The core of one band with two names
For one raucous decade, from roughly 1965 to 1975, the Small Faces/Faces evolved from a group of mod rockers with an affinity for American soul and R&B, and penchant for psychedelic pop to a highly combustible, rowdy band of roots rockers deeply entrenched in the blues. Although the band embraced various tonal shifts – as all dynamic acts do – and varied the lineup mid-career, the Small Faces/Faces were anchored by key figures who were instrumental in defining the essential elements of both incarnations of the band: Kenney Jones, the only drummer the band ever had; Ronnie Lane, the chief songwriter who supplied a folk undercurrent to most of the group's catalog; and Ian McLagan, whose organ playing featured nearly as prominently on recordings as vocals by original frontman Steve Marriott and his replacement, Rod Stewart.
Despite the name change, the Small Faces' and Faces' lineups represent as much personnel continuity as the Rolling Stones or the Yardbirds ever had, though such concordance often goes overlooked as people focus on the switch from Marriott to Stewart – the lead vocalists.
Emerging in 1965 from the same scene that spawned the likes of the Who, the Small Faces included Jones on drums; bassist, songwriter and vocalist Lane; Marriott on guitar and lead vox; and McLagan on keys. While the band's sole stateside hit (Number 16 on Billboard 200) came with the indelible folk-cum-psych-pop lilt and overt drug references (What will we do there? / We'll get high / What will we touch there? / We'll touch the sky) was the Lane-penned "Itchycoo Park" in 1968, the Small Faces were fixtures on the UK music charts during the mid to late Sixties. "All Or Nothing" was released as a single in 1966 and reached Number One on the UK singles chart. Written by Lane and Marriott, the song's restrained verses gave way to bombastic choruses, as McLagan's organ playing provided deft nuance amid the mix's peaks and valleys. McLagan's inspired riffing on the keys and Jones' galvanic percussion also helped give "Tin Soldier" its propulsive rock groove. From the Small Faces' debut single, "What'cha Gonna Do About It," to the band's last single "Afterglow Of Your Love" with b-side "Wham Bam, Thank You Man" in 1969, Marriott's diminutive frame belied a booming, hardened, soulful voice. Compare that delivery with tracks from the Faces' oeuvre, such as "Stay With Me," and there is a distinct narrowing of a single sensibility, rather than a huge difference in the vocal presences of Marriott and Stewart.
When Marriott left the Small Faces to join Humble Pie with Peter Frampton in '69, Jones, Lane and McLagan brought vocalist Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood – both coming off a stint in the Jeff Beck Group – into the fold, releasing the aptly titled First Steps in 1970. Although the record was originally pressed with the band billed as "The Small Faces," the adjectival qualifier was dropped and the group was rechristened simply as "Faces." The album included the stirringly tender Lane composition "Devotion," where McLagan's organ lines provided the track with its haunting undertone and Stewart's vocals echoed the blue-eyed soul of former frontman Marriott; while "Stone" reflected Lane's folk leanings with a stricter interpretation of the genre than anything he'd done in the mid Sixties.
On the 1971 follow-up to First Steps, Long Player, the country-blues motif of "Richmond," sung and written by Lane, was bolstered by the slide work of Wood, while McLagan's presence on the keys alongside Stewart's gravelly delivery – again echoing the gritty emoting of Marriott – gave "Had Me A Real Good Time" its brash brio and barrelhouse feel. Lyrically, the latter treaded similar territory to the mind-altered state of mind championed in "Itchycoo Park" years earlier: (Dancing madly round the room / singing loudly and sorta out of tune / was escorted by a friendly slag / 'round the bedroom and back) Also released in 1971, A Nod is as Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse produced the band's biggest hit, "Stay With Me," a revved-up number led by McLagan's distorted organ phrasing, Wood's muscular riffing, the rhythmic punch of Lane and Jones, and Stewart's raspy singing. Still, Lane's gift for melody and more introspective narrative guided comparatively subdued numbers, including "Debris" from A Nod, and the title track of the Faces' final album in 1973, Ooh La La.
Despite a revised moniker and major personnel shift, the group's core – Jones, Lane and McLagan – meant that the Small Faces/Faces evolved with an unbroken continuity that flows naturally through some of rock and roll's strongest recordings of the Sixties and Seventies.