Five Guys Walk Into A Bar...
The definitive 4-CD box set featuring 32 previously unissued tracks.
"If any one of us could have sung, we'd never have got Rod Stewart in," The Faces organist/pianist Ian McLagan told me recently. "After Steve Marriott left The Small Faces we never wanted to employ a lead singer again."
Perhaps it was a simple case of a self-fulfilling prophecy that Stewart went on to exceed all of McLagan's worst fears in The Faces. The group's first two platters, 1970's First Step and Long Player from '71, floundered. Rod's simultaneous carreer, however, did a roaring trade, his breakthrough third LP, Every Picture Tells A Story, and its single, Maggie May (both featuring The Faces on backing), reaching the top spots of their respective charts. Not only was it rumoured that Stewart was stealing the cream of the combo's material for himself, he was also throwing rock star tantrums and basking in the glory attributed to him for his good looks and foxy strut - hence the band's eventual Motownesque billing as Rod Stewart And The Faces - leaving chief songwriter Ronnie Lane in the shadows.
It's fortuitous, though, that Lane, Ron Wood, McLagan and Kenny Jones decided they couldn't sing, for it's hard to envisage the four-piece, despite their obvious talent, achieving such musical notoriety without that soulful, throaty ras of Stewart's draped over their trademark boozy, uproarious collision of blues and rock.
Their four studio albums (recorded over as many years) are way overdue an overhaul. Aside from 1999's best of, Good Boys... When They're Asleep, there's been no deluxe edition remastering of their back catalogue and no rarities compilation either. It's been left to the bootleggers to fill the gap in the fans' record collection. Until now, that is. Not surprisingly it's tracks from The Faces' third and arguably landmark LP, A Nod's As Good As A Wink, and their fourth, Ooh La La, that make up the bulk of the released cuts here. Eight tracks from the latter include the raucous knockabout Borstal Boys and the reflective, Wood-sung title cut, while seven are from the former, including the group's signature Stay With Me and the contrastingly wistful social commentary of the Ronnie Lane ballad, Debris. While the group tended to revel in laddish tomfoolery, Debris is a poignant reminder that they didn't in a vacuum. Even the seemingly carefree Faces were troubled by a Britain tormented by blackouts and strikes.
The three cuts culled from First Step (the affectionate rave-up, Three Button Hand Me Down, Around The Plynth and Flying) show a band finding their feet, while five from the underrated Long Player set out their manifesto, hence titles like Had Me A Real Good Time and Bad'n'Ruin. While the inclusion of their two non album singles - '73's Pool Hall Richard and '74 You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything, plus assorted B-sides and the self explanatory Dishevelment Blues, a 1973 flexi-disc given away with the NME, this is a first-rate round-up.
But, of course, the unissued cuts are the most edifying. Covers of Big Bill Broonzy's I Feel So Good, Willie Dixon's Eveil and their self -penned Shake, Shuder, Shiver from their first rehearsals in the summer of 1969 reveal the group's fledging sound - an exhilarating Small Facesesque blend of soul and rock courtesy of McLagan's Booker T.-styled organ playing and Lane's proto-funk bass, with a progressive blues hangover from Stewart and Wood's former employers, The Jeff Beck Group.
Other notable renditions include Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed from the BBC programme Sounds For Saturday (far outstripping their single version), a poignant reading of John Lennon's Jealous Guy, plus a live version of Free's The Stealer, revealing the group to be a much heavier prospect live than their records suggest. Takes on Hendrix's Angel and The Temptations' (I Know) I'm Losing You far outshine Rod's solo versions for passion, while a cover of The Beach Boys' Gettin' Hungry, from the group's final recording session, reveal a band still with much to offer - despite the disappointing 1973 post-Lane outing, Coast to Coast, might suggest. It's just a shame McLagan's worries came true. When Rod's carreer exploded, so lead singer number two left him and his playmates in the debris.