Here’s a clip of severely underrated British mod outfit the Small Faces performing their 1967 psych-pop gem “Itchycoo Park”, the track which served as a herald to their critically-acclaimed Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album.
This track was one of the best pop songs about drugs in an era of songs about drugs, and one of the most blatant too I might add. It’s amazing to me just how upfront it is about its subject matter – getting together, and taking acid in the park (supposedly Little Ilford Park in London) . I mean, that’s probably what a lot of the band’s fans were doing at the time. But, this was also a time when the London police were cracking down on drug use, and actively pursuing pop stars to make examples of them in the most draconian ways possible.
Maybe because of this trend in Cromwellian policework in London, most songs at this time were pretty shadowy when it came to writing about recreational pharmacology. But, not this one. What did you do there? I got high! . If the Beatles worried about saying “I’d love to turn you on” in “A Day in the Life” which was recorded the same year, then these guys put it right out there, seemingly without any concern at all.
And this was a hit song too, reaching #3 on the UK charts and #16 in the US charts. Not bad for a band of mods singing about taking acid in the park. Of course, much like what the aforementioned Beatles had done with Sgt. Pepper, the Small Faces had created a song, and later an full-length album, that was very hard to reproduce live. This was the beginning of an era where the studio was becoming an instrument, just as important as any guitar or drum. Like the tunes on Pepper, the song features some revolutionary techniques that marked the era and would influence other eras too. Specifically, “Itchycoo Park” was one of the first tracks to feature a technique called phasing or flanging; that is, two recordings of the same lines playing at the same time while also being slightly delayed from one another. This is what gives the track its otherworldly quality.
It seems to me that the Small Faces may be one of the most underexposed bands of the era. Along with the Zombies, they tend to get left out of the discussion when it comes to conversations about big 60s groups. Yet, the talent and the material is top drawer. Listen to lead singer Steve Marriott‘s vocal power, which is seemingly effortless in delicacy and rawness, sometimes from one note to the next. And Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan remains to be one of the most versatile rock keyboardists in music history, playing the blues and British musical hall sounds in equal measure to the spacey soundscapes you hear on this tune.
It’s almost a shame that this band ended by 1969. I say almost, because they morphed into The Faces, when Rod Stewart and Ron Wood late of the Jeff Beck Group joined remaining members Ronnie Lane (AKA ‘Plonk’), Kenney Jones, and Mac, creating something equally special. Marriott went onto form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, and the 1970s commenced accordingly. Neither band gained much traction on the scale of the Stones or Bowie. Yet, “Itchycoo Park” and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake have both been heralded as masterpieces by critics and prominent music papers.
I suppose the goal of every artist is to create something lasting, which the Small Faces certainly have. And beyond the exceptional catchiness and charm of this song, and the creativity that went into making the album, I think this tune remains to be one of the most honest statements of the entire ’60s decade of pop music. And of course, the influence of the Small Faces was felt well into the ’90s, with fans like Damon Albarn and other Brit-pop writers listening intently, and passing it along.
All too beautiful!
[Update! February 26, 2016. Check out this informative one hour-ish documentary about The Small Faces. Adjust the volume a little higher, and enjoy!]