Although they were only inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 those who know their music had them on a pedestal from day one. Not only one of the greatest singles acts in British history – just consider they gave us “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”, “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”, “All Or Nothing”, “My Mind’s Eye”, “Here Come the Nice”, “Itchycoo Park”, “Tin Soldier”, “Lazy Sunday” and the glorious “The Universal” - this magnificent psychedelic and folky/metal quartet have had such a huge influence on latter-day pop (a trope they once chose to eschew) that their best albums have passed into history, and have those in the know demanding that they receive their recognition and, by rights, your discovery.
The self-titled debut was brilliant, critics were amazed, but after erratic mismanagement we got to hear From The Beginning, the second Small Faces disc, the classic Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake and The Autumn Stone – albums whose overriding influence on every aspect of so-called Britpop cannot be ignored.
Although the immortal Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (it came in a tin, for all you real completists) was their sole #1 album in the UK in 1968, just about everything they committed to tape is worth your discovery. As loved as Small Faces were - and who can gainsay the wonders of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan in their heyday – it is worth submerging yourself in their soulful mod era again.
Never best served by their initial paymasters, the Small Faces suffered from slipping through the mesh. Sure, they did receive a posthumous Ivor Novello Outstanding Contribution to British Music – aka Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, but that really was a case of ‘too little, too late’. There is fantastic achievement about them, also awful tragedy. Both Marriott and Lane died far too young. At best they aspired to the heights, and easily reached those of The Who, The Kinks, The Move, and dare one say; The Beatles, yet for reasons beyond their control they were never given their just reward.
Time to take stock: we have their original music, the albums and the anthologies, all of which will point you in the direction towards Plaistow, East Ham, Stepney and Stratford. On those streets you’ll bump into a head full of memorable hums and a bevy of classic albums to accompany your journey. The songs remain true to the spirit of adventure that inspired them and they are London rooted, as redolent of the old cityscape as a bombsite in the City circa 1965 or a trip out to the nearest green space with something chemical for company, circa 1966. One of our all-time favourite groups, bands, whatever, yer Small Faces’ music never dulls. It’s all too beautiful…
Formed in 1965 by former child actor and East End boy Steve Marriott and his chums Ronnie Lane, and Kenney Jones, all sharing a love for authentic American black R&B, the trio became a quartet when Jimmy Winston was enlisted, mainly thanks to him being able to secure rehearsal time and the occasional gig at the Ruskin Arms, Manor Park where his father ran the bar. When Jimmy was replaced with Ian McLagan the classic line-up was complete. A friend of Marriott’s christened them Small Faces, a girl called Annabel, who couldn’t help notice their diminutive stature. Cast into the crucible of Swinging London the boys were friends with David Bowie and later Robert Plant, who is said to have modelled aspects of his vocal style around Stevie’s distinctive, rasping holler. Still teenagers they were managed by one Don Arden and given money for all the glories that Carnaby Street could provide. He also moved them to a house in Pimlico where visiting luminaries including Andrew Loog Oldham (mentor post-Arden) Marianne Faithfull, Brian Epstein and Pete Townshend would assemble for outrageous partying.
Signed to Decca Records in 1965 they began by making a string of uber-mod high-energy singles with plenty of feel and flavor, of America, R&Bm and also their own cockney roots. “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” and “I’ve Got Mine” were more than promising, the former cracking the UK Top 20 but “Sha-La-La-La-Lee (written for them by Mort Shuman) was the game changer, crashing the chart at #3. Singles success and enormous live popularity didn’t make them overnight millionaires though and it wasn’t until they signed to Immediate and made “Here Come The Nice” with Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios, Barnes that we hear their real forte for early psychedelia. The first Small Faces disc (1966) had been successful and the retrospective From The Beginning (1967) followed suit without adding much flesh to the bone. The second Small Faces title (1967) – issued in the US as There Are But Four Small Faces - is now considered to be a classic with all the non-drumming members sharing vocals and the Marriott/Lane writing partnership striking gold with “(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me”, “Get Yourself Together” and the punning music hall mod of “Up The Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire”. Despite their cheeky persona the group were by now an accomplished studio outfit with concepts to burn and tunes to enthrall. Not to be overlooked, this album is one of the pinnacles of mod music and is often cited by Paul Weller as one of the discs that changed his life. Man’s got taste.
The whole package coalesces on Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, a must-have artefact then and now. Oh for the joys of discovering this one for the first time! Boasting highlights like “Lazy Sunday”, “Afterglow of Your Love”, the heavy “Song of a Baker” and Professor Stanley Unwin’s English-mangling “looney links”, the Ogden’s affair became a cult item. Check it today as the original or as the Deluxe edition with a variety of fascinating alternate mixes, a phased acid rock version of “Ogden’s…” and the additional cuts, “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Kamikhazi” (note that Carry On ho ho spelling). The 2007 re-release is a bonus tracks beauty that includes much loved songs “The Autumn Stone”, “Donkey Rides, a Penny a Glass” and live renditions of “All or Nothing” and “Tin Soldier”. For the complete picture and it’s worth the view, all three items are recommended for discovery.
At this juncture, the Small Faces should have finished their next studio album, the projected 1862, but Marriott was tired of the pop circuit and the band’s somewhat cozy image – sweet and lovable cockney rogues and all that. He jumped ship and formed the mighty Humble Pie while his aggrieved pals would eventually join Rod Stewart and become The Faces. As a transitional purchase we think that The Autumn Stone (1969) functions as a splendid compilation of the many superb singles and also provides a glimpse of what might have been via Marriott’s Tim Hardin obsession. His versions of “If I Were a Carpenter” and the gorgeous “Red Balloon” were hoy off the press and the instrumental “Wide Eyed Girl On The Wall” offers a tempting example of a future style change that sadly was never completed.
Still, anything that includes “Itchycoo Park”, arguably the greatest British psych rock single of all time, can’t fail to delight.
Having left us with the single “Afterglow (Of Your Love)” in 1969 the original four piece reunited in 1975. Ronnie Lane, who was beginning to suffer from multiple sclerosis, attended initial rehearsals but was replaced by ex-Roxy Music bassist Rick Wills to make the albums Playmates and 78 In The Shade with guitarist Jimmy McCulloch – having just quit Wings – as extra guitarist on the latter disc (1978).
Finding it impossible to recreate an atmosphere was really redolent of a particular place and time the band decided that was that. No matter though because they’d given us numerous best shots. You can also try the ever-reliable The BBC Sessions (1999) where you will hear the Small faces on contemporary shows Saturday Club and Top Gear. The Masters is a neat summary of the hits and choicest album cuts spread over a 2-CD set. In 2014 fans were treated to Here Come the Nice: The Immediate Years 1967-1969. This comprehensive, though sadly limited, 8-disc trawl through the archives includes 75 tracks and a lot of unreleased material, alternative versions, live in concert, and outtakes all figure large. If you get the bug you’ll need to hear the lot. With the Small Faces it truly is a case of all or nothing.
Words: Max Bell
The Small Faces' catalog is one of the most confusing in rock & roll history, featuring multiple compilations bearing the same title but considerably different track listings, reworked original albums, and haphazard retrospectives. The double-disc Anthology: 1965-1967 goes a long way toward correcting those problems, yet it stops just short of being definitive. Containing all of the material the band recorded for Decca Records -- including "Whatcha Gonna Do About It?," "Sha-La-La-La-Lee," "Hey Girl," "All or Nothing," and "My Mind's Eye" -- which means it cuts off just as The Small Faces were entering their most creative period. Still, The Small Faces were an excellent British R&B group and that phase is captured in all its glory on this set.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There was no shortage of good psychedelic albums emerging from England in 1967-1968, but Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake is special even within their ranks. The Small Faces had already shown a surprising adaptability to psychedelia with the single "Itchycoo Park" and much of their other 1967 output, but Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake pretty much ripped the envelope. British bands had an unusual approach to psychedelia from the get-go, often preferring to assume different musical "personae" on their albums, either feigning actual "roles" in the context of a variety show (as on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album), or simply as storytellers in the manner of the Pretty Things on S.F. Sorrow, or actor/performers as on the Who's Tommy. The Small Faces tried a little bit of all of these approaches on Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, but they never softened their sound. Side one's material, in particular, would not have been out of place on any other Small Faces release -- "Afterglow (Of Your Love)" and "Rene" both have a pounding beat from Kenny Jones, and Ian McLagan's surging organ drives the former while his economical piano accompaniment embellishes the latter; and Steve Marriott's crunching guitar highlights "Song of a Baker." Marriott singing has him assuming two distinct "roles," neither unfamiliar -- the Cockney upstart on "Rene" and "Lazy Sunday," and the diminutive soul shouter on "Afterglow (Of Your Love)" and "Song of a Baker." Some of side two's production is more elaborate, with overdubbed harps and light orchestration here and there, and an array of more ambitious songs, all linked by a narration by comic dialect expert Stanley Unwin, about a character called "Happiness Stan." The core of the sound, however, is found in the pounding "Rollin' Over," which became a highlight of the group's stage act during its final days -- the song seems lean and mean with a mix in which Ronnie Lane's bass is louder than the overdubbed horns. Even "Mad John," which derives from folk influences, has a refreshingly muscular sound on its acoustic instruments. Overall, this was the ballsiest-sounding piece of full-length psychedelia to come out of England, and it rode the number one spot on the U.K. charts for six weeks in 1968, though not without some controversy surrounding advertisements by Immediate Records that parodied the Lord's Prayer. Still, Ogdens' was the group's crowning achievement -- it had even been Marriott's hope to do a stage presentation of Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, though a television special might've been more in order.
Words: Bruce Eder
The Small Faces split from manager Don Arden to sign with Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label and, in retaliation, Decca and Arden rounded up the remaining recordings the group made for the label and released them as From the Beginning. Appearing just months before their Immediate debut -- entitled The Small Faces, just like their first album for Decca -- From the Beginning includes early version of "My Way of Giving" and "(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me," and it reprises songs that were on the 1966 Decca LP ("Sha La La La Lee," "What'cha Gonna Do About It"), moves that muddy an already confusing situation. And From the Beginning really doesn't play as a cohesive album by any stretch of the imagination, as it opens with a burst of burgeoning psychedelia then doubles back to the group's early R&B, flaws that matter less as years pass by because, on a track by track basis, there is a lot of wondrous material here. Like many of their peers, The Small Faces began to dabble in LSD in 1967 and their sonic horizons broadened considerably, something that is evident on "My Mind's Eye," "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," and "That Man," swirling songs that hint at the band's developing pop inclinations without abandoning their hard R&B underpinning. Other songs -- "(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me," "All or Nothing,"" "My Way of Giving"-- arrive at the midway point between the psych-pop and Mod R&B, just as the Immediate Small Faces LP would just a few weeks later, and these are nervy, energetic gems that find a nice counterpart with the pure soul songs bunched at the end. It's an odds and ends record to be sure but From the Beginning offers too much top-notch material to be dismissed; in fact, in many ways, it's a flawed gem from the swinging '60s
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Just when the first-generation British Invasion bands galloped ahead into pop art in 1966, the Small Faces worked a heavy R&B groove on their 1966 debut. That's not to say that this pack of four sharp-suited mods were unaware of the times. If anything, no other British band of the mid-'60s was so keenly tuned into fashion, the four Small Faces capturing the style and sound of dancing pilled-up mods better even than the Who, possibly because the group could carry a groove better than the Who, as this tightly propulsive debut amply illustrates. Like many '60s debuts, The Small Faces is split between covers, songs the label pushed on the band, and originals, some clearly interpolations of songs they'd been covering in clubs. "Come on Children" echoes James Brown's "Think," and "You Need Loving" is based on Willie Dixon's "You Need Love." Later, Led Zeppelin would rework the Small Faces' "You Need Loving" into "Whole Lotta Love," and while it's easy to hear how Steve Marriott's raw-throated howl influenced Robert Plant as much as Marriott's heavy shards of guitar influenced Jimmy Page, what's striking about The Small Faces is that there is very little blues or rock & roll here: it's all hard-charging, driving R&B and soul, the emphasis all on the groove. By stressing the beat, the Small Faces carry themselves over some slight songwriting -- the band's energetic interplay carries them over the rough spots between "It's Too Late," "What'Cha Gonna Do About It," and "Sha La La La Lee," and that concentration even pushes them into trailblazing territory, as on the lean, ominous pulse of "E Too D." Such moments keep The Small Faces sounding fearless and fresh even when by other respects it is very much a record of its time.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With the multiple reissues of the Small Faces' complete Decca and Immediate catalogs since the mid-'90s, a new best-of CD would hardly seem relevant, much less important. This 20-song CD, however, is a handy and very nicely produced assembly of the group's biggest hits (all from the U.K.) on Decca, coupled with their most significant LP cuts, and all freshly (and very crisply) remastered. This reviewer is about as familiar with the quartet's Decca stuff as he is with the Beatles' repertory of the same period, and it was still a major surprise hearing this stuff this loud and richly detailed, sounding a good deal better than much of the Rolling Stones' Decca/London catalog of the same era did (until their 2002 remastering). On "Hey Girl" it's even easy to separate Steve Marriot's guitar and Ian McLagan's keyboard, even though they're playing like there's no tomorrow while Kenny Jones kicks the heck out of his kit. There are no surprises or revelations, apart from the sound quality and, perhaps, for neophyte listeners, the inclusion of the French EP version of "What'cha Gonna Do About it"; this catalog has been an open book for years, but this is a very good "new" edition.
Superlatives are attached to compilations with an alarming frequency, but Sanctuary's Ultimate Collection comes quite close to deserving the adjective in the title. While most Small Faces wrap-ups ignore either of the band's major phases (their early amphetamine-fueled R&B on Deram and their later acid-soaked British psychedelia for Immediate) or give short shrift to both, Ultimate Collection compiles 25 tracks from each and makes great selections. Among the highlights: from the first disc, "What'cha Gonna Do About It?" and "Sha-La-La-La-Lee," while the second boasts every one of their best from post-1967, including "My Way of Giving," "Green Circles," "Itchycoo Park," "Tin Soldier," and "Lazy Sunday."
Words: John Bush