The Small Faces

The Small Faces were a good, occasionally great band who were overshadowed by their unquestionably superior peers. Such luck happens to many a band, and in the Small Faces' case their rivals included the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, and Who. They were the second-best mod band in London, after you know Who. Their gleeful appropriation of gritty American R&B was never a serious competition for the Stones. As whimsical psychedelic popsters, they were way outleagued by the Beatles. And as Cockneys too quintessentially English to fully crossover to the States, the Kinks were always several strides ahead of them. Of course, one could make such damaging comparisons to the Animals and Yardbirds, too, and like all of the above, the Small Faces left behind a quite fetching musical legacy. Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott were in their prime a songwriting team to be reckoned with, penning several immortal teenbeat classics that sound as fresh today as in '60s Swinging London. British Invasion fans shouldn't overlook this quite talented fivesome, who it must be said are ten times better and more original than most any lame '90s band MTV and Spin are forcefeeding America's braindead youth these days. They had this nice, soulful sound built around Ian McLagan's colorful, swirling keyboards. The Small Faces were full of the pep and go speed freaks have on their non-sleep weekends throwing ballroom parties and listening to Stax/Volt and Dusty Springfield records, having one big Blow-Up before they go back Monday to their boring dead-end desk clerk jobs. Not that I'd know anything firsthand, I've only seen Quadrephenia.

Reader Comments

Graham Hams,

The Small Faces weren't a good band - they were a great band, no questions asked. Anyone who owns The Darlings of Whapping Wharf Launderette must surely agree to this. The songs, in my opinion, are capable of rivaling any anthologies put out by the Kinks or the Who - controversial yes, but when you consider the likes of Tin Soldier, Don't Burst My Bubble, Donkey Rides, Itchycoo Park, Here Come The Nices, and If You Think You're Groovy - the comment seems less far from ridiculous. Steve Marriot surely ranks up there as one of the great underated writers of modern times, who could also cover the classics with style

The Small Faces (1966)

I don't have this one, but everything indicates that this one isn't worth purchasing: the Small Faces switched labels before recording this album, which means that there's a lot of confusing overlap with this release (on Immediate) with the succeeding From the Beginning (on Decca).

From The Beginning (1967) **

The Small Faces' formative days spent covering early '60s American Top 40 jukebox tunes in hard-drinking English pubs (a bit redundant of me to use "hard-drinking", "English", and "pubs" in the same sentence, innit?). The key word is "formative"; like almost every other band from the '60s, they got signed early before they knew what they were doing or had written much strong material, resulting in lame early albums. That said, the cover of "Runaway" is actually pretty strong, as Marriott's soul-wrenching pipes better Del Shannon's original. Otherwise, the covers are filler ("You've Really Got A Hold On Me") and the originals aren't much better. "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" is a ripoff of Wilson Pickett's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" disguised as an original, though like its cousin "Sha-La-La-La-Lee" it's crudely effective. The two strongest numbers are the sing-songy "My Mind's Eye" and the only real classic here, "All or Nothing". This was something of a patchwork release hastily issued by Decca after the Small Faces parted from the label.

There Are But Four Small Faces (1968) ****

I may be off a little, but I believe this was the first album the Small Faces made as a concrete album, and it shows: this contains the flaky excitement and energy of a band let loose for an extended period in the studio for the first time. It's chock full of strong singles material, and there are only a handful of misfires. By now they'd excised a lot of the more derivative aspects of their R&B based sound for a more Summer of Love/Carnaby Street psych-pop approach; the opener, "Itchykoo Park" is one of the great hippy-dippy anthems with its "What did you do there? I GOT HIGH!" and "It's all too bea-u-ti-ful" refrains. There's hardly anything bad I can say about this record, except that it's rather lightweight, but sometimes a light classic is just what I need. Surprisingly, an ode to a speed dealer, "Here Comes the Nice" got past the BBC, but that's nothing compared to the Small Faces' greatest song, the brilliant stroke that is "Tin Soldier". Even Ian McLagan contributes a strong neopsych tune, "Up the Wooden Hills (To Bedfordshire)", about getting tucked into bed. An unjustly lost classic (at least in America) that holds its own against almost any other album of the era.

Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (1968) ***1/2

The Small Faces' attempt at their own Sgt. Pepper is predictably bogged down by its half-baked (and undoubtedly drug-damaged) pretensions, and the fact that they didn't write quite as many A-side quality tunes as on the previous record. The first side is by far stronger than the second, containing the powerful, warm "Afterglow" and the mock-Kinks "Lazy Sunday" in which Marriott exaggerates his Cockney accent to the breaking point. The second side, however, is more troublesome, as it introduces the "concept", which consists of dialogue by a barely intelligible Cockney interrupting the tunes. The dialogue gets annoying real quick, and given the fact that the songs themselves are only fair, I never play side two, and I doubt you will, either. After this album, Marriott quit the band to form Humble Pie. The rest of the band carried on, hiring ex-Jeff Beck Group members Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, who were not small, so they rechristened themselves The Faces, who recorded several more albums in the early '70s in a more hard blues-rock vein.

Reader Comments

Sarah Harwood,

side two is supposed to be unintelligable, that's why it's cool. also their first concrete album was just called 'the small faces' it was only 'there are but four small faces' in the US


The 'unintelligible Cockney' was, the then master of gibberish, Professor Stanley Unwin who would have been in his 60's when he did this.

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