Spare the Rod, Gimme the Faces

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

"People only hear the hit," says McLagan, "and they wouldn't know much about us and wouldn't have cared if the Faces played on '(I Know I'm) Losing You' or 'True Blue.' But there's a lot of Faces on songs like 'Glad and Sorry,' 'Love Lived Here' and 'Debris' -- beautiful Ronnie Lane songs that they should hear. Ronnie was definitely our second lead vocalist. With this compilation, I hope that becomes more apparent to some people."

Lane had been second vocalist in the Small Faces, just behind the brilliant Steve Marriott. McLagan's least favorite Small Faces track, "Itchycoo Park," became the mod group's penultimate hit in the United States. Sadly, the Small Faces never came over to tour to build on its success. In late 1968, Marriott lobbied to get future talk-box demonstrator Peter Frampton into the group and the others balked. "Steve wanted someone to take lead guitar duties off him. What he hadn't realized was that he was a fantastic fuckin' lead guitarist. He didn't need anybody else, and no one could sing as good as him. But he decided, 'Fuck it, I'll leave, form a group with Frampton and be just as heavy as I could be," adds McLagan sarcastically.

After an amicable farewell tour, Lane, McLagan and Kenney Jones agreed to stick together and see what they could do on their own. With no money after being managed/swindled by successive conniving bastards Don Arden and the team of Andrew Oldham and Tony Calder, the group was given use of the Rolling Stones' rehearsal hall by Mick Jagger (a gesture on Jagger's part to make up for recommending Oldham as a manager).

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."

"It was a place to jam," McLagan recalls. "Woody, who Steve introduced us to, funny enough, was really friendly with everybody, and all these other bassists and guitarists were thinking they were in this new band but they weren't. Bit by bit, we wouldn't tell people and we'd turn up -- Ronnie Lane, Woody, Kenney and I."

One person Mac hoped wouldn't turn up was Rod Stewart, Woody's partner in the soon-to-be-defunct Jeff Beck Group. "After Steve, we said we're not going to have another lead vocalist because they always leave. Rod would turn up and I was dead against him sitting in because I thought, 'Fuck him, he'll leave too.' Of course, he did!"

Soon it was obvious that Stewart and the group had something special together, so McLagan relented and the band snapped up "that singer with the big nose."

Knowing his days with Beck were numbered, Stewart had already inked a solo deal with Mercury just before the last Jeff Beck Group tour (Stewart and Wood enlisted McLagan to play on his first solo album). By September of 1969, the Faces had a deal with Warner Bros. and recorded First Step, which was miscredited to the Small Faces in this country. As the photos in Good Boys clearly illustrate, Rod and Ron were a good head or two above the pint-size Kenney, Ronnie and Mac. Once Rod started wearing high heels and grew too proud to pose for all the band photos standing in a trench, that confusing prefix was lobbed off.

First Step continued in the vein of the Beck group (elongated jams) and the Small Faces (Mac's distorted Hammond organ riffs). It wasn't until the group's third album, A Nod Is As Good As a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse, that the Faces delivered its first totally satisfying long-player. Producer Glyn Johns (at the time best known for Who's Next and salvage work on the Who's aborted Lifehouse album) helped get the songs edited down to radio length. "If you made records longer than four minutes, no one would play them. Especially singles," says McLagan.

After Stewart hit number one with the hit single "Maggie May," radio probably didn't need much coaxing to play "Stay With Me," and the Faces wouldn't have to resort to listing its running time as "three minutes and 99 seconds."

A Nod Is As Good As a Wink best showcases the delicate interplay between McLagan's electric piano and Wood's great fuzzy leads and slide guitar, all of which have been lost to the Stones' Keef riff for the last 23 years. "I was rhythm piano player, really," says Mac. "Ron was rhythm guitarist and so was I. We were weaving in and out of each other all the time."

This is the album that finds the band at its lyrical peak, and few records convey the "bunch of guys out for a good time" camaraderie better. On "Too Bad," Rod and the boys get caught crashing a posh party: "Too bad my regional tongue gave us away again." On "You're So Rude," Ronnie Lane takes a girl to meet his parents; they're not home; a quick shag ensues on the sofa; the parents return early and our young fornicators are left wetting their socks to pretend it was a sudden downpour of rain that caused them to disrobe.

And there's "Stay With Me," which has Rod taking a hideous-looking creature to bed and begging her not to be there when his head clears in the morning. What sets this song apart from every other misogynist cock-rocker anthem that followed is that we don't get the sense that this is some rock star knocking off groupies. There's never any mention of the road, backstage passes or rider stipulations to ruin the everyman effect. You get the sense from all previous songs on the album that Stewart is pretty much a working-class loser and this is the best he can do. In fact, Stewart's vocal performances stop being believable only when you can't imagine him as a gravedigger anymore.

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