Musings On Music

The Faces On My Mind

I’ve been listening to the Faces for weeks, Rod Stewart’s early albums and for the sake of clarity, this includes the first two Jeff Beck Group albums, the first five Mercury albums from Stewart, all four studio albums from the Faces, Ron Wood’s first solo album and the  monumental Faces boxset. Essentially, aurally, I’ve been existing solely on a diet of Rod, Woody, Ronnie, Kenney and Ian. This happens occasionally, usually in the springtime for some reason—I suffer from what one friend describes as Seasonal Music Affective Disorder, in which certain albums or a bands entire catalog is associated with a particular time of year. Bowie is another springtime fascination for me, but not this year, The Velvet Underground is an autumnal favorite, while some bands go year round like the Stones or The Who, so this spring it’s Rod Stewart & Faces. This may have started a month ago, when I had the desperate need to hear “Every Picture Tells A Story” and proceeded to write about 10,000 words arguing that it may be THE perfect rock song, not necessarily the best, but perfect in all its worth and brilliance for its full epic length (at the time) six minutes. I was almost afraid to throw the album Every Picture Tells A Story (the album) into my rotation, because I know what happens when I do—it leads to Never A Dull Moment, then backward to Gasoline Alley, then to An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, then I have to hear all the Faces albums, then grab the Beck albums and well, you get the idea. Despite this hesitation, I needed to hear the song which led to the album, which led me to where I am now, solidly immersed in everything Rod Stewart and Ron Wood touched or even looked at between 1967 and 1975. This is what I was trying to avoid.

This mood disorder in particular always makes me go a bit crazy—clearly I’m a music obsessive, but this is one of my top ten and my top ten  has been pretty solidly the same for over a decade and  eighty percent of my top ten has been the same for nearly twenty years, but it’s more than that. The Faces in particular make me a bit crazy because they only had four albums, the box set nearly doubled their output in a flash and they were, with the exception of the Replacements and a few notable exceptions, simply a band that seemed to exist for the hell of it, for the fun of it, they were there to have a real good time and it’s clear up until the end, they pretty much were. The Faces make me crazy because they only existed for six years, had few hits or huge records sales, but were recognized by nearly everyone and their brother as drunkard geniuses—loose, gutsy, slightly dangerous, but genuinely joyful, exuberant in a way few bands were at the time or have been since while still playing true, honest rock’n’roll. The Faces make me crazy. Rod Stewart makes me crazy on an entirely different level. He went from being a shy nobody, to one of the most lauded vocalists in the span of two years with the Jeff Beck Group, started a solo career at virtually the same moment he joined the Faces (and those first five albums of his have the Faces all over them literally, in some sense it’s like the Faces have nine albums in that respect) and after the breakup he had quite a few amazing albums when he and nearly everyone else relocated to America. Rod Stewart drives me crazy because after Tonight I’m Yours, I have virtually no use for him and that makes me sad, sure there are some great tracks here and there, a couple albums in the 90s that were really great, but all in all, after “Young Turks” he like many of his contemporaries just got lost in the 1980s.

So for weeks all I could think about was why the fuck there hadn’t been a Faces reunion yet, I mean a real one, not with the singer from Simple Minds, but the remaining Faces (Ronnie Lane passed in 1997), with perhaps a bass player and someone who could match Lane’s sweetness on his vocals. For the last few years the Faces and even Stewart have toyed with us, have hinted at a reunion, have teased us essentially, which led to Mick Hucknall taking over vocal duties while Stewart put out more American Songbooks and whatever else he’s covered without inspiration or much effort. Rod was never as good as he was with Ron Wood by his side or Kenney Jones pounding the skins behind him, sharing vocals with Ronnie and Ian guiding the whole deal on the keys—why in the fuck would he want to do the endless Vegas shows for a crowd that probably would still balk at the tawdry suggestions in a song like “Italian Girls” or “Stay With Me.” Money is probably the best reason and a sound one, I suppose. But it sure as shit doesn’t seem as much fun as reviving the magic madness of “Around The Plynth,” for instance.

I saw Stewart live at his “last best” as I like to call it, which is to say in the mid-90s with the fully plugged in Unplugged tour where he blew my mind racing back and forth across the stage with the vim and vigor of a performer half his age—and he ripped through the classics of the Faces and his own early catalog brilliantly for two hours straight. This is the only Rod Stewart that makes sense to me. I even wrote about it in my college newspaper, mind you liking Rod at that point, much less admitting to your absolute love for his music publicly was not a very hip thing to do and came as quite a surprise to those who thought my whole life was a take on the “cooler than thou” philosophy, which it wasn’t, but it often came across that way. It was the summer before that show that my girlfriend at the time, got me back into Rod the Mod, which was surprising since she was still in high school and I was midway through college. I already had much of his catalog and Unplugged had just come out, so there wasn’t much prodding needed. This time, though, I went deeper—way deep into really listening to the music and rediscovering the Faces again for the first time. It was splendid, eye opening and totally and completely uncool. This led directly to taking my girlfriend to see Rod on stage, getting blown away and writing at length about the whole experience. Even then, all I could think was, why the fuck won’t he reunite with the Faces?

The Replacements had been, for my generation, what the Faces were for my parents’ generation and I’m not sure anyone else has held the same fun loving, talented drunkard, lovable bastards’ aesthetic since. Unlike, the Faces, though The Replacements went about two albums too long, but went through a very similar timeline and disintegration. But the Faces were something, that while The Mats came close to it, were never really duplicated again. Part of my love for them is, admittedly, they have connections to some of my other favorite bands of all time and their family tree is an inbred British dream of who was who in the 1960s and 70s. Rising from the ashes of the Jeff Beck Group’s self-immolation and the Small Faces left utterly abandoned by their charismatic frontman, the time was right and soon enough the Faces weren’t so small anymore. From that chemistry alone, the members had tight connections to the Mod scene and the foundation of heavy metal, to the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds, Humble Pie and so many amazing greats it was unfathomable, it was also little mystery why everybody loved them, especially their contemporaries. Here was a divinely talented, drunken bar band with a penchant for cocaine and good times everywhere they went, wearing smiles all the while and not striving for the radical sense of pretension, excess and theatrics that were marking most of their peers for good or ill. They were everything I love about rock’n’roll in a pure, boozy distillation and honest aesthetic.

So, at every turn that I would delve into the catalogs of Rod Stewart and the Faces and all their relations (because inevitably I end listening to the Jeff Beck Group, Ron Wood’s solo work as well as his stuff with The Birds and The Creation, Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance and his album Rough Mix with Pete Townshend, then ends up into a groovy 70s Stones thing) I get deeper into it. This was greatly enhanced by the release of the boxset Five Guys Walk Into A Bar, released in 2004, which for my money may be the last great boxset ever released in true “box set” ethic (now replaced by complete catalog boxes and super deluxe editions of individual albums). So that now, when this spirit catches hold of me, it’s a huge endeavor of reveling in everything that can and should be related to the Faces and this can and will go on for months. This time around I discovered that the last time I was around this bend, I left a treasure trove of surprises for myself. It turns out that I acquired ten bootlegs of the Faces representing every phase and nearly every year of their career. So this time around, I have even more to immerse myself into. And still I’ve been thinking, why the fuck isn’t there a Faces reunion? I mean, hell, even Brian Wilson has agreed (though really, he has no need financial or otherwise to do so) to reunite with the cluster fuck that is the remaining members of that band. So, what’s the deal?

Well, as you may know, this proves that I was so deep in my head, so deep into reviewing the Faces and Rod Stewart and all involved once more that I had no actual idea of what was going on in the “real world.” I had no idea that the Faces & The Small Faces were being inducted to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, I had no idea that Stewart had been making serious threats that a reunion was on the cusp of occurring, I had no idea they had all gotten together to rehearse and check out how they sounded for their own head check/ sound check. Additionally, I was probably completely lost in rare BBC recordings or somewhere in the boxset or listening to a complete live show from 1970, that I had no idea that for the first time in 19 years, Rod Stewart would reunite with his former bandmates at the induction ceremony on April 14th. I was completely oblivious to all of this, which is something that happens to me frequently when I get a wild hare to revisit some great album or group from my collection, it often ends up that I’m just picking up the excitement of some rock’n’roll collective consciousness—like one time, I got real deep into the Stooges for the 19th time and it was announced they would reunite at the Coachella I already planned to attend or digging into Captain Beefheart’s catalog to read the announcement of his death while I was listening to him or, well, the occasions are too many to enumerate and this is not what this is about. This is about the Faces reuniting, if  only for an evening and I suspect it will be another facet of these rock’n’roll ne’er do wells that will once more drive me crazy.

The reason the Hall Of Fame reunion may drive me absolutely crazy is simple. That may be it. There may be a one off evening, where Rod gets together with his old mates, has a few to drink, blows the crowd away and then that’s it. Nothing more. There is a really good chance of that happening, more than I like to think about. This could just be a one night thing, a one night stand and after all the smoke has cleared, Woody will head back to the Stones, Kenney and Ian will go do their own thing and Rod will put out an unnecessary American Songbook Six for no apparent reason or the other three will continue the Faces with Hucknall and maybe Glenn Matlock and Rod will put out an unnecessary American Songbook Six. But what could happen instead, that’s what makes me crazy. What could happen is that Rod, Woody, Ian, Kenney and whoever is deemed to play bass with super sweet vox, decide that enough years apart have been enough and they’ve never been better than when they’re together and they head out on a global tour for a year or two—if for no other reason than nostalgia, good times and camaraderie, if nothing else for a final chapter. Also,  I might add, there’s probably a lot of money in it, probably a lot more than American Songbook Six. Seriously, Rod, think about it.

I might sound like I’m coming down hard on Rod here, but I’m not. For many years I have defended Rod Stewart and I always will, mostly because I understand the bloke, but also because even  at his worst I can pull one to two songs from each album that I love—and this is more than I can say of The Rolling Stones Dirty Work. Rod Stewart get’s a lot of blame for breaking up the Faces, but let’s face the truth on that, Ronnie Lane cleared house first even though it was really his band and Woody was sitting on a couch with Jagger when he found out that Rod beat him to the punch, so let’s face it—it was 1975 and everyone was ready to move on, Woody was clearly the choice to replace Mick Taylor in the Stones and was even their when Taylor said he was done. In fact it seemed like he was a Rolling Stone in waiting all the time, maybe since he was with The Birds and The Creation. Ronnie wanted out to explore his songwriting more and got to do so with Slim Chance and Pete Townsend. Ian has been a penultimate sideman throughout the ages and has always seemed, like, say Bobby Keyes, super adaptable to whatever situation would suit him since he replaced Jimmy Winston in The Small Faces. Kenney Jones was soon off to replace the belated Keith Moon for two wildly underrated albums by The Who and would tour with them well into the 1980s.

Then there’s Rod…well, Rod Stewart was a goddamned superstar beyond all compare. There, enough said. Well, not really, but that’s the long and short of it. Rod Stewart’s shadow by 1973 had far outreached that of his rock’n’roll band that needed a helping hand, yet he continued to tour and honor his membership in the band for two years beyond any album release or necessity really would even be sensible. Sure they had some magnificent songs after Ooh La La (“Pool Hall Richard” comes to mind) but another album would never surface, though recordings that finally came to light with the box set in 2004 would make that clear. So in 1975 calling it quits was not solely on Stewart’s mind. In a way, it may be seen as a sad story, because Ronnie felt shut out and left alone in Rod’s shadow as he felt he had more to say, but left early of his own volition. On the other hand, I’m not sure anyone I know would have done anything different in Rod’s situation. Living on a diet of champagne, cocaine and tall blonde models, living a jet set lifestyle on his own that could only be rivaled by the Stones, with records that were outselling his good time band by at least ten to one…yeah, being realistically human, I can’t blame Rod a bit for his decision to head to America, assemble a new band and evade the UK tax nightmare that was the 1970s. Besides we got at least three masterpieces out of that transition for which I will never complain. (We also got two amazing albums from Slim Chance, Face Dances, It’s Hard, Rough Mix, Black & Blue, Some Girls, Tattoo You, Emotional Rescue…well, you get the idea…)

So, no, I don’t blame Rod Stewart for breaking up the Faces. The man was a three time loser when he got to the Jeff Beck Group and was happy to catch a break there, during which in two years time he defined the entire chemistry of what a hard rock dynamic should be (charismatic extroverted frontman, a guitarist with mystique…they were the template for many bands to follow, Led Zeppelin for one). He was even happier to get a solo deal from Mercury when the Jeff Beck Group dissolved and even happier when he found a home with his mates in the Faces. Rod simply had the advantage over everyone else because he had that velvet voice of sawdust and gold, he had the looks and style of the age and more importantly, he was two things at once—he was a great songwriter (especially in the company of Wood, Lane, McLagan and Jones) and he was also a great interpreter of others songs. I think the latter part is truly important. Not only did this guy create some of the greatest rock songs with his mates, but he also had a knack for vocally and musically reinterpreting his favorite songs—namely his contemporaries at the  time, which in the  1970s was an unusual angle, especially with the high profile choices he made. There’s no better example than starting of his 1969 debut album with a searing rendition of the Stones “Street Fighting Man” which, for my money, challenges the original and this is not from an uninformed position, the Stones are my second favorite band of all time. He picked up a lot by bracing his vocals in covers with the Jeff Beck Group so by the time he was solo and with the Faces, he was ready for anything. This would end up  including amazing and sometimes the quintessential version of songs by Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, Bobby Womack, Elton John, Jimmy Hendrix, Paul McCartney and of course Sam Cooke.

So, in the end, you have a rock’n’roll powerhouse in the lungs and rough hewn throat of Rod Stewart who was destined for greatness. You had a different rock’n’roll powerhouse that was Ron Wood who was able to return to playing his chosen instrument of guitar in the Faces, after vacationing on bass with Jeff Beck and would obviously move on in time. The three original Small Faces would move on to greatness as well, if not in the way their guests who weren’t small would come to dominate rock and pop charts across the globe. All in all it seemed inevitable, but perhaps not at the time. The point is, I don’t blame Rod, Woody or Ronnie for their decisions, and I might feel a bit bad for Ian and Kenney if they hadn’t done so well themselves. But I have digressed, excessively to explain where I stand. That too, is not the point in any capacity. The point is the impending Faces reunion at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the potential for some last laughs and good times, the possibility that the party may, with any hope, spill beyond Cleveland to points across America, Europe and everywhere else. If all four of the remaining five guys who walked into the bar had enough sense and friendship still left between them, the tour would be on, ready, steady, go.

In an ideal world that is what should happen. Unlike the Velvet Underground reunion, now nearly twenty years past, I would firmly commit to catching a Faces show with Rod at the helm so that I did not spend the rest of my life with regret of not seeing them live and rocking one last time. When the VU reunited, I was sure that a tour of the States was in tow and didn’t bother to fly to Europe for the various dates—this is something I will probably never forgive myself for as long as I live. This time, I’m ready. If the Faces return to the stage with Rod fronting the show, I will sell a kidney to be there and don’t think I haven’t pondered this type of sacrifice to have a seat in Cleveland on April 14th. The question is though, “Will it happen?” Honestly, I’m not sure any of them need the money, the work, the effort or the time, for no other reason than just making their lifelong fans happy. I’m not in that position, I couldn’t make that decision, I only know where the fans stand. Fuck, if you want more bang for the buck, call up Jeff Beck, see what the hell he’s doing and go for it.

Yes, I suppose this is a bit of rock’n’roll fantasy. Or is it? I’ve seen crazier shit in my time, I’ve seen Brian Wilson come out of schizophrenic shock to produce some of the finest music of my life and finish the greatest unreleased album of the last 40 years, I’ve seen Big Star finally achieve the success they always deserved long after their time was due, I’ve seen the Stooges finally get their due, I’ve seen so many things that make just as much sense as the Faces reuniting that this can really go either way. I can’t understand any reason why this wouldn’t be a great investment in all their energy and time, but I’m not them and I don’t know. But what I do know is that it would be great. I hear Woody on the last Stones album and he stuns me, I hear Ian and Kenney on studio work and it blows my mind, and I hear Rod as much as I disapprove of his current direction, his voice is still top notch and where it needs to be. But these blokes need to be together. If they can’t be, if  they absolutely can’t stand to do it, if they walk away from the Hall Of Fame Induction realizing that they must part ways once more, I get that, but if that’s all they need, then I’ve got another plan, I call it a conciliatory fan plan, because that’s maybe all we need.

See, here’s the thing, the Faces were only half presented on their studio releases and only more slightly represented on the box set. The true power of the Faces were in their live performances. There was a live album put out in 1974 that was a complete disaster, recorded after Ronnie had left (replaced by Free’s Tetsu Yamauchi) and consisting mostly of Rod’s material and if that isn’t enough, the sound quality is pretty horrific as well—it paid them no honor or glory. What is amazing though is the vast amount of live material out there, even shows that came from the same tour as Coast To Coast: Overtures And Beginners sound spectacular. With the exception of the tracks that showed up on the box set, most of this has gone unheard, except by madmen like me that will track these shows down, then apparently not even listen to them in order to save them for my future self so that I can rediscover them now. For some of the sets where the recording is clearly straight from the soundboard—the performances simply put the albums to shame. The Faces get called sloppy a lot and that’s the last thing I hear on these recordings—I hear the start of punk rock, I hear a band that can be mind-bendingly out of their heads on booze and cocaine and still hold it together perfectly, every note. They even had a bar on stage and in the studio at all times—consummate professionals in all regards.

It’s also well known that the Faces put on a hell of a lot of shows for the BBC. My suggestion is simple, someone at Warner Bros. or better yet, Rhino…or even better, Rhino Handmade should get their shit together—wade through the licensing nightmare, coordinate with the BBC, maybe pitch a pinch at charity, since Ronnie is no longer with us, I’m certain his estate would appreciate some money going toward MS research and finally release a true, gritty and perfect portrayal of how the Faces set everyone on fire at their shows, repeatedly.  If this is too much to ask, perhaps a re-mastered, re-release of all four albums with a disc or two of live shows from each one, since the industry is all about immersion sets these days. One of the greatest shows I have in my stack is an October 1970 show at the Fillmore West, both the early and the late show and the emcee announces them as The Small Faces, since their debut in America was released under that moniker. No song is repeated, no energy abated, filled chock full of First Step material and rarities galore.  Over 110 minutes of rock bliss that blows the Stones clear away. It was while I was listening to this show that made me imagine a box of live Faces that would seal the deal on their legacy as one of the greats from an era gone by. The set that night is an amazing blend of Faces material, some of Rod’s material from his first two albums, a Jeff Beck cut and an amazing medley that must have popped everyone’s tops live: “Around The Plynth/ Honky Tonk Woman/ Gasoline Alley/ Around The Plynth (Reprise).” The performances are simply searing and that’s only the beginning.

It seems amazing to me that this hasn’t been released, that a set dedicating ten discs (at least) to the complete Faces live experience from beginning to end has not been released, talked about or suggested. And maybe it has. Again, the licensing between the Mercury material of Rod and the Warner’s material of the Faces and the BBC recordings—well, that may be a nightmare, but I’ve seen the industry move bigger mountains for less. Shows from the Long Player and A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse era get even better and rowdier, honestly a better balance is achieved between the Faces material and Rod’s solo  work—but all get the Faces treatment. It’s great to hear a medley of “You Wear It Well/Maggie May” or “True Blue” in their purest rock hard delivery possible. For the purist in me, I would even want the  later shows including the material from early shows in ‘73 before Ronnie left the band and  the material afterward, right up to the end where it was very clearly the Rod Stewart show with more guts than his actual solo outings offered, at which point he has made radical changes to arrangements of “Memphis” and other once familiar covers that they are almost unrecognizable, plus you get to hear early stabs at the likes of “Three Time Loser” and the material that would come once he crossed to Atlantic.

There is so much of this material that sounds so good, I’m not sure why there hasn’t been a cash-in on this before. Much of what I have is clearly soundboard recordings and the few that aren’t, are still passable by bootleg standards (far beyond, say, Max’s Kansas City quality for sure). There are also exciting moments in some BBC recordings where you can pretty much hear John Peel lose his mind and very nearly say as much at the end of the concert. All together, it seems like a fitting document and documentary (turns out I have another ten hours of video footage I haven’t even gotten to, aside from the obvious BBC shows that you can check out on YouTube if you’re so inclined, you can also watch a complete show from 1972 below) that all of it could be wrapped up in a nice little bundle, though probably a pricey little bundle—but one worth every penny. It’s not only a document of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, it’s probably a nice testament to Rod Stewart himself (come on, who the hell else had a full time gig with a great rock’n’roll band AND a thriving solo career during that era, or any other?), but it’s also a document of a pure rock aesthetic that seems to have been abandoned in recent decades and perhaps, needs a little nudge to reawaken once more.

That’s all I need. I’ll take either or both. Give me the Faces live or give me the Faces LIVE! Either way, I’m interested to see the outcome when the Hall of Fame inducts the Faces and The Small Faces, as well (another love of mine, a pure Mod love). Maybe it will be only one evening thoroughly documented as a last dying spark of  something great, or maybe it will lead to a tour that will make us all smile for a while, or a box set we can hold dear for years. Maybe it will just be that the Faces and The Small Faces finally get their due for who they were and what they meant to so many. It’s difficult to say as the days count down, but if Rod wants to return to tribute albums and re-rendering oldies after an electric night with his mates, may I suggest Mr. Stewart your next venture in that direction be a “Cooke-book”, for as you once said, without Sam Cooke, there would have never been a Rod Stewart—so it’s something to think about. And if, you’ve stuck around for these five thousand words and you’re still lost in the passion of what I mean, “have a quick listen kid, maybe that’s all you need.”

The Faces Live From the BBC Crown Jewels 04/01/1972


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>