Spare the Rod, Gimme the Faces

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

Actually, he didn't need to invoke on-the-road high jinks in the lyrics since the first pressings of A Nod Is As Good As a Wink contained perhaps the most lascivious poster in rock history, littered with dozens of dirty Polaroids of the band cavorting, roadies displaying hairy butt cracks, flailing legs and various anonymous hostesses with blacked-out breasts.

There's even a picture of McLagan sitting on the loo in a failed attempt to block the shot. Needless to say, it was withdrawn because of protests, with many of the loudest probably coming from the Faces' own mums and missuses.

With more solo success hurled Stewart's way for 1972's Never a Dull Moment, resentment began to build within the group. Ronnie Lane would eventually quit after completing work on the band's fourth and last studio album, Ooh La La. "If Rod really liked one of Ronnie's songs, he would just assume he would sing it, and Ronnie was quite happy for that to happen," says Mac.

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 didn't happen when Stewart finally made it to the studio and heard the album's title track. "He said, 'Nah. Don't like it. Wrong key,'" says McLagan. The band recut it to accommodate the singer's finicky pipes, but Stewart still refused to perform the song. Now in a key too low for Lane to sing, it was given to Ron Wood to make his lead vocal debut on. One of the Faces' most beloved tracks, it was recently used to great effect in the closing credits of the movie Rushmore. Stewart eventually came around to the tune and cut it for his 1998 album When We Were the New Boys. "Rod wound up doing it 25 years too late. It's on the last crummy album he made," Mac says laughing. "They must be numbered by now, Rod's albums. I don't save them."

Ooh La La's critical reputation has grown in the years since its release. However, at the time, it was not especially well-received. With the barrage of Stewart-sung product, a backlash was to be expected. It couldn't have helped Ooh La La's reception when Stewart (displaying the same bewildering public-relations savvy that would later lead him to break up with girlfriends over airport intercoms) slagged the album in the rock press for not being up to snuff. The intimation was that it wasn't as good as his albums. (Sample gripe from Rod: "Look, I can't afford to make two albums a year and have one fail.")

Lane's replacement was the non-singing Tetsu Yamauchi, whose only album with the group isn't even pictured in the Rhino set's visual discography. In what was a harbinger of bigger problems to come, Coast to Coast Overture and Beginners was split billed as "Rod Stewart/Faces Live."

Exploiting the band's dual-label citizenship, Warner Bros. got the eight-track and cassette rights to the live album in the U.S., while Mercury got the vinyl rights. In the other territories, the licensing was reversed. But this strange plan for world domination backfired. "It was FUCKED!" exhorts Mac. "Because Mercury didn't want to promote it, Warners didn't want to promote it, and it wasn't a good album, unfortunately. It fell through the cracks."

The Faces only issued one single in 1974 ("Pool Hall Richard"), while Stewart spent most of 1974 toiling on Smiler, the album where he would officially wring his solo formula dry. At the time, he informed the press that the album would fulfill his contract to Mercury, freeing him up to be a full-time Face. He'd never record another album with the group again.

Although in January of '75, the Faces did coerce Stewart back into the studio. "We hadn't had an album out in two years and never would," says McLagan. "We cut 'High Heeled Sneakers,' a Beach Boys song called 'Getting Hungry,' a thing I wrote that didn't work, a couple of things Ronnie Wood had. 'Open to Ideas' we all had a part in." On that song (the Rhino set's lone unreleased track), you get a sense of what a masterful vocalist Stewart is, sounding totally committed to the song yet barking out timing cues.

"Yeah," agrees Mac. "It was just a guide vocal. The second verse, third line, just kills me. He's feeling it and he's directing traffic in the middle eight."

In between the last two Faces tours, Wood did a Stones tour in '75 as a temporary replacement for Mick Taylor. As Mac recalls, "When Faces got back together, Rod pulled me aside and said, 'We'll have to get a rhythm guitarist because Woody will be used to playing with Keith, he won't be able to play rhythm and lead.' I said, 'He's managed it for six years, don't worry about it.' But Rod was determined, and got Jesse Ed Davis, who was, God bless him, not a rhythm guitarist. And we just figured, 'Fuck him. Then we'll get another lead singer,' and got Bobby Womack in," adds McLagan. "We were so anti-Rod then. He was thinking it was like a Rod Stewart tour, and we're thinking, 'You're only our lead singer.'"

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