Spare the Rod, Gimme the Faces

More than a footnote in Rod Stewart's story, the Faces wrote the only chapters worth rereading

Now I look back, think I've known
all the time
I've been fighting myself for so long
All the vows we made gone
for old rags and lumber
Disappeared on a cart down the road

"Love Lived Here," Faces, 1972

Although Ronnie Lane penned those lines, you can't help but imagine Rod Stewart living them. Such was Stewart's greatness that you can still plop on any record he cut between 1969 and 1975 and hear the unbroken connection between his heart and that celebrated throat. Long before the endless procession of platinum albums and platinum blondes, Stewart was a Scottish lad who sang as if his very life depended on it, as if an album as bad as Camouflage or Body Wishes -- the kind he's been churning out for more than 20 years -- might forever banish him back to being a gravedigger. In an honest moment of reflection, that ol' heart of his would have to admit that his best work is well behind him, disappeared on a cart down the road. And that "Love Touch" and "Sweet Lady Mary" have no business being on the same hits package.

While Rod the Mod is safely encased in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame respectability, the individual Faces seem unlikely to see its stuffy insides except as replacement members for some other bigger British bands. But the Faces were more than a talent pool for the Who and the Stones. They were a legendary live act, probably the last English rock 'n' roll band that didn't treat having a good time onstage as some kind of malediction. Stewart, along with Ron Wood, Kenney Jones, Ian "Mac" McLagan and the late Ronnie Lane, recorded some of the most celebrated rock records ever, though many bear only Stewart's name.

Good boys, sort of: The Faces, from left, Kenney Jones, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood, Ian McLagan.
courtsey pf Warnder Bros.
Good boys, sort of: The Faces, from left, Kenney Jones, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood, Ian McLagan.
Ronnie Lane inspiring Rod Stewart's hit-in-the-making-- "You're in my heart, you're in my way."
Ronnie Lane inspiring Rod Stewart's hit-in-the-making-- "You're in my heart, you're in my way."

Before the Faces, no band had ever had to contend with a lead singer trying to juggle a concurrent solo career on a different record label and tour in support of his own and the group efforts. It's hardly helped the Faces' schizophrenic identity problems in the digital era that the group has only been anthologized on two Rod Stewart boxed sets but has never been given a compact disc greatest hits of their own. Happily, The Best of Faces: Good Boys . . . When They're Asleep . . . (Warner Bros. Archives/Rhino) has turned up in shops to help pick up the slack.

Sadly, it's only a one-CD collection. The package boasts that it's "a true best-of from the same era as Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment" but doesn't include songs from either album. Licensing the Rod-stamped songs from Mercury proved too big a hassle for Ian McLagan, the keyboardist for all Faces great and Small. As to why the job fell on him to pick the final selection, McLagan says, "Kenney's not interested, Rod doesn't give a fuck and Woody's too busy. Everyone's too busy but me, and I care about that stuff."

In truth, McLagan is plenty busy. A resident of Texas for the last five years ("I'd been living in L.A. for 16 years, and that will drive you anywhere"), Mac finds himself sought after for studio and stage assignments by big-name acts. Since the '70s, he's toured with everyone from the Stones to Dylan, to Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. Currently on the road with Brit folkie Billy Bragg, McLagan's also got his own Bumps Band to put through its paces. And then there is his Web site (www.macspages.com), a new album, Best of the British, and a newly published book, All the Rage, which details his days in both the Small Faces and Faces, the never-shoulda-reunited Small Faces and the all-too-briefly reunited Faces. But it's the quintessential version of the Faces, fronted by the geezer Mac still likes to call "Big Nose," that the new collection is making a case for.

"We had three albums out in '71. Hit albums! Of course, Rod put the best songs on his album," says McLagan laughing. "I would do the same. But he was stretched. It was a great idea, then it turned into a nightmare for us because we didn't get the best of it. In fairness, Rod was keen to include the band on his records.

"We would go to Rod's session, and he'd have a song ready and you'd just work towards that," recalls McLagan. "If he'd call out a song like '(I Know I'm) Losing You,' you'd go, 'Fuck, that would've been great if we cut it.' Well, we did cut it. But we cut it on his time."

One listen to Good Boys should dispel the notion that Rod got all the best stuff. Sure, the Faces' Long Player and A Nod Is As Good As a Wink would've been even better with the title songs from Stewart's Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story. But Stewart's albums could have been equally improved if he had jettisoned filler like "Amazing Grace" and "Seems Like a Long Time" in favor of top-shelf Faces material like "Too Bad," "Love Lived Here" and, of course, "Stay With Me" -- the only seven-inch bearing the Faces name that visited the Top 40.

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