In fact, the band had a string of chart-toppers in the UK, not to mention one of the best songwriting and production partnerships in rock history in Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. They were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame last year and they’re the only band to share the number one spot in the UK with The Beatles. And from the scant audio and visual evidence we have (the documentary “All Or Nothing 1965-1968” from 2010 is a must-have for any fan of the band or the period) only The Who rivaled the band’s live act during the mid-60’s Maximum R&B boom.
There have been numerous reissues of varying quality over the years, but finally surviving members McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones (Steve Marriott died in a house fire in 1991 and Ronnie Lane died of complications related to MS in 1997) have put things right. Recently the band released deluxe versions of its four core albums, including 3 CD and 180 gram LP versions of the classic “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.” The releases, from Universal, who own the rights to the band’s early work, and Charly, who bought the later catalog produced under Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records years ago, include the band’s direct involvement for the first time.
“They’re from the original tapes this time,” Jones told me. “I know that’s been claimed before, but it was never true. And we were never really involved in previous reissues, certainly not like we are now. We searched everywhere, all over the world. We found some great outtakes. Real gems. I think fans will be really pleased and feel as though we’ve given them their money’s worth.”
Jones is right. I discovered the Small Faces, along with The Jam and The Who, when I joined my first band in the late-70’s as a young teen and I’ve bought countless versions of both the original albums and various compilations over the years. Most have sounded terrible. But these versions, offered in both mono and stereo, sound fantastic and include all of the rare versions and mixes avid collectors have spent countless hours scouring used record stores and eBay over the years for, not to mention those outtakes, early versions and rough mixes that Jones spoke with pride about when we chatted.
Listening one by one to the albums, “Small Faces” from 1966 (the band’s first proper Decca album), “From The Beginning” (a 1967 compilation of the band’s earliest tracks for Decca), “Small Faces” (the band’s first Immediate release from 1967, confusingly sharing the title of the previous Decca album) and “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” from 1968, you’re struck by the sheer presence of the recordings. The mono mixes especially (and not surprisingly) jump out of the speakers, with performances shocking not simply for the fact that the band were barely out of their teens yet so accomplished but because the songs are just so good. In fact, new fans not familiar with the depth of the Small Faces catalog will likely mistake B-Sides that the band barely had enough time to track as hits.
“We’d spend most of a 3-hour session on the A-Side,” McLagan explained. “Sometimes we’d have just about enough time to just play another song before we’d have to leave for a gig somewhere that night – we never had a night off - and we’d just put any old thing down.” But over the years many of those songs have become classics, with “throwaways” like “I'm Only Dreaming” standing practically shoulder-to-shoulder to goose-bump inducing A-Sides like “Tin Soldier” and “All Or Nothing”.
The ground the band covered over the course of its brief existence is also astonishing. Between 1965 and 1968 the band went from a white soul, rave up pub band doing pretty standard covers to one of the most powerful live bands out there, who could follow The Who and come out on top, with great songs and production that pushed both the boundaries of form and technology in a way that only The Beatles and Hendrix really matched.
But the real treat is the 3 CD expanded version and heavyweight vinyl version of the mono mix of “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.” Side One of the vinyl includes the barn-burners “Afterglow (Of Your Love)” and “Song Of A Baker”, as well as the great dancehall pastiche “Lazy Sunday.” Side Two’s concept segment, a wild and fantastic lark of tale about Happiness Stan’s search for the missing half of the moon, narrated by the late Stanley Unwin, holds up amazingly well, mostly as a result of the magical combination of great songwriting, powerful musicianship and fantastic production the Small Faces had hit upon by the time of its making in 1968.
“We had fun,” McLagan remembered of the time. “I never laughed so hard as I did with those guys. But we worked damn hard too.”
“Stevie and Ronnie – and (engineer) Glyn Johns - usually knew just what they wanted,” Jones added. “But we tried and tried and tried things. Being on Immediate meant we had almost unlimited time in the studio. It was a great time. Very positive. Very productive. Great songs. A great band. Great friends. What more can you ask for as a musician?”
The proof is now there for all to hear on these great-sounding remasters. And Jones told me fans old and new can look forward to a 5 CD box set soon, which he said will have no overlap with the current reissues and will include many never-before-heard cuts.
This article is copyright 2013 by Jeff Slate. No part may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.