Posts Tagged ‘Pete Townshend’

“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 …

“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.

“Smash Your Head Against the Wall” by John Entwistle (1971)

I’ve been trying to find the attribution, but I once read something along these lines: the late John Entwistle was a good songwriter in a band with a great one.

Sure, Pete Townshend’s songs constituted the lion’s share of The Who’s repertoire, as well they should. He composed some of the most durable songs (and concept albums) in rock history.

But Entwistle’s contributions are no slouches, whatsoever: “Whiskey Man,” “Boris the Spider,” “Silas Stingy” and “Success Story,” to name a few. Then there was “My Wife,” his sardonic take on domestic bliss, and the soaring “Heaven and Hell,” which served as The Who’s concert opener during the band’s “Live at Leeds” era.

The last-named appears, recorded at a slower tempo, on “Smash Your Head Against the Wall,” the first solo release by a member of The Who. The album concentrates more on Entwistle’s songwriting than his landmark bass playing, but the results are no less impressive: nine tuneful tracks that stack up against many of the better rock songs of the period.

The album’s title is taken from a lyric in the opener, “My Size,” which combines a monumentally heavy riff with suitably nasty subject matter: an unnamed woman who “really hurt my feelings,” and John’s plans for her.

Many of the other songs explore various forms of unpleasantness, as some of the titles suggest; for example, “What Are We Doing Here?” and “What Kind of People Are They?” Even “Heaven and Hell,” which on the surface balances good and bad, contains the plea: “Why can’t we have eternal life and never die?”

“Smash Your Head Against the Wall” ends on a positive note, if you take the lyrics to “I Believe in Everything” halfway seriously. At any rate, it serves as a fitting counterpoint to the rest of what constitutes John Entwistle’s brightest moment as an artist in the spotlight.

“Hollywood Dream” by Thunderclap Newman (1970)

Tom Petty enjoys acknowledging his influences, and in 1994 he released a single that paid tribute to Thunderclap Newman.

You’ve heard “Something in the Air,” whether it’s the original or the Petty version. Either way, you’re familiar with the line “We’ve got to get together sooner or later, because the revolution’s here.”

That type of sentiment better captured the spirit of 1969, when Thunderclap Newman took “Something in the Air” all the way to No. 1 on the British charts (No. 37 on this side of the Atlantic). And then …

Nothing.

Thunderclap Newman was a one-hit wonder, albeit not your garden-variety type: Its lone album, “Hollywood Dream,” was produced by The Who’s Pete Townshend, who also played bass. Drummer Speedy Keen, who also provide the vocals somewhere up the Jon Anderson range, wrote “Armenia City in the Sky,” the opening track on “The Who Sell Out.” Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, only 15 years old at the time, went on to play with Paul McCartney’s Wings. And Andy Newman … well, he worked for the British post office, but he could play a heck of a piano.

Whatever the case, “Hollywood Dream” makes for an exceptional debut/farewell, with a solid lineup of tracks showcasing Keen’s songwriting talents and the instrumental prowess of Newman and McCulloch. The title tune – sort of; it’s called “Hollywood,” opens the album and is reprised near the end – evokes the golden era of the Silver Screen in a way unmatched by anyone save Ray Davies with “Celluloid Heroes.”

Other highlights include a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Open the Door, Homer,” which to that point was unheard by anyone outside those few with access to what later became “The Basement Tapes”; “Hollywood Dream,” which I guess is the real title track, serving as an understated guitar workout for McCulloch; and “Wild Country,” which features an even more infectious chorus than “Something in the Air.”

And that was that.

The band played a handful of gigs, and the members went their separate ways. Keen did session drumming until his death in 2002. McCulloch not only played with McCartney, but also with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Stone the Crows and the re-formed Small Faces in the late ’70s; he died of an overdose in 1979, just 26.

Newman, the sole survivor, actually resurrected something called Thunderclap Newman that has recorded and toured the past couple of years. Good for him, but with two-thirds of the original membership unable to participate, the validity is kind of shaky.

On the other hand, none of us who enjoy “Hollywood Dream” would mind hearing those songs again, no matter who is performing them.