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The Small Faces/Faces Biography

Kenney Jones (drums; born September 16, 1948), Ronnie Lane (bass, vocals; born April 1, 1946, died June 4, 1997), Ian McLagan (keyboards; born May 12, 1945), Steve Marriott (vocals, guitar; born January 30, 1947, died April 20, 1991), Rod Stewart (vocals; born January 10, 1945), Ron Wood (guitar, vocals; born June 1,1947)

The Small Faces’ career is unique in rock and roll, occurring in two 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 latter half of the Sixties. Then they became the Faces, a rollicking band of pub-rockers who barnstormed their way through the first half of the Seventies. The change occurred in 1969, when singer/guitarist Steve Marriott (who’d left to form Humble Pie) was replaced by two new members, vocalist Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood. Now a quintet, the group shortened its name to the Faces. 

With the British Invasion already in full tilt, the Small Faces formed in 1965 around the union of Marriott (a former child actor) with bassist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenney Jones (who’d had a band called the Outcasts). Their original keyboardist, Jimmy Winston, was replaced by Ian McLagan soon after the release of their second single, “Sha-La-La-La-Lee.” Much like the Who, the Small Faces were a band of sharp-dressed mods who loved soul and R&B. The very word Faces – a bit of mod lingo referencing their self-absorption with looks and fashion – signaled an allegiance with the subculture. They prefaced it with Small because all four members were diminutive in stature yet there was nothing small about their sound. 

Marriott sang with an electrifying blue-eyed soul voice, and McLagan’s Hammond organ added great depth to the soulful aesthetic. The Small Faces’ infectious energy made them popular with British teens. Their records were punchy and tight, while their frenzied performances compared favorably with those of such British counterparts as the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Animals and the Pretty Things.

Signed to Decca, the Small Faces issued a string of high-energy singles, starting with “Whatcha Gonna Do About It? (Number 14 U.K.). “Sha-La-La-La-Lee,” cowritten by Kenny Lynch and Mort Shuman, vaulted to Number Three in early 1966, establishing them as one of the leading bands on the U.K. scene. The songwriting team of Marriott and Lane wrote 10 of the Small Faces’ 12 British hits (evenly divided between the Decca and Immediate labels). Their other U.K. hit singles on Decca were “Hey Girl” (Number 10), “All or Nothing” (which displaced the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” from the top of the chart), “My Mind’s Eye” (Number 4) and “I Can’t Make It” (Number 26). None of these singles made the American charts, and the Small Faces never performed in America, either.

When their contract with Decca expired in 1967, the group switched to Immediate, an independent label founded by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. The group’s turn to psychedelia came after their inadvertent introduction to LSD at a party where they were given spiked orange slices. “It opened up the doors, really,” McLagan recalled in a 1996 interview. “We started listening to different music at that point. We got well sidetracked, like a lot of bands.” This digression resulted in the international hit “Itchycoo Park” Number Three U.K., Number 16 U.S.) and such highly psychedelicized songs such as “Here Come the Nice,” “Green Circles” and “Just Passing.”

The culmination of this period was Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, which the group worked on for most of a year at several studios. The album appeared in a die-cut circular cover that resembled a tobacco tin. The Small Faces’ whimsical psychedelic pop-soul yielded such classics as “Afterglow” and “Lazy Sunday,” as well as the conceptual second side, with madcap recitations by Cockney comedian Stanley Unwin linking the tracks. Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake was the Small Faces’ final album, although a U.K.-only double LP, The Autumn Stone, collected their late-period singles and unreleased tracks.

The original Small Faces fell apart on December 31, 1968, when Marriott walked offstage during a New Year’s Eve show. He contacted guitarist/singer Peter Frampton and formed Humble Pie, which had success in an earthier blues-and-boogie style. From the ashes of the Small Faces rose the Faces. Surviving members Lane, Jones and McLagan were joined by singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, who were similarly unemployed after leaving the Jeff Beck Group.

The Faces played a rowdy, ramshackle brand of rock that could make a large arena seem like a corner bar. They were a friendly gang of roustabouts who rocked with the best of them. As writer Dave Marsh noted, “The Faces were committed to two things: one another and the idea that if they stomped on their blues just right, everyone within earshot of their rollicking boogie would have an evening of unmitigated, boisterous fun.”

With Stewart’s raspy, soulful vocals and the loose yet muscular playing of Wood, McLagan, Lane and Jones, they rivaled the Rolling Stones as a potent, party-minded Seventies live act. Their alcohol-fueled stage shows and offstage antics also made them unwitting punk prototypes, paving the way for the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Replacements. It is hard to imagine such roots-rocking bands as the Georgia Satellites and the Black Crowes without the Faces, either.

The Faces made four studio albums – First Step (1970), Long Player (1971), A Nod Is as Good as a Wink... To a Blind Horse (1971) and Ooh La La (1973). First Step demonstrated the new lineup’s promising chemistry on such originals as “Flying” – the first songwriting collaboration among Stewart, Wood and Lane – and a memorable version of Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger.” Its followup, Long Player, included such rousing favorites as “Bad ‘n’ Ruin” and “Had Me a Real Good Time,” as well as a spirited cover of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

The Faces realized their full potential on A Nod Is as Good as a Wink with the assistance of producer-engineer and Hall of Fame Inductee Glyn Johns. Filled with strong original material, it gave the revamped Faces their first hit, “Stay With Me” (Number Six U.K., Number 17 U.S.), as well as “Miss Judy’s Farm,” “You’re So Rude” and a raucous take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis.” “Glyn brought out the best in everybody and saw to it that this was a real vibrant and live-sounding record,” recalled McLagan. A Nod Is as Good as a Wink reached Number Two in the U.K. and Number Six in the U.S., where it became the Faces’ only gold album.

When it came time to record Ooh La La, their fourth album, it was hard to gather everyone together – particularly Rod Stewart, whose solo career had become hugely successful. Though not nearly as strong as A Nod Is as Good as a Wink, it gave the group its biggest British hit, “Cindy Incidentally,” as well as the charming, folkish title track. There were a few more non-album singles, “Pool Hall Richard” and “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything,” which did well on the British charts.

The Faces didn’t so much disband as come apart at the seams as various members left to pursue other musical options. Ronnie Lane quit in the spring of 1973 (replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi), forming Slim Chance as a vehicle for his songs and vocals. Rod Stewart had been alternating Faces and solo albums but ultimately paid greater attention to his solo career, which was generating more sales and acclaim. Ron Wood joined the Rolling Stones after being drafted as an interim member in the wake of Mick Taylor’s departure. Kenney Jones joined the Who in 1979 as the late Keith Moon’s replacement.

The Faces played their last show in November 1975 and the split was soon made official. However, that was not quite the end of the story. Steve Marriott re-formed the Small Faces in 1976 and was joined by two other original members, keyboardist Ian McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones. (Bassist Rick Wills subbed for Ronnie Lane.) The reunited Small Faces released two albums, Playmates and 78 in the Shade, before disbanding for good in 1978.

 

The Small Faces/Faces