Search This Blog

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Small Faces: From The Beginning


1) Runaway; 2) My Mind's Eye; 3) Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow; 4) That Man; 5) My Way Of Giving; 6) Hey Girl; 7) (Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me; 8) Take This Hurt Off Me; 9) All Or Nothing; 10) Baby Don't You Do It; 11) Plum Nellie; 12) Sha-La-La-La-Lee; 13) You've Really Got A Hold On Me; 14) What'cha Gonna Do About It.

A whole two albums were released by Small Faces in June 1967 — except that the first of these had never been properly authorized by the band. After they'd split from Decca and Don Arden, signing a new contract with Immediate Records, the former, in typical old-sinner fashion, put together a bunch of A-sides from 1966; mixed them with some studio leftovers that the band forgot to take with them; and, just so they could entice the average buyer at the expense of the seasoned fan, threw in a couple of older hits that had already been released on the self-titled Small Faces (a crass commercial move that was certainly not motivated by lack of material: for instance, none of the B-sides to their 1966 singles are included here).

Add to this that two more of these songs were relatively new creations in which the band had put a lot of trust, so they re-recorded them with only cosmetic differences for their Immediate debut — and add to this that the Immediate debut was also called Small Faces, like the Decca debut — and you got yourself a real messy mess, far more confusing than the usual UK / US discrepancies between Beatles and Stones catalogs. Nevertheless, From The Beginning became a permanent fixture in the band's discography, since much of what it has to give is unavailable anywhere else, and since Small Faces were on a giddy roll at the time, improving themselves with phenomenal speed and rapidly emerging as gifted songwriters, in addition to being powerful interpreters as demonstrated on the Decca debut.

Indeed, there are some terrific covers on the album. ʽYou've Really Got A Hold On Meʼ is brave­ly carried out by Marriott in an «African-American» vocal style as he ecstatically winds himself up and throws in a series of free-form ad libs, something completely different from the far more disciplined and calculated version of The Beatles, but his insane vocal powers still suffice to sub­due the song and make Motown proud. Don Covay's ʽTake This Hurt Off Meʼ (which was itself largely a rewrite of his own ʽMercy Mercyʼ), on the other hand, is expressly rockified, with a raw, thick, dirty guitar tone that lends it a certain barroom quality, also going along nicely with Steve's hystrionic singing. The atmosphere is even thicker and heavier on the band's treatment of Booker T. & The MG's ʽPlum Nellieʼ, another attempt to outdo the noisy barrages of The Who that does not succeed only because Ronnie Lane is not John Entwistle, and Kenny Jones is not Keith Moon, but this is as close as actual flesh-and-blood humans come to emulating real gods.

Perhaps the single finest moment about these covers comes in the middle of ʽRunawayʼ, when, after having just completed a slower, heavier, grittier verse-chorus than Del Shannon, Marriott lets out a defiant battlecry of "alright!" and, dueting with McLagan, plays a simple, but emo­tionally tense and even aggressive solo. The band's covers tended to lean towards R&B, but the choice of ʽRunawayʼ shows that they were not averse to softer pop material, either — except that the softer pop material had to be converted to gritty R&B before the recording started; and while I will certainly not say that their cover trumps the original (which was, after all, one of the most perfect nuggets of early Sixties pop music), it is an excellent example of, well, let's say, the trans­formative powers that these guys had at their command.

That said, half of these tunes (almost all of them clustered on Side A) are originals, not covers, and they represent the first of several impressive bunches of pop nuggets that the band delivered for the UK storehouse over three years. Three hit singles show a very natural and laudable pro­gression. First, ʽHey Girlʼ continues the «blatantly commercial» line of ʽSha-La-La-La-Leeʼ, with a very teenage-oriented singalong verse and chorus melody (you can just see those lines of TV girls in short skirts doing their embarrassing aerobic dances to this sound, can't you?) — except that its intro melody is pretty much the same as The Who's ʽMy Generationʼ, which should be somewhat telling. Next, ʽAll Or Nothingʼ, their first and last No. 1 in the UK, takes us in a more soul-pop direction, providing the kids with a perfect anthem of self-righteousness: even if this is thematically a breakup song, shaking your fists and singing along to "all or nothing, all or no­thing!" could be just as exciting as stuttering along to "talkin' 'bout my generation...".

And finally, as we get to the end of 1966, ʽMy Mind's Eyeʼ gives listeners a first taste of psychedelia, both by way of lyrics ("things are clearer than before") and vocal harmonies. Perhaps the guitars and vocal moves are a tad too Beatlesque, but that is hardly a crime for a November 1966 single. Actually, two more outtakes, ʽYesterday Today And Tomorrowʼ and ʽThat Manʼ, are even more psychedelic, with droning melodies, one-note organ solos, falsetto lead vocals, and heavy echo reverberations, but these sound more like quickie throwaways, probably inspired by one too many visits to the UFO Club or something. The best thing about all of these drug-influenced tunes is that not for a moment did the band lose its original heaviness: the rhythm section still keeps hammering on as if everything was still targeted on headbanging parts of the audience.

Predictably, the end result is a mess — an album that includes both ʽSha-La-La-La-Leeʼ and ʽThat Manʼ seems almost unintentionally postmodern for mid-'67 (though it would probably be just all right for 2017). But if you put the tracks in chronological order, it is also a mini-capsule of a speedy, healthy, exciting evolutionary process, the likes of which, I am afraid to say, could probably only happen in that magical-musical time of the mid-Sixties, where a band could go to sleep with one artistic ideology and wake up with a completely different one. So, even if in cer­tain terms From The Beginning is a «non-album», it still gets a thumbs up just for the sake of not letting some of these songwriting gems slip through our fingers.

1 comment:

  1. I would highly recommend one of those expanded editions of this album. "I Can't Dance With You" (the b-side to "My Mind's Eye") and "I Can't Make It" predate the revivalist nature of "Talk to You" and are some of the most smoking heavy R&B the Small Faces ever put to tape.