckton Dumps' , a tale of poverty and countryside that's the closest Marriott ever comes to sounding like his estranged partner Ronnie Lane. It's a cute and clever song, quickly moving from comedy to tragedy and from acoustic to electric in the blink of an eye, held together by a strong riff. Easily the best 'uptempo' number on the album, Marriott laughs at what his old self would think of his new self, 'in need of a haircut and ain't had a shave in months' while he hides from the world behind his door. He sounds happy enough with his new life though and performs a vocal that's pretty darn great even for him.
Alas the final side from Glasgow never really takes off. It doesn't help that a full 90 seconds near enough is taken up with audience applause and an emcee announcement we can't actually hear. Even Marriott's voice on one of his loudest rockers 'Up Your Sleeves' can't blow the audio cobwebs away and Humble Pie sound as if they're playing down a tunnel throughout. Only the guitar solos really impress - everything else is a mess of noise and this isn't a patch o the studio version.
An unexpected cover of The Rolling Stones' (or the 'Rooooo-o-woah-a-woah-olling Sta-eee-ooo-eee-ones' as Marriott calls them here) 'Honky Tonk Women' is the most interesting thing on this side of the album as Marriott turns a slinky sexy and actually deeply oddball song into full throttle rocking. Steve performs this one pretty much as a duet with Jerry Shirley's drums for the first half before The Blackberries overdub some vocals in the studio that plainly don't fit.
The album then ends with one of the longest thirteen minutes of my life as the speedy 'Roadrunner' gets slowed down past the point of recognition. At least the audio is an improvement for this one, with some nice interaction between the two guitarists, but it's a plod not a groove and Marriott's insistence that 'this is a story of my life - I'm a road runner honey!' sound less than convincing when the song is running at about five miles an hour. Beep beep...no!
Overall then 'Eat It' was intended to show off all sides of Humble Pie's abilities but ended up showcasing them at their best and worst as well. Too long for most fans and with an awful lot of padding, like many a double album set it would make an impressive single album, but the Pie were clearly going for excess in every way and that wouldn't have suited the way they thought of themselves in this period. A shame because it's actually the smaller, shorter, humbler Pie tracks that work best.
"The King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Humble Pie Live"
(**, Recorded May 1973 Released February 1996)
Up Your Sleeves-Four Day Creep/C'mon Everybody/Honky Tonk Women/Stone Cold Fever/I Believe To My Soul/30 Days In The Hole/I'm A Road Runner/Hallelujah I Love Her So/I Don't Need No Doctor/Hot 'n' Nasty
"Hope we don't get caught with our trousers down!"
Hiding up the 'sleeves' of late night American radio for far too long, this prime time prime period Pie concert is a reminder of just how much better suited for live performance the band were than studio, despite only ever releasing one-and-a-quarter concert LPs. This set is shorter and punchier than 'Performance' from a couple of years earlier with the longest track coming in at a mere (!) thirteen minutes. Dare I say it, this gig is actually better: more songs, less noodling and far better banter (mainly from Marriott, enjoying his time in the spotlight greatly). Admittedly new boy Clem Clempson can't push Marriott the way Peter Frampton did, but he's still a great guitarist and bass player Greg Ridley is never better than here, the solid ground musically and vocally around which Steve dances. Unfortunately a whopping six out of the ten songs here are cover versions, suggesting the band were still a little shy about airing their own material, but luckily most are good ones: as well as favourites like 'I Don't Need No Doctor' (not quite up to 'Performance', but close) and 'Cmon Everybody' (it's a tie!) are rarities like The Rolling Stones' 'Honky Tonk Woman' (extended to a dizzying seven minutes) and an over-Blackberried 'Hallelujah I Love Her So'. The best songs though remain the originals: the opening medley of 'Up Your Sleeves' and 'Four Day Creep' is ferocious, then-new song '30 Days In The Hole' is already a winner (despite a slightly soggy instrumental middle), 'Stone Cold Fever' is sizzling and 'Hot 'n' Nasty' is, well, hot and nasty. The radio station with the funny name (it's based on an even older radio station that used to be sponsored by a flour company) tended to get a lot of the best gigs back in the 1970s - after years of repeats and syndication it's great to have many of them out on CD at last, especially this one. Oddly perhaps, given Marriott's lifetime fascination/fear of fire, this is one of the few gigs of the mid-1970s that survived a blaze at the head offices in 1982 when so many great concerts were lost.
Humble Pie "Thunderbox"
(A&M, February 1974)
Thunderbox/Groovin' With Jesus/I Can't Stand The Rain/Anna (Go To Him)/No Way/Rally With Ali//Don't Worry Be Happy/99 Pounds/Every Single Day/No Money Down/Drift Away/Oh La De Da
"Don't ask me for no answers, you could never ever take the shock!"
This, alas, is where things go wrong for Marriott. It's not that any of 'Thunderbox' is bad - compared with much of what's to come it still rocks, hard and Marriott still sings great (when he's not being turned into Mickey Mouse on the sped-up title track anyway). No, what 'Thunderbox' lacks is class: this is a record that isn't trying any longer to be anything other than dirty rock and roll, the (gulp!) seven slowed down covers and especially the originals have lost all sophistication and, well, then there's that cover - an un-named model on the toilet as viewed through a keyhole (it's a real 17th century euphemism, apparently, though how Humble Pie learnt this is anyone's guess). There's always been a touch of this in Marriott's writing where even the highest 'art' of The Small Faces comes tempered with earthly cockney humour ('Rene' springs to mind), but now it's as if the lack of Marriott's more poetic collaborators like Ronnie Lane and Peter Frampton and the public's demands for rock and roll have pushed him down an ever seedier path. An oddly big hit in the States, just missing the top fifty where Pie hadn't been for a while, this album wasn't even released in Marriott's British homeland, although whether it was worry about the cover or the sheer Americanism of both songs and Marriott's transatlantic accent or all three is unknown.
To be fair British fans probably weren't missing much. Seven cover songs is the most Marriott will feature on a studio record until his last, '30 Seconds To Midnite' in 1989 and even these lack invention or finesse, continuing the Humble Pie tradition of 'hey let's make this song different by playing it half speed', something which is becoming really tiresome by now. To be fair the choice of songs to cover is largely good: Arthur Alexander should be the perfect writer for Marriott, an R and B songwriter who was big on passion and you can tell meant every word he ever wrote. 'Anna', also covered on the first Beatles album, should be right up Marriott's street. But he's a whole universe away, over-egging the song and losing the chugging slog of the music that made it clear how reluctant the narrator's 'release' was. Don Bryant's '99 Pounds' sounds wafer-thin. Chuck Berry's 'No Money Down' lacks soul. Mentor Williams' famous (and much covered by AAA bands song) 'Drift Away' - sung here by Greg Ridley - lacks rock, drifting away on a slow breeze. Phillip Mitchell's 'La De Da' is a juvenile chorus in search of a song. Only Ann Peebles' 'I Can't Stand The Rain' and the funk of 'Groovin' With Jesus' sound like the band even knew, never mind understood, the songs before recording them.
The originals aren't much better, most of the starting out as band jam session later given lyrics by Marriott. The title track is a whole lot of nothing, a song about hot pants of all things, that lasts for five minutes, 'No Way' sounds like every other Humble Pie track stuck together in one uninspired medley, 'Don't Worry Be Happy' is a shouted slogan not a song and 'Rally With Ali' might well be the worst Marriott song in the book, a misguided attempt to put a lot of Muhammad Ali-isms into music that ends up sounding featherweight. Oddly the only song that comes close to the old Pie fire comes from the one member whose only been around for a couple of albums, with Clem Clempson's 'Every Single Day' not exactly a song in rude health but the third best thing here by a county mile. How did things get so wrong so fast?
Well, that nervous breakdown probably had a greater impact on Marriott's life and at least his inspiration than he ever let on. He'd been recording for eight years now without anything like the fortune he deserved and the fame aspect was becoming a fading memory, with the more work he was putting in ending up with a less likeable final product. No wonder he felt like giving up and coasting for a bit. Add in cocaine, a drug that begins to get it's greasy hold on Marriott on this period and which brought out all of his insecurities and self-indulgences, and you can see why this album is called 'Thunderbox', not 'Greaed Lightning' or something. This albums lacks the pounce, wit and bite of any previous Marriott album and simply rumbles along like thunder. Marriott really needed a strong collaborator to re-work his songs into shape and keep him on his toes, but Ridley and Clempson aren't in the best of shape either and struggle to step out of Marriott's shadow even when it's fading. The result is, on the plus side, more listenable and varied than the reunion albums to come and benefits greatly from The Blackberries filling in the bits Marriott can't, but at least when those albums had highs they had real highs, however much dross you had to sit through to get there. This album just has nine songs of tedium and three songs of slightly less tedium. No wonder this album was given that cover - it's probably a Marriott joke that he knew it was a bit shit!
'Thunderbox' tries hard to be sexy, but ends up about as sexy as weight-wrestling. The band throw their weight around to some pre-choreographed runs we've all heard before while no less than two Marriotts squeak away, suggesting the song was sped up to sound more interesting (God knows how long this five minuter would have lasted at 'proper' speed!) Marriott can't decide how to insult his girl: is she a naive girl from the sticks, a gypsy vagabond or a working class girl from Louisiana eating 'pork and beans'. He's experienced though, he's got a thunderbox so he's ok. Put that thing away Marriott!
Typical, best song on the album and it runs for the shortest time. 'Groovin' With Jesus' sounds as if it lasted a lot longer in the studio, a funky expressive groove that's tightly performed by Pie while Marriott goes through one of his better 'raps' to the audience, like a gospel preacher from Mississippi. 'I wanna lay something on you concerning the man himself' says Marriott, hinting he's about to give us his first real religious sermon, but he doesn't get any further than mentioning Jesus by name before getting distracted by Irish politics, of all things, describing the 'wall' that's grown up around the country by 1974. Distinctly odd, but also quite genuinely funky - Marriott should have recorded more of these sorts of songs.
Ann Peebles' 'I Can't Stand The Rain' is another worthy song that holds out hope this album is going to be good, if only someone would stop messing with the mix (this is the second time in a row Marriott keeps switching between the speakers across a song). This is a good choice of song, Marriott getting to use his switch from smoky balladeer to full on rocker he's used so many times in his career, while telling us for the umpteenth time that he's not good with loneliness. There are some great punchy horns on this track that drive it on nicely and the whole effect sounds vaguely akin to how the unfinished 'Collibosher' or 'Picaninny' might have sounded.
Oh dear though, as next come 'Anna (Go To Him)', played so slow Marriott sounds like he's sleepwalking his way through the song. Alexander remains my favourite writer from the 1950s: sharp and direct but with real humanity and emotion in his songs, which all try to do the best even though it's hard for everyone involved. Marriott should be great at this, especially the intense middle eight ('All of my life I been searching for a girl who loved me the way I love you') which is pure 'Tin Soldier'. But Marriott sounds like he's down at the karaoke machine with his mates. Talk about the cover that got away...
'No Way' is a band jam that features Marriott playing cat-and-mouse with The Blackberries while Clempson's guitar purrs. Compared to most of this record it's not too horrid, but it's certainly tired sounding with the same repetitive groove played throughout.
'Rally With Ali' is one of those AAA songs we occasionally agree to mutually pretend never happened. Marriott was obsessed with sounding 'black' and does a good job most of his career - the early Small Faces singles in America were in fact put on the 'banned because they're black' radio list that shockingly lasted until well into the 1960s on some stations. But Marriott isn't black and his attempts to 'be' the 'ling of the canvas' boxer, though undoubtedly meant as tribute, come off as piss-take. I also have a nasty suspicion the whole song was written so Marriott could use the Ali-style pun 'get lazier - it's Frazier!' , referencing the one-time Cassius Clay's one-time rival Joe.
'Don't Worry Be Happy' is a fun slinky little groove that sounds like a breath of fresh air when it starts...and is more than a bit stale by the time it ends three minutes later having not really got anywhere. 'We out to stop bitching' swears Marriott, again (it's that kind of album) 'and start preaching over people's children, to give them some better kind of life'. It's nice to hear him thinking bigger again - but in truth this is a very 'small' sounding song.
Marriott probably also learnt '99 Pounds' from Ann Peebles, his new favourite writer, but this straightforward rocker doesn't suit him quite as well. Marriott spends the whole song bragging about how great his love life is and how 'ours' isn't, a bit like those 'Pigpen' Grateful Dead songs but without the same levels of humour. Yeah thanks for reminding me about that, Steve.
'Every Single Day' has the best riff, as opposed to pure groove, on the album and Clemson's song is a more natural fit for Marriott to sing than many here. 'I gave my soul to a travelling band' Marriott says as Clemson gets his pal to wish his absent wife well for him and say how much the guitarist loves her. Sweet, though a middle eight or even a proper chorus would have spruced the track up no end.
Chuck Berry's 'No Money Down' dates from 1973 - very late for the guitarist - and features the usual chicks 'n' car imagery with a sense of frustration at having no money, which probably came from the heart for the writer too. Marriott is delicious on this one, really getting the song's humour, but if only Pie had sped the song up just a little or stepped outside the one groove!
'Drift Away' is a sweet song about the healing power of rock and roll as escapism which the old Pie would have nailed, no trouble. This Ridley-managed cover sounds like a struggle, though and Marriott's interjections of 'tell me!' every few seconds don't add a lot. Thanks for the joy you've given me, Humble Pie - just not on this cover...
'Oh La De Da' is a finale that has no ambition other than making us dance or clap our hands. However it doesn't even achieve that, as it's another of those Pie songs that starts at maximum and just keeps running from there with two guitars, heavy drums and the Blackberries at their screechiest topped off by Marriott at his most manic. Not so much 'la de da' ad 'la de arrrrgh!'
'Thunderbox' really isn't one of those albums you should rush out and buy, then. In fact it's an album which if you own it you can't wait to rush off and bury, although you sense even then this is the sort of album that's going to come back and haunt you in your dreams, still singing 'Oh La De Da' at full squawk no many how many wooden overcoat thunder-boxes you put it in. Nothing Marriott ever did was completely worthless, though and 'Groovin' With Jesus' and 'I Can't Stand The Rain' are right up there with Pie's career best cover songs, while Clemson deserves his applause too. It's just a shame that Pie recorded the other nine tracks to go with this crazy, crazed, whacked-out overcooked album as well.
Rod Stewart And The Faces "Coast To Coast - Overtures and Beginnings"
(Mercury, Recorded October 1973 Released January 1974)
It's All Over Now/Cut Across Shorty/Too Bad/Angel/Stay With Me//I'm Losing You/I Wish It Would Rain/I'd Rather Go Blind/Borstal Boys/Jealous Guy
"Something told me it was over..."
The last officially sanctioned Faces release is a curious live album, every bit as messy as the studio albums but somehow without any of the charisma. We know that far superior Faces live sets exist and everybody felt that their final tour in 1974 with new boy Yamauchi on bass had been lacklustre - so why release it at all? Over-sung, under-played and weirdly mixed, this is one of those live albums that gives you the impression it's happening coast to coast, simultaneously, with the rhythm section most definitely not playing what Rod thinks he's hearing. Ronnie's songs have been given the elbow, naturally as he's not here, but that doesn't leave an awful lot left to be honest with far too many similarly sounding pub rock songs taken from Rod's solo career, hardly up to the band's own songs. The highlight is the album's one exclusive number, a cover of John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy' which is given a Faces makeover similar to the one for Paul McCartney's 'Maybe I'm Amazed' and almost as good. The other ballads fall oddly flat, though, as if the band are past caring enough to do them properly and even the hard-tempo rockers are more a chance to 'let go' and have fun than deliver blistering music. Together with a weird and most un-enticing album cover of bright orange aeroplanes (think Fergie's 'Budgie' books on too much acid), this is easily the weakest Faces album and it's a wonder it was allowed out into the big wide world at all. The full concert from 1972 as featured on 'Long Player' would have made a far more suitable goodbye.
Ronnie came back with a second album released barely a few months after the first. Though built around largely the same format of acoustic folk songs recorded with a 'homely' and humble feel in contrast to The Faces' larger-than-life records, there were several differences this time around. Firstly Ronnie now has a band to back him in his endeavours, with the mockingly titled 'Slim Chance' a reference to how many people in the record business told him he was going about things 'the wrong way'. Ronnie, though, didn't care: he'd jumped through every hoop possible with The Small Faces and The Faces and had still ended up nearly broke and over-worked. Slim Chance was the first band Ronnie ever had where the members were under 'his' control and in many ways they were more like family: Steve Simpson, Ruan O'Lochliann, Charlie Hart, Brian Belshaw, Glen leFleur and Jim Frank didn't just buy into the music but the way of life, most of them living with Ronnie and family in multiple caravans and touring with his circus troupe 'The Passing Show'. Though The Small Faces had once shared the same house, this was somehow even bigger with the band sharing pretty much everything, from instruments (five of the band, including Ronnie, are credited with half a dozen instruments or more) to household goods. After years of being rootless and continually on tours, music suddenly became a by-product of family and friendship, which was how Ronnie always wanted it and that good cheer comes over loud and strong in the music.
The biggest change in Ronnie's life, though, is that he's now a family man. He'd been married before, but his second wedding to Kate Lambert and the birth of his first child changed his life. Even for Ronnie this one is a deep record, reflecting on what sort of a world all the little Lanes might be born into and featuring an expansion of the 'get back to the country' songs of 'Ooh La La' and 'Anymore For Anymore'. There's also plenty of songs about the camaraderie of not just playing with but living with your band all around you and a definite sense of 'us versus the rest of the world' that crops up a few times across this record. That half of the record is great, full of Ronnie's warmth, wit and philosophy, like a Faces record with all the shouty Rod Stewart numbers removed. However, sadly it's not all good: figuring that this record would, probably inevitably, not sell or make any money at all Ronnie also takes the opportunity to indulge himself with all sorts of bonkers traditional folk covers and 1920s jazz standards and instrumentals, which only appeal to a 'slim' part of his following. 'Slim Chance' is a slightly schizophrenic album then, one minute tugging at our heart strings with full sincerity and the next rocking out with a jazz samba as played by folkie farmers. It's certainly an album with character this one, but sometimes the character gets in the way of the songs; our recommendation is to go for the more mainstream successor 'One For The Road' first and if you like it then you can go back and appreciate this mixed album more; it helps that both appear on the same CD!
A quick word about the different versions of this album around: the version we've listed above is the 'British' version released as Ronnie wanted it. However the American version and most subsequent re-issues include period single 'The Poacher', which technically came out first on 'Anymore For Anymore' so we've reviewed that song there. Just to confuse matters more, the most common CD issue of this album features it as a double-album-on-on-disc set with sequel 'One For The Road' on the end, although it misses out this album's last track 'Single Saddle'.
[ ] 'Little Piece Of Nothing' is pure Ronnie Lane, a yearning folk song featuring fiddles and accordions, though Ronnie's actual vocal is closer to rock. A song about wanting to be 'free', whatever the price, Ronnie talks about going from feeling like a nobody to a natural, equal part of nature and his joy at this new discovery comes over loud and clear, making up for his slightly over-sung and unusually screechy vocals. Though Ronnie can't run away from his weaknesses, feeling guilty and weary and drunk, here at least he feels he's free to be his real self.
[ ] 'Stone' is a song that has been rattling round a while and had in fact first been recorded as 'Evolution' on the Pete Townshend Meher Baba tribute album 'Who's First' in 1972. It's a pretty, clever and, well, pretty clever song about Baba's teachings on reincarnation and how in our time on earth we've each of us been everything to 'understand' the earth from different positions. Typically Ronnie starts off seriously and ends up silly, becoming a stone growing in a pond and forged by a blacksmith named Dan, a warrior's sword that was once venerated but then grew rusty, a daisy 'in pastures green and lazy' that ends up being eaten 'by a goat who fell in a moat and forgot how to float...', a grub stuck in the mud, a bullfrog a carp and a mynah bird, an ill treated mule and eventually a human baby who grew up to be 'tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, knowing good times and disaster'. Throughout it all Ronnie is the passenger, buffeted by life's winds but learning from all his many experiences. It's a charming song but better suits the Townshend band's rockier arrangement than this rather timid folky version.
The Isaacs Family wrote 'A Bottle Of Brandy', a typically woozy melancholic ballad that in days gone by would have been a perfect Faces drinking song but which sounds rather clichéd and drawn-out by this album's standards. There's way too much accordion for anybody sober here.
'Street Gang' is even odder, an instrumental credited to the band based loosely on Elvis' 'Can't Help Falling In Love' and played with a similarly sickly saxophone part. Only the piano and Ronnie's guitar stabs add anything to the sound, which is an experiment too far for most tastes.
'Anniversary' is perhaps the album's greatest highlight, a rollicking song that in other days would have been a great vehicle for Marriott's roaring, but here is played with a sweet fiddle arrangement and acoustic guitars that sounds all the better for it. Like many a Marriott song, Ronnie's been away from home and wonders if his lady will be waiting for him, especially as it's their anniversary. So he quits the tour early to surprise her, unable to afford chocolates or flowers ('unless I find some by the road') and hoping that his presence will be enough. Cosily romantic, Ronnie tries to make the most of nothing, wooing his lady with the line 'well I got you so I already got the gold'. Sweet and Ronnie's vocal is one of his best, cheeky and heartfelt.
Alas the Alhert-Young song 'I'm Going To Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter' is one of those songs that give Tin Pan Alley songwriting a bad name, a silly pointless song about a romance that doesn't sound anywhere near as heartfelt as the one we've just heard. Ronnie turns in a sarcastic vocal backed by Slim Chance's lounge jazz style on what is in truth a pretty horrible three minutes.
Brooks and Barer's song 'I'm Just A Country Boy' is a better fit, with Ronnie telling us that he has no money in a material sense but 'gold in the stars' every night he looks at the sky. Clearly moved, Ronnie turns in another of his best vocals, but the backing is oddly atonal and the tempo way too slow.
Ronnie and Kate wrote 'Ain't No Lady' together, a silly song about two lovers meeting by the seaside that together with the ukuleles and 50s doo-wop chorus sounds like a Travelling Wilburys outtake. The best bit is, oddly enough, the accordion solo which really suits this song's understated jauntyness.
'Blue Monday' is more about the life that Ronnie had left behind, a Fats Domino cover about being worked to a pulp and needing a release, only to find that somehow it's Monday morning all over again! Ronnie is having fun, but this isn't one of his more sophisticated songs and Slim Chance sound like the wrong sort of band to be playing this, too laidback to give the track the crunch and blues it really needs.
The sweet Ronnie solo song 'Give Me A Penny' is another album highlight as Ronnie both pays tribute to and explains the realities behind his way of living. He and his 'country girl' love each other dearly and their love keeps them warm, though it doesn't stop their bodies shivering, while Ronnie is always looking at ways to save money, though he pretends not to care about it. Despite the grim surroundings, though, this is an upbeat song about overcoming adverisity, not being trapped by it. Ronnie was particularly proud of the melodic line he came up with for the mandolin solo so later turned it into the full song 'Annie' on his 'Rough Mix' album with Pete Townshend. That one is a better track, undoubtedly, but this is good too and no other musician would have thought to write it except Ronnie.
'You Never Can Tell' is one of the weirdest Chuck Berry covers you will ever here, a folk version of one of the most famous writers of 'city life' of them all. Sadly it doesn't quite work, though the fault is both the original slightly underwhelming song (which is more descriptive than Chuck's usual work, without the clever twist at the end and without any real chorus) and the backing band (who simply drift along without really understanding it) than Ronnie's active vocal.
'Tin and Tambourine' is a lovely lament written by Ronnie and Kate, a sort of cowboy song that has a really sweet and lovely melody and a down-home vibe. Ronnie explains his reasons for doing what he's doing, explaining that in his old life 'too many souls were crowding me in' and paying tribute to 'native girl' Abalone (actually a gyspsy word for sea-shells) for showing him a new way to life without all that hassle. The song then breaks off for a rainstorm, as the couple dodge the raindrops to the sound of a funky piano riff, but even in the bad weather and through the hard times, Ronnie's love for his lady and his new way of life remains undimmed. It's another beautiful song that shimmers like sunshine despite the downpours in the lyrics.
The original album ended with 'Single Saddle' (though it's missing from all CD copies I've seen), a final cover of a song by Burt Bacharach's writing partner Hal David. It's a shame this track got cut from the CDs ('Letter' would have been my nomination for the chop), a silly cowboy song that's the first of Ronnie's to be recorded outside with bird-song, cow moos and a sense of everyone gathered together round the campfire. The beat sounds like a horse's waddle, Ronnie throws in lines about the sounds the horses make and tells a story about 'rounding up strays' on this informal cowboy track that wouldn't win any awards for song or performances but is awfully cute and a chorus that rhymes 'saddle' with 'ske-daddle'!
Overall, then, 'Slim Chance' is a unique and charming album, full of lovely songs about Ronnie's new way of life so convincing you're halfway to buying a tractor and a caravan and hiring a circus act to promote the glory of this album and way of life yourself (look out for the travelling Alan's Album Archives circus where the amazing Maxio makes reviews run at twice the normal length!) However, sometimes this record takes its reliance on charm a bit too far: fun as some of the hoary old standards might have been too record, they're too weird to belong on this album and rather detract from the strong third or so of this record which would have been a classic with a few less of these and some more Ronnie originals. Still, even if this is a mixed album, at its peak it proves Ronnie 'right' in leaving The Faces to discover himself, because when this album is on it, the band are cooking and the stars are alignment it's a very wonderful album indeed, with more than a slim chance of becoming a favourite of yours too if you can look past the instrumentals and emphasis on fiddles and accordions. It's a real shame there aren't more albums around like it - even the other Slim Chance record comes with a tougher less playful sound - but then this formula probably wouldn't work again, with this album a highly impressive, unique release that deserved to be far better known.
Humble Pie "Street Rats"
(A&M, February 1975)
Street Rat/Rock and Roll Music/We Can Work It Out/Scored Out/Road Hog/Rain//There 'Tis/Let Me Be Your Lovemaker/Countryman Stomp/Drive My Car/Queen and Nuns
"You see....what I'm trying to say...I've been going through a hard spell!"
Midsguided as it is, over-noisy as it may often be, frustrating as the record seems after the better Humble Pie records earlier in the decade, I actually rather like 'Street Rats', a record often nominated by fans as the weakest Pie album. Marriott may be a caricature, opening the album with a fictional sob-story about never learning to read till 'age ten' and hanging around with criminal gangs (the closest he got in reality was Fagin's nest of subversives in 'Oliver!' at the West End!), but at least he's having fun with spoofing himself and there's a lightness of touch about this record which would have improved 'Thunderbox' no end, with no noise purelty for the sake of it this time. With five originals to six cover songs the quota is roughly the same but this feels like a much more substantial album this time, with passable cover choices from a suddenly Beatles-intoxicated Marriott (two Lennon-McCartney originals, plus Chuck Berry's 'Rock and Roll Music' which the fab four made famous) and songs that sound like they actually began their life as compositions rather than band jams. There's less soul here, hardly any appearances by The Blackberries and the tracks hardly vary off rock, but it's a softer subtler rock this time rather than the tuneless heavy metal of the past. Humble Pie have dropped their oft-false 'poshness', cut things back to the basics and come out of the record sounding 'authentic' once again, some of the time at least. You still don't 'need' this record the way curious Small Faces might like to give 'As Safe As yesterday Is' 'Performance' or 'Rock On' a go, but just as rats got unfairly blamed for bringing the plague and being dirty and 'evil' when they're really not, so 'Street Rats' is merely a second-tier Pie album, not the travesty of 'Thunderbox' or the two reunion records at the end of the decade to come.
Marriott later commented that he was deeply ashamed of 'Street Rats' and that he never meant it to be released in such a rough, unfinished state. Legend has it that A&M, telling the band that their schedule was up, simply released the album as it was without giving them a chance to tweak it. That leads at times to a rather under-cooked Pie, but actually that's to the album's benefit: though it feels sketched in rather than established, Marriott never gave less than his all even in rehearsals and the lack of endless overdubbings makes this record sound comparatively light on its feet. What Marriott was probably embarrassed about was the amount of informal 'chat' that got through, including an outrageous rant in the middle of 'Queen and Nuns' where Marriott moans to Immediate founder/project overseer Andrew Loog Oldham and compares his treatment in the rock world to his peers ('They don't treat me like John, Paul, George, Ringo or even Yoko or Linda, they weren't on this bloody record in the first place!...I only got given two eggs in my sandwich!') and has one long rant. However even that's not bad, featuring as it does a sense of the 'real' Marriott, by now long hidden, coming back into focus. Legend has it that Humble Pie broke up in disgust at the dirty tricks A&M pulled on them with this album, feeling unable to promote a record they didn't believe in and worrying what might happen to a sequel. However A&M, probably for all the wrong reasons, arguably help Pie here, taking the sort of thing that could so easily have been over-baked in the overdubbing oven and turning it into, if not a great album, then a passable one. Perhaps the most overlooked Pie album in their canon and overdue for a re-evaluation.
'Man I've come down so far I'm below ground!' Take title track 'Street Rat': Marriott's narrator grew up in mind-numbing poverty, learnt to survive by his wits and pool-playing and came out the other side hardened yet vulnerable, living a life on the run. Marriott switches between singing and narrating this fast-paced song, an unusual technique that actually works very well indeed and the song does the old Pie trick of slowing right down before exploding into noisy life again. Pie haven't been this exciting in a couple of albums.
Even the much-maligned and typically crawling-paced Humble Pie cover of Chuck Berry's 'Rock and Roll Music' isn't that bad. Yes the tempo is too slow and while Greg Ridley sings well, it would have been fun to hear Marriott's sheer passion sing lead on this one, but at least Pie sound like they understand and even like this song, which more than most covers on 'Thunderbox'. 'I got no kick against modern jazz except when they and play it too darn fast' sings Ridley. I got nothing against Chuck Berry coveros, except when they're played too darn slow.
The slowed down gospel-tinged 'We Can Work It Out' has divided fans too: it's certainly different, which is the most you can ask from a cover, and Marriott's slow preacher purr actually suits the song better than reputation suggests. You just wish this song would explode into life somewhere down the line after teasing us for three minutes solid.
'Scored Out' is better than every original on 'Thunderbox' too, with Clemson's fierce yet tuneful guitar riff well matches to Marriott's lyrics of frustration and weariness. It's an all too accurate picture of Pie in this period, forced out on door for financial reasons when they really didn't want to go and 'waiting for a bus' that never quite arrives. A 'proper' mix of what's clearly a rehearsal take would have been nice though, with Marriott hard to hear for once in his life.
'Road Hog' is the most puzzling track here, with what sounds like a better-than-average band jam with some glorious swaying Clemson guitar overdubbed with a very mid-70s narrative from a drunken Marriott. Admitting he's been 'down a bad road', he laments that having made his bed he has to lie on it as it's 'rock hard', claims to be 'sick of hotel rooms' and worries about his 'bad dreams' of things to come in the future. 'Won't you help me?' he pleads, 'No, really help me?' Poor Marriott, things are only going to get worse from here on in and - unaware that this will ever end up on an album - it sounds like it's from the heart, for better and worse...
'Rain' is one of the greatest Beatles songs only fans know, a scathing put-down of people who expect to be happy all the time and don't 'get' that misery is often a better teacher than happiness. Marriott should be the perfect singer for this song and, well, he is - you just wish that Greg hadn't decided to chip in with a counter-vocal and that the tempo hadn't been slowed to a funeral pace. Less adventurous than The Beatles' original by far, but not without its charms either, with the sudden injection of a gospel choir on the 'shiiiiiiiine' line (the one Liam Gallagher loved ripping off in Oasis) is beautiful. Most fans see this as the worst thing Pie ever did and pure sacrilege, but good or bad is just a state of mind. Stick the record on again, I can show you...
'There 'Tis' is a second Marriott-Clemson duet which suggests that this writing partnership could have turned out one of the band's better days. Marriott senses he's about to be given the elbow by his missus and Clemson's guitar stabs through his frustration, but instead of pure misery-guts noise there's a lightness of touch here, with a quirky horn section switching this song from rock to funk mid-way through.
Betty Wright's 1973 song 'Let Me Be Your Loverman' is the noisiest thing here, delivered with real grit by a committed Greg Ridley. It's a lot better than similar attempts on 'Thunderbox' but of less worth than the rest of this album it has to be said.
Written by the others without Marriott, 'Countryman's Stomp' is also a lesser track, performed by Ridley in tough heavy metal mould but with a catchy chorus in there at least. 'I'm really trying!' Ridley pleads as his girl ignores him.
If 'Rain' could survive the showers, then second Beatles cover 'Drive My Car' drives off the road a few times, with a Ridley vocal that's clearly a rehearsal take and a tempo so slow it's blocking the road. It's still not that bad though compared to car crashes on previous albums. A shame Marriott didn't sing as well, he'd have suited this one.
'Queens and Nuns' is a final original credited to the whole band. It's one of those occasional comedy Pie songs that just aren't funny, with Marriott needing to 'take a leak' while in a police chase and wondering what to do. The band would probably never have intended this plodding 12 bar blues song to come out either (then again, see the title track of 'Thunderbox' which they did approve!) but they put a lot of work into it including a strutting horn section and a deliciously arch Marriott vocal that mixes good cheer with side-swipes at old friends.
Overall, then, 'Street Rats' is never going to be anybody's favourite Pie album and goes badly downhill in its final third. But lower your expectations and you might just find something in to appreciate, from some dazzlingly daring and different cover songs to some well made and executed originals. Sometimes bands sound better for being made to act quickly against their own will instead of pondering on albums for months and years - Marriott's 'punkest' album, 'Street Rats' was simply marketed wrong and its lack of revenue was the final nail in the Pie pastry. It deserved better.
"Steve Marriott's Scrubbers"
(a re-issue credits the band as 'Humble Pie')
(Repertoire Records, Recorded '1975' Released '1996')
Shake!/Mona/Lend Us A Quid/Send Me Some Loving/She Moves Me Man/Street Rats/Captain Goatcabin's Balancing Stallions/High and Happy/Be My Baby/It's All Over/Bluegrass Interval/It Don't Take But A Few Minutes/Louisiana Blues/You're A Heartbreaker/You Need A Star In Your Life/Cocaine/I'll Find You/Lord Let Me Hold On/Hambone/Signed Sealed
"Pretty soon, you'll have no one left to lean on"
With Humble Pie having come to a sudden collapsed heap on the floor, Marriott tried to establish a solo career using the remains of his old band and a few new friends for some informal sessions held in his house, like Joe Brown' and wife Vicki, guitarist Clem Clempson and pedal steel player BJ Cole (with longtime sidekick Jerry Shirley conspicuous by his absence). Perhaps the last really 'fun' sessions of Marriott's career, the singer was on better form than he had been in years and his dubbing the band with the unlikely name 'Scrubbers' was more a reflection of his current financial circumstances post-Pie than any cheeky remark aimed at them (chances are the name would have been changed had a record been released!) Looser than usual without the polish that had marred the last few Pie albums, it's perhaps the last time Marriott sounded great as a lead singer. It's release was delayed for far too long, Marriott changing his mind about what he wanted this album to be and he'll sift through and pick from the sessions for his later albums solo and Pie for years to come. The re-recordings rarely sound as good as the genesis here though, back in the days when Marriott really was an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
The good news is that Marriott is temporarily freed of the need to keep Humble Pie sounding the way they always did. The bad news this leaves him struggling to work out what he wants this set of sessions to be, with the full sprawling 20 track work just as eclectic as 'The White Album' while being as directionless as the first two Pie records. There aren't that many originals here - and those that are here generally get re-recorded in later years - but the cover versions are more interesting than average and Marriott still has enough charisma left to re-shape them into something new. You sense that it probably wouldn't have gone down too well if released in this state at the time (though as a posthumous rarities release we can afford to be a bit kinder towards it). Like many a sprawling 80 minute set, though, there's a good 40 minute LP in there somewhere.
The band get off to a good start with 'The Shake', a reprise of the Lane-sung debut on the first Small Faces record that now sounds totally different, slower yet louder and the song suits the new tempo better than most Pie equivalents. Marriott wrote 'I Need A Star In My Life' with drummer Ian Wallace and it's one of the better songs here, musically shaped like 'All Or Nothing' with the intense yearning lyrics of 'Tin Soldier' adding up to a powerful song about loneliness and companionship. Marriott always struggled with being alone, both in his musical and personal lives, and you sense that this song comes from a darker place in his heart though it's been twisted into a more than passable catchy pop song here. The witty 'Lend Us A Quid' is actually a re-make of Pie track co-written by old bass player Greg Ridley that's been given a symphonic makeover with horns and guitar blasts. That's all fine, but sadly Marriott messes with his vocals too and slathers them with echo which distracts from the intensity.
The old Sam Cooke favourite 'Send Me Some Lovin' features Ridley on lead, suggesting the sessions were still for a Pie album when this track was recorded. It's typical Pie: overblown, overslow and over-intense but with a certain grandeur about it. Pie collaboration 'She Moves Me Man' is a scratchy blues that's authentic with some great Marriott harmonica but doesn't have much else going for it. Marriott's 'Street Rat' is oddly enough a simpler re-recording of a song Pie had already released earlier in the year. Maybe Marriott disliked the generic heavy rock sound on that version or just got amnesia over recording it? Marriott returns to his list of songs with silly names with the Pie collaboration 'Captain Goatcabin's Balancing Stallions'. A manic 'Yellow Submarine' style children's number, it's one of the most unusual Pie recordings and perhaps a genre variation too far, though Clempson on rare vocals is having fun at least.
'High and Happy' is a slinky Marriott groove that will end up as one of the few highlights of the Small Faces reunion records in a couple of years' time. It already sounds like about the best thing here as Marriott screams at the top of his register how great he feels now he's in love. A noisy and over-elaborate 'Be My Baby' does wicked things to the Ronettes original and Marriott sleepwalks his way through the song with what was presumably only ever a 'guide vocal'. There are way too many effects though and the drums have suddenly become the loudest thing in the room. 'It's All Over' is, fittingly, one of the last things recorded by Pie before their unscheduled break. Marriott and Ridley trade vocals on a bluesy song about 'losing everything I have' but not being able to work together anymore - the price of fame indeed. Interesting, then, that Pie should sound like a far tighter and groovier band than usual on another of the set's highlights.
'Bluegrass Interval' is exactly what it sounds - another 'Alabama '69' complete with slide and pedal guitars, but at least this one sounds heartfelt as Marriott again fills us in on his money woes and dedicates this track to 'all you evil people'. He sounds like he means it too...'Don't Take But A Few Minutes' is the most Pie-like song here, with Ridley and Marriott crossing lines on a typical rocker about a girl who won't keep in touch about what she's up to. It don't take but a few seconds to skip this track, thankfully. 'Louisiana Blues' is the noisiest thing here, a grunting prowling preening rocker where no less than three Marriotts triple-tracked drunkenly slur their way through a revved up blues number. A bit of sobering up is probably needed to transform this track into something listenable. Jack Sallee's 'You're A heartbreaker' is the complete opposite though: a simple cutesy Buddy Holly-ish style pop song with some Chet Atkins style guitar picking that takes Marriott right back to his roots and his first record. He even puts on his posh accent from 'Give Her My Regards'!
Bo Diddley's 'Mona' is usually a sleepy, hypnotic kind of song best heard when The Rolling Stones perform it. Pie's version here can't really slow down the original too much (if it was any slower it would run backwards!) so instead they make it noisier, losing the whole of the original vibe about this being as reluctant yet powerful love the narrator doesn't want to admit to. 'Cocaine' is regularly cited as a highlight and often appears on Marriott compilations, all for good reason: it's one of Marriott's funkiest recordings as he re-shapes Rev Gary Davis' slow earnest blues into a song that's half-celebration, half-protest with Marriott as manic as his drug of choice suggests. Sadly he'll never sing with this much power again, in part because of the effects of the very song he's singing about here. The slow and lovely sea shanty 'I'll Find You' is another highlight, as Marriott alone (overdubbing guitar, voice, harmonica ands percussion) pours out his soul on another troubled song of love after his split from Jenny. Marriott's going to track down his soulmate wherever she goes - and that's a promise!
'Lord Let Me Hold Out' is a throbbing gospel that isn't quite as convincing without much really happening, though the central riff and a sudden double-speed section do at least give the song some interest. Marriott again seems to be singing with his 'rehearsal' voice. Country original 'Hambone' sounds much like the Rolling Stones' similar country songs than the slower sillier Pie fare (they even quote the band at one point), but this song still isn't what you might call substantial and Marriott's too perfect a rock singer to be wasting his time doing country. Ronnie Lane probably enjoyed it though as it's very much in his old partner's style. The set then ends with 'Signed and Sealed', one last growled Pie number that seems to spell the end of the band with some finality. Marriott is back on top form, but this stop-start blues-rocker doesn't really get going.
A typically mixed bag then, but no worse and arguably a little better than many of the Marriott/Pie recordings to come, especially the watered-down self-titled solo album from the following year (which oddly enough ignores all these tracks, even the good ones, and starts again). The set was certainly a loving tribute to Marriott when it came out around the fifth anniversary of his death, reminding the world that they should perhaps have paid more attention to the man's talents when he was around. You'd never have this as your favourite Marriott recording I don't think (though maybe somebody out there will prove me wrong?) but it's a nice second-tier album that more than deserved at least a partial release at the time and the 'Scrubbers' set scrubs up quite well as a memorial CD.