Monday, 22 May 2017
The Small Faces: live/solo/compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Albums Part Three: 1976-1981
You can now buy 'All Our Yesterdays - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Small Faces' in e-book form by clicking here
East Side Struttin'/Lookin' For A Love/Help Me Through The Day/Midnight Rollin'/Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am//Star In My Life/Are You Lonely For Me Baby?/You Don't Know Me/Late Night Lady/Early Evening Light
"It was the best thing I could do, to save my fantasies, because it's over now - it has to be new!"
With Humble Pie having now fallen apart leaving Marriott with another financial hole so soon after The Small Faces left him with the first, the guitarist realised that A&M's offer of a solo contract was his one big chance to make a lot of money and maybe forge out a career for himself in another guise. As such he spent a lot more time on this album than most things in his career, going back and forth between ideas and abandoning the equivalent of a double album the previous year as part of the 'Scrubbers Sessions' , abandoning all the songs bar one he'd recorded in 1975. The trouble perhaps too was that by releasing his first solo recordings since 1963 Marriott felt he had to come to terms with who he 'was'. The world had by now grown used to several different Marriotts: the teen heart-throb, the psychedelic wizard, the heavy duty rock God, the cheeky cockney barrow boy done good: which Marriott was he to put on his first solo album? Throw in the twin pulls too between the gradually stiffening pub rock of Marriott's own generation and the arrival of punk rock which appealed to his inner teenage self and the guitarist was torn about what to do. Still unsure, Marriott split himself in two with this record planned to feature both a 'British' and an 'American' side made using friends and musicians from both sides of the pond, Marriott having made peace with many of his old friends after his first European tour in years with old pal Alexis Korner in tow. Even after all that work and a good 25 rejected songs along the way, 'Marriott' still feels like an unfinished album, jumping too quickly and jarringly from one extreme to the other. And yet that's how Marriott really was: to have tried to limit himself to one thing or the other would have meant this album wouldn't have reflected the real 'him' at all.
The general feeling amongst fans is that the first 'British' side works best: surrounded by friends (including a returning Greg Ridley and Clem Clempson from Humble Pie again), Marriott returns to the early Humble Pie days when the band were less polished but far more exciting, with some wonderfully ragged and raw performances. Though interestingly not one song from this album proper matches the best of the 'Scrubbers' sessions, there's enough here in this album to suggest that Marriott is still a force to be reckoned with and he's inspired enough to continue to be one of the most charismatic singers who ever sneered in front of a microphone. The second 'American' side though doesn't quite come off: surrounded by professional session men who musically barely raise an eyebrow while Marriott's screeching his head off, it just feels slightly incongruous and not quite right - like Happiness Stan leaving his charabanc behind for a mansion. Marriott still gives his all and technically sings even better on this second side, but there's not enough heart and soul in the performances and thus less magic in the room. You wish that someone in Marriott's corner had worked this out and told him this, persuading him to hire his old friends back and demonstrated to him that the 'real' Marriott was a rock and roller who lived for the moment in one long party in a rock and roll T-shirt, rather than the tuxedo-suited crooner who at times veers awfully close to Rod Stewart's later work, hopefully with a few poignant introvert ballads thrown in for good measure. You sense that the 'real' Marriott couldn't have been contained on anything less than a four disc box set anyway, there were so many sides to him, but it's a shame that he spends half of this record sounding less like himself than he's ever been. As we've said before, Marriott also works best when bouncing ideas off someone else - usually someone very different to him - and Marriott alone is a less convincing prospect than a Marriott inspired to greatness in an attempt to compete with a partner, whether it be Ronnie Lane, Peter Frampton or Greg Ridley, whose underused on this album after filling that gap so well on 'Scrubbers'. A mixed album in so many ways and a frustrating one too by all accounts, missing the charts completely in both 'home' countries and putting pressure on Marriott to return to the 'old' days, however desperate he was to get away from them.
'East Side Struttin' sounds like Marriott connecting with the peak Pie, a grooving rock song with a heavy riff that's hard-hitting stuff and a good vehicle for the singer to sweat his stuff. However this sounds so much like any Humble Pie track taken at random that it's a shame there isn't just a little spark of something extra here now that Marriott is working 'alone'.
'Lookin' For Love' sounds more like the Humble Pie records to come at the end of the decade, with an extra gospel chorus and a large dollop of soul to add to the rock. Daft as the lyrics are there's a certain poignancy about Marriott still searching so hard for perfection a full decade after still singing about the search on 'All Or Nothing'. A re-recording will appear on the first Small Faces reunion record a year later.
Leon Russell's smokey bar-club 'Help Me Through The Day' is one of the better things here, with Marriott's intensity set against a laidback slinky groove that features a lot of new ingredients not really heard on Marriott's work before, such as the quietly twinkling keyboard.
'Midnight Rollin' is another simplistic rocker but at least there's a fine groove behind this song as Marriott returns lyrically to '30 Days In The Hole' as he tries to get out of town fast. The backing is pretty darn good and this inspires Marriott to one of his most intense performances yet.
Finally on the 'British' side, Marriott returns to Small Faces B-side 'Wham Bam Thank You Man' - this time with Ronnie's co-credit removed. The track that inspired Marriott to create Humble Pie in the first place is a natural for him to pick, but there's something a little static about this performance which in true Pie style is slightly too flashy and a tad too slow. You badly miss a drummer of Kenney Jones' talents too to keep the momentum up. Still, this first real Small Faces throwback is a lot groovier than the re-make of 'Tin Soldier' to come.
Over on side two Marriott suddenly sounds like a whole new singer. 'I Need A Star In My Life' is the one song revived from 'Scrubbers' and this lovely ballad is given a posh new makeover complete with pedal steel guitar solo and a restrained Marriott vocal. Good as this version is, though, there's undeniably something lacking compared to the first version and what once sounded heartfelt, as Marriott clings to the idea of having a famous girlfriend overshadowing him, now seems corny.
'Are You Lonely For Me Baby?' sees Marriott experimenting with funk and he sounds pretty darn good to be honest, but he's using a faceless bunch of session musicians to develop a groove that never quite arrives. Marriott should be cackling this taunting original - instead he sounds like he's trying to drop his level to the musicians.
'You Don't Know Me' is the best performance on this album's second side, a honky tonk ballad with Marriott drunk and depressed and pouring out his heart. 'You think you know me well...' he sighs, but nobody has any idea about just how much is going on inside his head.
'Late Night Lady' is a most peculiar reggae-funk hybrid with comedy lyrics as Marriott looks everywhere for someone to take away his loneliness. A sort of adult game of hide and seek with ladies of the night, this song can't throw off the feeling of polish or fakery that might have made it mildly enjoyable.
The album closes with 'Early Evening Light', possibly the best song on the album as Marriott reflects the recent departure of wife Jenny and remembers his desperation as he realised she was walking away for the last time and his sudden realisation about what he should have done to keep her there. Unfortunately a strong heartfelt song is treated to a master-class in why overdubbing is not always a musician's best friend, with a scratchy strong section, a clumsy backing and a production shine you can see from space all contributing to a song that's too posh for Marriott to unburden his soul. It's a real shame the guitarist never re-recorded this one: the song deserves it.
Overall, then, 'Marriott' fells like so many lost opportunities. An improvement - of sorts - over Humble Pie's recent album 'Street Rats', myself and many other fans would still have taken the homely feel of 'Scrubbers' over anything on this record. You can understand why Marriott wants to step outside himself for this album, but the new suit doesn't suit him or his songs and this ends up being watered down Humble Pie, instead of eclectic Marriott. A bit of a disappointment.
Ronnie Lane and Ronnie Wood "Mahoney's Last Stand" (Film Soundtrack)
(Atlantic, September 1976)
Tonight's Number/From The Late To The Early/Chicken Wire/Chicken Wired/I'll Fly Away/Title One/Just For A Moment/Mona The Blues/Car Radio/Hay Tumble/Woody's Thing/Rooster's Funeral/Just For A Moment
"Soon the country all around him will come to look the same"
As per usual, Ronnie Lane needed money quick and as per usual too, it was an old friend who helped him out. Woody had been approached to record the film soundtrack to this curious film (alternate title 'Mahoney's Estate') back in 1972 when The Faces were about to split up. Woody was busy and the film never got made anyway, but stayed in contact with the film-makers and was asked again in 1976 when Ronnie was at a loose end after the Faces break-up. However, almost immediately after agreeing to do it, Woody got his new role with The Rolling Stones and didn't have the time to record the full album he planned, so he got in contact with his namesake to offer him the job in return for most of the money. Actually Woody may well have thought of Ronnie for the job too because the film was so up his alley: it's a film set in the Wild West about a man who wants to harvest his own patch of land in the country after years as a city slicker; after three albums of similar material, Ronnie was in many ways the perfect choice. Unfortunately the album wasn't an easy one for Ronnie to make: 1976 was the year when he was officially diagnosed with the MS that would kill him (though he wouldn't announce it beyond the family for a while yet and even Woody didn't know), while the film makers wanted instrumental snippets to cobble together rather than erudite songs - Ronnie's main talent. The result is a patchy album full of vague ideas and melodic phrases that don't really fit together and which all too often feature the oddest of instruments, as if both Ronnies were using a whole orchestra simply because the producers had one on tap than because they knew what to do with it. Both film and soundtrack album are rather bland and forgettable despite being very very weird at times and neither is really recommended unless you're a massively committed fan (with enough time and energy to track both down).
However if you do happen to own a copy, it's far from worthless. 'Chicken Wired', one of the few tracks with lyrics, is a nice country honk rather like the Stones' country material but better, with the two Ronnies providing some lovely vocals alongside a daft set of words about keeping chickens (we don't really need a full four minute 'reprise' of it though, as the two are near enough identical), 'Title One' which grooves like one of the 'Autumn Stone' soul jamming sessions and a gorgeous folkie cover of Rob Rowland's 'Just For A Moment', which is effectively Slim Chance with Woody's slide guitar. There's also a re-recording of 'Anymore For Anymore', though it's not very good, slowed down and turned almost operatic without the acoustic vibes and sweet harmonies of the original. Fans of music generally in the 1970s will want this album to add some more members to their 'trainspotter's guide to musicians' too, with guest appearances by Pete Townshend, Mac and Kenney, 'sixth Stone' Ian Stewart, singer Billy Nicholls and a dozen more besides. 'Mahoney's Last Stand' came close to being Ronnie's last stand too until Pete and Eric Clapton rescued him for two more albums and it's better to have a little Ronnie than none at all. Still, more of either Ronnie on this record wouldn't have gone amiss.
Humble Pie "Back Home Again"
Natural Born Woman/Desperation/A Nifty Little Number Like You/Every Mother's Son/Alabama '69//The Sad Bag Of Shaky Jake/Home And Away/Heartbeat/Silver Tongue/As Safe As Yesterday/Down Home Again
"Well the show's all over, I'll just pack my guitar..."
The world's first ever Humble Pie compilation is a most peculiar beast, hampered by the fact that Immediate only have two albums to choose from and the fact that the band only had the one hit with them anyway (here replaced, bizarrely, by the 'album' mix 'Natural Born Woman' rather than the hit 'Natural Born Bugie' version). Even so, the track selection is a really random assortment of odds and ends from the band's first two records and doesn't even include what many fans would consider the best from this short period anyway: there's no 'Buttermilk Boy' or 'Home and Away' for starters. As for the album packaging, this must be one of the worst in the AAA canon: a plain sleeve with fake 'cutaway' holes at the bottom featuring a car, a door, a drink and a bed - none of which have anything to with Humble Pie or the music on this album. I realise Immediate had no money but did they really have to get this cover secondhand from a catalogue company? A cowboy, a tongue and a giant pie would at least have made some thematic sense. The result is a compilation that only a record company could love, which failed to cash in on the Pie's bigger success with 'A&M' or do very well in the charts.
The Faces "Snakes and Ladders - The Best Of"
(Warner Brothers, October 1976)
Pool Hall Richard/Cindy Incidentally/Ooh La La/Sweet Mary Jane/Flying/Pineapple and the Monkey/You Can Make Me Dance Sing Or Anything/Had Me A Real Good Time/Stay With Me/Miss Judy's Farm/Silicone Grown/Around The Plynth
"I served a while in the country jail, five years for being hungry tired and poor"
The first Faces compilation, released after the band finally admitted that actually they had broken up but hadn't liked to tell anyone, is effectively a singles compilation. As few of the best Faces songs were released as singles in the first place, it's a pretty rum collection that mainly features full throttle Rod Stewart shouting without the quiet grace of Ronnie Lane's contributions (in fact weirdly Lane isn't pictured in the packaging at all, though both his replacements Tetsui Yamauchi and Jesse Ed Davis are! Were the band still cross at his defection?) The exceptions are the gloriously ambitious 'Flying' , Rod's best rocker 'Miss Judy's Farm' and the two Ronnies' sweet kiss-off 'Ooh La La', which all deserve a place in any fan's collection, although oddly the other great Faces track 'Maybe I'm Amazed' isn't here - the only single that isn't. Most of the rest borders on ordinary though with way too much undiluted Rod and still one interminable blues instrumental (we have to have one of these even on a best-of?!) As the title says, snakes and ladders. Ronnie Wood designed the distinctive cover full of odd doodles and old photographs during downtime from his first Stones album 'Black and Blue'. Not released on CD to date, having been effectively replaced by the superior 'Good Boys...When They're Asleep!'
The Small Faces "Greatest Hits"
(Immediate, 'Mid 1977')
Itchycoo Park/Wham Bam Thank You Man/The Universal/Song Of A Baker/Rene/Here Comes The Nice/Tin Soldier/Autumn Stone/Afterglow (Of Your Love)/Red Balloon/All Or Nothing/Lazy Sunday
"I'd like to go there now with you..."
A fairly average compilation to us now, but this Small Faces reunion cash-in was perhaps the most influential record in this book. A quick reminder of who the band were (which sadly backfired when people found out what the band had become), this record was pretty much ignored during the era of punk in which it was released but sold well over a longer period of time during the 1978-1979 mod revival in the new wave era, when having a Small Faces album in your collection was essential - and as the most recent set released this one became the de facto seller for a whole new generation. Along with the 'Quadrophenia' film (released in 1979) and the rise of The Jam, this album made The Small Faces unexpectedly cool again. Re-issued on CD for aging mods in the mid-1990s, the album sold well all over again and remains one of the best-sellers The Small Faces ever had. In truth, though, there's nothing here you can't buy on longer, better compilations while the track selection is quite weird: no 'Tell Me Have You Seen Me' 'Get Yourself Together' or 'Show Me The Way, compilation standards all, but space for flop single 'The Universal' and two tracks premiered on 'The Autumn Stone' (though not, oddly, the title track). Though unremarked at the time, this compilation is also something of a breakthrough by including a track from the Decca years - 'All Or Nothing' - though sadly it's the only one. Still, the exact choice of contents don't really matter - it's The Small Faces look and style that's important here and released at a time of economic squalor, repetitive up-itself-music and a sense of decay, the 1960s struck the younger punks and new wavers like a smackero-blerdy as a better, more stylish times. The decade had never sounded or looked better, except to those who were there at the time...
Ronnie Lane/Pete Townshend "Rough Mix"
(MCA/Polydor, September 1977)
My Baby Gives It Away/Nowhere To Run/Rough Mix/Annie/Keep Me Turning/Catmelody// Misunderstood/April Fool/Street In The City/Heart To Hang On To/Till The Rivers All Run Dry
"Keep me turning, keep me burning, keep me earning - don't you leave me till the very last!"
Having passed on the Small Faces reunion, Ronnie was now in more need of money than ever. Realising that asking his old bandmates for help probably a good idea in the circumstances he reached out to another old friend asking for a loan to get him through the next winter. The only question was who - or should that be Who? There had long been a mutual admiration society between The Small Faces and The Who, both London bands of a similar vintage who both played with similarly intensity levels and loved pushing the envelope. In years to come the two bands will even share band members with Kenney Jones the only drummer considered to fill Keith Moon's considerable boots. The two band members also shared similar roles in their bands as the quiet (that's a relative term) members delivering the more thoughtful, spiritually aware music that asked bigger questions of life and the universe; both men were also passionate Meher Baba followers, the 'guru' who proposed 'don't worry be happy' and 'allowed' followers the permission to be themselves without the usual religious overtones of a cult. Pete and Ronnie, both deeply troubled men who'd long struggled to find their own identity in comparison to their louder band partners, took similar comfort from the ideas of reincarnation and a spiritual universe. If you're a Myers Briggs practitioner it seems deeply likely that both men are INFJs (the rarest type, especially for males) struggling to be heard past extrovert singers who had simply got fed up of all the noise.
Though Ronnie only asked for a loan, Pete realised quickly that a loan wouldn't get his old pal terribly far and he'd soon be needing one. Having always enjoyed Ronnie's company on shared tours and their work together on various Meher Baba fundraising projects (one, 'Happy Birthday' from 1970, features 'Evolution' - an early version of Faces track 'Stone') and desperately needing a break from the unhappiness of The Who in this period, Pete proposed a joint album. If the record sold then it might help Ronnie out for years to come - and if it didn't then Ronnie could have the whole album advance anyway. It was a kind gesture from a musician who always did his best to be loyal to his friends (Pete was the first in the queue when Ronnie started fundraising for ms charity ARMS a decade later too), but not without its own issues. Both men were used to their collaborators offering sudden explosions - but then quietly bowing to what they wanted in the first place, wearing down the opposition. It wasn't like that with Pete and Ronnie, who fought several passive-aggressive struggles across this album to get what they wanted and one massive row where Pete, catching Ronnie on a bad ms day before the bass player had made his health problems public knowledge, sent him flying across the studio risking great damage. Thankfully Ronnie recovered, the album continued and the pair remained firm friends for the rest of Lane's life - but the moment will have a big impact on both men, especially Ronnie who decided to go public not long after this record.
'Rough Mix' is a favourite album with many fans of both bands and for many good reasons - both men feel freed of the need to be their usual 'misery-guts' selves and are both delightfully, often deliriously happy across a record that's one of the more consistent records either man ever made. Ronnie and Pete are both on a writing high, following up two of the best records either of them made separately with one of the best they could make together, with several highlights and at worst one of those clunky R and B instrumentals The Small Faces used to do on occasion. Both also offer full reign to their contacts book, calling up mutual friends like Charlie Watts, Eric Clapton and John Entwistle. All three will later recall this album as one of their favourites they ever played on, enjoying the chance to work with two legends in one go and the happy speedy atmosphere of the studio in comparison to recent Stones/Cream/Who recording sessions.
What it doesn't have, sadly, is much interaction between the two. Pete doesn't appear on Ronnie's songs and Ronnie doesn't appear on Pete's, with two exceptions: the slinky retro groove of the title track and the Townshend original 'Heart To Hang On To', the only track which swaps vocals between the two. How much better might this album have been with both men bouncing ideas off each other - a sly sarcastic Lane rejoinder to Townshend's self-deprecating bragging song 'Misunderstood' or a gritty Pete middle eight to counter Ronnie's lost-in-a-fog 'Nowhere To Run'. Oddly, only one track here is written 'for' Meher Baba and Pete's 'Keep Me Turning' is unique amongst his songs of searching for a higher power, more questioning than blind faith. Even some harmonies between the two would have been something: the two actually have rather a strong blend as those earlier Meher Baba albums will attest. You'd have thought too that Ronnie might have played a 'My Generation' bass solo somewhere on his friend's recordings and that Pete would have answered with a string of guitar solos, but no - this is two solo records made very much apart. Apparently Ronnie did approach Pete to at least write some of the material together but Townshend, who'd never written with anyone (even John Entwistle) before, declined sheepishly, worried that it would upset his writing style. That's a great shame, with 'Rough Mix' a real lost opportunity, even by both Small Faces and Who standards, both catalogues full of similarly potentially glorious ifs maybes and might-have-beens.
'Rough Mix' remains, though, a strong album whoever made it. On Pete's half 'My Baby Gives It Away' crackles with fun and excitement not heard in a Who song since 1966, 'Keep Me Turning' is one of his sweetest and most overlooked ballads juggling depressed cloudy confusion and a certainty in...something, 'Misunderstood' is wickedly hilarious, a piss-take of stardom possibly inspired by his colleague The Ox's similarly wicked 'Success Story' on 'Who By Numbers', 'Street In The City' is an experiment with strings (provided by Pete's own father-in-law) that starts off sensitive and ends with wicked glee as a man falls off a ladder, while 'Heart To Hang On To' is perhaps the album's best known song, much requested in concert and another life-affirming track that tries to reach out in the darkness and grab hold of something firm, tight. On Ronnie's half 'Nowhere To Run' is a sobering reflection of Ronnie's career dead-end played with his usual adept folkie touch, 'Annie' is a fragile love song very much in the Slim Chance mould, 'Catmelody' an unexpected retro rockabilly number that's a bit of light relief, while 'April Fool' a gorgeous piece of autobiography as Ronnie laments his birth date of April First and how things are doomed to go wrong. 'Rough Mix', then, is pretty darn great, with two of the 1970's best songwriters given a freedom they never had in their day jobs and with only half an album each to fill there's less filler than usual for both men too. You just can't help lose the feeling that it could have been greater still had the two shared ideas rather than admired them form afar.
Ever wondered what a super group made up of The Who, The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones might have sounded like? Well, it would have sounded like 'My Baby Gives It Away' in all probability, a Townshend track written in an excitable uncontainable Marriott style, kept busy by some deft Charlie Watts drumstrokes. Simple by Pete's standards, it's a lot of fun as Pete's baby gives it away, every day, in every way and he just can't get enough.
'Nowhere To Run' is like plunging out of the city into the country. While Pete is speeding up, Ronnie is slowing down, more than aware that his career is all but over (in actual fact there's one last album to come) and that 'I have tried but I have never won', with 'all of my family and all of my friends knowing there's nowhere to run'. Thinking of Michael Row The Boat Ashore, Ronnie compares his own hard work for no reward and sings 'Michael's rowing - but where is he going?' Funnily enough the line 'Where am I going?', sung through an alien sounding vocoder is a key line of the title track to Quadrophenia, the last Who album but one.
'Rough Mix' is the only Lane-Townshend collaboration here, though it's not clear if either man appears on this track, with Eric Clapton on guitar and Who sideman 'Rabbit' Brundrick doing most of the work. A scrappy R and B instrumental, this might have fitted on both the Decca 'Small Faces' debut and 'The Who Sings My Generation' but sounds very out of place here.
'Annie' is a lovely slow Ronnie Lane song full of his customary melancholy and yearning. A song of advice from a man who now sounds far older than his years to a young girl, Lane ponders how the winter means 'there's no strength in the sun' but reminds us that as the seasons can come and go, so can our luck. 'God bless us all' sings Ronnie, an unusually pro-religion sentiment from a Meher Baba convert.
Pete's 'Keep Me Turning' does at least follow on, slightly, as he too sings of building panic as the fire gets nearer and the water levels rise. caught in a similar moment of panic to those on 'Who By Numbers', Pete asks for help from above. However this song is not a mere spiritual paean with some laugh out loud lines as Pete complains about spending so much time praying to a Messiah who appears to non-believers but never to him ('I missed him again - that brings by score to 110!'), wondering whether the 'Lord wears glasses' and pleading that if the whole world's going to be converted 'don't you leave me to the very last!' On the back of 'Who By Numbers', it's a relief to hear Pete back from the brink of suicide and using humour again, while his vocal is one of his best too.
'Catmelody' is Ronnie's weakest track, a song not about cats but about fate again. Lines like 'I'm on my own - hitting friends for a loan' hint at his despair before Ronnie turns to a Faces style honky tonk and gets drunk on his own home-brewed beer. 'There's a message in here...somewhere!' he giggles, but in truth its Ronnie on holiday. This is the only Lane track to contain what sounds like a Pete Townshend guitar solo, though it's not a very good one.
Pete's 'Misunderstood' may well be the best thing here, an oh so Who song about identity and finding your place in the world. Though it's a comedy ('I am such an ordinary star!' and a chorus of 'coolwalking smoothtalking straightsmoking firestoking), this songs sounds like a tragedy too with Townshend as ever spot on in portraying a confused adolescent who 'doesn't like where I ended up or where I came from' but feels powerless to do anything about it. A sequel to 'Substitute', this track makes you laugh and makes you think. The only Pete track to feature Ronnie, on a half-spoken chorus.
'April Fool' is a close second though, Ronnie re-using all the best bits from his last record 'One For The Road', such as a one-note fiddle part that adds a great deal of tension to the track. Remembering a past birthday and a girl pointing out that he's an 'april fool' by birth, Ronnie wonders what happened to her and to him. Remembering the freedom and perhaps equating it to making this record, Ronnie sighs 'it's been so long... ' However, he knows he lies in the present not the past and vows to 'take my dreams to bed - where they belong - long gone'. Sweet.
'Street In The City' came about when Pete plucked up the courage to ask his father-in-law Edwin aka Ted Astley for an arrangement to one of his songs, following Astley's most famous work as an arranger of various TV themes including The Saint. It's a sound that wouldn't have worked on any previous album, with Astley weaving a full-on mini symphony round Pete's simple lines that darts here and there past his vocal and 'Pinball Wizard' style flash guitar as well as any Roger Daltrey vocal or Keith Moon drum solo. The moment around 3:45 when the song starts soaring after trying to take off is stunning. Townshend's a day in the life observation lyrics aren't his best and there's as touch of the 'Oo's orribleness as Townshend watches on as the window cleaner he's been following falls off a ladder and hurts himself for no reason ('Whose to blame for the pain?' is the cry, perhaps returning to 'Keep Me Turning's thought about God ignoring good men). A very Who line, it seems out of place on this sunny album.
'Heart To Hang On To' is a Townshend song that starts with Ronnie singing the Faces verses about 'JohnnyBoy' who acts tough behind the beer he lives for and pregnant Annie who appears so confident but can be heard crying out in the night, but is inwardly very scared. Pete responds to both characters with his simple chorus as he too pleads to be given a lifeline in life, a certainty that isn't as messy as anything that humans make for themselves. However even Townshend can't find one, with this mainly acoustic song pealing off into a raucous electric guitar and horns duet full of frustration and desperation.
The album then ends uncomfortably on the Townshend-sung cover of Don Williams' over-countryfied 'Till The Rivers All Run Dry'. Though Pete sings well on a song well out his usual comfort zone, it all feels slightly false for two men so known for their honesty and authenticity and is another example of Pete trying something he'd never be able to get away with elsewhere - probably for good reason.
Overall, though, 'Rough Mix' ticks most boxes: it got Ronnie lots of extra money that kept him afloat for a few more years, it helped Pete re-charge his batteries ready for the next band LP 'Who Are You?' the following year, it enabled several mutual friends to hang around each other on what were, by and large, enjoyable sessions free of tensions. What it doesn't so is answer what a 'Small Who' supergroup might have sounded like. Something of an oddity in both men's canon, 'Rough Mix' isn't what it might have been and 'loosely conjoined' might have been a better title. However there's a lot going for this sweet, understated, lovely LP which manages to carry on Ronnie's lovely work another few years and gives Pete a chance to escape his temporarily. Far from being rough, this might well be the prettiest album in either man's canon, much loved and much under-rated.
The CD release was much delayed due to the fact that Ronnie's rights were 'good' only for the release of the album, not any re-issues (musicians didn't know about compact discs or downloads in 1977). It finally appeared as one of the last AAA albums to make a CD debut as late as 2006, with three bonus tracks. None really add much to your enjoyment: 'Only You' is a less, louder Ronnie Lane song that only got as far as a backing track but even that sounds generic and formulaic; Pete's 'Good Question' is a jazzier unfinished backing track with some nice interaction between him and Rabbit; finally Ronnie's 'Silly Little Man' has a guide vocal from its composer but not much else as he writes another honky tonk Faces B-side the universe really doesn't need. Forget the CD if you must, though - the original album is a real jewel of a record.
Ronnie Lane "See Me"
One Step/Good Ol' Boys Boogie/Lad's Got Money/She's Leaving/Barcelona/Kuschty Rye//Don't Tell Me Now/You're So Right/Only You/Winning With Women/Way Up Yonder
"He taught me all I never knew - and taught me more than that besides"
The only album recorded after it was public knowledge that Ronnie was poorly with multiple sclerosis. 'See Me' is a peculiar hybrid of wanting to give us one last great magnanimous gesture in the old style and a last-ditch attempt to sound contemporary and get a hit. It's an experiment that, so it's generally agreed, doesn't quite work as a man with a lot on his mind tries to get everything to fit into these tiny easily digestible boxes. Had 'See Me' been recorded more like the Slim Chance albums though it may well have been a classic with many typically gorgeous thoughtful ballads dotted with gold-dust as a line here and a line there of the homely philosophy no one else would think to write catches your ear. 'There ain't no one quite like you' Ronnie sings to both his girl and his God, 'you blessed my soul, were cold on Sunday - and you always evaded the truth'. many of the melodies are pretty and they're much enhanced by having three of the best players of the era fill in the guitar parts Ronnie's struggling on these days: Eric Clapton hangs around long enough to co-write one track with Ronnie; Henry McCullough only stayed with Paul McCartney's Wings for a year and one album but made a big splash with the work he did finish; while the lesser known Alun Davies (Cat Stevens' right-hand man for much of the 1970s) is an unsung hero of the AAA. Both men are just right for Ronnie, sensitive empathetic performers who are both used to dealing with intelligent lyrics - it's just a shame the same can't be said for the oh so 1980s backing (even back in 1979).
This record started life as something completely different - and arguably better. 'Self Tapper' was the album's working title during the early sessions recorded soon after 'Rough Mix' was finished, a more introspective and vulnerable album that remains largely unheard (bits of it came on the 'Tin and Tambourine' rarities set in 1998). Midway through, though, something seems to have changed and the album took on a much heavier, more rigid feel with simpler commercial rock and pop tunes substituted for the more 'Ronnie' songs. 'See Me' is a record that really belongs in its pyjamas, thinking deep thoughts in bed, made to wear a sharply pressed suit and pose for the masses. 'See Me' the album boasts, but you get the feeling Ronnie would rather we were looking anywhere else but in his direction as he shyly, falteringly feels his way through the album by gritted teeth.
Throughout Ronnie sounds lost, sometimes turning on the magic but all too often struggling with his words and pronunciation as this most horrendous of illnesses take it's slow icy grip over him It didn't help that Ronnie's re-action to the news of his diagnosis (which he knew first hand after it killed his mother) was to get drunk, with alcohol calming his inner fear but adding to the strain to his voice. At times that actually suits this album, which tries hard to work out the questions to life and answer the latest life upheavals and challenges put in the way of the simple life Ronnie's always wanted. 'See Me' is an album that should feel lived in, made with the same struggle the characters in the songs are going through, many of which are blatantly autobiographical even for Ronnie. At other times, though, Ronnie just sounds lost, frustratedly trying to make a 'modern' record when he has not clue what a 'modern' record sounds like and fighting a body that couldn't make him feel less like the hip young trendy teenager the record companies all want. Made with a couple of loans from Clapton, Pete Townshend Ronnie Wood and even Rod Stewart, it's certainly money well spent and we'd rather have another Ronnie lane album than not. But just as will happen with Marriott's last almost exactly a decade later, it's a shame the final musical will and testament couldn't have been more about the timeless creator than the fashion-blind time that created it.
'One Step' is, on paper, exactly the sort of thing you'd expect Ronnie to write. A song about condensing life's odd jobs into small manageable chunks without thinking about the bigger picture, it's the sound of a man whose having to find out new ways of doing old things and thinking about their significance more. Unfortunately as a song it ends up one great list of things Ronnie now does to chew tobacco and the plink-plonk backing seems to think it's all one big giggle.
'Good Ol' Boys Boogie' reads like a Faces boozy song, but really isn't - it's a taut, worried song that has Ronnie declare 'I feel I've known you all my life' and yet feel as if he still doesn't know this person at all, really. A song that could well have been directed at Rod Stewart it's a half thankyou, half fuck you kind of a song with Lane not sure quite what he feels. Possibly the creepiest accordion solo you'll ever hear.
'Lad's Got Money' is, despite the autobiographical looking sarcasm, a character-song about an old man who leaves his family money - but hasn't left a note telling them where it is. Ronnie's in on the joke as the family discover things about him they wouldn't otherwise have known, which prove to be far richer than any amount of coins.
'She's Leaving' is a sad song made to wear a fixed grin as Ronnie recalls an ex telling him 'I don't want to do no harm - I only want to do good' and wondering why leaving him sobbing is in anyway 'good'. This song's rigid no-nonsense backing and cheery melody leaves no room for tears though and the combined effect is more than a little odd.
The slow shuffle 'Barcelona' features Clatpon's quicksilver guitar over a typically folky bed of acoustic guitars as Ronnie bids goodbye to a place where he'd had fun as he heads for home. As far as I know, Ronnie had no ties to Spain whatsoever - it seems likely that this is really a 'goodbye' song to the world, but one Ronnie isn't quite ready to make just yet.
'Kuschty Rye' is the album's quiet highlight and the best mixture of the inner melancholy and catchy singalong pop dressing. Though apparently a love song, it sounds like a Meher Baba convert asking why he's been abandoned and forsaken, adored one minute and ignored with confusing lingo the next. Lane now feels mocked whenever he's called 'her' little 'Kuschty Rye', but yet the affection in this song lingers, Ronnie not sure enough of his bitterness to truly write the scathing song he starts with. A bitchy song that turns into a romance halfway through - very Ronnie Lane! The backing is quite lovely too, like the old Slim Chance after several extra lessons. Pete Townshend turned up to produce this track, though sadly he doesn't play on it, which might be why it's the song here that most sounds like 'Rough Mix'.
'Don't Tell Me Now', though, is a reggae song every bit as awful as the Humble Pie ones Marriott was offering to the world. Ronnie's in love, a fact that seems obvious to everyone else but left him 'the last one to know', while that blooming accordion's back again despite the very Jamaican vibe.
'You're So Right' is another of those quirky roaring twenties numbers Ronnie liked so much, this one firmly embellished by a Faces-style boogie woogie piano lick and some clever lyrics that again refer to the schizo(quadro?)phenia of the album. 'Well a drunken man don't tell lies and nor do I, so if you think my heart's breaking - you'd be right!' giggles Ronnie, apparently having the time of his life.
'Only You' is slow and sluggish, lane all too believably lost as he tries to find his way out of where he's currently trapped, 'getting on and making do'. The melody rips off Fats Domino's 'Blueberry Hill' though and this clunking arrangement is no match for the first version recorded for 'Self Tapper' and released on 'Tin and Tambourine'.
'Winning With Women' is very like Ronnie's songs for The Faces - good time boozy rock, but with a softler folkier edge. Though I don't often miss Rod Stewart on Ronnie's lyrics, you miss him here: Lane's tentative vocal sounds like a struggle and needs to be belted out.
The album - and Ronnie's career - then bows out with the album's only cover, the traditional song 'Way Out Yonder'. In keeping with the rest of this album, it's an almost manically happy take on a sad subject as Ronnie imagines his own death and ponders whether 'the angels are up there waiting for me'. It's not as moving as that makes it sound though - it's a boozy knees-up that seems oblivious to the fact that it's really a sad song, rather than a sad song trying it's best to be happy.
Overall, then, it's a case of now you 'See Me', now you don't, as Ronnie dodges the pressure of making any last grand statement whilst delivering just enough to show that he's been taking his recent struggles on-board. An album that's a wake trying hard to be a party, it's slightly false sense of smiling makes it come adrift more often than not and it's certainly unique in Ronnie's canon where every other record he ever made with anybody could always be counted on for featuring the 'real' him. For all that, though, this isn't a bad album and the few times the mask slips just for that moment feels all the more special, somehow, in the middle of an album where Ronnie (and especially the backing band) are trying their best to pretend that everything's just fine and dandy. It seems a shame that such a great, raw, honest, original talent has to end his days being tidied up and subjected to the same tired trends as everyone else back in 1979. But then perhaps there was simply no other way to make this album, with Ronnie having already given us two albums he thought were a sort of last 'goodbye' career-wise with 'One For The Road' and 'Rough Mix'; bringing himself to make a third, in the light of his recent diagnosis and the ticking clock, would have been so painfully hard to make. How great then that this album exists at all, though it's not perhaps the record you'll be expecting when you learn that it's Ronnie's final farewell.
Ian McLagan "Troublemaker"
La De Da/Headlines/Truly/Somebody/Movin' Out/Little Troublemaker/If It's Alright/Sign/Hold On/Mystifies Me
"I make your face bleed and you use it as a quote for a headline"
'Mac' finally got round to releasing his first solo album some fourteen years after joining The Small Faces and some six after the end of The Faces and you have to wonder why he didn't get round to it earlier. In a way this album is something of a surprise: it doesn't really sound like either of his earlier bands, with a different sort of hard-rocking sound more laidback in nature than the Faces without the pop charm or experimentation of his small colleagues, with a touch of reggae and ska. Oddly the organ takes a back seat here to ringing guitars and heavy drums. Mac's earthy vocals had been overshadowed by that of Marriott and Stewart for far too long, with a breezy rock edge that's actually quite close to Rod's at his peak and Mac's older, aged voice is far more confident than on his 'Long Agos and Worlds Apart' or 'Up The Wooden Hills' cameos with his first band. Perhaps what Mac brings to this album most, though, is his address book with a who's who of 1970s rock and roll: his old pal Ronnie Wood turns up as the main guitar player and occasional guest songwriter, bringing his new partner Keith Richards and Stones sax player Bobby Keyes along with him, Ringo turns up as one of several drummers (making this one of only a small handful of discs containing appearances by Beatles and Stones, though sadly not on the same tracks) and big name Stanley Clarke appears on bass. Not everything on this album works, with no real standout tracks coming close to matching the old days and it all feels slightly anonymous somehow. In retrospect a bit more trouble-making and rule-breaking on this album wouldn't have gone amiss. But there are none of the major mistakes The Faces and even occasionally The Small Faces made and Mac's charm is often enough to rescue the album out of trouble.
'La De Da' starts with the line 'I'm not as frightened as I used to be!' and Mac sounds gloriously confident as he comes to terms with the fact that he's his own man and paymaster now. A rocking beat makes this a fun and aggressive start to the album.
'Headlines' continues in much the same terms as Mac 'raises hell and talks the talk!' as he tries to step out from the shadows and make his own headlines, along with a put-down of a sneak in his life whose only after him to leak things to the papers.
Carl Levy's reggae hit 'Truly' takes up six minutes of the running time - double anything else here - and is earnest and heartfelt while being a bit dull as Mac again sings of a girl being shy and nervous and trying to comfort her.
'Somebody' sounds very like a Faces song as Mac meets a new girl whose 'alright' and makes him do things they've never done before, raising his voice to a Rod-style nasal whine. It's good stuff though, well handled.
By 'Movin' Out' the album is getting a little bit in danger of sounding the same. There's nothing wrong with this aggressive, confident track that has Mac again speaking about his nerves as he breaks out on his own after so long in bands, but it's much the same as earlier songs.
Guitarist Johnny Lee Schell's 'Little Troublemaker' is the sort-of title track, written especially for his boss Mac. It roars out of the blocks with punkish energy as the narrator tells the story of someone always on the run, even if there's far too much going on in the sound for this to be 'true' punk.
Sweet ballad 'If It's Alright' changes up the tempo slightly, a nearly-all acoustic song with a distinctly 50s vibe as Mac tries to woo a girl who doesn't want to know.
The slow and bluesy 'Sign' is also interesting, Mac realising he's mis-read a relationship and feeling part angry, part blue. More songs like these two to break up the album would have made a good album great.
'Hold On' is back to the rock shouting, but even if it's generic it's still a lot of fun as Mac adds a touch of accordion to the usual rock-strutting backing. Another tale of love going wrong, this is the one song on the album where the keyboardist tries to hang on to the past.
The album ends on perhaps the highlight: Ronnie Wood wrote 'Mystifies Me' for his old partner because he thought it would bring out the tough tenderness in his voice and he's right. This is one of Wood's better songs in fact, more heartfelt than usual as it's written from the point of view not of a character or a jack The Lad about town but someone whose so caught up in a love he thought he'd never have.
A clearer production would have helped (this album is sometimes awfully muddy), some more variety would have been nice, more organ solos would have been terrific and 'Troublemaker' clearly can't compete with the wit and invention of The Small Faces or even The Faces at their peak. For all that, though, this is a strong album delivered by an ever-undervalued writer, player and performer - especially on CD where this album comes in a double-pack with its sequel 'Bump In The Night'.
Humble Pie "On To Victory"
(Atco, April 1980)
Fool For A Pretty Face/You Soppy Pratt!/Infatuation/Take It From Here//Savin' It/Baby Don't You Do It!/Get It In The End/My Lover's Prayer
"I can't keep living in this misery, but God you can't let my life be over!"
As far as Marriott was concerned, Humble Pie died in 1975 when 'Street Rats' was released by A&M without permission and he got on with his much-delayed solo career. Their revival was as much of a surprise to him as it was to anyone else, with Marriott coming to a pact with drummer Jerry Shirley that they should let bygones be bygones and revive the band name purely to make some quick cash. Despite the band's struggling sales record, Atco - a subsidiary of Atlantic - were keen and enjoyed the demo of 'Fool For A Pretty Face' that the pair of Pie founders strung together in a hurry. Hiring two new replacements for Greg Ridley and Clem Clemson in session bass veteran 'Snooty' Jones and guitarist Bobby Tench from the Jeff beck Group, re-heated Pie was suddenly back in business, picking up where they left off on 'Thunderbox' and 'Street Rats'. Luckily for the band, but unfortunately for us now, they chose a good time career-wise: by 1980 heavy metal was as common a sight in the charts as 'Itchycoo Park' style songs had once been in 1967 and Pie, the honorary godfathers of the genre, are keen to cash-in.
By the time of 'Go For The Throat' the next year that will mean trouble, with Pie reduced from all the ingredients they had when they started to just one flavour, but here at least it's just one of many styles the band have at their disposal, with Marriott reaching back to soul and pop too. Unfortunately, though, years of hard living, endless touring and anxiety has reduced his once glorious vocals to a croak - while they'll revive to some extent across the next decade, they'll never sound 'good' again. Long-term 'On To Victory' couldn't sound less like it's back-slapping, heroic title as Pie play it safe and record quick and fast, without any ambition beyond filling out their bank balances. However short-term it did everything it needed to: it matched 'Street Rats' in quality while thrashing 'Thunderbox' and was a relative commercial success too with a chart peak of #60 (while single 'Fool For A Pretty Face' got to #56). Marriott deserved his easy money after so many years when getting any was hard work; however now that Pie are long since crumbled there's less reason to dig this curiously bland album out.
'Fool For A Pretty Face' is a good start to any album though, a rocky but distinctly poppy song that has Marriott has in full throttle and a good time lyric about having been kicked and damaged by love in the past but still being a sucker for romance anyway. Marriott's old-before-his-time vocal aside, this could have been a big hit for younger Pie or even The Small Faces.
'You Soppy Pratt!' is a memorably titled Shirley song that comes with a crunchy angular riff and a Marriott vocal closer to wailing than singing. Sadly this pleading-to-get-together track doesn't match the heartfelt songs of Pie's illustrious past.
'Infatuation' is dark and moody, with an unusual descending note bass riff coaxing one of the roughest vocals of Marriott's career out of him as his narrator slowly realises that it isn't love he's in but lust while a cod-Blackberries (the Blueberries?!) chant bored behind him.
'Take It From Here' would be a great track had it been performed by a lesser band like Guns and Roses - compared to Marriott's best work it just sounds like shouting. Marriott wants to know if his lover really wants him and vows to go if he isn't, but we never get a final answer.
'Savin' It' is one of Pie's better reggae-funk numbers, which admittedly doesn't give the track much competition but does at least feature a sympathy with the material. As with the last track, if Madness had recorded this sax-parping nonsense the critics would have been all over it, but Marriott's past is a lot better than this.
Holland-Dozier-Holland's 'Baby Don't You Do It' is this record's slowed-down rock and roll standard. The older, more able Pie would have smashed this song, which plays to Marriott's strengths of unhinged wailing and intensity. Marriott sounds half asleep on this version though, while the heavy metal clichéd guitars lose points for style too, even though the song rather suits it's slowed down tempo.
'Get It In The End' is another forgettable Shirley song written right in the Pie tradition as Marriott promises 'it' in a vaguely threatening manner, urging the audience that nothing is beyond them. Unfortunately this track sounds past Marriott now, the creak in his voice all too audible.
One of the album's highlights is overlooked minor Otis Redding hit 'My Lover's Prayer', which remained a live favourite up to Marriott's death. A far better track than all on this album bar the single, Marriott is well suited to this dragged out pleading vocal which relies so heavily on his heartfelt delivery and works well slowed down even a notch further than Otis' original. Marriott should have recorded more Redding songs - it would have been great to hear a Pie version of 'Dreams To Remember' for instance.
'Further Down The Road' is rather better than the album's average too, a crunchy riff-driven rocker that's credited to the entire band and which sounds as if it started life as a band jam that got out of hand. Marriott's voice sounds hideous, though, as if he needs a week in bed with a hot water bottle not yet more vocal overdubs. His line 'give us a kiss!' should be romantic, but his voice is so worn its a line scary enough to give you nightmares.
The album ends on a final high with a cover of Allen Toussaint's 'Over You'. Marriott's suddenly found his voice thanks to some electronic trickery and Toussaint's 'carnival' trademark sound is well pulled off by a band who actually sound better on the lighter rather than the heavier tracks. Marriott's broken up with his loved one and imagines a nation full of flags at half mast, church bells sadly ringing, The Spice Girls breaking down in tears (OK I might have imagined that last one) and is surprised when the world carries on the same.
Overall, then, 'On To Victory' is passable, but not much better. It's more consistent than both 'Street Rats' and the forthcoming 'Go For The Throat' in the sense that nothing here is truly mind-bogglingly awful, but equally the highs aren't quite as high with only the hit single and possibly 'My Lover's Prayer' recordings you'll want to hear any more than once. Hardly victory then, but given the state of the band and Marriott's finances, a stalemate probably felt like winning all the same.
Ian McLagan "Bump In The Night"
(Mercury, January 1981)
Little Girl/Alligator/If It's Lovin' You Want/Casualty/Told A Tale On You/Judy Judy Judy/So Lucky/Rebel Walk/Not Running Away/Boy's Gonna Get It
"In the game of love it's a no-show!"
Two years on the 'Troublemaker' was at it again, with Mac's second album very much in the vein of his first. Teasingly, it starts with a false start, the Bump Band as Mac would go on to christen them, clearly a band in the shambolic 'Faces' sense rather than a tightknit set of virtuosos a la The Small Faces. One of the members, Ricki Fataar, was once a Beach Boy and a Rutle, so the band were not without talent, though at times they hide it well. Sadly a lot of the songs on this album ended up being every bit as pub rockish and repetitive as The Faces material sans Ronnie Lane, a level or two down from the standards of Mac's first album 'Troublemaker'. However the Bump Band give the record an extra dimension and Mac's grown even further into his unusual, unwieldy voice, delivering vocals that are every bit the equal of Rod Stewart's or Ronnie Lane's, with a similar 'rough diamond shine' quality. Ronnie Wood guests on the flamboyant opener 'Little Girl', while Stones sax player Bobby Keyes appears on the moody 'Not Running Away', though no other old friends appear. The end result is yet another in Mac's run of likeable, deeply under-rated albums that deserved to do better, although this one does feel like the least memorable of all of them with no really classics songs and nothing breath-takingly new. It's all well played though and kept The Faces anarchic spirit alive that little bit longer, with Mac sadly losing his record deal after sales for this second album ended up a notch lower than his first as well.
'Little Girl' is a rocking Faces-style pub rocker with an aggressive streak as Mac sings about a girl with big brown eyes the way Rod once looked at Maggie May.
'Alligator' is another noisy rocker as Mac carries on a Small Faces tradition by putting down a 'cold hearted monster' who seems to owe him money. 'Read between the lines' Mac uncharacteristically snarls on a track Ronnie and Steve would have appreciated.
If it's loving you want then play something romantic and tender - don't put on 'If It's Lovin' You Want' which is a third noisy rocker from a defensive Mac whose too cross to make peace just yet. Shades of the Small Faces reunion here perhaps? (Did 'The Majik Mijits' ask Mac to work with them this same year?)
'Casualty' is in much the same vein, but it's more musical somehow and about the best on the record with hints of reggae, calypso and folk as Mac refers to a thorn in his recent side causing trouble - 'It's easier to let him be!'
'Told A Tale On You' is a Dire Straits style pick guitar-rocker with a cliched lyric about Mac suffering because of someone so he might as well tell lies about them if he's going to jail anyway. 'What you gonna do?' Well, skip forward to the next track since you ask.
'Judy Judy Judy' is one of the better songs though, a catchy Stones-style strutting rocker about a 'bad girl' whose always getting in fights but 'never starts them'. A great Keith Richards style guitar riff from bump member Johnny Lee Schell gets the song rocking.
At last, seven tracks into the record, Mac drops the tempo for 'So Lucky', an earnest soulful ballad that looks forward to a new life with Kim after she left Keith Moon for the keyboard player and celebrates how wonderful is going to be long-term, whilst worrying about all the changes in the short.
'Rebel Walk' is another 50s-style retro rocker delivered with the sort of focvus that suggests an all-nighter in the pub. 'Never one for talk', Mac duck-walks his way through this repetitive song about a James Dean type, which must have been quite difficult from behind an organ.
'Not Running Away' has Mac trying to get up the courage to face his fears - presumably ska was one of them given the distinctly African-American sounds on this track which only drummer Fataar (himself of African descent) gets right.
The album ends with 'Boy's Gonna Get It', a surprisingly breezy pop number that may well be self-autobiographical as a young lad keep being told he won't get anywhere if he daydreams - and yet his daydreams led him to becoming a musician.
A strong ending to an often weak album, this record could have done with a bit more of things going bump in the night to surprise us and feels like a backwards step after 'Troublemaker'. Still, considering Mac had only ever taken the spotlight on one record before this he does a good job, holding the ramshackle band together and really growing into his prematurely aged voice. This is as bad as Mac's run of albums get - and it's not that bad by any means.
Humble Pie "Go For The Throat"
(Atco, 'Mid 1981')
All Shook Up/Teenage Anxiety/Tin Soldier/Keep It On The Island/Driver//Restless Blood/Go For The Throat/Lottie and the Charcoal Queen/Chip Away The Stone
"Even a rock will crumble if you strike it night and day"
'Bless my soul, what's wrong with me?' begins Humble Pie's final album and it's a fitting question. What exactly is wrong? Marriott has lost his old diversity but can still out-scream anyone from Kiss, Motorhead or Ac/DC. Marriott's still writing, if not quite so prolifically and heroically as before. The band aren't untalented, just a bit sloppy and over-keen on the accelerator pedal. Yet somehow everything that made Humble Pie even half-great has come crashing down by now. Recorded in a hurry, like many Pie LPs, this one feels even more than ever as if it was put together simply to make a buck as quickly as possible, with six quickly written originals, three all too obvious cover songs (which in true Pie style are obvious choices played slow and lifelessly!) and one brave stab at an old Small Faces classic that simply shows up further how bad things have become in the fourteen years since it was released. 'It's rough out there, I believe I've had enough out there - it ain't what I was told out there!' sings Marriott in a pained voice on 'Teenage Anxiety', the only song from this album worth owning (even though it's plainly about the present, however much the guitarist wants us to think it's about his past).
If you've been reading this book or this site even vaguely in order then you'll have had the sense for a while now that things are going wrong for Marriott. Ever since Humble Pie rocked the Fillmore in 1971 his career has been in freefall and nothing - not solo albums, not Small Faces reunions, not Humble PIe reunions - can stem the flow. The difference between this album and its predecessor, the sarcastically named 'Go For Victory', is that even the irrepressible optimist Marriott is beginning to feel it, reducing his vocals to the hoarse shouts of current heavy metal bands who were to The Small Faces what The Spice Girls are to The Supremes because it's the only way this album is going to sell and that suddenly is the be all and end all of this record's ambition. Never mind if the jamming got out of control - it's filled up another five minutes of the album Humble Pie don't need to bother with. Never mind if the vocals can't be heard - they were written at speed anyway. No bother if the songs sound like old ones - the old ones sounds so fans can just get this lot all over again. Even the new-look Pie, with the loyal Jerry Shirley playing alongside Marriott for the last time, can't add any real excitement to this album and simply grind away until told to stop. Marriott once inspired so much from band, fans and himself - now he's only a shell of his former self, shouting because that's how he remembers he used to do this music lark, all meaning long gone. There are only two exceptions to this: 'Driver', a last burst of playful Cockney humour which sadly ends up as noisy as every other song here anyway and 'Teenage Anxiety', one last heartfelt sighing song from a writer who used to say what he meant with every song, not just album highlights.
'Go For The Throat' is a terribly sad album in retrospect then, the last mainstream album Marriott will release until as late as 1989 as a suspicion of record companies and a lack of confidence will leave the next few Marriott projects sitting on a shelf rather than out in the wide world until after his untimely death. Even the cover is sad: yes the couple trying to French kiss on the sleeve with all the believability of a shampoo commercial is even more appalling and generic than the music as many fans point out, but sadder is the fact that behind the pair stand the twin towers almost twenty years to the day before they fall (surprisingly few album covers feature them and even then only as part of a block New York cityscape - but here they're the only buildings you can see). By then The Small Faces' twin towers of Steve and Ronnie will be gone too.
A three minute 'All Shook Up' can't get shaking at all, Marriott sounding more like Van Halen than Elvis as Humble Pie plod their way through a noisy aggressive backing track.
'OK chaps' adds Marriott in a posh accent before hitting a Mac-style keyboard groove for 'Teenage Anxiety', a song of guilt that has Marriott looking back on his past and wondering where it all went wrong: 'And if my time would serve me well oh what a story I could tell about the places that I seen...' However this is more than some woe-is-me ballad. Trying to work out where he went wrong, Marriott remembers how young, inexperienced and shy he once was and what an unreceptive world there was at first. 'It's tough out there' he sighs, offering a crumb of comfort to every teenager struggling now like he was then, finding one last golden connection as he barks 'I do believe I had enough out there...' Marriott also admitted later that he was thinking of John Lennon and his murder at the end of 1980 here, which shows you just how quickly this album was put together. Several people wondered if Marriott was trying to find sympathy with Lennon's equally confused killer, but that's not quite Marriott's intention: this is a story where everyone loses, Marriott included as he tries to take stock of his own life and disappearing career. 'They shot my hero in the street' he almost whispers, which comes as a welcome change on this shouty album, 'And as I sing this the world still weeps'. One of Marriott's last great songs, sensibly included as the last track on many an A&M Pie compilation. Even this great song, though, is a mere eight lines long, suggesting inspiration ran out as quickly as it came.
'Tin Soldier' has by now gone from a song so alive it hurt to just becoming like every other slowed down Pie cover out there. Wobbly, insincere and possibly arthritic, Marriott can only shout not purr anymore and his guitar sounds as thin and weak as he does. However for all that there's something to be said for this version as a 'before and after' shot: Marriott still strains to make this work and heard back to back with the effortlessness of yesteryear is pretty moving. There might only be a fourteen year gap between the two recordings, but it might as well be a hundred.
'Keep It On The Island' is more noisy shouting, though with a nice Faces style piano and some vaguely entertaining lyrics that recall 'High and Happy': asked what he wants by his drug dealer Marriott just wants whatever he can afford, as long as it gets him high, his dealer running away to see more expensive clients. We've come a long way from 'Here Come The Nice' where drug taking once seemed exotic!
'Driver' is the album's most overlooked song, a groovy Dire Straits sounding 50s retro number that alternates between sparseness and pure noise. All too soon the song becomes another generic woman-chaser but even then it's better than many Pie have been recording recently: the girl is given so many items of beauty but then Marriott throws in 'she's got teeth like fangs' and adds later 'I used to buy a car but now I drive a truck, I don't give a monkeys, I don't give a...look out!' giggles Marriott, censoring himself.
'Restless Blood' is more stodgy grooving as Marriott equates love with gambling on a brainless cover. Given that we've heard this sort of thing so often before, though, the odds were pretty low to a track like this appearing on a Pie album, although at least this one has a passable chorus this time.
Title track 'Go For The Throat' opens with Marriott's philosophy 'I'm not a bright man, but I sure ain't no fool!' as he recalls advice to go for everything in life. IT's advice that's served him well for most of his career, but like many songs on the album this one is over-sung and arguably deserves a bit less of an attack.
'Lottie and the Charcoal Queen' is a final collaboration by Marriott and Shirley, slightly softer than most of the album and with occasionally funny lyrics: 'I don't like crowds, I only sleep with the best!' grins Marriott, though it's a sentence that's patently not true by this period of his life when the guitarist was largely alone. This track got cut from the album when this and 'On To Victory' got condensed onto a single disc CD, which is a shame as it's one of the better songs here if no real great loss to your collection.
'Chip Away The Stone' is an Aerosmith cover that doesn't sound at all out of place, which rather says it all. For my money Pie still play this song better than the original, but not by much: this remains another pointless exercise in rocking just for the sake of making noise rather than having something to say. That golden voice deserved better than being reduced to a one-note shout.
'Go For The Throat' then is not for the faint hearted or for those with long memories. If you can, pick up 'Teenage Anxiety' from a Pie compilation and track down a copy of 'Driver' if you're enough of a Marriott convert to want to know what happened to him at the end. In every other way, though, this quick cash-in of a record deserved to be forgotten and buried and I promise I won't mention it again for the rest of this book.