Initially upon being asked to review these four splendid re-issues, packaged as Deluxe Editions, I thought it a bit odd. I mean, reviewing music that’s more than forty years old? Surely everyone / anyone who has even a basic interest in music in general knows about SMALL FACES. Their ‘classic’ singles surely lie in the subconscious of young and old alike? ‘Lazy Sunday’ and ‘Itchycoo Park,’ in particular still receive regular airplay even today – especially in the summer months.
‘Sha La La La Lee,’ and ‘All Or Nothing,’ will also be familiar songs, though perhaps not everyone will identify them as SMALL FACES tracks.
But then I had a look at the combined track listing on the four albums that were released during the band’s relatively short life span – 57 titles! And that’s not including all the Alternate mixes / US versions / Electric Mixes and Stereo Versions that make up these Deluxe Versions! Yup – a total of 124 songs, spanning almost five and a half hours!
And I know about six of them!
So perhaps ‘everyone’ is not as aware of the SMALL FACES work as I first thought? But why would that be? Me personally, when at school (giving away my age now!) I was right into Humble Pie. I was (and still am) a massive fan of The Faces. These of course are the two huge bands that spawned from the rather acrimonious split of the SMALL FACES within a year of the release of their most successful, and fourth album, ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.’
Maybe it was the band’s common association with the Mod movement that convinced me not to bother investigating their whole catalogue. My roots are most definitely more Rocker based!
However, time broadens horizons and having listened to all four albums that SMALL FACES had to offer, I can now fully appreciate what I had been missing. Sure, it’s easy to see why the Mods wanted to adopt their music – the first album, simply entitled ‘Small Faces’ and released on the Decca label in April of 1966 contains several tracks with a heavy Soul base, something that seemingly attracted the parka brigade. Songs like ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Don’t Stop What You’re Doing’ are of that soulful ilk that marries so well with Steve Marriott’s rasping vocal style. ‘What’s a Matter Baby?’ bears an uncanny resemblance to Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me.’ In fact you’d be forgiven for thinking these, and other tracks, were lifted from some generic Stax artist.
Elsewhere on this debut album, you can hear the influence of The Beatles (‘Sorry She’s Mine’) and even on ‘Own Up Time,’ The Who’s trademark riffs (with whom Kenney Jones would later play after the death of Keith Moon) lead into the more Hammond organ based track.And of course, included on this album is the band’s first ‘single’ success from the previous year (1965), the brilliant ‘What ‘Cha Gonna Do About It?’
More successful singles followed; ‘Sha La La La Lee,’ ‘Hey Girl,’ ‘All Or Nothing’ and ‘My Minds Eye,’ reaching chart positions of three, ten one and four respectively. However following a contractual dispute, the band moved labels somewhat controversially to Andrew Loog Oldham’s ‘Immediate.’
Straight away they recorded yet another hit single (‘Here Comes The Nice’) – an action that quite obviously got on the tits of their earlier backers, Decca who retaliated by releasing the first in a series of spoiler singles and the album ‘From The Beginning,’ which was essentially a collection of outtakes, singles and ‘works in progress.’ Of the singles mentioned in the previous paragraph, only ‘Hey Girl’ did not appear on this long player.
Those singles apart, the album showed a band maturing and there was perhaps a bit more of a bluesy feel to the overall make-up of this one.
However, we all know Andrew Loog Oldham (ex Rolling Stones manager) was not one to sit meekly by and let anyone steal his thunder, and so two weeks after Decca’s retaliatory ‘From The Beginning,’ his Immediate label rush-released the band’s first album for him. It was called – somewhat confusingly – ‘Small Faces.’ (From here on in referred to as ‘Immediate’!)
As far as competition between the two albums / labels went, it was ‘Immediate’ that won, reaching number 12 in the charts, as opposed to the Decca release achieving a high of only 17.
In addition to the afore-mentioned ‘Here Comes The Nice,’ included on this album are the singles ‘Itchycoo Park’ and ‘Tin Soldier’ both of which reinforced the SMALL FACES as genuine superstars of their time.
Of course, by now we are in 1967, and throughout this album you can definitely hear the way the band were moving towards embracing the psychedelic culture, although still producing enough soul-based sounds to keep their Mod fan-base happy.
Move on a year and by 1968 the SMALL FACES were probably better recognised for their psychedelic sound. In fact, their fourth and final album was a bit of a ‘concept’ effort – something that was quite ‘de rigueur’ at the time.
‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake,’ originally packaged in a round album sleeve to depict a tobacco tin was the band’s most successful, topping the album chart for a period of six weeks in June and July 1968. Aside from the musical content, the first noticeable difference between this and the preceding albums was the length of each track. Previously, the song length rarely exceeded two and a half minutes. But reflecting the changing times and moods, most of the tracks on this one stretched an average of a minute longer.
The sound was more full, the production more grand. The first side is a mix of general rock songs and ‘Cock-a-nee,’ sing-a-longs, the best known of which is obviously ‘Lazy Sunday.’ Look no further than these few tracks for the inspiration behind Blur’s early success!
Side two contains the ‘concept’ part. Narrated in places by the king of ‘spoonerism’ and general ‘gobbledegook,’ Stanley Unwin, it basically takes the listener on a psychedelic trip on the back of a magic fly to visit Mad John in search of answers to why only part of the moon shows at times. Yeah.
It’s quite fascinating listening to these four albums one after another and seeing just how a band progresses its sound. It’s also interesting to see what you can miss out on due to blinkered attitudes!
All newly re-mastered, these definitive editions carry both mono and stereo versions of the albums plus related non-album singles and alternate versions, many of which are previously unreleased or released for the first time on CD. In the case of ‘Ogden’s’ there are separate discs for the mono and stereo formats and a third disc of previously unreleased material – early session versions, alternate USA mixes, instrumentals and the previously unreleased backing track ‘Kamikhazi’
(Released through Universal records on 7th May 2012)