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Thursday, February 24, 2005
Bad 'N' Ruin
We're going to try something a little new (and maybe overdue) at Freeway Jam; a new irregular feature spotlighting individual artists.
A few days ago, I posed a question asking "Who is someone you always were curious to try out, but haven't gotten around to yet?"
That question will continue to inform future installments of this new feature on deferred artists. Instead of featuring on the most well-known, sticking to the deferred list will ensure us a healthy mix of niche performers, interesting obscurities, oldies worthy of rediscovery, and new stuff that sounds promising.
So: first up, The Faces, suggested by KachinaCrowe.
This gives me a chance to win back the Rod Stewart fans I lost after my essay on Rod Stewart's Grammy.
However, this isn't just about Stewart; we also must give props to the legendary 60's mod band The Small Faces, which is where our story begins.
This article is about the Faces; however, before we get to them we must give props to the legendary 60's mod band The Small Faces, which is where our story begins.
The Small Faces were key players in England's mid-60's mod scene; their closest rivals, sonically and image-wise, were The Who (drummer Kenney Jones eventually replaced Keith Moon, after Moon's death in '78). Like the Who, the Small Faces had trouble breaking through in America. They're best known for psychedelic-pop hits here, like "Itchykoo Park" and "Lazy Sunday"; their early catalog included maximum r&b stompers, and their later catalog was progressive, including the early concept album, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (1968).
Lead singer Steve Marriott quit in 1969; and went on to form Humble Pie. The remaining members cast about for replacements, and landed Rod Stewart, who had previously sung for Jeff Beck and was already becoming a major star in his own right. Future Stone Ronnie Wood was brought in as guitarist. Much of their material was written by bassist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan was the fifth member; he enjoyed a fruitful career as an in-demand session player after the band broke up.
The Small Faces were renamed The Faces, and quickly established themselves as a tough boogie-band, with blues and R&B influences, and as notorious partiers. Stewart would really let himself go with the Faces, vocally and offstage. Rarely did his solo work approach the pure rock 'n' roll energy his Faces material provided; at their peak, the band was often compared favorably to the Rolling Stones as the premier rock 'n' roll band in England, if not the world.
The music was always ragged and sloppy, that's where the excitement came from; McLagan could play a storm on the keyboards, Lane could alternate between swagger and melody on bass, Jones was a busy man behind the drumkit, not quite Keith Moon, but the closest reasonable facsimilie. Wood was the closest to Kieth Richard as a man could get; in some ways, the Faces were the ultimate melding of The Who and The Rolling Stones, something that would seem impossible on paper.
Alas, they were short-lived; four albums in four years, from 1970-1973. The best two are probably Long Player (1971) and A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...To A Blind Horse (1971). First Step, their 1970 debut, is a shaggy gem. Ooh La La, a professional-sounding effort after ego issues had set Stewart and Lane at odds, has its moments, but is a drop-off from the first three, professional and uninspired.
They never had the sales clout of either band; their highest charting album was A Nod..., which made #6 on the Billboard charts. Their only hit single was "(I Know) I'm Losing You" #24 on Billboard, a motown cover that appeared on the solo Rod Stewart album Every Picture Tells A Story, never on a Faces disk.
Lane quit the band first; a final tour went on without him, and the band split. Stewart became a superstar, Lane briefly worked with Pete Townshend, and also re-formed a version of the Small Faces. Multiple sclerosis limited his activity in the 80's and 90's, and claimed his life in 1999. Ron Wood joined the Rolling Stones in 1975, replacing Mick Taylor, and remains there to this day. McLagan has worked with Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen since the Faces. Kenney Jones joined the Who for their final two studio albums and accompanying tours, and has played sessionwork sporadically since. Steve Marriott, who enjoyed considerable success with Humble Pie, was planning a Humble Pie reunion with Peter Frampton when he died in a house fire in 1991.
If you listen to Black Crowes, you'll instantly recognize the Faces in their playing.
I set my Faces folder on randomplay. First 10 songs randomly selected by Media Center are profiled, Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow:
1. The Faces: Bad 'n' Ruin *****
Mother, don't you recognize your son? begins this one, as we hear from the young man who has met with the title subject; this is as good an intoduction to the Faces sound and milieu as any. Great guitar right from the word go; Wood plays like Keith Richard's lost twin, Jones keeps a moddish punch to the drums, McLagan adds some excellent organ fill, Lane's bass is fluid and jaunty, and Stewart is as convincing as he ever was in his life.
2. The Faces: Glad and Sorry ***
Ronnie Lane sung tune from Ooh La La. Slower and more soulful in execution than most Faces stuff. It's likable, but a little empty. One problem is that Lane is nowhere near the singer Rod Stewart was; his voice sounds thin and reedy. The effect is like listening to a Keith Richard-sung Stones song; good playing, but you miss the real frontman. Some tasty guitar in particular; the band sounds professional here (which is not what the Faces do best).
3. Rod Stewart (& the Faces): (I Know) I'm Losing You *****
Terrifying version of the Temptations' tune, thunderous and blistering. Ronnie Wood's ominous riffing falls from the sky like a funkified "Gimme Shelter", Lane's fuzzy bass joins in, followed by a rattlesnake hiss of a cymbal. Some great bluesy McLagan piano kicks in, and we get what sane people could argue is the greatest Rod Stewart vocal of them all. Has an acapella soul middle, a good, propulsive Jones drum solo, everything you need. Certainly in the running for absolute greatest Faces studio moment, yet it never appeared on a Faces album. From Stewart's Every Picture Tells A Story.
4. The Faces: Ooh La La ****
Never a hit until it appeared in the Mitsubishi Galant ad a few years ago. While this suffers from the same slickness of performance that affects their final LP, it works, thanks especially to McLagan's tinkling piano, Ron Wood's ragged acoustic, and Wood's knowing but likable singing. This song actually has gained something over the years; although maybe that's just because I've gotten older-- the subtext of the lyric.
5. The Faces: Maybe I'm Amazed *****
Solo Paul McCartney song from McCartney's debut. Lane and Stewart take turns, and duet on this live recording, which has some fine early-70's electronic piano (a delicious sound largely vanished from music now) and organ, and is one of the best versions of this or any McCartney solo number. Wood rocks up the song a little from its original version, which the arrangement remains fairly faithful to. Jones plays a surprisingly busy drum on this number.
6. The Faces: Flying *****
From the dubut album, this is another great song that is as good a place as any to hear what the Faces sounded like when they were at their peak. This has a heavy blues sound, that almost edges towards prog-rock. One of my all time favorite Stewart vocals, he comes across as soulful and truly bluesy; the band adds fine backing harmonies that bring out Stewart's best; Jones' lays on the toms with muscle, McLagan, Lane, and Wood jam out in the middle. I like this one so much, I broke with tradition and interrupted the playlist to listen to it twice. Okay, it was three times.
7. The Faces: Stay With Me *****
Easily the Faces' best known song, still in classic rock rotation, this also encapsulates them at their very best. Outrageous lyrics delivered by Stewart who here is in complete concert with the band; in later years, he smothered them, taking over the band (which led to Lane's departure). Here, he and the band play off each other giddily, and the result is a playful boogie-stomper with each member delivering their best. This tune could easily be the Rolling Stones; the Faces did it better than the Stones probably would've.
8. The Faces: Miss Judy's Farm *****
Here's another great number from A Nod... Here the band has a real heavy crunch to it; it's almost metal, but has a looser approach metal never had. Again, the band stands out, each player contributing something to the whole, Stewart again playing off the band, and them off him. Lane's sinewy bass pulsates and gets melodic. Wood is all over the place helping define state of the art guitar work, 1971. McLagan shows why he's always worked since.
9. The Faces: Gasoline Alley (unreleased live, Detroit, 1974) ***
The Faces were at the end of the road here; Lane was gone, and Stewart's presence overshadowed the rest of the band. Here, we get a version of a Stewart solo tune. It's still a good band, but there is magic lost. Each player gets a moment in the spotlight to show off, but they don't sound very together anymore. The best thing here is Ron Wood's slide; the worst is Stewart's posing, which was starting to get cloying. Not a bad cut; good sound quality. But for Faces maniacs only.
10. The Faces: Had Me A Real Good Time ****
Another ragged party tune, with a Stonesy sound; Wood's guitar riffs off the melody line; the band gallumphs with workmanlike shagginess. Stewart's vocals seem a little more buried into the mix, and the band never really delivers any true surprises. Still, it gets me bobbing my head, and pretty-good Faces trumps excellent Humble Pie, so I'll take it.