The Small Faces’ career occurred in two distinct stages that saw a partial realignment in personnel and pronounced shift in style. They began as the Small Faces, a band of mod rockers who embraced soul and psychedelia in the Sixties. Then they became the Faces – though their first release was credited to the "Small Faces" – a rollicking band of roots rockers who took the Seventies by storm. The change occurred in late 1969, when Steve Marriott left the Faces to form Humble Pie and was replaced by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood.
With the British Invasion in full swing, the Small Faces formed in 1965. Much like the Who, they were a band of sharp-dressed, soul music-loving mods. Marriott's electrifying voice lent its energy to a string of high-energy singles. Their turn to psychedelia resulted in the hit “Itchycoo Park” and the concept album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake.
The Faces played a rowdy, disheveled brand of rock that could make a large arena seem like a corner bar. With Stewart’s raspy vocals and the loose yet muscular playing of Wood, keyboardist Ian McLagan, bassist and vocalist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenny Jones, they rivaled the Rolling Stones for boisterous energy on a good night. Alternatively, Lane's compositions often took the band in a folk direction that gave greater dimension to their recordings. They made four studio albums – First Step, Long Player, A Nod Is As Good As a Wink... To a Blind Horse and Ooh La La – and had a Top 20 hit with “Stay With Me.” Lane left in 1973 (replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi), and the Faces played their last show in December 1975, with Wood moving on to the Stones and Stewart pursuing his solo career.
Here, the Rock Hall suggests 10 essential Small Faces/Faces songs.
At the heart of England's Mod music scene was a studious devotion and appreciation for American R&B and soul – a stylistic affect wholly embraced by the Small Faces in their earliest days. "What'cha Gonna Do About It" – the Small Faces' debut single – channeled Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," and showcased singer/guitarist Steve Marriott's bluesy guitar lines and soulful vocal delivery. While the backing vocals of the chorus and bouncy bass and organ arrangement had a distinct pop sensibility, the song's instrumental interlude was fueled by squawking guitar that hinted at the more exploratory nature of the band's later recordings. The song would gain favor among punks in the 70s, when it was performed by the Sex Pistols and Cock Sparrer.
Released as a single in 1966 and later appearing on 1967's From The Beginning, "All Or Nothing" would reach Number One on the UK singles charts – placing them in the same ranks as the Beatles, who were riding high on the strength of "Yellow Submarine." Written by Marriott and Lane, the song vacillated from the intro's winding guitar and gentle verses to explosive, infectious choruses and volume swells with McLagan's organ playing providing a sly undercurrent throughout.
A bracing rock groove punctuated with McLagan's inspired lines on the keys and Kenney Jones' propulsive drums, "Tin Soldier" still highlighted the group's penchant for roots R&B dynamics. Marriott's hardened, blue-eyed soul vocals and plaintive wails (I just want some reaction / someone to give me satisfaction / all I want to do is stick with you /'cause I love you) mixed with a chorus of female backing vocals to great effect alongside punchy stops and starts. The song was among the group's biggest hits. Marriott would record a version of the song with his next band, Humble Pie, for their 1981 album Go For the Throat.
With its impossibly catchy lilt, "Itchycoo Park" was the song that brought the Small Faces their greatest American audience, as it reached Number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968. The song was included on the stateside release of their second album, which was re-named There Are But Four Small Faces, and was indicative of the psych-pop sound that the band were evolving. The adventurous production, to wit the song's spacey flange effect, echoed the trippy sentiment of the lyrics' overt drug references (What will we do there? / We'll get high / What will we touch there? / We'll touch the sky).
"Lazy Sunday" was a character-filled three-minute romp from the band's psych masterwork, Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake (1968). The song's evocative narration (à la Ray Davies) humorously documented the bothersome situation of feuding with neighbors, with Marriott speaking and singing in a cheekily pronounced Cockney accent in a song that was decidedly anglophilic and unconventionally catchy. Decades later, the song would inspire the title track of Blur's Parklife album in 1994 and was covered by the Libertines in the aughts.
With Marriott in Humble Pie, Lane and the remaining Small Faces brought singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood into the fold for the rechristened Faces' first album together, appropriately titled First Step. "Three Button Hand Me Down" closed out the album as a smokey six-minute blues number, with Lane's steady lead bass moving the track along, amid colorful organ flourishes from McLagan and Wood's laid-back riffing. Stewart's gravelly delivery was the perfect foil for the band's down and dirty blues-rock aesthetic, and the lyrics – extolling the virtues of keeping a suit handed down from the protagonist's father in Oklahoma – were indicative of the good-natured, good 'ol boys persona that became a hallmark of the band.
Known for their rabble-rousing, hard-living ways and sometimes shambolic performances, "Had Me A Real Good Time," from 1971's Long Player, captured the raucous spirit of the Faces, as Stewart sings of a wild party atmosphere (Dancing madly round the room / singing loudly and sorta out of tune / was escorted by a friendly slag / 'round the bedroom and back) he's happy to have been part of – and equally grateful to find his way home from (On my way home, I happened to fall off my bicycle – good party / I was glad to come / But I was glad to get home). The backdrop is a complementarily spirited rave-up with undeniable swagger.
From 1972's A Nod is as Good as a Wink... to a Blind Horse, "Stay With Me" erupts in an uptempo intro that gives way to a steady groove marked by McLagan's distorted electric piano part, Wood's powerful slide guitar playing, Jones' deliberate drumming and Lane's typically deft bass lines. The dirty tone of the group's chief players and Stewart's well-worn vocals give a debauched tale (Yeah, I'll pay your cab fare home / you can even use my best cologne / just don't be here in the morning when I wake up) the grit it needs to be compelling, wrapping it with a lively energy that's unadulterated entertainment.
For all the Faces bravado, songs such as "Debris," written by Lane – who handled lead vocals on the track – illustrated that the band was deeper than the hardcore rock and roll lifestyle they projected. A slow burning, resonant number led by Lane's sentimental recollections (I heard your footsteps at the front door / and that old familiar love song / 'cause you knew you'd find me waiting there / at the top of the stairs) and Wood's emotive, bluesy guitar lead, "Debris" ranks among the more genuinely beautiful pieces in the Faces' oeuvre.
The title track and last song on the band's final album, "Ooh La La" again highlighted the Faces' softer, more reflective leanings. Sung by Wood and penned by Lane, the track scaled back the revved up rock and took a folk-inspired approach. The jangle was centered primarily around two chords, an indelible riff and a chorus made for singing along – a motif that would ultimately make Stewart a superstar. The simple arrangement proved a bright counterpoint to lyrics that had a slightly doleful if wiser perspective, characterized by wistful sentiment: I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum curatorial director Howard Kramer discusses Rod Stewart's sport coat, which he wore as lead singer of the Faces.
Donovan recounts his first meetings with the Small Faces.
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