faces

Showing 42 posts tagged faces

Hey there everybody!

My name is Jonathan Bogart, and I Tumbl here (and here and here and here, and old-fashioned blog here and here); many thanks to Hendrik for giving me this platform to talk at you about some of my favorite music.

This week I’m going to be discussing the Faces, a band formed in 1969 and dissolved in 1975. I know most of you weren’t born then (and neither was I), but I’ve long considered them my favorite (rock) band, and I wanted to see if I could pull off the elaborate defense of them that has been brewing in the back of my mind for the better part of a decade.

I’ve never really attempted an extended examination of a band I truly love before, so I may wander into extremely purple gushing about the very specific associations some of these sounds have for me; if I go too far for you, please reel me back in. I’ll be experimenting with kinds of writing I don’t usually attempt, and I’m not at all sure I’ll be able to squeeze everything in that I want to—but that’s my problem. You’ll have the music, and that’s what matters.

A stylistic note before going forward: the name of the band, as printed on their record sleeves and Warner Bros.’ advertising, is Faces, without the preceding article. But I’ll be referring to them as the Faces throughout, both because it flows better in the middle of a sentence and because I’m mostly going to be talking about them as a collection of individuals. Also, I’ve been listening to bootlegs of their BBC sessions, and if it was good enough for John Peel it’s good enough for me. So no letters, please. I know.

Faces, “Around the Plynth”

In England, in 1969, as the world was tumbling down around our heads, three small men found themselves bereft of a dynamic singer-guitarist. Meanwhile, down the street, two shaggy-haired friends, a singer and a guitarist, were abruptly dismissed from being sidecars on another man’s bike. The five of them met, and sniffed around each other warily. They’d all been burned before, and none of them wanted to be left behind for greener pastures. Or, in 1969, to leave.

It was, they later said, the pub that brought them together. Not any one pub, but a series of them, whichever was handiest at the moment, and when they began to coin money they’d bring the pub with them wherever they went.

The pub, that is, and the blues. In late 1969, they got together, set up their kits, and auditioned for one another. A Howlin’ Wolf song, a Big Bill Broonzy song (as filtered through Muddy Waters), and an original by the two shaggy-haired blokes that sounded like it had been written by Albert King are what survive, muddy and one-track and sounding like the primordial muck of all human origin, squishy, wet and pounding.

They passed each others’ auditions. They made a record. Across the ocean, first pressings went out under the name of the three small men’s old band, because Americans are slow on the uptake. It was not officially titled, but because the shaggy-haired guitarist was holding a guitar-instruction manual called First Step on the sleeve, that’s what people called it.

It was not a very good record, although it contained some very good songs. (The same was true of the shaggy-haired singer’s first solo album, released only a few months prior.) It was too unformed, too directionless. They made a gorgeous racket together, but they didn’t always know what to do with it.

One of the songs had previously appeared on the bike-with-sidecars bloke’s second album, where it had been called “Plynth (Water Down the Drain)” and been a heavy metal funk song, with scissoring hi hats and fat, throwing-his-weight-around guitar riffs. But since the shaggy-haired boys wrote it (the guitarist had been on bass then), they took it with them, and made it less moshful and more tantalizing, stringing those guitar riffs out pendulously along slinky, swoopy slides. Amphetamined funk was abandoned for whiskey blooze, because our sly, wiry guitarist was in charge, and he couldn’t be bothered with strict time. There’s no through-rhythm, all winding turns and deceptive drop-offs, and the astonishing feat of the song is the way the others stick to the paces he sets, the whiskey-voiced singer and the palpitating drummer especially. The pianist doesn’t catch up until it’s almost over, and the bassist never turns up at all, unless your ears are better than mine: the star of the show is the guitar, whining like wires in a high wind, coiled and springing and sharp, eager for violence, but twisting hypnotically in midair. Aeolian whines punctuated by bursts of heavy metal.

The dance the singer makes with the guitar is something to behold. The lyrics are roughly the same as they were a year ago, at least in the first half of the song, and they’re lyrics you wouldn’t necessarily expect from this time and place, from these grinning, laddish mouths and jiving, fluttery fingers.

“Water down the drain goes to the sea/The pattern of my life keeps haunting me” is a couplet that could have been written by Nick Drake, or Elliott Smith, a moody introspection against which the electric guitar whips and chuckles. “Got a fear of death that creeps on every night/Know I won’t die soon but then again I might”—it’s delivered in a cocky crow, but it’s deep maundering truth, etched hard in every overeducated neurotic’s heart. (Like, for instance, mine.) The crow rescues it from being maundering, of course; and the whipping guitar braces the spine and stiffens the nerve, because it’s not emo self-pity, it’s just part of the human condition, and drinking, shouting, and fucking is too.

But then, whereas the heavy metal funk version was a compact, disciplined three minutes and change, a sharp-dressed 45, this sprawls, with a long, double-time outro in which the singer spits new lyrics, apparently off the top of his head, less like a jazz improviser and more like a rapper who’s leaving plenty of space for the beat.

“Never found out the reason why/Why my parents had to lie.” He’s shouting from far away, off-mic, and as his litany of complaint grows both more anguished and absurd, punctuated by metal triplets, he crowds up close to us, shaking with the galvanic rhythms being peeled out by drum and guitar and rippling piano: “Never knew what it was to be laid/Never knew what it was to love/Never knew what it was to win.” We don’t believe him for a second, not this scratchy-voiced young god with the lean footballer’s torso and crooked smile, waist-deep in groupies for years already, but the point isn’t that he means it, it’s that he said it. He’s not a writer, and never claimed to be; his lyrics were always the first thing that popped into his head, and if it was, in this instance, the despair of solitude, that’s because anyone can feel it. You are—okay, I am—not alone, and the guitar and drums bang heavily to reinforce the point.

They circle around each other, climbing higher and higher, pausing to let one or the other dance in a circumscribed circle—the pianist would later claim to have always hated this part, because he had to come in so fast, thank to Nicky Hopkins having set the pace back in 69—and then at last they draw back, laughing inaudibly, wait a tantalizing stretch of eternity, and collapse.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Faces. Kenney Jones on drums, Ian McLagan on keys, Ronnie Lane (not pictured) on bass, Ron Wood on guitar, and Rod Stewart up front. This is, for better or worse, a very fair example of what you will get if you listen to them; ragged, off-time (I don’t think they’d ever even heard of a click track), even—to use a word coined to describe a later generation of guitar-pop—shambolic. Where their peers were honing post-British Invasion guitar rock into a sleek, muscular, and stadium-bound machine—the banshee roar of Zeppelin, the clipped blues of the Stones, the power dynamism of the Who, the spacy expansiveness of Floyd—they remained resolutely small-scale and earthy, your favorite pub band, as likely to laugh off a missed cue as they were to find the pocket and stay there for hours, their sensibility rarely straying outside louche come-ons, high-spirited violence, and beery sentimentality. They steadfastly refused to address social concerns or be in any way relevant to their times, so their work is entirely free of the hippie spiritualism and sloganeering that taints so much of the era; as the pianist would later note in a surprisingly insightful moment, they had no direction, only influences.

Those influences were hardly any different from those held by the rest of the ex-beat group players who had come up in the Sixties: American country, soul, gospel, and blues; British folk, music-hall, and skiffle; and of course, each other. But by digging deep in to the raucous, unfiltered, purposely raw side of British rock as all their peers were professionalizing and industrializing, they predicted the scuzz and bark of punk, the forlorn poetry of indie, even the blurred slackerdom of alt—not to mention every roots-rock act since 1975.

But we’ll get to that.

The Jeff Beck Group, “Plynth (Water Down the Drain)”

Featuring Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass.

(Plus Nicky Hopkins on piano, Tony Newman on drums, and of course J. Beck on guitar.)

As I said, First Step is not a very good record; it was born out of extensive jam sessions which must have been a lot more fun to participate in than they are to listen to. There are two extended instrumentals, which is two too many for a band which has both Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane in it, and while they’re fine, they’re disposable, undercooked rave-ups that could have been performed by half the bands in London. It even contains that dire sign of all lazy records made between 1965 and 1975, the Dylan cover. (An organ-driven ”Wicked Messenger,” not bad but unnecessary.)
But there are hints of what the band will become (and to some extent already is at live gigs). “Around the Plynth” is a key example of their approach to making a song their own, a “cover” that gets turned inside out with plenty of open space left for imaginative wandering. There will be more such covers to come, both of their own and other peoples’ songs. “Shake, Shudder, Shiver” is another Wood/Stewart original that predated the Faces (they played it at those first rehearsals in 1969), a direct tribute to the Chess and Stax rhythm ’n’ blues that these guys are clearly much more interested in than in the high-flying progressive and psychedelic experiments with which their contemporaries were so consumed.
The rhythm section, of course, had been through it all already; as the Small Faces with Steve Marriott, they’d produced one of the high points of British psychedelia, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, and Wood’s blues obsession (he wanted to be Elmore James) and Stewart’s soul obsession (he wanted to be Sam Cooke) had refocused the band towards stronger roots material. Bassist Ronnie Lane, too, was more interested in American and British roots music than in Marriott’s hard-rock ambitions; Lane had co-written much of the Small Faces’ catalog, and the country-folk forms he favored came out even more pronouncedly when he wrote for the Faces.
He wrote the record’s two ballads, “Devotion” and “Nobody Knows.” They’re both duets with Stewart, the first an unformed homage to deep soul driven largely by Ian Maclagan’s churchy organ—which he would generally abandon for Rhodes piano on subsequent records, to their advantage—and the second a better-structured but still unfocused riff on the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” But Lane’s real showcase is “Stone,” a comic trawl through the First Law of Thermodynamics set to a folky knees-up. He also recorded it as “Evolution” on a Pete-Townshend-and-friends album for Meher Baba the same year, where its cheeky philosophical rumination fit better than with the earthier Faces—but it’s a first album, and they’re still figuring out who they are as a band.
Which leaves the two originals where they got it exactly right. “Flying” was the first song written as a band—a three-way collaboration between Stewart, Wood, and Lane—their first single, and their first song to became part of the rock & roll conversation, covered by Long John Baldry and Genya Ravan within a year. It’s an early classic of Stewart’s disconnected, pop-besotted storytelling style: he’s flying ’cross the ocean, served a while in the county jail, and will follow with her buttons and bows. And who else else would insert the word probably in “born and probably raised”? The dislocating effect of that word is pure Faces-era Stewart.
The record closes with the band’s best song yet. “Three Button Hand Me Down” has everything that will make the Faces my favorite band: one of the all-time great opening bass lines from Lane, Stewart’s unconvincing Americana (raised in a clinic down in Oklahoma? only if Oklahoma is a county in the Midlands), and the fact that it’s a song about a gray flannel suit. Forget the grand passions, philosophic questing, and social commentary of more ambitious bands: like the Mods they used to be and the soulmen they wished to be, dressing sharp and looking good is the Faces’ first priority; everything else comes after. High-res

As I said, First Step is not a very good record; it was born out of extensive jam sessions which must have been a lot more fun to participate in than they are to listen to. There are two extended instrumentals, which is two too many for a band which has both Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane in it, and while they’re fine, they’re disposable, undercooked rave-ups that could have been performed by half the bands in London. It even contains that dire sign of all lazy records made between 1965 and 1975, the Dylan cover. (An organ-driven ”Wicked Messenger,” not bad but unnecessary.)

But there are hints of what the band will become (and to some extent already is at live gigs). “Around the Plynth” is a key example of their approach to making a song their own, a “cover” that gets turned inside out with plenty of open space left for imaginative wandering. There will be more such covers to come, both of their own and other peoples’ songs. “Shake, Shudder, Shiver” is another Wood/Stewart original that predated the Faces (they played it at those first rehearsals in 1969), a direct tribute to the Chess and Stax rhythm ’n’ blues that these guys are clearly much more interested in than in the high-flying progressive and psychedelic experiments with which their contemporaries were so consumed.

The rhythm section, of course, had been through it all already; as the Small Faces with Steve Marriott, they’d produced one of the high points of British psychedelia, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, and Wood’s blues obsession (he wanted to be Elmore James) and Stewart’s soul obsession (he wanted to be Sam Cooke) had refocused the band towards stronger roots material. Bassist Ronnie Lane, too, was more interested in American and British roots music than in Marriott’s hard-rock ambitions; Lane had co-written much of the Small Faces’ catalog, and the country-folk forms he favored came out even more pronouncedly when he wrote for the Faces.

He wrote the record’s two ballads, “Devotion” and “Nobody Knows.” They’re both duets with Stewart, the first an unformed homage to deep soul driven largely by Ian Maclagan’s churchy organ—which he would generally abandon for Rhodes piano on subsequent records, to their advantage—and the second a better-structured but still unfocused riff on the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” But Lane’s real showcase is “Stone,” a comic trawl through the First Law of Thermodynamics set to a folky knees-up. He also recorded it as “Evolution” on a Pete-Townshend-and-friends album for Meher Baba the same year, where its cheeky philosophical rumination fit better than with the earthier Faces—but it’s a first album, and they’re still figuring out who they are as a band.

Which leaves the two originals where they got it exactly right. “Flying” was the first song written as a band—a three-way collaboration between Stewart, Wood, and Lane—their first single, and their first song to became part of the rock & roll conversation, covered by Long John Baldry and Genya Ravan within a year. It’s an early classic of Stewart’s disconnected, pop-besotted storytelling style: he’s flying ’cross the ocean, served a while in the county jail, and will follow with her buttons and bows. And who else else would insert the word probably in “born and probably raised”? The dislocating effect of that word is pure Faces-era Stewart.

The record closes with the band’s best song yet. “Three Button Hand Me Down” has everything that will make the Faces my favorite band: one of the all-time great opening bass lines from Lane, Stewart’s unconvincing Americana (raised in a clinic down in Oklahoma? only if Oklahoma is a county in the Midlands), and the fact that it’s a song about a gray flannel suit. Forget the grand passions, philosophic questing, and social commentary of more ambitious bands: like the Mods they used to be and the soulmen they wished to be, dressing sharp and looking good is the Faces’ first priority; everything else comes after.

Ron Wood began his musical career in Mod outfit the Birds, who were Who/Small Faces wannabes in London. His sharp guitar riffs and comprehensive collection of rhythm ’n’ blues cliches made him the group’s primary songwriter (check “You’re On My Mind” and “How Can It Be”, as well as their cover of Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Here” and the Isleys’ “No Good Without You Baby”). They fell apart in 1967, unable to keep up with the growing ambition of the scene, and Wood was recruited by ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck for a supergroup with a young singer who had been part of Long John Baldry’s blues group Steampacket, with a rotating drummer (they went through Aynsley Dunbar, Micky Waller, and Tony Newman) and shy studio genius Nicky Hopkins on piano.
The Jeff Beck Group was extremely successful, especially in the US, where Stewart’s soulful rasp and Beck’s power-guitar were laying the groundwork for Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but Wood was stuck playing bass for most of his time in the group—which is perhaps what gave him his inclination to wander off-rhythm as often as possible when he switched back to lead. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” became a hit on album-oriented radio, and Stewart proved to be such a marketable singer that he was signed to record a solo record, but Beck, in a characteristic fit of “the hell with it, I’m doing something else now,” dissolved the band on the eve of Woodstock (where they’d been scheduled to play) in 1969, and Wood was left bandless again. He called up a friend from the old Mod scene, Ronnie Lane, who had also recently been victim of a temperamental guitarist and bandleader’s decision to do something else, to commiserate, and they ended up getting together to jam.
As a mature guitarist, Wood’s style was a fascinating mixture of wandering slide soloing and overcharged rhythm playing. He was never one of the cohort whose names get thrown around for “best (British) rock guitarist of all time,” though he knew and played with virtually all of them—Clapton, Beck, Page, Townshend, Winwood, Harrison, Richards—because his playing served the song, even when—as in “Around the Plynth” and “That’s All You Need”—the song was built around his soloing. Texture and dynamics matter more to a Ron Wood solo than number or speed of notes, and he’s a tremendously emotive player, able to coax wit or sentiment out of his instrument with a single slide up the neck. But most importantly—and the thing that’s made him a superb sideman for the vast majority of his career—is his ability and willingness to listen to what the other members of the band are doing. He doesn’t showboat; he makes it work.
In 1974, he released his first solo record, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do (a winking reference to Stewart’s far more successful solo career), which featured contributions from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who had long been friends with Wood—the Faces’ first rehearsals were held in a South London space owned by the Rolling Stones. He was present when they got the news that Mick Taylor, who had been playing rhythm guitar for the Stones since the death of Brian Jones, was quitting; and being the collaborative animal he is, he offered to help out. 
He’s been a Rolling Stone now for far longer than he was a Face, a Beck, or a Bird combined, and if his joining began the band’s long slow slide into irrelevance, it was hardly his fault; he’s a (well-paid) hired gun, and any musical ideas he has are left to the occasional solo album or outside collaboration. He can still play, of course; but the shadow of his former band lengthens with every passing year. High-res

Ron Wood began his musical career in Mod outfit the Birds, who were Who/Small Faces wannabes in London. His sharp guitar riffs and comprehensive collection of rhythm ’n’ blues cliches made him the group’s primary songwriter (check “You’re On My Mind” and “How Can It Be”, as well as their cover of Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Here” and the Isleys’ “No Good Without You Baby”). They fell apart in 1967, unable to keep up with the growing ambition of the scene, and Wood was recruited by ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck for a supergroup with a young singer who had been part of Long John Baldry’s blues group Steampacket, with a rotating drummer (they went through Aynsley Dunbar, Micky Waller, and Tony Newman) and shy studio genius Nicky Hopkins on piano.

The Jeff Beck Group was extremely successful, especially in the US, where Stewart’s soulful rasp and Beck’s power-guitar were laying the groundwork for Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but Wood was stuck playing bass for most of his time in the group—which is perhaps what gave him his inclination to wander off-rhythm as often as possible when he switched back to lead. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” became a hit on album-oriented radio, and Stewart proved to be such a marketable singer that he was signed to record a solo record, but Beck, in a characteristic fit of “the hell with it, I’m doing something else now,” dissolved the band on the eve of Woodstock (where they’d been scheduled to play) in 1969, and Wood was left bandless again. He called up a friend from the old Mod scene, Ronnie Lane, who had also recently been victim of a temperamental guitarist and bandleader’s decision to do something else, to commiserate, and they ended up getting together to jam.

As a mature guitarist, Wood’s style was a fascinating mixture of wandering slide soloing and overcharged rhythm playing. He was never one of the cohort whose names get thrown around for “best (British) rock guitarist of all time,” though he knew and played with virtually all of them—Clapton, Beck, Page, Townshend, Winwood, Harrison, Richards—because his playing served the song, even when—as in “Around the Plynth” and “That’s All You Need”—the song was built around his soloing. Texture and dynamics matter more to a Ron Wood solo than number or speed of notes, and he’s a tremendously emotive player, able to coax wit or sentiment out of his instrument with a single slide up the neck. But most importantly—and the thing that’s made him a superb sideman for the vast majority of his career—is his ability and willingness to listen to what the other members of the band are doing. He doesn’t showboat; he makes it work.

In 1974, he released his first solo record, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do (a winking reference to Stewart’s far more successful solo career), which featured contributions from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who had long been friends with Wood—the Faces’ first rehearsals were held in a South London space owned by the Rolling Stones. He was present when they got the news that Mick Taylor, who had been playing rhythm guitar for the Stones since the death of Brian Jones, was quitting; and being the collaborative animal he is, he offered to help out.

He’s been a Rolling Stone now for far longer than he was a Face, a Beck, or a Bird combined, and if his joining began the band’s long slow slide into irrelevance, it was hardly his fault; he’s a (well-paid) hired gun, and any musical ideas he has are left to the occasional solo album or outside collaboration. He can still play, of course; but the shadow of his former band lengthens with every passing year.