Monday, 8 May 2017
"From The Beginning"
(Decca, June 1967)
Runaway/My Mind's Eye/Yesterday Today And Tomorrow/That Man/My Way Of Giving/Hey Girl/(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me?//Take This Hurt Off Me/All Or Nothing/Baby Don't You Do It/Plum Nellie/Sha-La-La-La-Lee/You've Really Got A Hold On Me/Whatcha Gonna Do 'Bout It?
"More than love, it's a way of living!"
Timed by Decca to be released the same week as The Small Faces' Immediate debut, thus causing cause the biggest possible amount of pain to the departing band, this is a cheap and shoddy thrown-together collection of outtakes from one single album, a few flop singles and some 'stolen' master-tapes of songs the band were working on when they left (and were most horrified they weren't allowed to 'finish'!) For most bands an album like this one in their back catalogue would be a disaster (especially for a group who technically only finished three LPs) but instead it's a measure of The Small Faces' talent that all the songs recorded post their debut are so strong and that most fans have come to think of this odds and sods compilation as a bona fide album anyway over the years. Lousy as the sound might be (this album was mixed in a real hurry, with vocals and echo chambers coming and going at random), anachronistic the packaging might appear (The Small Faces have never looked younger and smarter - or less hip given that we're now in the summer of love already) and the main motive behind the album might well be bitterness, jealousy and revenge rather than love, care and devotion. But for all that 'From The Beginning' is a terrific reminder not just of where the band started but how far they'd come already, even before Immediate came calling.
Going right back to the beginning (which is unusual for us but, well, the title of this compilation rather made me) the earliest recording here is a feisty cover of 'Baby Don't You Do It' recorded during the early singles sessions. It was probably dropped due to group politics because it had Jimmy Winston on throaty lead vocals but it's a fair if frenetic cover version, lacking the simplicity of The Who's more streamlined cover. Then there's non-album debut single itself 'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' which did impressively well for an unknown act to make #14 in the UK charts, mainly courtesy of its chirpy organ and drum interplay and a howl of noise from Marriott's guitar, although this single is a poor cousin of period live performances. It's a bit odd including it here when the song had already appeared on 'The Small Faces' a year too, but then Decca weren't all that interested in short-changing fans after the band walked out on them. Next in chronological order is the band's third and flimsiest single 'Sha La La La Lee', a Kenny Lynch song the band were given as 'punishment' after their own composition 'I've Got Mine' missed the charts. It's the weakest thing here by a country mile and the band will paying for its success and pigeon-holing of them as cutesy teenage pop merchants for some time to come. Next single 'Hey Girl' is almost equally lightweight, but this original is a lot more fun with Lane growling in counterpart to Marriott's lead most effective. Thankfully even Decca couldn't turn down an original song as classy as 'All Or Nothing', which remains the band's only #1 hit for several very good reasons: it's intensity, restrain and production values to name just three. Frustratingly though Decca don't see fit to include the song's B-side 'Understanding' which would have given it close competition.
Next up are the first album outtakes. 'Runaway' really should have made the album, a driving pulsating cover of the Del Shannon classic with a truly classic Marriott vocal as he goes from operatic tenor to groovy rocker in the space of the first few opening bars. Don Covay's 'Take This Hurt Off Me' is more ordinary and probably right to be given the push, an R and B song that already sounded like a too-obvious choice even though the original had only been released as recently as 1964. Third outtake 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' is a promising cover that sounds a little rushed, with Marriott not quite in Smokey Robinson's league just yet, although his angry aggressive guitar playing - so different to most other covers of this tune - almost makes the song. Lastly comes 'Plum Nellie', a group original that features one of Mac's earliest signature organ sounds up front but is perhaps a bit too much like Booker T and the MG's 'Green Onion's to be as worthy of release as the other similar instrumentals that made the album. Finally, in the Small-Faces sanctioned releases, comes the band's last single for Decca, the overlooked if equally derivative 'My Mind's Eye' whose release in November 1966 emphasised even more it's similarity to the Christmas Carol 'Ding Dong Merrily On High'.
Talking of being merrily on high, the highlight of 'From The Beginning' is surely the hazy collection of four 'new' songs recorded at the very start of 1967 and recorded, as far as The Small Faces were concerned, as mere demos to show Immediate the sort of thing they wanted to record for the label. Decca, though, claimed that as the band were still technically under contract all these recordings belonged to them and promptly released them without even consulting the band (who, without knowing what Decca were up to, had re-recorded two of them in a very similar format for their next LP). Though unfinished, all four are fascinating recordings: 'My Way Of Giving' features Marriott singing higher and stronger than the better known re-recording while the backing track and especially the backing vocals are messier, without the claustrophobic production values of the finished version. Ronnie also sings a 'don't worry baby' counter-vocal cut from the 'finished' version; 'Have You Ever Seen Me?' basically lacks the overdubs and features a more awkward, less confident shout from Marriott on the vocal and sloppier backing vocals treated to heavy echo, although the backing track is actually pretty close to the completed take.
As for the 'unused' tracks, they both come close to matching any of the high peaks The Small Faces achieved and reveal a whole new psychedelic side to the band that's been diluted even as early as the Immediate album. 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow' is like the band's old R and B songs but drenched in echo and psychedelic organ and treated to one of Ronnie's most daring vocals and lyrics concerning growing old: 'When the children play they're so far away, they have no need for summer! When they're old and grey they hide their minds away, living for the dawn of tomorrow!' The song doesn't come to a natural end either but simply jumps off a cliff mid-song leaving a ferocious psychedelic battle hanging in mid air before being swatted aside by a typical Kenney Jones drum-fill. 'That Man' is similar but slightly more 'awake' as Ronnie again takes the lead on a swirling claustrophobic cloud of noise where he wonders, surely fuelled by LSD, whether the man with the 'staring eyes' and 'weary look' is still his friend before a cowboy guitar riff somehow noodles its way out of the confusion as if his mind is slowly coming to. It won't surprise anyone to learn that the 'next' official Small Faces release after these recording sessions is the drug name-dropping single 'Here Come The Nice', but even compared to that and later tracks this is a far more overtly tripping band who are going for sound and mayhem over their usual precision and rhythm. On the evidence of these two fine tracks it's a shame that The Small Faces didn't slot in a whole record using this style as it certainly suits their sound, but they'd certainly never have been allowed to release this sort of thing on the more corporate Decca label- in a way having their old label release these two tracks almost by accident gives The Small Faces the last laugh.
What we have, then, is a rather breathless rush of very different styles that sound incredibly at odds with each other considering this compilation over covers the space of about eighteen months or so. Music was changing at such a speed back in the mid-1960s though that an album of such obviously 'old' songs could easily have broken the band's career (that seems to be what Decca were hoping...) To us lot some fifty years on, though, it's a fascinating time capsule that captures the band mid-decade, mid-career transition and even mid-recording in a few cases. The ultimate verdict is that despite being effectively a rarities set made by a band who'd barely got going long enough to have a career by this stage, it's every bit as important as the 'real' albums around it; more inconsistent than the debut album maybe but with more peaks along the way. In the end the Small Faces' Immediate debut peaked at #12 in the charts, just five places higher than this compilation at #17. That sounds about right I'd say - this is another thrilling ride from a band who didn't give us that many rides, only a fraction behind it's official cousin for excitement, colour and development. The CD, by the way, includes four extra mixes of the album songs as released around Europe (or at least that's what the sleeve notes - ever since their release there's been a debate going back and forth between fans and Decca over whether they're actually early acetate mixes rather than 'alternate versions') and a BBC session of 'What'cha Gonna Do 'Bout It?' which are all good but not essential if you still treasure the original vinyl.
"There Are But Four Small Faces"
(Immediate, December 1967)
Itchycoo Park/Talk To You/Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire/My Way Of Giving/I'm Only Dreaming/I Feel Much Better//Tin Soldier/Get Yourself Together/Show Me The Way/Here Come The Nice/Green Circles/(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me?
"Looking so good, they make me feel like no one else could!"
Regular AAA readers will know by now about out semi-regular Americanised section, as record companies in their wisdom treated the new releases of bands in the 1960s not as sacred works of art to be put on a pedestal but disposable pop to be cut up into shreds on apparent whims. Actually The Small Faces fared better than most AAA bands of the period, mainly because they were never actually that big Stateside anyway ('Itchycoo Park' was their only top twenty charting single; 'Tin Soldier' at a disappointing #73 their only other song to go top 100). As a result most Americans to this day only really know the Small Faces through two albums: 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' (1968) which thankfully got left alone and this curious rag-bag of tracks from the band's first self-titled album for Immediate with current singles. By including no less than four charting UK hits this feels more like a compilation than an album proper, but it also doubles as a pretty good introduction to the band's best work with only 'Lazy Sunday' and 'All Or Nothing' missing compared to most best-ofs (and most of them don't have the rights to the latter Decca-bound song anyway). The result is an album that works an awful lot better than it has any right to, with the delightfully infectious groove of 'Itchycoo park' an excellent opening, followed by such album highs as 'My Way Of Giving' and 'Get Yourself Together', career peaks 'Tin Soldier' and 'Green Circles' and classic B-sides 'I'm Only Dreaming' and 'I Feel Much Better'. Whisper it quietly, but this may well be superior to the already pretty darn spiffing album released on Immediate in the UK and features a better album cover to boot, a still from the 'Itchycoo Park' music video with the Small Faces dressed in the summer of love's finery in front of a whacking big tree. As for the title, that sounds a bit of a slap in the face to Jimmy Winston to me, the keyboard player having abandoned his own music career at around this same time.
(Released on various compilations starting with 'The Autumn Stone' and including 'Here Comes The Nice: The Immediate Years' Box Set 2014)
Rollin' Over/If I Were A Carpenter/Every Little Bit Hurts/All Or Nothing/Tin Soldier
"Babaloo Jackdewaddy! Babaloo Yeah Yeah Yeah!"
Frustratingly few of The Small Faces' live performances were captured for posterity: our article on TV clips provides a few clips include a great early gig for German TV but mainly the reputation of the band survives as a studio rather than a live band. This is the one exception: the rather muddy soundtrack of a gig taped at Newcastle City Hall on November 18th 1968, a mere six weeks before Steve Marriott stormed off stage and out of the band on New Year's Eve that year. Understandably perhaps, this seemingly randomly taped gig doesn't feature the band on good form. You can hear Marriott's frustration as he tried to give his all on some of his favourite soul covers (which the rest of the band didn't much like playing) only to have the audience screaming endlessly as if they're all still teeny-boppers. Mainly because the band can't hear they play sluggish and slow throughout, missing cues and at times flailing around as if waiting for the band to get back into formation again. This is accentuated by the odd mix which doesn't even try to provide the most 'listenable' version of these recordings but simply features the recording as is, with the band strangely separated in the channels, Marriott's vocal almost inaudible and everything coated in a large coat of teenage screams. In a kind of weird way, though, this helps the mood: this is The Small Faces' farewell and one they all sensed was brewing and the band have never sounded more apart from one another as they plough on regardless vaguely keeping in contact with each other rather than flying in formation like the glorious days of old.
This is also a fascinating glimpse into the Small Faces that might have been if Marriott had got his way and turned the band into a more soulful, heavier band: to be honest the horn section is a bad idea, over-weighting a band who already quite a thick and heavy sound and tipping them over into muddy messy noise. Marriott himself though shines quite gloriously, giving his absolute everything as he turns the pretty Tim Hardin pop song 'If I Were A Carpenter' into a guttural cry of dedication and despair, while Marriott beats even that with a second stab at Brenda Holloway's soul classic 'Every Little Bit Hurts' where Marriott gets so intense he's the person the expression 'giving 110%' was invented for, pushing the song up to six minutes with a false ending where he implores the crowd a capella 'Don't it make you feel?....', the singer too moved to even end his sentence. If only this pair of songs were in better sound this would be a fine addition to any discography, not just a curio for collectors. The older Small Faces songs fare less well with the band sounding bored and fighting through wretched conditions, but are still of some interest with a slower 'All Or Nothing' sounding sad and dejected, as if Marriott is addressing his bandmates as he tells them 'this is how it's got to be', 'Rollin' Over' sounds manic and loses its harmonies to sound even more wild and desperate ('There ain't nothing gonna stop me!') while the final word goes to a club-footed 'Tin Soldier' whose just a wild thrash compared to the sophistication of the record but is too heartfelt and classy a song for any version of it to be really bad. You aren't missing anything much if you're a casual fan and don't own these tracks, but anyone who wants to know just how it all went wrong for a band who had so much going for them with the release of 'Ogden's just six months ago will find much of interest as a fly on the wall (a hungry intruder perhaps?) here.
Humble Pie "As Safe As Yesterday Is"
(Immediate, August 1969)
Desperation/Stick Shift/Buttermilk Boy/Growing Closer/As Safe As Yesterday Is//Bang!/Alabama '69/I'll Go Home/A Nifty Little Number Like You/What You Will
CD Bonus Tracks: Natural Born Bugie/Wrist Job
"Let me hear some of that strong-armed music! Oooooooooh!"
The opening few seconds of this album sum up everything Steve Marriott wanted for his first post-Small Faces adventure and set the template for a good 50% of Humble Pie records to follow: a soothing organ chord, deceptively mystical and floaty, suddenly and most rudely swiped aside by a power-hungry bass, guitar lines that can cut through concrete and a Marriott vocal that comes wrapped in a ball of emotional vulnerability, sandpaper and plenty of elbow grease. It's a very different sound to The Small Faces (except perhaps Marriott's one early trial attempt on 'Wham Bam Thank You Man' or maybe 'Rollin' Over'), but then Humble Pie were always meant to be as different to The Small Faces (or at least the public's perception of The Small Faces as a cutesy teen band good for a cockney knees-up and a laugh) as they possibly could be. Ignore the wrapping, which makes this record look like some sort of illicit contraband (and you can definitely laugh at the 'fragile - handle with care' sticker): this is Pie's most mainstream album, getting things right from the word go. In common with many other bands created in 1969 as sixties idealism turned to dust, Humble Pie were a supergroup made up of band members that trendy young music lovers could actually name. Though Marriott's star shone brightest (and the spotlight is very much his for this first album at least), fellow guitarist Peter Frampton was already an up and coming star thanks to his time in psychedelic on-hit wonder The Herd ('I Don't Want Our Loving To Die', though previous flop single 'I Can Fly' is even better in wigged-out psychedelia terms), a more thoughtful poetic Ronnie Lane type that pushed Marriott to new greatness while also able to match him grunt for grunt during some endless guitar solos. There's also over-looked inventive bass player Greg Ridley with the deep sonorous voice that wasn't used anywhere near enough, a founding member of Carlisle's only real rock and roll band, the equally over-looked 'Spooky Tooth'. However the standout star on this album debut, even more than the later Pie records, isn't one of the three superstars but a seventeen year old nobody named Jerry Shirley who plays with the power and sophistication of Kenney Jones, no mean feat.
Hopes for Humble Pie were sky high and, for a time, well founded. Though the band never quite managed to make that one killer record every first-tier rock and roll group needs, you have to say this first album is pretty darn impressive for a band that had only just met and for a debut recorded in a hurry (Immediate needed the money, again, so the band didn't have long with this record beating even 'The Autumn Stone' into the shops - by contrast the rest of The Faces won't release their first record for a couple of years yet). 'As Safe As Yesterday Is' seems genuinely exciting, with each of the ten songs ending up in mammoth jamming sessions and taking off somewhere comparatively news. Marriott's been dreaming of a band who can roll with the punches and can't get enough of Pie, relishing the chance to let songs roll on long past their natural breaking point. In time that will become a problem, but here you can hear the crackle in the air as Marriott finally gets left on the leash and records an album that, with all the will in the world, the more compact (in all senses of the word) Small Faces would never have been able to make. Marriott's at the peak of his voice and his charisma and wails like a banshee throughout, although for now he's also in control enough of his voice to offer range and dynamics too. This album is a raw, wild and dangerous and yet - compared to all later Pie albums - deeply musical ride, brimming with confidence and energy, hardly safe at all like most of Marriott's yesterdays (Pie are so confident they don't even include their hit single released the same week, 'Natural Born Bugie', a practice largely out of favour by 1969 when even The Stones and The Beatles were including singles on albums - it will end up the only hit the band will ever have, although truth be told it's not up to the standard of most of this album anyway, so high is it across this record - though under-rated B-side 'Wrist Job' is). Fans who came along later and can judge the Humble Pie collection as a whole will wonder what on earth happened in the years to come and where all this potential evaporated to.
For fans at the time, though, 'As Safe As Yesterday Is' seemed a rather one-note album compared to The Small Faces or even The Herd's illustrious past. The Small Faces watchword was curiosity and experimentation, with each of their singles and album tracks most different not only to what came before but to each other. There's also a certain sophistication and class about even The Small Faces' silliest songs ('All Our Yesterdays' or 'Happydaystoytown', well maybe not 'Sha-La-La-La-Lee') that the more cut and dried Humble Pie can't compete with. By comparison this album feels like devolution, like a talking gorilla in a suit whose leapt at the chance to take off his clothes and go back to the jungle, the sounds of civilisation a distant ring in his ears. This album was the sort-of default follow-up to the world beating 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' ('The Autumn Stone' wasn't out for another month yet) and on those terms was a disaster: there's no playfulness here, no sense of wonder where the next track is going to the first time you play the record, in relative terms no depth. Marriott's so relieved to be able to rock out at last (he tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the others to let Frampton join The Small Faces to beef up their sound before joining 'his' band in frustration) that he gets rather carried away - nothing new there - and much of this album comes at a noisy full throttle, always a backbeat away from an endless guitar riff or a sudden throaty rasp. The Small Faces used to do everything, more or less with their eyes closed, a Happiness Stan-of-all-trades if you will; Humble Pie were simply born to rock.
That said, the surprise when you've just sat through eleven tracks of the same song on later Pie LPs (such as 'Thunderbox' and 'Go For The Throat'), it's a surprise just how many different flavours the original Pie came in. Marriott's the driving force and desperate to rock, but his band-members haven't got the memo yet; by contrast Frampton thinks he's been hired to play the Ronnie Lane folk counterpoint and provides several pretty songs that border on prog-rock, complete with flutes and tablas. The others all play with a lightness of touch they'll end up losing after signing with A&M too, where their new manager urges them to cut the extraneous material and concentrate on the rock and roll, something which may have played to the band's strongest commercial hand but ends up limiting their scope forevermore (it's the main reason why Frampton quit after just two years, frustrated at ending up a heavy metal right hand guitarist in a band that once offered so much). Though the band will experiment again - particularly on this record's sequel 'Town and Country' and during their pioneering live shows where they all but invented the 'acoustic set' along with fellow super-group CSNY- they'll never again bend their template quite as successfully as here. 'Stick Shift' for instance is more psychedelic even than 'Here Come The Nice', all looped guitar riffs and tripped out lyrics. 'Growing Closer' sounds more like a future Ronnie Lane album than anything else Marriott will do. Frampton's six minute title track epic is far wider in scope than anything the Pie will even contemplate doing again, a snakey, anxious song made up of multiple parts and poetic lyrics even Ronnie Lane would have thought twice about using. Only the wretched country spoof 'Alabama '69' (sadly the album's even longer song, despite not doing very much) is an experiment too far.
All that said, you have to come back to the rock and roll for the album's highlights and there are many. The opening 'Desperation' isn't by the band at all but fellow rockers Steppenwolf (you can imagine what The Small Faces would have said if Marriott had suggested this cover to them!) Like many a Pie cover to come it's played here at a far slower more menacing pace and doesn't so much rock as loom over the listener, Frampton's bluesy despair hitting Marriott's more straight upright rock for a quite unique sound. Both men overlap vocals on a lyric that merges pure prog rock ('Will the world ever change?...Keep on searchin' for the pathway that leads you on through the wall') and pure blues ('Raindrops fall and you feel low'). A most impressive band performance considering the band have been playing together mere months by this stage.
Having shown much of what they'll become famous for, the band then break out in a unique direction with the oddball 'Stick Shift'. Frampton's first song for the band, it's what The Beach Boys might have sounded like if they'd been even weirder in their psychedelic phase: there's lots of criss-crossing guitars, treated double-tracked vocals and a sense that this band are on something stronger than the 'Nice' could ever have brought along. Oddly, though, the lyrics are pure R and B, Frampton suggesting another Pie theme early - that of working very very hard only to be ripped off and still end up with nothing at the end of all of it. Marriott, already hurt by manager Don Arden's treatment of his old band, must have concurred.
Better yet is the straight ahead groove of 'Buttermilk Boy, a priceless song that has Marriott bemoaning the fact he's a thin weedy weakling whose never going to get a girl into bed while playing with the attack and power of a sumo-wrestler. However unlike later stodgy Pies to come, this track is light on its feet, dancing with our expectations as Frampton adds some comedy interjections and the song's irrepressible riff keeps darting off to explore new avenues. Marriott ends the song married not to the girl of his dreams but big ol' farmyard Kate who keeps his warm in bed, but still won't take her knickers down for him. Marriott's exasperation and attempts to woo both of his prospective partner while getting nowhere is hilarious, his frustration running over into a brilliantly flashy guitar solo at song's end. Perhaps the single greatest performance Humble Pie ever gave, at least in their 'natural' style (some of Marriott's forthcoming acoustic ballads cut it close).
'Growing Closer' is a fascinating bit of history. For all of about a week, 'Mac' was a member of Humble Pie too before deciding that he didn't share Marriott's vision and quitting early on during rehearsals to throw his lot in with The Faces. Naturally he offered up material during those early rehearsals and - without any other income arriving his way anytime soon - gave his blessing for Pie to record one of them for the album. 'Closer' is, oddly enough, closer in style to what Mac will write for The Faces (especially his songs with Rod as collaborator), but Marriott's given them a typical makeover of R and B harmonica and an aggressive intensity alien to the more laidback Faces. Though in truth this is one of Mac's lesser songs (his narrator sounds lost and has taken a 'short cut to nowhere' but the song doesn't progress past there sadly), what Pie do to it is quite inventive. Flutes give the song an ancient celtic feel, tablas give the song an ancient Eastern feel, while the R and B flavour reaches back about a decade, with this song about being directionless rooted in at least three different ways. The band are plainly having fun with this one and Marriott's harmonica up against guest Lyn Dobson's flute is one of the band's better musical battles.
'As Safe As Yesterday Is' takes one of those urgent organ lines The Small Faces used to do so well (as played by Marriott here for the first time) and uses it as the one constant in an unusually structured song that features no chorus and is effectively all one long verse sung by Frampton that stays the same in the middle of an ever-changing musical backdrop. Frampton feels lost, a naked troubadour in the court of a princess trying to woo her hand while the king thinks he's a jester: you wonder if Frampton and Marriott had been having a heart-to-heart about being lumbered with a public perception that couldn't be less than what you were all about. The song is perhaps a shade too long with a little bit too much going on, but this cod-Jethro Tull track sports some of the best harmonies of Humble Pie's run and Marriott and Frampton sound almost as made for each other as Marriott and Lane once had.
Over on side two 'Bang!' is a short groovy number by Marriott that more than anything else here sets the template for what will follow, though thankfully better. It's hard not to dislike a song that starts with Marriott apologising for the fact it's so short but he's writing the song with a hangover and is about to be sick any minute. Evidence of how quickly this song was made, you wonder if Small Faces enthusiast Paul Weller heard this song when he was putting The Jam together - it has the same sudden manic adrenalin rush feel to it complete with social protest about how they only call you 'brave' if you stand up for something and get shot for it.
'Yesterday' is shaping up to be a great album - and then arrives 'Alabama '69'. Bizarrely this track seems to be this album's most famous and popular song, despite the fact that it's a lazy country-blues that's even worse than the period Rolling Stones pastiches and Marriott's voice is completely mis-cast on it. Though most people have naturally assumed the date in the year is a period reference, I've often wondered if Marriott actually meant 1869 and that his love of soul music and R and B has led him to play the part of a slave in the American south. Unfortunately like many of Marriott's future attempts to sound pure black, it comes off rather embarrassing and rude - the guitarist would have been better off channelling what he loved about the music through his own natural voice instead. One of the longest seven minutes in this book - you can fit three 'Hey Girls' into the time it takes to listen to this!
'I'll Go Home' is another under-rated rock number with Marriot and Frampton's twin guitar groove given a nice counterbalance by a Ridley bass that's forever trying to knock them off their perch. The most 'wham bam' of the songs here musically, Frampton's lyric again goes back in time as he faces an execution squad with muskets but refuses to go down without a fight and reflects on the idea of re-incarnation. Believe you me, though, it's taken a lot of repeat hearings to get that far: most of this lyrics is yelled rather than sung and it's the stinging guitar riffs counter-balanced by a slower, sweeter chorus that catches the ear.
Marriott is credited on the record sleeve with 'goofs' on his own track 'A Nifty Little Number Like You' , but I can't hear any: instead this is another of Pie's all-time greatest rock songs. Marriott taunts some poor unfortunate girl with a series of insults as he does the sort of rockstar posing he'd have never have gotten away with in The Small Faces. However it's all good fun though, Marriott going so OTT he gets the giggles and his voice is sublime across this song making even a line like 'please shave your legs and put down that horse and behave!' sound like the greatest thing in the world. The guitar riff is a great one too, inspiring the band so much that even when Marriott has quit singing about 'this social zoo' they can't stop playing it, the song coming to a natural end around 3:30 in before the band unexpectedly pile back in for another two and a half minutes of glorious rocking.
Fab. Why this song doesn't end up on more of Immediate's Pie compilations I'll never know.
'What You Will' is a bit of anti-climatic end after all that, a final Marriott soul ballad that's less tuneful and memorable than the rest. The lyrics are worth a listen to, as Marriott regrets things that have happened outside his control over the past year and feeling resentful about how quickly time is passing by. Marriott feels winter's chill coming and he's not wrong as it happens!
Overall, then, 'As Safe As Yesterday Is' might not be quite as great as the two finished albums The Small Faces made for Immediate, but it's pretty darn close and is easily the best thing released under the Pie name (despite a strong case being made by some for the live album 'Performance' in 1971). Funnily enough the term 'heavy metal' was first used in a review of this very album, by journalist Mike Saunders for Rolling Stone Magazine - funny not because it isn't like heavy metal but because, of all the Pie albums, it's the one that's most melodic, thoughtful and experimental. Too many fans have been put off for too many years with that description: in truth it's 'Thunderbox' that's prime heavy metal, this album is by comparison a 'buttermilk' record, with too strong a sense of melody to be pure noise and too wide a musical palette to leave the amplifiers turned up full all the time. It's not perfect - 'Alabama '69' may well be the Pie's weakest song, at least until Marriott starts up his Muhammad Ali impersonations on 'Street Rats' - but it's still pretty darn great, with a cocksure Marriott up against a thoughtful Frampton and a terrific rhythm section making some wonderful music. Who'd have guessed not only that it would all be so downhill from here but that the band would lose this album's sense of direction so incredibly quickly. 'Yesterday', you see, isn't an album that plays it safe at all but still knows it can get away with it thanks to a big grin, a loud cackle and some classy guitar riffs; later Pie albums never quite feel as if they have the same luxury. Along with Ronnie Lane's 'One For The Road', this is the post-Small Faces album every fan should own.
Humble Pie "Town and Country"
(Immediate, November 1969)
Take Me Back/The Sad Case Of Shaky Jake/The Light Of Love/Cold Lady/Down Home Again/Ollie Ollie//Every Mother's Son/Heartbeat/Only You Can See/Silver Tongue/Home and Away
CD Bonus Tracks: 79th Street Blues/Greg's Song
"In my eyes you'll see the signs of fear"
Humble Pie's second record is not at all what the band expected to make or what their fans expected to hear. Across 1969 the band had been making a name for themselves as a live act of some power and skill, building on their first album's sense of extended inter-band telepathy and aggression as the period live set taped at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and released years later proves. Fans eager to hear twenty-minute epic versions of 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters' and 'For Your Love' couldn't wait for the next Pie record, but by the time it arrived merely a few months after the end of that first tour the band had gone in a very different direction: acoustic compact songs that bordered not rock, blues and R and B but pop, folk and country. The album was recorded simply in Marriott's new home 'Arkesdon' in the English village of Moreton in Essex (as seen on the front cover where, despite the beautiful surroundings, the Marriotts apparently can't afford any furniture and the band perch uncomfortably on the floor, which is taking 'down to earth' to new levels) and in many ways sounds like a collection of demos before the band get cracking in the studio and deliver similar intensity levels to 'As Safe As Yesterday Is', a record released just three months earlier.
(A&M, July 1970)
Live With Me/Only A Roach/One-Eyed Trouser Snake Rumba/Earth and Water Song//I'm Ready!/Theme From Skint (See You Later Liquidator)/Red Light Mama Red Hot!/Sucking The Sweet Vine
"I live from day to day - who knows what tomorrow might bring?"
Pie album number three is certainly the most varied of the band's career, the group already matching The Small Faces' record of three finished albums. The record is clearly not up to 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake', but in its own way it's amongst the most under-rated albums Marriott ever helped to create. Still unsure whether they want to grow into the monster rock band of later years or keep things more fluid and experimental, we get a record made up of the most extremes of the band's career here: their most out-there rock songs, their most sweet and fragile acoustic songs, their most blue-eyed soul recordings, their most 'country' country songs, their weirdest weird songs...The end result is an album that's less than the sum of its parts, with many extreme highs but also extreme lows and Humble Pie don't sound like the same band from one track to another. It's also the most 'group orientated' LP< almost equally split between Marriott and Frampton for the first time, along with cameos by bass player Greg Ridley and even drummer Jerry Shirley. Listening to this album feels more like a compilation at times, with so many different sounds going on that it sounds like a typically sprawling Pie effort despite being one of the shorter albums the bands ever made. At this point in time the Pie still had the potential to be a great band in any one of several directions, but for now it's all rather confusing with Marriott unsure whether to shape the band into a new Small Faces or turn them into the hard-rocking band he's had in his head ever since his last band's final days together.
Despite being more unloved than most Pie albums though (certainly the two before it and the two after), 'Humble Pie' still has a lot of things going for it. The crackling intensity of the opening 'Live With Me' is perhaps the ultimate Marriott-Frampton collaboration, switching gears several times as both men deliver their all in very different ways on a ballad that rises and falls so many times that the released tension and adrenalin rush of the final climax might well be one of Pie's finest moments as a band. Frampton's 'Earth and Water Song' adds a touch of Ronnie Lane style folk to the band and is rightly hailed as his best solo song for the band. The hard-rocking cover of Willie Dixon's 'I'm Ready' is one of the band's best, switching their life-long tradition of slowing down rock and roll covers by speeding up what was originally a slow blues song into a typical rocker. Greg's 'Sucking On The Sweet Vine' is one of his more touching songs too. And best of all is Marriott's witty riposte to Immediate finally going bankrupt after years of decay, realising his chances of making money are gone and times are hard. 'Theme From Skint' remains one of his best songs with any band, witty pretty and heartfelt and ending with a sudden explosion because, well, why not? Everything else is going wrong...If in truth the other songs on the album are pretty awful and amongst the worst excesses of what was a pretty excessive self-indulgent band, then that's still half an album of prime music as glorious as any you'll find from the 1970s. Together with the distinctive and - erm - revealing Aubrey Beardsley illustration on the cover (as risqué as you were allowed in 1970) this is an album that's at times a little under-dressed but also deserved to make a bigger impression than it ever did at the time.
'Humble Pie' starts not with a stinging guitar and a drum solo but several seconds of earnest bluesy organ. 'Live With Me' is an original credited to the whole band that's finally mastered what this band do so well compared to their peers: emotional honesty, cat-and-mouse tension and two very different but very equal talents pulling at each other of the course of eight dazzling minutes. An early sign of the fractures in Marriott's first marriage to Jenny, the opening verse is sadder even than 'The Universal' as Marriott pleads his heart out for his loved one to come back and live with him before the song explodes into full colour. Frampton's rebuttal is equally strong, as he barks out his demands more straightforwardly and the whole song which has been straining at the leash for so long finally gets a chance to go for a run around seven minutes in when all hell breaks loose in a burst of pure magical noise. This is what Humble Pie should have been doing all career long, feeding into all of their many strengths and none of their weaknesses.
By contrast Jerry Shirley's country bumpkin song 'Only A Roach' is light relief. The song is silly in a way that only superstar rock band drummers can be, but his soft and breathy voice is a surprise and proof that at this time all four Pie members were strong vocalists.
The gloriously titled 'One Eyed Trouser Snake Rumba' is another band song that's clearly led by Marriott as he and Frampton strut and swagger with everything they've got. There are better similar Pie songs out there, but this song's thoughtful guitar riff is a good one and both vocalists are on top form.
Frampton's solo 'Earth and Water Song' returns to the Pie's earlier acoustic roots for a pretty melodic song that's far more prog rock than the usual band fare. 'Who knows what tomorrow might bring?' Frampton sighs as he dreams of a better life across six minutes that grow in stature and scope with every verse. Some of the lyrics are a little on the silly side ('I'll take your word that a moonbeam can be heard') but again it's one of Frampton's more heartfelt songs and clearly about somebody 'real' rather than his usual characters.
Willie Dixon's 'I'm Ready' is a candidate for Humble Pie's best cover song: it's smart, slinky and clearly very different to the original without being in any way inferior. Marriott's smoky voice is a perfect fit as he 'drinks TNT, smokes dynamite' and is more than ready to 'start a fight' as he gets up his confidence to ask someone out.
The album highlight though is surely 'Theme From Skint', a sarcastic comment on that year's biggest hit 'Theme From Shaft' and which contrasts Marriott's current successors in the gung-ho stakes with his own penniless, struggling existence. Witty subtitled 'See You Later Liquidator', Frampton's pedal steel guitar is the perfect accompaniment to Marriott's sad lyrics. Caught between two worlds, having experienced what success can bring, Marriot has a 'rich man's trumpet and a poor man's crutch', remembering days of living on 'diner's cards' and worrying about 'singing contracts in the morning - should I scratch their backs or make them kiss my ring?' Everyone's out to get Marriott and make him 'like them', turning him posh to make him fit in - but he doesn't talk like them and can never be anything more than he is. One last great act of rebellious stubborn-ness results in the last verse where without warning he throws off this song's cloak of sophistication and goes back to shouting East End Cockney. Pleading with his banker for some cash ('My toothpaste tube is empty, there's no bristles in my brush!') Marriott struts his stuff as Pie rock the song up, his final sarcastic riposte being that his problems will soon be over anyway because the world's heading for nuclear annihilation, this friendly thought accompanied by an exploding bomb. No one else but Marriott could have written this charming song, which reflects all sides of his personality at once.
After this the clumsy 'Red Light Mamma Red Hot!' is mere posing that even Marriott's gritty vocals can't rescue. Marriott's complaints about spending 50 cents a time on a girl who doesn't do what he asks anyway just aren't in the same league.
The album ends on another side-closing acoustic song. Greg Ridley's 'Sucking On The Sweet Vine' is a sweet and emotive track that finds at least one member of the band happy and in love. Though the song lacks the usual Humble Pie twist and at 5:46 is a little on the long side, it's pretty enough not to outstay it's welcome.
At last, Marriott's got competition on his hands rather than being the Pie's de facto leader, but he's still so much on the top of his game despite all his personal problems in this period that his songs are still the best here. All the Pie needed to do was calm down a bit and concentrate on finding more of their own style without switching gears between genres so often, although that said there's a special charm about this record that may well make it my favourite of their albums, mistakes notwithstanding, with a range and imagination the other more generic records lack. In truth there is no such thing as the perfect Humble Pie album and even the compilations haven't quite got the band's highlights right yet, but this is pretty close - for half an album at least - softer and gentler without losing sight of the power that made the band's name.
The unfashionable rush came about because Immediate was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. The split of The Small Faces, by their biggest act, had much bigger implications than the band could have realised at the time, while rumours still linger about embezzlement and off-shore banking that would make even a Conservative MP quake in their boots. The first Humble Pie record had done well - particularly the hit single 'Natural Born Bugie' - but neither had sold to peak Small Faces levels and even the release of the posthumous Faces compilation 'The Autumn Stone' released around this time couldn't match past sales without the band around to promote it. Immediate were thus at rock bottom, entering insolvency at the start 1970 with several royalties still unpaid (most of them to former members of The Small Faces) and desperately staying afloat by any means possible. Even when it meant career suicide for their bright new hope, as here with 'Town and Country' patently not a finished LP (though band members and fans have argued since about just how unfinished this album was - what they do agree was that they didn't want this album released when it was, in November 1969, when the band were in the middle of their first American tour - Immediate having not yet got it together enough to interest American licensees MGM in this album; without the band around back home to plug it the way they did with the first one 'Town and Country' died a slow and painful death).
Despite all the problems, though, there are many fans who rate this album highly. It's certainly the most eclectic Pie album and - however unfinished - arguably the most conceptual, with an opening more-or-less electric side of songs loosely about business and flashy personalities contrasted with a second 'country' side that's largely acoustic and made up of thoughtful introverted songs. The back cover credits the band with at least four instruments each (even drummer Jerry Shirley plays a Wurlitzer piano part, while Marriott even scrapes out a few bars on a sitar at one point on 'The Light Of Love'!) and engineer/producer Andy Johns, the younger brother of former Small Faces producer Glyn Johns, does a good job at keeping all of these extra instruments as 'colour' without overloading the band's natural sound. The trouble is, though, Pie seem to have forgotten what their 'natural sound' is; the only track that sounds anything like the way the band sound on their other albums is 'Down Home Again', a rocking ode to the country by Marriott and even that sounds more like a Small Faces song than a Humble Pie one somehow, quirky and eventful rather than rocking and heavy.
Normally when AAA bands begin stretching their musical palettes I'm first in the queue to offer praise, but a second album is too early to mess with a formula quite so much - especially one that worked so well on 'Yesterday' - and the band haven't established enough what they're getting away from here. The result is a deeply curious album indeed, complete with a minute long audio verite track full of saws and football chants that's unique in the Marriott canon, a cowboy song and this album's only traditionally slowed-down rock and roll standard: an oddly reverential take on Buddy Holly's 'Heartbeat' where only the heavyness of the bass and drums adds anything new. The result is an album that isn't awful by any means, with one excellent lyric in Marriott's semi-autobiographical 'Universal' sequel 'Every Mother's Son' (shame about the tune and performance though!) and one belated moment of epic intensity on the closing 'Silver Tongue'. If you happen to be working through the Humble Pie albums backwards (though I'm not quite why sure why anyone would) then 'Town and Country' feels like a nice surprise, subtle rather than powerful and able to cover far more ground at times despite keeping it's foot off the throttle for much of the album. However the description that suits this album best is 'lost' - between 'town and country' in one sense (the album being written largely in noisy towns and recorded in pastoral countryside), but also between what the band had been doing and where they wanted to go next. In that sense Pie's second and final album on 'Immediate' is a dead ringer for The Small Faces' second and Immediate's first: this is a troubled band who know a cloud is hanging over them and that somehow shows through all the cockney-knees-ups.
Like that album too where Ronnie Lane came into his own, Frampton is a particularly important figure here, contributing three songs to Marriott's four while all the band get a credit somewhere. Maybe it's the scattered writing credits then that gices this album it's head-scratching feel (after Marriott dominated 'As Safe As Yesterday Is'), but it's there in the arrangements and performances too, suddenly tentative and all too often cut short rather than revelling in music-making. Humble Pie have suddenly lost all confidence in their studio act right at the time when their live act was reaching a peak and despite this being the only Pie album for their entire run to feature the band on the cover (Steve and Peter on the front, Greg and Jerry on the back, which seems a bit harsh) it's also the band's most anonymous. Everything here sounds like an experiment and yet only the songs that stick to the formula sound like they're working on an album that's probably the most disposable from the first half of Pie's career, if too beautiful to be as pointless as the records that comes near the end.
Frampton gets the first word with 'Take Me Back', an intriguing percussion-based song that starts off like The Beatles' 'Blackbird' and ends more like an Elizabethan madrigal. Frampton continues his love of prog rock lyrics with lines about having changed from his youth and yet still feeling the same (he was all of twenty-one when he wrote this, remember) that show promise but never quite add up to a full meaningful lyric.
The best known song from the album is Marriott's tale of the Wild West 'The Sad Case Of Shakey Jake'. At eighteen Marriott's cowboy shot his first outlaw and has spent the rest of his life on the run 'paying the price for one big mistake'. Marriott's purring harmonica is great, his and Peter's alternating vocals less so, while the song's silly and oft-repeated chorus seems an odd idea for a band Marriott always vowed would never end up recording another 'Lazy Sunday'. Alas the song isn't quite as charming as that Small Faces classic and five choruses is at least three too many. There's a nice Frampton guitar solo at the end that almost makes up for it, though.
Ridley surprises anyone whose heard his later contributions to the band with his first, 'The Light Of Love', which is a psychedelic acoustic song that's as light as a feather. It's the most 'Spooky Tooth' like of all his songs for the band, which usually sound every bit as harsh and aggressive as Marriott's. Frampton plays the tablas and Marriott, against all odds, turns out to be a really good sitar-player. This song also features the best example of Pie's excellent and under-used harmonies, although they're rather wasted on another slightly scatty lyric that's all a bit 'new age' ('I love you - I love the sun too, they both may brighten my life with the light of love, the light of life').
Drummer Jerry Shirley gets one of only two solo credits with the band with the Marriott-sung ballad 'Cold Lady'. It's effectively 'Wrist Job' from the flip of the first single without the same intensity or honesty as the narrator vows to get a shy girl to talk to him. The song opens with the Small Faces steal 'Tell me have you ever seen me...sad before?', with Small Faces fan Shirley surely knowing exactly what he's doing, but Marriott resists the temptation to sound like his old self.
'Down Home Again' is arguably the best song on the album, but perhaps only because it's the song that sounds the most 'safe' and finished. This is the first of many Marriott songs of the late 60s/early 70s that describe coming home from a weary tour to faithful wife and wondering how he got so lucky; later songs, with more panic attached to that thought, are more powerful but this diary-song is a good 'un too as Steve declares his love to Jenny and home all over again across a nice quirky Marriott guitar riff and another excellent Frampton solo part.
Side two begins with 'Ollie Ollie', a complete nonsense track that hasn't been heard since the 1960s (and then usually only in 1969). A fierce Ridley bass part, some crashing Shirley cymbals, saws, tapped jars and saucepans and a whole bunch of gibberish noise makes for a vaguely sinister bit of nonsense. The track suggests the band have been listening to a bit too much Brian Wilson and decided to make something similar after returning from the pub, still singing football chants. At just 51 seconds, it's too brief to make much sense of.
The sound continues though into the next track 'Every Mother's Son' which starts with the sound of a distant bugle and the sounds of the town. The song proper is another country song, though thankfully more heartfelt than 'Alabama '69', with Marriott pouring out his soul on one of the best lyrics of his career. Young Marriott leaves his family and loving girlfriend behind to find 'destiny, fortune and my 'face', but the young Small Face isn't as faithful to her as she is to him and he soon ends up lonely. 'They' took away Marriott's 'money and my pride' but Marriott had nowhere else to go so he stayed put - 'and the rest you know quite well' he sings, condensing The Small Faces' career into a single line. The penultimate verse has Marriott playing with a 'dirty band in a smoky downtown bar', trying to recapture what it was that made him want to leave home in the first place. Marriott seems to have been inspired to write this by an unexpected trip back home, the memory of his old girlfriend now coming back strongly as he learns she's been true. A shame, then, that this song then has to end with some nonsense about Marriott being run out of town by her pa with a shotgun (he's been listening to too much Creedence Clearwater Revival). Sadly though the tune lets the song down and is simply there as something to sing the lyrics to rather than a living breathing entity in it's own right, while Marriott's vocal is oddly subdued by his standards and Frampton's attempts to sound pretty are distracting. More than any other track on the album, this is the one that got away and really deserved to be re-recorded.
Humble Pie's distinctly odd cover of 'Heartbeat' slows Buddy Holly's oh so obvious choice of cover down a smidgeon and translates the chirruping Crickets vocals to Frampton's guitar, but aside from that leaves things far too much alone. The shared vocals by the whole band are terribly sloppy and like many a Pie cover all the excitement of the original seems to have evaporated down the line somewhere. The highlight is Shirley's oh so Kenney Jones drum roll at the end of the track.
'Only You Can See' is Frampton's best song on the album, this time with Marriott playing a sweet 'Mac' style keyboard part. Peter's narrator is trying to think of what to say to write a love song but switches gears mid-way through to snarl at people trying to pigeon-hole him - only his loved one can see 'the real me'. Pete Townshend, Small Faces fan, may have been listening to that phrase.
Marriott's soulful 'Silver Tongue' is a slow mournful blues where the guitarist tries to write like his partner Frampton (who won most of the plaudits in the reviews of the first album) with the single most prog-rock lyric he ever wrote. Marriott's spotted a mysterious figure who turns out to be a woman after an affair and hiding her 'rings' , while he holds out to her the 'key' of his love and compares her to a 'nightingale lantern show'. So much for Humble Pie recording songs in the vein of 'Wham Bam Thank You Man!'
The album then ends on its biggest epic, the nearly six-minute band-credited 'Home and Away'. Frampton sings the lead and this sounds like chiefly his song too, as he sobs out tears of frustration as his lover plays games with him and breaks his heart (it's hard to imagine Marriott being quite as fussed, somehow, though see 'Jenny's Song' for more). On the other-hand, every time she smiles Frampton's in a 'ship that flies', taking off to the wild blue yonder as the backing track gets exciting and vibrant and takes off to pastures new. A mournful gospel part comes next, still sung by Frampton though far more Marriott's territory, full of intense aching and longing. Next up is a fierce two minute guitar jam that pitches Steve and Greg's rhythmical playing against Peter's soaring quicksilver lead that's really quite effective, but comes to an end all too soon on a slow fade. A spooky minute long coda then has Frampton returning to promise 'my life for you' backed by some more lovely harmonies. The album's second highlight, although the track doesn't quite hang together and the whole is undeniably less than its parts.
The CD version of 'Town and Country', uniquely for Humble Pie, features two outtakes: Marriott's '79th Bridge Street Blues' which is the most menacing cockney rhyming song you'll hear and which stars 'red-eyed Ruby with man-crushing hips' and who Marriott later compares to a Toby jug; plus Ridley's 'Greg's Song', which is a mixture of laidback and edgy, a slow but anxious repetitive riff beginning a journey through some lovely chord changes. There are no lyrics though and the song is obviously a backing track rather than an instrumental per se - it's a shame judging by what's here that it never got finished.
How typical then: 'Town and Country's outtakes may well be better than most of the 'real' record. The rest of is strangely forgettable and rather weak-kneed compared to the might of 'As Safe As Yesterday Is' and the album was always going to feel slightly lost in between that and the self-titled 'Humble Pie' of 1970, even if Immediate hadn't tried to cash an extra pot of money at just the wrong time and let this album fade from sight. The most humble of Humble Pie's records, it's a unique album in the context of their overall catalogue and for that reason alone is much loved by fans, even if in truth two songs at most reach their highest of standards.
The Faces "Long Player"
(Warner Brothers, March 1971)
Bad 'n' Ruin/Tell Everyone/Sweet Lady Mary/Richmond/Maybe I'm Amazed//Had Me A Real Good Time/On The Beach/I Feel So Good/Jerusalem
"I was glad to come, I'll be sad to go, so while I'm here I'll have me a real good time!"
If 'First Step' was, from the title down, something of a tentative false start as The Faces try to work out what their band actually was all about, then 'Long Player' is a confident attempt to make up for lost time. 'Mother, you won't recognise me now!' cackles Rod on the opening track as the band perfect their template of good time boozy rock, with the definitive Rod lead, the definitive keyboard rumble from Mac, the definitive Kenney drum break and the definitive slinky guitar solo from Ronnie W. After three years of trying to recover from the loss of Steve Marriott, The Faces are now in rude health and ready to reap every harvest going. Recorded piecemeal, with Ronnie Wood using his connections to The Rolling Stones to borrow their mobile recording unit and take it to their rehearsal rooms, along with a couple of tracks recorded live at the Fillmore West and a handful more back in London, it's as if The Faces are trying to prove that they're at home everywhere. The Faces have dropped almost all attempts at prog rock by the time of their second album and have instead gone for the straight-ahead rock; boys next door - if rather loud boys next door - rather than philosophers and poets.
The one member of the band who sounds less than home in this boozy new world is Ronnie Lane, who goes from being the band's de facto leader into something of an outsider from this album, his quiet introvert acoustic songs either badly handled by the others (Rod murders 'Tell Everyone', which proves to be one of the bass player's loveliest songs when re-cut by Ronnie alone for his first LP) or seemingly out of place as on the country blues 'Richmond', a lament for older simpler times. The Faces have indeed struck out for a brave new tomorrow, but it's a brave new tomorrow that Ronnie doesn't really believe in and from now on the clock is ticking until his departure. It all comes down to a matter of taste really: though The Faces' in-yer-face rock has a certain charm and two of the tracks on this album 'Bad 'n' Ruin' and 'Had Me A Real Good Time' are pretty darn good rocking tracks in the simplistic mode, there's something about 'Long Player' that's less satisfying than it's inconsistent, sprawling predecessor. There's no real core or heart to this album - or at least there is, but nobody except Ronnie L is paying any attention to it. Only on the album highlight, a shared Ronnie 'n' Rod cover of Paul McCartney's 'Maybe I'm Amazed' do The Faces find their way around this problem and meet in the middle (though even here bizarrely The Faces include an inferior live take to the studio version already in the can!) This is what the band should have been doing all along from the beginning, mining both the power and attack of Rod and the heartfelt poignancy of Ronnie; on the rest of the album it's like two different bands quickly losing touch with each other. The Faces aren't 'small' any more, having lost something of Ronnie' humility and humble-ness (insert joke here about Humble Pie taking that instead!), they're really big - which is both good and bad for the record and ultimately for the band.
The five minute groove of 'Bad 'n' Ruin' may well be one of The Faces' finest recordings though. This is the sort of track nobody could do as well: smoky, bar-room guilt as collaborators Mac and Rod's mixture of good time swirl and bad time guilt lead to a funky, strutting track that defies all the bad things the narrator has done. 'I feel so tired!' yells Rod, but he doesn't sound as if he means it as he warns his mother about meeting your 'ugly worn out son' off the plane and upsetting so many of the people he's left behind. Ronnie Wood's playing was never better, Kenney's drum fills are delicious and bang on the money and even Rod sounds as good as he ever does. ironically, 'Bad 'n' Ruin' might just be the making of The Faces.
Unfortunately they prove to be the wrong band for Ronnie's introverted 'Tell Everyone', an earnest song written like so many of this period's Lane songs for the guru Meher Baba but twisted into a love song. 'To wake up with you makes my morning so bright' sighs Ronnie's lovely lyric, before adding that 'it goes on and on', far beyond his comprehension, as he promises to tell everyone 'the secret'. Unfortunately this gorgeous song is clearly beyond Ronnie's bandmates' comprehension too: Rod sings it like a bar-room drunk (a superior outtake with Ronnie exists and is on the CD as a bonus track), Mac adds some honky tonk twirls, Ronnie W and Kenney over-fill the song with noise and though the tempo is slow (and rather dragging) it's nothing like as beautiful or awe-inspiring as a song of this nature should be. Re-recorded in lovely gentle form for Ronnie's first solo album 'Anymore For Anymore', you can tell the bass player has been itching to re-record it and probably regretted giving it away.
'Sweet Lady Mary', a collaboration between Rod and the two Ronnies sounds as if it started life as another sweet, sad Lane ballad before getting a noisy makeover from Wood's guitar chord and being moulded into shape by Rod's more 'girl-boy' style lyrics. Mary is poorly and a far cry from her old raver self, lying in bed all day and struggling through breakfast. Rod's narrator is well out of his comfort zone and makes the decision to flee as fast as possible, ashamed but realising that 'I knew all along I had to quit!' Again, though, this song doesn't feel quite right - it's as if a song got re-written with the original emphasis lost somewhere on the way and Ronnie's endless slide guitar solo and Rod's over-sung vocals aren't helping.
Ronnie's showcase 'Richmond' is a step up, but sounds like it belongs on an entirely different album. Perhaps reminded of the last time he tried to start a band, Lane sings a deeply nostalgic song about being back home and waiting for things to happen. 'No one loves me here' he sighs, referring to his present day holed up in New York City, but his narrator didn't sound that loved in Richmond either. The track contains one of Ronnie's best lines: the women he sees are ripe for plucking but 'feel like flowers that belong in someone else's garden', while Wood adds a slightly more in-keeping slide guitar solo.
I really don't know where you've been if you don't know 'Maybe I'm Amazed' , one of Paul McCartney's most special solo tunes which oddly enough was only ever released as a single in live form (the opposite of The Faces who released a studio cover as a single and kept a live take for the album). It's one of their better ideas, the heartfelt delivery of Ronnie on the verses leading to the aggressive stomp of Rod on the choruses. Wood messes up the original's glorious solo by over-playing and adding too much vibrato and Jones sounds oddly OTT by his standards too. But this is a lovely song made with some fondness and one of the better Faces songs out there.
Over on side two, The Faces 'Had Me A Real Good Time' , with another Ronnie-Ronnie-Rod collaboration that features a nice slinky guitar groove, lots of room for Rod's rockstar posing and also a little bit of Lane's sophistication in the lyrics. 'Thought I was looking good...so I came straight to the point' boasts Rod, but in a verse presumably written by Lane 'the reception wasn't good' so Rod dances wildly round the room trying to win a heart he'll never convince. Asked to leave, Rod even falls off his bicycle on his way home, his pride hurt - but, well, he did have a real good time all the same...One of the better Faces rockers, this is a good combination of posing and composing and the twist redeems the song.
The awkward two Ronnies song 'On The Beach' is probably the album's weakest, flimsiest track. It's a blues-country hybrid that returns to the feel of 'First Step' and uneasily sung by Mac and Wood together in uneasy harmony. Forgettable and rather out of tune, it's a worthy reminder that no record's perfect and sometimes life's a beach.
Nine minute live epic 'Feel So Good' has Rod aggressively telling the audience to 'give something back', although in truth the band don't offer an awful lot other than a simple boogie woogie lick on this endless cover of a Big Bill Broonzy classic. In stark contrast to Humble Pie, The Faces speed the song up instead of slowing it down and the result just sounds like every other 12 bar blues with a rock beat, instantly forgettable and with only Mac's speedy fingers showing any talent. Rod may feel so good but as a reviewer I fell so bad...
The album then ends uncomfortably on a two minute slide guitar version of unofficial English anthem 'Jerusalem' which is either a sacrilegious rock cover of a sacred song or a sacrilegious copycat of what Hendrix did with 'The Star Spangled Banner' depending which side of the fence you're on. An unworthy finale, played too slow.
Overall, then, 'Long Player' is another mixed LP. The Faces had it there for a moment - especially on the far stronger first side - with the first real stirrings of their boozy good time pub rock, matched occasionally by Ronnie Lane's deeper thoughts, making The Faces the band that had everything. But unfortunately those two halves make uneasy bedfellows and too many oddball experiments prevent 'Long Player' from being the album it might have been, despite the obvious occasional talent. Irony of ironies, 'Long Player' would have made a great EP but it's frustratingly uneven as a full long-playing record. The same could be said for The Faces' competitors who by chance end up releasing their third album a week after The Faces' second...
Humble Pie "Rock On"
(A&M, March 1971)
Shine On/Sour Grain/79th and Sunset/Stone Cold Fever/Rollin' Stone//A Song For Jenny/The Light/Big George/Strange Days/Red Neck Jump
"Knowing that you're right will show you the light!"
With 'Rock On' Humble Pie made their fourth studio LP in four years, beating the grand total that The Small Faces had ever managed. In contrast to the strained sessions for '1862/The Autumn Stone', Humble Pie are probably at their peak as a band having worked past their early teething problems and still a couple of years away from Peter Frampton jumping ship. The band chemistry is rather brilliantly summed up by the cover in fact where a group of policeman and bikers balance on each other's shoulders: by relying on each other Humble Pie are reaching for new heights but at the same time one wrong move from anyone can see the whole lot come toppling down! Which, sadly, is kind of what happens - Frampton is tempted away by talk of being a solo star soon after this record's release and Marriott never quite recovers from the loss of his friend. For this record, though, it's largely business as usual, for better and worse. On the plus side this means the connection between guitarists Frampton and Marriott was rarely better as they forge a partnership almost as close as Steve's and Ronnie's had been, with Humble Pie relying less on Marriott's sheer charisma to get them out of trouble. You even get the chance to hear 'two' different versions of the same song as Frapton's 'Shine On' and Marriott's 'Sour Grain' take the band about as far out in either style as they've ever gone, delighting in Peter's optimism and Steve's dark humour, a contrast that works rather well. On the negative side, though, Humble Pie have largely lost that ear-catching strain of experimentation that singled them out during their early work together and have reduced all those possible paths that were once on the horizon to full-throttle preening rock. The unusual way this record was made (as long one undisciplined party, with all sorts of guests - most of them soul singers and old friends like Doris Troy and PP Arnold - appearing to lend a hand) both helps and hinders too, raising the energy while allowing the record to get badly self-indulgent. It's just as well that the album had a clear hand in ex-Beatles and Who engineer Glyn Johns in charge of things or this album might have got muddy very quickly in all senses of the word - even so it threatens to fall apart many times across the record's running time.
Mostly anyway: the album highlight 'Song For Jenny' still manages to offer a delightful moment of acoustic sweetness as Marriott pours his heart out in one of his truly great classics, a part apology for the band's incessant need to tour that's left Marriott homeless and rudderless, having 'ain't been home in weeks!' It's one of the last great flowerings of Marriott the folkie as Humble Pie grow more and more confidence and begin to leave that early sense of vulnerability at home. Which is not to say that the rest of the album is any way shape or form poor: opener 'Shine On' is one of Frampton's most melodic songs caught halfway between prog and punk, 'Sour Grain' turns a minor key knife into Humble Pie's usual major key works, 'Stone Cold Fever' still rocks with all the swaggering pride of a pack of lions who've got their own reality TV show and 'The Light' is catchy, poppy number with more hooks than Captain Hook's curtains. However when the album veers too close to the sort of thing Humble Pie think their audience most wants (slow burning growling rock and roll epics, such as the two six-minuters on this record 'Rolling Stone' and 'Strange Days') they're already veering close to parody, rockers who've forgotten how to do much else. The ending 'Red Neck Jumper' too must be one of the weirdest songs to make a Humble Pie record, a retro rockabilly 50s number in which Marriott pretends he's Elvis being backed by a honky-tonk piano. Like many Humble Pie records album number four feels a little rushed and undercooked but contains oh so much promise across its 38 minutes.
'Shine On' has perhaps the best groove on the album as Frampton nails his choppy guitar chords and offers a catchy life-affirming chorus, while the rest of the band behind him throw some sour-sounding chords in there just to keep us on our toes. Frampton's narrator has been scrambling in the dark but his girl is the 'sun' that leads him out again, as represented by the combined forces of PP, Doris and session veteran Claudia Lennear. It's a song that could go either way but has chosen to be joyous...
Unlike Marriott's 'Sour Grain' which sees a return of 'Shakey Jake' now aged '103 but still tough as Hickory'. Though one of Marriott's character songs this track too takes a similar run through Shine On's chords and finds similar succour in the darkest of places, though this time it's 'a proud fierce woman and a bottle of whiskey'. Marriott shines on and gives his absolute all the way he always does, but the backing isn't quite as tight as on the last song. Marriott also proudly quotes his favourite line from 'The Universal' again, suggesting this song was more personal than most on the album for him: 'I got too good at being bad!'
'79th and Sunset' is one of the last of Humble Pie's Country 'n' Western numbers with Marriott himself apparently tackling the pretty honky tonk riff. Sadly the change in instruments is more to make up for the use of s repetitive melody and some typically 'floozy done wrong' lyrics. Rene's close sister, at least she inspires Marriott to some witty rhymes though: She's described as a 'nymphomaniac Nimrod' we're told 'She's young, she's wealthy but she's far from healthy...' and best of all Marriott's cheeky cockney humour delivers us the line 'She's got more angles than a Toby Jug!'
'Stone Cold Fever' is Humble Pie doing what they've always done best: lean, mean rock and roll that leans firmly on Marriott's considerable vocal talents, backed by Frampton's similarly gritty harmonies and one of the latter's best bluesy guitar breaks. This is one of the best examples where a guitar riff is everything, made special by Marriott's bluesy R and B harmonica. The lyrics aren't up to much and there aren't that many of them but with songs like this one that isn't really the point.
Muddy Waters' 'Rollin' Stone' was already a live favourite, sometimes dragged out for as much as twenty minutes and reliant ever more on Marriott's slow-burning groove of a fuse. Away from an audience, though, this cover just isn't all that interesting, slowed down to a crawl as Humble Pie tick over until crashing and burning at the end.
Unusually, side two opens with an acoustic track, the charming 'A Song For Jenny'. The album's greatest moment, Marriott stops preening long enough to pay tribute to first wife Jennifer Rylance and reveal some of his own guilt at never being home. Marriott's back from tour, sleeping off months of headaches while he adjusts to his 'old' life ('My head needs air-conditioning' he admits as he opens a window) while his wife goes out for a walk. Struck by how empty the house is without her, Marriott sings about his thankfulness that she puts up with his long absences and moods as he adjusts to being back home, 'amazed that I'm still here - and you're still there 'cos I ain't been home in weeks!' (a word that changes to 'years' by the end of the last reprise). The revelation of joy is, naturally, enough reason for another party leading to a moment of pure Marriott heaven: the soul singers strut their stuff while Marriott changes tack and leaps into primal howl: 'How'm I ever going to find my way home?' he pleads, suddenly struck by what might happen in the future if Jenny leaves. Cheerleading the sings he plays cat and mouse with them, getting them to 'sing it!' 'cool it!' and 'scream it!', all while still lying in bed. A final verse finds his head still stuck in Alburqueque trying to navigate another gig while 'tomorrow' sees him in 'the world', the last line left ambiguous whether it's as conquering non-stop touring rock band or because the family home really is Marriott's whole world now. A beautiful song, performed with just the right shade of angst by Marriott - The Small Faces would have really nailed this one.
'The Light' is more traditional Humble Pie, a quirky catchy rocker mainly led by Frampton whose had revelations of his own: life is better when you're kinder to other people. A sweet angelic choir sweep in for some lovely 'aahs' in the middle, but otherwise this is perky prime Humble Pie as Frampton celebrates life while cursing everything that's gone wrong - nearly being run off the road and the loss of his favourite guitar, the ghost of which makes a fine solo-ing cameo in the middle of the song.
'Big George' is a relative disappointment, bassist Greg Ridley offering one of his lumpier, more generic songs about a big bully and his gun who terrorises a village every Friday night.
The album's second six minute epic 'Strange Days' is a Marriott led groove through some unusual chord changes with more of a sense of voodoo than most Humble Pie. It sounds as if life on the road is getting Steve down again and he already has an inkling about Frampton joining ship as he leaps on the piano and lets Frampton crank out the guitar groove for once. 'Strange days have found us, through them we linger alone...' sighs Marriott, without any of his usual swagger. It's an unusual song which never really gets going sadly and lasts a full 2:45 before Marriott sings a word.
The broken jam at the end of the song leads into the boogie woogie of 'Red Neck Jumper' segues as Humble Pie showaddy-waddy their way through a song that's so 1950s it's wearing leathers. Marriott's gibberish lyric ('Mama's in the kitchen with a karkeen special!') isn't even as good as this light groove though his lead vocal is as strong as ever and the backing vocals are worth a quick giggle. It's the sort of thing that would have been a Small Faces B-side years before.
Overall, then, 'Rock On' is a mixed success: for about a third of the album it's better or at least more disciplined than anything Humble Pie had managed before, for another third it's business as usual and another third strays so far away from the band's usual style that it leaves the listener with a definite head-scratch. The album is well worth owning though if only to hear the man who was surely Britain's greatest lead vocalist at the peak of his powers and the Marriott-Frampton dynamic at its peak.
The Faces "A Nod Is As Good As A Wink..."
(Warner Brothers, November 1971)
Miss Judy's Farm/You're So Rude/Love Lives Here/Last Orders Please/Stay With Me//Debris/Memphis Tenessee/Too Bad/That's All You Need
"Don't it make you happy? Well well well well well...that's all you need!"
'Ron, when you let go of your guitar I keep hearing feedback...Oh that's the way you want it, ok!' If the first two Faces albums are tentative - 'first steps' into an unknown direction - then 'Nod' is the sound of a car zooming so fast round a blind bend that it inevitably ends up in a messy crash by the end of the record, but at least you had fun getting there. The best of the band's four studio albums by a country mile, it would be wrong to claim that this third album is The Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' but it shares a similar confidence, teamwork and a rare moment of stability that's enabled everything to fall into place. Rod's vocals are never better than here where his brash strutting peacock persona is the perfect match for the material in a way that Marriott's soulful R and B would have been too strong. Ronnie Wood's learnt how to keep the band teetering on the edge of noise thanks to some fun gritty guitar riffs (no wonder the Rolling Stones hired him after he plays the part of two Keith Richards on most of the tracks). Mac's gospel piano keeps this teetering ship afloat, while adding to the boozy bar-room feel. Kenney Jones finally gets something to do other than play fast or slow and pummels the songs onward throughout. And Ronnie Lane? He only gets two songs this time around but both are the quiet, reflective heart of the record that give the rest of the album added depth and honesty. The Faces have finally worked out what they're meant to do best, be a good time rock band partying like it's Friday or Saturday night (the original vinyl came with a fold-out poster not of the bands but of their 'drug table' full of pills and lots of shots of naked groupies sadly - if that's the right word (?!) - removed by a shocked record company after a few weeks and missing from all subsequent editions), but a band that still remember what the Sunday morning hangovers feel like.
What this album doesn't have, of course, is subtlety. Anyone expecting The Small Faces' musical curiosity and truly revealing songs about the human condition will soon get sick of all the shouting and bar-room brawl stories. Treated as actual songs rather than performances, only Ronnie's come even close to matching past classics and like many a Faces album this record feels like one long track that sounds more or less the same. But there's room in the music world for a bit of fun too and 'Nod' is by far the most entertaining of the band's four records, good-time rocking nonsense redeemed by a line-up who clearly know each other and get on well in this era, the musical equivalent of the moment late on stage when the band tended to leap on each other celebrating as if they've just scored a musical goal. Not co-incidentally, this is also the only Faces album without one of those endless blues instrumental jams and while this isn't the most inventive album you'll ever own, at least everything here sounds instantly recognisable as 'The Faces', filled with their trademark casualness and speaker-throbs, every bit as noisy as Humble Pie in the same period but in a more informal and off-hand way than Marriott and Frampton's intensity. For all the audible bonhomie, though, the cracks are already starting to show: Rod spent downtime between 'Long Player' and this record making his 'breakthrough' solo album 'Every Picture Tells A Story' with its big hit 'Maggie May'. For the moment the two careers are more or less parallel and of roughly equal performance, with this record's 'Stay With Me' following Maggie into the charts. Rod, though, already has stars in his eyes and is already marking time with the band. If you're a curious Small Faces fan who wants to know what happened to the band after the split with Marriott, then forget all of the slightly cheap 'n' nasty half-hearted Faces compilations out there and head straight to this record which is delightfully messy, excitingly raw and gloriously unhinged, without the half-hearted experiments and mixture of styles of past and future LPs. Be warned as well, though, that there's a world of difference between the two bands: The Small Faces wanted to teach the world things and break down barriers and there was no end to their ambition; The Faces' ambitions stretch to making enough money to get blind drunk and enjoying the party. The Faces always sounded like they had more fun, but it's The Small Faces' legacy that will surely last the longest. 'Sounds like bleeding Pentangle!' mocks Rod when the band start picking out some slow acoustic ballad during a BBC session before the others laugh the idea aside by plunging into 'Stay With Me'. Yeah, I'd kind of gathered that Rod...
Rod 'n' Woody's 'Miss Judy's Farm' is at least a candidate for best Faces rocker. Taking a 'nod' from Bob Dylan's 'Maggie's Farm', Rod sticks together a silly lyric about moody Judy with her 'peroxide poodle', an elder farm owner who wears the eighteen-year old narrator out with her long list of jobs. A great Ronnie Wood guitar riff slices through butter, gloriously echoed by Mac's busy piano chords and Kenney's rock shuffle is note-perfect. Rod's narrator kicks her pampered doggie and gets a beating for his troubles, kicking off a riot that leads to the national guard arriving in a rare case of The Faces writing a social protest number about privilege - well social protest from about a century earlier but there you go. The sudden thinning out of the song before all hell breaks loose in the second half if the most exciting Faces moment and arguably the best guitar playing of Woody's career.
'You're So Rude' is Lane's lyrics matched to Mac's organ melody combined with similarly thick guitar chords. Lane is apparently singing about a good girl his folks really like, especially his aunty Rene (the docker's delight?), while in private she's got a dirtier mind than he has. Alas his family all come back early and discover the pair up to something they shouldn't be, causing Ronnie to have a panic attack as they make up a story about 'getting caught in the rain' which is why they've got no clothes on, honest guv. A very Faces song, which proves how well Lane could fit into the band persona when he tried, with another excellent fat, thick riff driving the song along and a great Woody harmonica solo at the end.
'Love Lives Here' is the only real ballad on the album and it's another good one, with a Woody melody and a Lane lyric both tweaked a little by Rod. A couple are moving out and moving on after many happy years together and sit sadly watching the ball and chain move in to knock their home down. The pair then go their separate ways, slowly, with Lane sadly imagining 'all the vows that we made, gone for old rags and lumber, disappearing on a cart down the road. Could this song be less about a relationship and more about a band, namely The Small Faces? Mac's pulsing organ seeks to remind the couple of their churchly wedding vows, while Rod delivers possibly the best vocal of his career, sad and understated and utterly in tune with the song. Exquisite.
'Last Orders Please' sounds like another Rod special, but it's written and sung by Lane whose just bumped into an ex while their favourite song, Smokey Robinson's 'Tracks Of My Tears', starts playing on the radio. Don't get too excited though: musically this is another typically Faces tune with bar-room honky tonk from Mac and while it's far from the worst thing the band ever did it's probably the least memorable track on this record. One wonders whether the Stones, now paying close attention to Woody's career, got the idea for their 'Black and Blue' album from this song.
Oddly considering their reputation and Rod's hit career, The Faces only ever had one mega-super hit, 'Stay With Me'. A good example of the sort of thing the band could pull off like no other, it starts as manic rocker before slowing down to strutting good time and has Rod preening feathers like never before with a gloriously raw vocal part. Wood's guitar riff is one of his simplest and Rod's words about woo-ing a girl named Rita into staying the night are silly, but the band performance is strong enough to overcome both problems and sound genuinely exciting and thrilling, even though in basic terms it's just another song about Rod getting his leg over.
Ronnie Lane's delightful 'Debris' is the album's chance at reflection, taking its cue from The Rolling Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. A final love song for first wife, it imagines snapshots of their lives: perusing local markets for bargains, his wife waiting for him at the top of the stairs to welcome him home and his pangs of guilt and regret as he realises their relationship won't work and he couldn't offer her the life and money she deserved. Sweet and heartfelt, Ronnie bids goodbye to 'a hero' and 'my good friend' without any trace of bitterness, while Rod provides another lovely vocal in counterpart to Ronnie's own, their voices perfectly in sync for once.
Alas a chugging five and a half minute long cover of Chuck Berry's 'Memphis Tennessee' (simply listed as 'Memphis' on the original album) that's the band's typical fly in the ointment, the band doing a Humble Pie by slowing a great exciting track down to half-speed and robbing it of all energy and excitement. It takes a full 90 seconds for Rod to start singing and his nasal vocal isn't exactly worth waiting for, though at least Woody plays some nice slide guitar.
'Too Bad' is Rod 'n' Woody's next song, another groovy little rocker in traditional Faces party mould that works rather well. Rod and his band have been thrown out of a club they wanted to perform in for having 'the wrong accent'. 'Ain't it always a shame we always get the blame?' the band sing in messy harmonies, but with enough of a twinkle to suggest they'd have been thrown out for doing something dodgy soon enough anyway...
The album ends with a final Rod 'n' Woody track, 'That's All You Need', which features much slide guitar playing and an angry lyric about how people with low IQs are treated. We don't know who Rod's 'brother with the violin' may be, but he comes good anyway by the end of the song, out-earning Rod and dressed so posh the singer didn't recognise him. This curious chorus-less song is tightly performed as ever but never quite hangs together somehow, making for a surprisingly weak ending despite Woody's best grunge guitar licks.
Overall, though, 'A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse' and 'A Nod' is as good an album as The Faces will ever get to make. It's not the deepest album on this list, or the most creative artistically, or a great long lost classic that every Small Faces fan who hasn't heard it needs to rush out and buy. But it is the record where The Faces' sound comes together the best, with the band doing what they do best (ie party rock shouting) with just enough extra touches to keep the party going. If I ever ended up on a desert island with only one Rod Stewart-sung album to play, well A) I'd Go mad very very quickly B) question what idiot takes a Rod Stewart album and a gramophone with them and how it survived plane wrecks/shark attacks/terrorist missiles/bad workmanship C) Thank my lucky stars it isn't The Spice Girls but most of all D) hope that it's this one. An offhand, ragged, warm album made with just enough love and attention it's the closest The Faces ever came to taking The Stones and The Who's (and CSNY's at their peak) labels as 'the greatest rock and roll band in the world' away from them.