>A Post About The Small Faces (Why Not)

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the fuck

Hope everybody’s been enjoying the requested reviews! I read through some of them and I think they have gone perfectly OK. If you haven’t been particularly excited by the requested selections so far (I don’t know why in God’s name you wouldn’t be excited by an LMFAO review, but then again I’m not you), no need to worry! We’re not even halfway through the requests I’ve gotten and I’ve saved some of the more compelling ones for last. (By that I mean, I’m doing them in the order that people actually requested them and I’m not actually choosing the order myself, so apparently I am a complete and total liar who should not be listened to.) So sit tight and you will receive more of them in due time.

It is honestly shocking to me that I last asked for these requests way back in early July. That’s almost two months ago! And in that time I’ve listened to all these other records of my own choosing that I’ve listened to more than the requests! Jeez. Not very nice of me. I can say with a bit of pride, however, that those aforementioned request-delaying albums were all real good. I already talked about one of those a couple weeks back, so I figured it might be nice of me to talk about a couple more: The Small Faces’ There Are But Four Small Faces and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, two albums that were way way way too good for me to ignore.

One thing you might notice is that, yes, like the other album, these Small Faces records also feature Ronnie Lane. I’ll do you a favor and not talk about how much I enjoy his cherubic feel-good personality for the umpteenth time. The Small Faces, in case you do not know, were a British mod-pop-rock group from the mid-to-late 60’s. Their lead singer/songwriter/guitarist was a man by the name of Steve Marriott, whose speaking voice was the most cockney British thing you could possibly hear and whose singing voice was the best Sam Cooke-inspired vocal thing you could possibly hear. He was very good at switching between goofy over-the-top British snarls and powerful rock ‘n roll bellows, often within the same song. The bassist for this band was the aforementioned Lane, who wrote songs with Marriott and sang lead once in a blue moon; I won’t say any more about him. The other two dudes were Ian McLagan, who didn’t sing at all I don’t think but was a very talented keyboardist, and Kenney Jones, whose poundy-pound-pound drum sound (I don’t know how to describe the way drums sound) gave every Small Faces song a super-heavy backbone. Once Marriott left the band in ’69 to do music things with the great Pete Frampton, the rest recruited the now-very-well-known-but-not-so-much-so-in-ninteen-sixty-nine Rod Stewart and the kinda-sorta-well-known-now-but-only-cuz-he’s-in-the-Stones Ronnie Wood and became the Faces, another real cool band that were great for completely different reasons (The Faces = loose, sloppy and rootsy; The Small Faces = tight, poppy and rockin’). Then they broke up too, at some point. The end.

I judged the Small Faces harshly before I even heard one song by them. Once I was told they were considered “rivals of the Who” in their prime, my initial response was something along the lines of “Pshhh. Also rans.” I was a hardcore Who guy at the time, you see, and I had no more room in my heart for Mod-influenced British rock groups. From their band name and image, I’d always thought of theme as a bunch of whimsical British flower-power men. Their big hit was called “Itchycoo Park,” for crying out loud!! But of course I was wrong about all of this, like usual. “Itchycoo Park,” while a little cutesy, is the greatest song, featuring a classic call-and-response between Marriott and Lane that alternates between Lane’s innocent questions and Marriott’s unhinged responses (“What didja do there?” “I GOT HIIIIIIIII-IGH!”). Then I heard their classic ’68 concept album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, which features some cute-yet-sinister whimsical Britishisms (“Rene” and “Lazy Sunday”, the latter being the best possible example of Marriott’s ability to switch between vocal mannerisms) and songs like “Song Of A Baker,” maybe the most (read: ONLY) badass song ever written about baking. How could a song featuring the lyrics “I’ll jug some water, bake some flower, store some salt and wait the hour” be badass, you ask? Especially one sung mostly by all-around nice man Ronnie Lane?? You’ll just have to listen for yourself, friend.

That was what really surprised me about the Small Faces – they were a pretty rockin’ band! Sure, they would sometimes be prone to the cutesier side of British psychedelia (see the entire second side of Ogden’s), but most of the time they had as heavy of a sound as anybody during the mid 60’s – and that includes the Who. Hell, if anything, they were heavier than the Who – on record, at least. While the Who were always powerful onstage, by the time of The Who Sell Out (and especially Tommy) they were adopting a more pop-oriented sound. The Small Faces wrote pop songs as well, but even on Ogden’s the force of their sound is unrelenting. My love of that album eventually led me to pick up There Are But Four Small Faces – the album immediately preceding it – on vinyl, and I would have to say I like it even better. It’s an American version of the original British release, so purists may take issue with the tracks on here, but I certainly can’t complain – a bunch of great, great singles are tacked on, including “Itchycoo Park” and “Tin Soldier,” the latter being maybe my favorite Small Faces song ever. Not unlike “Song Of A Baker,” I expected it to be almost Kinks-ian just from its title (see the Kinks’ goofy “Tin Soldier Man”), but instead it is one of the most powerfully soulful songs they ever recorded! Who knew?? That, and you’ve got “Green Circles” and “Here Come The Nice” and “Get Yourself Together” – there is not a track on this album that I do not like. While the second side of Ogden’s can be a little off-putting, Four Small Faces is primo British psych-rock from top to bottom. Twelve great tracks. Not bad at all.

So yes, yes. The Small Faces were one of those “really great bands from the Sixties” that you hear so much about. I don’t have their first album but one day I am destined to own it. And, by extension, every album by the Faces and the Humble Pie (ehhhh not so sure about that last one). If you don’t believe me about These Small Faces, take it from a band that was influenced by them a heckuva lot – the Greatest Band Alive, OASIS.

Hah! Yeah, that’s right. God-damn OASIS. If you don’t love the Small Faces just from hearing that name, what kind of awful good-music-hating cretin are you? The worst worst kind, that’s what.

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>Self-Requested Review: "Rough Mix" by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane

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two friendly dudes

Requested reviews are slow in the making! Oh no!!

Sorry for the whole “no updates” thing over the past couple of weeks. I promised myself I wouldn’t have to spend the first three paragraphs of a review explaining my lack of updates but here we are again. Let’s get the excuses out of the way: the next requested album I’m reviewing is Sebadoh’s The Freed Weed, and it’s really long and as such I haven’t listened to it enough yet. This is mostly because I have been listening to a bunch of other records I have been picking up on whim after whim after whim. Also, I’m completely lazy.

But hey, enough excuses. Why don’t I talk about one of the albums that’s been distracting me from my requests? So you can see that I haven’t just been hiding under my bedsheets in deathly silence these past couple weeks? Yeah! What a good idea!!

Rough Mix was a 1977 collaboration between Who guitarist/songsmith Pete Townshend and Small Faces/Faces bassist/songman Ronnie Lane. I’d never listened to this record before because I never knew who the hell Ronnie Lane was – I’d always dismissed it as a record by “Pete Townshend and some dude.” But then, miraculously, I recently discovered the greatness of the Faces AND the Smaller Faces and realized – hey, “some dude” is that Faces bassist! The one who charmingly speak-sings the opening verses during the Faces cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed”!! So I figured a collaboration between two British rock dudes I liked would be something memorable. And hey! I was all too right.

“Collaboration” is actually a loose term here. Rough Mix is, essentially, two solo EPs combined into one full-length record. The structure of the album is literally just “Pete song, Ronnie song, Pete song, Ronnie song…” etc. etc. It’s as if the two of them just said, “Hey, we’ve both got a bunch of good solo songs – why not just throw them together??” And that’s not just in regard to the track layout – their songs sound completely different! Different genres, even. Pete’s songs are all studio-polished pop-rock, unsurprisingly not too dissimilar to what the Who were doing around that time; Ronnie’s songs are all country tunes, laid-back and amiable, accentuated by the charm of his regular-guy voice. This makes the flow of the first half of the album a little jarring – I mean, how does the unassuming beauty of Ronnie Lane’s “Annie” fit between the studio-perfect (and Eric Clapton-cameoed) jam of the title track and the Whoish pop-rock of Pete’s “Keep Me Turning”? It almost sounds as if the two weren’t even in the studio together. And maybe they weren’t!

That’s only for the first half, though. During the second this so-called “collaboration” becomes a little more clear; Ronnie’s late-night acoustic “April Fool” flows perfectly into Pete’s slower “Street In The City,” and the two actually sing together! on the lovely “Heart To Hang On To.” And honestly, I enjoy the songs so much on this album that the unusual flow of the first side doesn’t bother me much at all. With Pete, you’ve got the pop-rock of “My Baby Gives It Away” (a song comparing his wife to a prostitute, I’m guessing), the spiritually Who-worthy “Keep Me Turning,” the kinda-dumb “Misunderstood” (although lyrically it’s a pretty funny song about Pete’s desire to be elusive and mysterious) and the bizarro “Street In The City” which starts off as a nice acoustic number and somehow morphs into a string-laden opera full of Townshend’s trademark overwritten “serious” lyrics. Despite a few snags here and there, Pete’s stuff is all solid, and if anything these songs proved he was viable enough as a solo artist (a notion confirmed when he recorded Empty Glass a few years later).

But hey! I almost like Ronnie’s songs better. And I barely even know the guy! “Nowhere To Run” and “Annie” are two of the loveliest, most laid-back songs I have heard in a while; “April Fool,” with its subtle acoustic backing and crackling vocals, might be my favorite song on the album; and his verse-singing on “Heart To Hang Onto” is all too charming. “Camelody” is kind of a dumb honky-tonk thing but what can you do? Ronnie Lane’s songs are just so damn nice that I can’t resist them. His voice is like a cross between George Harrison’s and Bob Dylan’s. I like him! Makes me sad that I hadn’t discovered this guy until just recently.

So there is a whole lot to like on Rough Mix. If you’re a Pete Townshend fan, pick it up for some lost gems in his solo catalog, along with a bunch of songs by some guy you’ve never heard of but who is actually really great. If you’re a Ronnie Lane fan then you probably already have this album because this was probably the most popular record this guy had any part in besides those Faces albums. And if you’re not a fan of either – come on!! What are you, a Peter Frampton fan?

But no. Forget about this review. You all want your “requested reviews” don’t you? You don’t want to hear about albums I want you to listen to! How boring is that? Well, I assure all of you that the requested reviews coming up will all be hilarious corkers that you will relish for years and years to come. The Sebadoh one might not be too exciting (SPOILER ALERT: it’s pretty good), but the rest of them, hoo-ee! You’ve got so so many more genres that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Your southern rock. Your electro-indie-pop. Your 70’s prog. Your techno. Limp Bizkit. It’s all gonna be heard and talked about by yours truly as soon as possible.

(“As soon as possible” obviously meaning “whenever I get tired of listening to Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “The Great Airplane Strike” on a continuous loop”)

(Also something I forgot to mention in the review: during the recording of Rough Mix Ronnie Lane was diagnosed with MS. He lived in agony for another two decades before his untimely death. Just thought I’d let you know!)