Posts Tagged ‘keith moon’

“Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces (1968)

Several “rock operas” predate the Who’s “Tommy,” although that album’s 1969 release led to the coining of the term.

The previous year, the Pretty Things unveiled “S.F. Sorrow,” which seemed to follow a vaguely coherent theme that was made far more clear three decades later with a narrated version featuring Arthur Brown, of Crazy World fame.

Also in 1968 came “Odgens’ Nut Gone Flake,” on which the Small Faces devote an entire LP side to the thoroughly whimsical tale of Happiness Stan, who sets out on a quest for the missing half of the moon.

Hey, it was the ’60s …

The recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of the combined Small Faces and Faces might confuse listeners who know the latter group only as Rod Stewart’s early backing band. And even that’s not really the case.

As far as history, the Small Faces came together in 1965 with the late Steve Marriott on guitar, the late Ronnie Lane on bass, Kenney Jones on drums and Jimmy Winston (soon to be replaced by Ian McLagan) on keyboards. The band soon became one of Britain’s top acts, scoring several R&B-influenced hits as part of the Mod scene that also featured Pete Townshend and company.

By 1967, the Small Faces’ sound had taken on a decidedly psychedelic tinge, as evidence by the band’s only American hit (No. 16), the heavily phase-shifted “Itchycoo Park.”

“Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” hit the shelves in May 1968, frustrating clerks with its packaging: Instead the usual square record jacket, Immediate Records released the LP in the round, as Grand Funk Railroad would do four years later on this side of the Atlantic with “E. Pluribus Funk.”

The album’s title, taken from a Liverpool tobacco company, also is the name of the opening track, a slow-burn instrumental that incorporates orchestral backing amid the quartet’s flexing of its chops.

“Afterglow (Of Your Love)” sports an unconventional opening section, with Marriott’s acoustic guitar and sundry whistling accompanying Lane’s somewhat slurred reading of the chorus. The song then breaks into a more standard presentation, with Marriott delivering one of his more emotive vocal performances.

McLagan’s “Long Ago and Worlds Apart” features his far more subdued vocal, as he carries the tune with keyboards that are subjected to a major Leslie effect. The song seems to end after about two minutes, but fades back in for a decent jam that lasts another 30 seconds.

Perhaps the album’s most memorable tune is “Rene,” Marriott’s ode to a seaside prostitute, which he delivers with an appropriately Cockney accent in a rather risque manner: “If you can spend the money, you’ll have a ball/She’ll have yours.” After the lyrical section, the song continues with a two-and-a-half minute jam that borders on hard rock.

So does “Song of a Baker,” at least Marriott’s heavy riffing that leads into another observation of everyday life.

Controversy surrounded “Lazy Sunday,” which Immediate released as a single – it went to No. 2 in the U.K. – despite the band’s objections. Marriott wrote the song about his neighbors complaining about his music and recorded it as a joke. But whatever its intent, “Lazy Sunday” is an eminently fun and catchy tune that fully captures the carefree atmosphere at the heart of British psychedelia.

The side-length suite is divided into these sections:

  1. “Happiness Stan” is introduced by guest narrator Stanley Unwin (1911-2002), a British comedian who invented a nonsensical corruption of the English language he called Unwinese. (You might remember him as the Chancellor of Vulgaria in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.) The Small Faces character Stan lives deep inside a rainbow, from which he watches the sky and sees half the moon disappear.
  2. In “Rollin’ Over,” Unwin describes how Happiness Stand embarks on a quest to find the other half of the moon, before the band breaks into the unrelated, hard-rocking love song that provides the title and was released as the B-side of the “Lazy Sunday” single.
  3. “The Hungry Intruder” tells of Stan sharing his shepherd’s pie with a fly: “My name is Stan, I’m on a quest/Take your fill, take nothing less.”
  4. Stan’s generosity pays off in “The Journey,” in which he transforms the fly into a creature capable of transporting him on his quest. The song proper starts with a short burst of hard rock before settling into an easy jam laden with cool sound effects.
  5. After seven days of journeying, they reach a tranquil beauty spot, where Stan meets Mad John. In a haunting melody, Marriott sings about John’s baggage: “There was an old man who lived in the greenwood/Nobody knew him or what he had done/But mothers would say to their children, ‘Beware of Mad John.'” Of course, John turns out to be a nice guy who gives Stan the answer to his query about the moon.
  6. “Happy Days Toy Town” wraps up proceedings with a tremendous sing-along: “Give me those happy days toytown newspaper smiles/Clap twice, lean back, twist for a while\/When you’re untogether and feeling out of tune/Sing this special song with me, don’t worry ’bout the moon/Looks after itself.”

“Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” went to No. 1 in England and continued to establish the Small Faces as major stars in their home country. But several factors led to the band’s demise the following year.

For one, the new album was impossible to re-create in concert. For another, the follow-up single, Marriott’s innovative “The Universal,” fared none too well on the charts, and the disappointed composer decided to stop writing music for a stretch.

Eventually, he was unhappy enough with the band in general to walk offstage and quite during a New Year’s Eve performance, opting to join forces with a teenage guitarist named Peter Frampton to form Humble Pie.

Lane, McLagan and Jones were trying to figure out how to proceed when the Jeff Beck Group splintered in the spring of 1969, and two members of its members joined the Small Faces, vocalist Rod Stewart and bass player Ron Wood, who switched to guitar. Figuring the new lineup represented a different group, the members dropped the “Small” part of the name.

Rather than serving as Stewart’s backing band, though, the Faces functioned as a unit, with Lane taking on many of the songwriting and vocal efforts. Eventually he left, and by the end of that band’s run, it was being billed as Rod Stewart and the Faces.

As for Marriott, he had a successful run with Humble Pie, with and without Frampton, through the early ’70s, until the gaining popularity of disco derail the band’s blues-boogie style. At that point, he re-formed the Small Faces with McLagan, Jones, bass player Rick Wills and ex-Thunderclap Newman guitarist Jimmy McCullough, but the reunion met with a thorough lack of interest.

So Marriott re-formed Humble Pie, sans Frampton, but that didn’t really go anywhere, either. He died in 1991 in a house fire.

Lane had a moderately successful solo career and recorded a critically acclaimed album with Townshend, “Rough Mix,” before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A highly respected member of the rock community, Lane was assisted greatly by his fellow musicians in financing his medical costs. He died in 1997.

Jones followed his Small Faces/Faces tenure by joining The Who. Although a highly competent drummer, Jones was no Keith Moon, the legend whom he replaced, and the band received plenty of criticism for carrying on following Moon’s death.

Wood, of course, joined the Rolling Stones, and McLagan has played with the band on tour and in the studio.

As for Stewart’s post-Faces career, if you can’t say anything nice …

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“Truth” by Jeff Beck (1968)

For anyone who gets nauseous at the thought of leisure-suited lunkheads lurching around under a disco ball to the strains of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?: Rod Stewart once knew how to sing rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ’em.

He’d kicked around in the early ’60s, literally: His ambition was to become a professional soccer player. When that didn’t quite work out, he worked as a gravedigger and at a funeral parlor. Deciding that wasn’t his lot in life, either, he started singing and playing harmonica, joining a band called the Ray Davies quartet. (Yes, that Ray Davies.) He later performed with group called Steampacket and Shotgun Express, and as a solo artist, during which time he gained the nickname “Rod the Mod.” But none of those efforts caught on commercially.

Meanwhile, guitarist Jeff Beck was tearing it up as Eric Clapton’s replacement in the Yardbirds, blazing new trails in the sounds he was getting from his Gibson Les Paul. That already-successful band seemed to be headed for new heights when another esteemed guitarist, Jimmy Page came aboard. But Beck abruptly quit and started his own solo career, scoring a hit U.K. single with a song called “Hi-Ho Silver Lining.”

Beck sang that tune, but he was more comfortable sticking with the guitar. So he hired Stewart as vocalist and, for good measure, a youngster from a London band called the Birds named Ron Wood. (Yes, that Ron Wood.) Together with drummer Mickey Waller, they formed the first Jeff Beck Group.

When it came time to record an album, the band drew heavily from Beck’s blues-infused background, with his guitar-playing skills featured prominently throughout. But “Truth” turned out to be a launching pad for Stewart’s phenomenal success, whatever you might think of his discography as a whole.

Recorded in four days’ worth of sessions in May 1968, “Truth” serves a blueprint for hard-rock albums to follow; not more than one critic has noticed its resemblance to the debut album by Page’s post-Yardbirds band, known to the world as Led Zeppelin.

“Truth” leads off with a sledgehammer reworking of the Yardbirds’ hit “Shapes of Things,” with a slowed-down tempo and Stewart’s scratchy voice supplanting the more dulcet tones of the other band’s singer, the late Keith Relf. Beck somehow manages to make his middle-eight guitar solo as memorable as his triple-tracked fretwork in the original.

“Let Me Love You” is credited, more or less, to Beck and Stewart but bears more than a slight resemblance to a Buddy Guy song. At any rate, it represents blues played in a much heavier manner than had been heard previously, with producer Mickey Most turning up the volume on every available instrument.

The mournful sound of bagpipes opens “Morning Dew,” perhaps a suggestion from Stewart with memories of his grave-digging days. Bonnie Dobson’s folk song about nuclear annihilation is given appropriate treatment by Beck, whose stinging guitar evokes the sounds of shots being fired.

Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” follows, with Beck dueling it out with late pianist Nicky Hopkins and an organ player. You’re probably familiar with the same song on “Led Zeppelin,” and the two versions sound fairly similar, perhaps because the organist on “Truth” happens to be John Paul Jones.

Stewart’s empathetic voice is the highlight of the Broadway standard “Ol’ Man River,” from “Show Boat.” Notable is the beat of the timpani played by a musician credited as “You Know Who”; the late Keith Moon couldn’t be listed for contractual reasons.

Beck shows off his acoustic prowess with a sterling rendition of “Greensleeves.” According to Jeff in the liner notes: “Played on Mickey Most’s guitar which by the way is the same as Elvis’.”

“Rock My Plimsoul,” another composition attributed to Beck and Stewart, is a close match to the blues chestnut “Rock Me, Baby.” Again, the vocalist and guitarist combine for a memorable performance.

The instrumental “Beck’s Bolero,” based loosely on Ravel’s classical composition, actually dates back to Beck’s Yardbirds days. He recorded it with Page, who is credited as composer, along with Jones, Hopkins and Moon in what might have been the all-time dream band had those five stayed together for more than a one-shot deal! Listen closely for Moon emoting just before the bridge in one of rock’s all-time-great screams.

“Blues De Luxe,” the final Beck-Stewart song on the album – this one sounds a heck of a lot like B.B. King’s “Gambler’s Blues” – suffers slightly from the pretentiousness of overdubbed audience noise. But Stewart, Hopkins and especially Beck redeem themselves with another solid workout.

“Truth” closes with another Dixon song, most closely identified with Howlin’ Wolf: “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Probably the album’s most familiar song, it prompted Beck to admit in the liner notes: “This number is more or less an excuse for being flash on guitar.”

“Truth,” indeed.

“The Who Sell Out” by The Who (1967)

Unfortunately, the title of The Who’s third album proved to be prophetic. Anyone who saw Phil Collins as Uncle Ernie during the 1989 comeback tour can attest to such.

As of 1967, though, The Who was one of the most innovative bands in the business, on the verge of superstardom after gaining popularity in the United States on the strength of an incendiary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and the Top 10 success of the single “I Can See for Miles.”

Unlike most Who singles of the period, that song was included on “The Who Sell Out,” an early example of guitarist-composer Pete Townshend’s penchant for extended concepts that began with “A Quick One While He’s Away” and culminated with “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia.”

“The Who Sell Out” pays homage to the so-called pirate radio stations that operated offshore to counter the broadcasting monopoly of Britain’s BBC. As such, the album is peppered with “commercials,” including some that appear as more or less full-fledged songs.

A radiolike recitation of the days of the week leads into the opening “Armenia City in the Sky,” which represents The Who’s most determined foray into psychedelia. Written by Townshend’s former roommate and chauffeur, the late John “Speedy” Keen – he later wrote the U.K. hit “Something in the Air” for his band Thunderclap Newman – “Armenia” is loaded with backward taping of guitars and horns, enhancing the otherworldliness of Keen’s lyrics: “The sky is glass, the sea is brown, and everyone is upside-down.”

“Armenia” segues into John Entwistle’s horn-driven “Heinz Baked Beans,” a minute-long tribute to the popular Pittsburgh product. Somehow the song hasn’t found its way onto the playlist over the PA system at Heinz Field …

The Who recorded several versions of Townshend’s “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand,” and one prominently featuring acoustic guitar appears on “Sell Out.” The song’s theme is best summarized by the line, “What she does to a man with those shaky hands.”

“Odorono” fits the album’s concept as a “commercial,” but at more than two minutes becomes a song in its own right. It tells the story of a singer who hopes to make a good impression on a talent agency, but fails because “her deodorant let her down.”

One of Townshend’s most impressive uses of wordplay is “Tattoo,” about two siblings who decide to get their arms inked. The rhyming schemes are brilliant in such commentary as: “My dad beat me ’cause mine said, ‘Mother’/But my mother naturally liked it and beat my brother/’Cause his tattoo was of a lady in the nude/And she thought that was extremely rude.” Or the chorus: “Welcome to my life, tattoo/I’m a man now, thanks to you/I expect I’ll regret you, but the skin-graft man won’t get you/You’ll be there when I die.”

The LP’s first side rounds out with the melodic “Our Love Was” and “I Can See for Miles,” which still holds up well as a “classic rock” radio play after – whoa! – it’s been 45 years now.

Townshend sings lead on “Can’t Reach You,” which presages the type of material he’d end up recording on his solo debut, “Who Came First.” Following is another “commercial,” the late John Entwistle’s “Medac,” about an acne treatment that produces this result: “Face is like a baby’s bottom.”

Townshend and usual lead singer Roger Daltrey share vocals on “Relax,” an upbeat song that features a brief but stinging guitar solo. The band used that as a basis on which to build an extended jam in concert, as evidenced by a 1968 performance at New York’s Fillmore East; unfortunately, “Relax” seems to have been dropped from the repertoire shortly afterward.

Entwistle’s minor-key tale of a miser, “Silas Stingy,” is followed by “Sunrise,” which basically is solo Townshend on vocal and acoustic guitar.

The album wraps up with “Rael,” which seems to be about the rescue of the protagonist’s homeland: “Rael, the home of my religion/To me the center of the earth.” The song incorporates musical themes that later turned up in much more familiar fashion on “Tommy.”

Later CD releases tacked on the original ending to “Rael,” which ended up on the cutting floor in 1967. The lyrics make for an apparently positive conclusion: “What I know now is all I’ve known, that has been good while I have grown/Bless the thoughts that made me sail and the God who made Rael.”

The original LP actually ends with a jingle for Track Records, The Who’s own company, repeating endlessly in the lock groove until the needle was lifted from the record. You’ll remember that the Beatles had done something similar with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” earlier in 1967.

The Who may have eventually sold out – many fans contend the decision to stay in business after Keith Moon’s death represented such – but “The Who Sell Out” is an essential part of the catalog of one of the handful of true rock giants.

James Patrick Page cashed in the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll sweepstakes ticket. What price did he pay?

His story is comparable to that of Robert Johnson, the bluesman who sold his soul at the crossroads for acquiring unparalleled guitar skills. (Yeah, I know … allegedly.) Johnson paid with his life when a jealous cuckold fed him poison whiskey on Aug. 16, 1938, which happens to be the day before my mom was born.

Jimmy Page is very much alive, turning 68 this very day. For decades, it’s been rumored that he settled up with the lives of others. He’s supposedly dabbled with the black arts, what with his buying Aleister Crowley’s house and all.

I don’t believe any of that, except that he really did purchase Mr. Crowley’s mansion. But for the record, here are some folks associated with Mr. Page for whom the bell has tolled:

  • Keith Relf (1943-76) was lead singer for the Yardbirds, the band Page joined in 1966. Creative differences led to the band’s dissolution in 1968; some sources conjecture that Relf’s drinking had something to do with it. Whatever the case, Jimmy fulfilled contractual obligations in the summer of ’68 with the New Yardbirds, which, of course, morphed into a band with yet a newer name. If the Yardbirds would have stayed intact, rock history might have been written completely differently.
  • Karac Pendragon Plant (1971-77). Led Zeppelin was in the midst of an American tour when Robert Plant’s young son contracted a viral infection and died suddenly. Plant caught a flight back home, and the band never played in the United States again.
  • Sandy Denny (1947-78). The former lead vocalist of Fairport Convention is known to aficionados as one of the finest singers of her era. Rock audiences at large, though, recognize Sandy for her duet with Plant on “The Battle of Evermore.” When she died after a fall down a staircase, the rumor mill really started in earnest that a curse surrounded Jimmy Page.
  • Keith Moon (1946-78). The story goes that it was Moon, probably after more than a few drinks, who told the joke that created the name Led Zeppelin. Again, a band called the New Yardbirds might not have had the same type of impact.
  • John Bonham (1948-80). You’d think Bonham might have learned a lesson from fellow drummer Moon not to drink himself to death. But that’s what he did. I was a freshman in college and remember my friend Ross announcing, “Led Zeppelin canceled their tour.” And I definitely remember the answer to, why?
  • Peter Grant (1935-95). Stephen Davis wrote in “Hammer of the Gods” that Grant cried when he heard Les Harvey, guitarist for Stone the Crows, had been electrocuted onstage in Swansea, Wales. That was the only time anyone remembered Grant shedding tears. The Zeppelin manager pulled no punches, except when he was throwing them, and the band owes a lot of its success to his strident (to say the least) personality.
  • David Edward Sutch (1940-99). If that name doesn’t want a bell, maybe Screamin’ Lord Sutch does. Or maybe not. Anyway, his 1969 album “Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends” featured contributions from one Jimmy Page, who had played with Screamin’ Lord earlier in the decade. Rolling Stone magazine panned the project, saying the “heavy friends” sounded “like a fouled parody of themselves.” For the record, Page is credited as co-composer on half the album’s 12 tracks, and Bonham even gets part of a songwriting credit. Others on the album who no longer are with us include Noel Redding and Nicky Hopkins.

Associated listening: “Led Zeppelin IV” by Led Zeppelin