The Small Faces Perform ‘Itchycoo Park’ from 1967

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.

Small_Faces_1965
Along with the Who, The Small Faces were very much a mod group, designing their sound around R&B and soul music as much as classic rock ‘n’ roll. Their exploration of psychedelia by the end of the 1960s rendered a classic album that has endured to today; Odgen’s Nut Gone Flake.

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!

Enjoy!

[Update! February 26, 2016. Check out this informative one hour-ish documentary about The Small Faces. Adjust the volume a little higher, and enjoy!]

The Style Council Perform “Headstart for Happiness”

Here’s a clip of the Style Council in 1984 with one of the highlight tunes of the band’s career, “Headstart for Happiness” taken from their album Cafe Bleu. Of course, they sound more like 1970 here, being retro before retro was cool.

The Style CouncilPaul Weller’s decision to make R&B and jazz overtones his main musical reference points when leaving the Jam and forming his next band was a bold move. A lot of Jam fans were bemused. Yet, soul music was always a big part of mod culture, a template which Weller followed pretty closely. And it’s not like the influences of soul music didn’t have some impact on songs like “A Town Called Malice”, which certainly owes a debt to Motown. In this respect, Weller’s move away from the guitar-bass-drums punk rock sound and into a smoother soul sound isn’t as big a leap as might be first thought.

The Style Council was made up of Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot, along with a number of other contributors including stalwart Weller drummer Steve White, and vocalist D.C Lee who Weller would eventually marry. The trajectory of the group was a bit shaky after their first EP and subsequent debut album and the band would fold by the end of the decade after having released albums of uneven quality. Weller would continue as a solo artist. But the band managed to produce a number of excellent pop songs along the way like “My Everchanging Moods”, “You’re the Best Thing”, “Shout It to the Top”, and others, all infused with radiant soul music influences.

“Headstart for Happiness” is one of my favourite Weller songs all-around, sounding like a classic pop soul gem of the early 70s more so than a tune coming out of the early 80s. In the middle of a very tense time in world history, a time when nuclear war was a constant threat, this song just beams optimism. As such, it comes off as a sort of protest song in a way. Weller and his bandmates would protest in another way, with their involvement in The Red Wedge, which was a sort of musical expression of pro-Labour Party politics and a reaction against what was considered to be an attack on the social fabric of Britain in order to promote laissez-faire economic policies by Thatcher’s Conservatives. The Red Wedge movement was short-lived, and in many ways marks the time as one where musicians stood in direct opposition to the Establishment, perhaps for the last time.

All of that aside, Weller still knew how to write a great tune, and this is one of his best.

Enjoy!