It’s strange how a man’s “train of thought” works….
I was at yet another party tonight, it was maybe the tenth in 2 weeks, celebrating my wife’s birthday. Her birthday has become more of a festival than a birth “day”. I was sitting at the end of a very crowded table when someone who was discussing current events leaned over and asked me if I’d heard of “Operation Chokehold”. I was taken aback but responded quickly, “Hey, I’m no stranger to rough sex, I came of age in the 80’s… My safe word, was ‘umbrella’…” Well, apparently his question had something to do with a federal investigation not S&M. Oh, well, times change.
Reflecting back on such things, pleasurable things, had me thinking of what a good time it had all been. Pretty soon a song by The Faces had popped into my head, “Had Me a Real Good Time.” The lyrics seemed to resonate: “I was glad to come, I’ll be sad to leave, so while I’m here, I’ll have me a real good time…” Are these not words to live by? The Faces are probably rock n roll’s greatest overlooked band of all time. And so, sitting at this table full of friends, I began to think of the new box set that just came out, You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything: 1970 to 1975. I’m not sure how I got there from my wife’s birthday, but there you have it, a man’s train of thought is a wonderful thing.
The Small Faces, not to be confused with the Faces, were formed in 1965 and consisted of Kenny Jones (drums), Ronnie Lane (bass/vocals), Ian McLagan (keyboards) and Steve Marriott (guitar/lead vocals). They were all short guys, hence the “small” in Small Faces. They had a series of hits and were very popular with the Mods, very stylish 60’s London kids. The Who were also very popular with the Mods, and Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane were actually close friends. In 1969 Steve Marriott up and quit the Small Faces to form a new band, with twin lead guitars, with a gentlemen named Peter Frampton. Hmm, that name seems familiar. Anyway, the Small Faces were devastated. Undaunted they began to seek another front man and guitarist.
Meanwhile, in another part of London, in 1967, recently sacked Yardbirds guitar wizard Jeff Beck formed a band creatively named, The Jeff Beck Group. He found a young singer and realized that while his guitar would bring in the dudes, a good looking singer would bring in the chicks. (Jimmy Page was watching closely…see Robert Plant). He finally found his man in Rod Stewart. Yes, that Rod Stewart. On bass guitar was none other than Ronnie Wood, later of Rolling Stones fame. They had various drummers, the most lasting being Mickey Waller. Jeff Beck and the record company basically treated Rod, Ronnie Wood, and the rest of the band like ‘sidemen’ and Jeff was “mercurial” to say the least. The band was slated to play Woodstock but Jeff Beck, who was partial to fast cars, wrecked one and was injured and had to cancel. In the interim Rod Stewart recorded his first solo album in ’69, creatively named, The Rod Stewart Album. After Beck fired Wood, The Jeff Beck Group was no more.
Somehow, Ronnie Wood ended up hooking up with the remaining Small Faces, Lane/McLagan/Jones and joined, not on bass but on his true instrument, lead guitar. Rod started dropping by rehearsals, at first sitting down the hall in the control room, and finally taking the walk down the hall to join in. Suddenly the Small Faces were now The Faces. Rod and Ronnie were a head taller than the rest of the band, so “small” no longer seemed appropriate. Rod still had a solo contract with Mercury records, the first artist to actually have a dual career – in a group and solo – which would spell their doom. They released a Faces album and Rod released a solo album every year between 70 and 75.
Which leads me to the box, You Can Make Dance… which compiles all four of their original studio albums, First Step, Long Player, A Wink Is As Good As a Nod (To a Blind Horse), Ooh La La. It’s, in my mind, a companion piece to 2004’s box set Five Guys Walk Into a Bar. Five Guys Walk Into a Bar is the best box set out there, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan’s Biograph. Five Guys Walk… is the greatest snapshot of who the Faces were – it has b-sides, non album singles, album tracks, rehearsals, BBC live tracks – it’s simply brilliant. The new box set, You Can Make Me Dance… perfectly compliments that with the studio albums. Buy this on vinyl – the album covers alone are worth the price. I especially like the Ooh La La cover, when you push down on the front the guy in the top hat makes a funny face ala Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.
First Step was the first album by the Faces, despite being called the Small Faces on the album cover. It has the great, great songs, Three Button Hand Me Down, Flying, Shake Shudder Shiver, and the Dylan cover Wicked Messenger. Its a typical first album, but it gels perfectly. These guys had to know they were onto something magical. On this enhanced version there are several unreleased songs, mostly rehearsals and early takes but there are a few hidden gems: Behind the Sun and Mona – The Blues are amazing outtakes. Even if you have this record, those songs make this worth the purchase.
Long Player- This one is my favorite. From the opening track Bad and Ruin, which was once used on The Sopranos, to Tell Everybody and Sweet Lady Mary, this album is a stone-cold classic. I think the only reason it wasn’t more popular was because several of the tracks were recorded live – an attempt by The Faces to capture their incendiary live chemistry. There are two fabulous bonus tracks on this album in the box, both live from the Fillmore East, Too Much Woman and Love In Vain (the old Robert Johnson standard made famous by the Stones). These are great additions to the Faces canon.
A Wink Is As Good As A Nod (To a Blind Horse) – This was their best known and highest selling record. Their only “hit”, Stay With Me is on this record. Ronnie Lane turns in his best song, Debris, with a beautiful harmony by Rod. The Faces even cover Chuck Berry on Memphis. It doesn’t get much better than this album. I will say, the 2 bonus tracks here were available on Five Guys Walk Into a Bar… but this record is so perfect it doesn’t need extra track adornment.
Finally, Ooh La La. The band was in conflict. Rod’s solo career had taken off with Maggie May and Ronnie Lane, the heart and soul of this band, felt his songs were under appreciated. There was a lot of “you save your best stuff for the solo albums” talk going on. Rod was starting to check out as the hostility was too much. Keith Richards was hanging out with Ronnie and pretty soon Mick Jagger was around to coax Ronnie into the Stones after Mick Taylor bolted. All the drama aside, I love his record. The title track is pure Ronnie Lane. Silicone Grown (about fake tits) and Cindy Incidentally are Stewart/Wood classic compositions. If I’m on the Late Side may be one of Rod’s best songs. Of the bonus tracks, John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, a Faces live staple, from 1973’s Reading Festival is the standout bonus track.
My advice – if you haven’t bought Five Guys Walk Into a Bar, do so immediately. My further advice, buy this one first. Start with these great 4 studio albums, plus bonus tracks and build to the other box set. Rod Stewart was at his creative zenith with these guys and the pay off with this band is worth it.
Tonight, or rather last night in England, Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and Rod got together and played a concert for charity, to raise money for prostate cancer in the UK. It’s the first time the Faces, with Rod Stewart, have played together since the late 80s. I’ve prayed for this reunion for years. Sadly, Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan have passed away. But the rest of the lads got up and bashed away tonight. I can only hope someone had a tape recorder. And maybe, just maybe Rod will finally put the money aside and record some new music with his old mates before it’s too late. Regardless of whether they ever do anything together again… listening to the Faces…well, I had me a real good time….