Posts Tagged ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’

“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 …

“Fun House” by the Stooges (1970)

As the 1960s drew to a close, Elektra Records looked to Detroit in an attempt to replicate the success it was having with its rock ‘n’ roll roster, particularly the Doors.

One of Elektra’s signings was a group that took its named directly from the Motor City, the MC5. That association was cut short by the ramifications of the band using a certain four-letter word.

At least the Stooges had the opportunity to cut one more album for Elektra than the MC5.

“Fun House” was the band’s second and final recording in its original incarnation of the late Ron Asheton on guitar, the late Dave Alexander on bass, Scott Asheton on drums and James Newell Osterberg on lead vocals.

Actually, “Fun House” represents the point where Osterberg started using the stage name of Iggy Pop; he’d been labeled as Iggy Stooge on the band’s debut. By any name, he’d already become something of a legend for hist live performances, during which he went shirtless and often one-upped the antics of singers like Alice Cooper in the early stages of his career and the late Jim Morrison in his latter.

The Stooges didn’t try to rein in the chaos of their concerts on their records, with Iggy’s snarling vocals, Ron’s buzz-saw guitar and the solid foundation of the rhythm section providing a bridge between ’60s psychedelia and ’70s heavy metal and paving the way for what became punk rock.

Probably because it sounded unlike anything else at the time, “Fun House” sold poorly, as had its predecessor. Critics were prone to deride the Stooges’ relatively simple approach to song structure, and Iggy’s vocal stylings never resembled easy listening in any way, shape or form.

Then there was the subject matter of the songs, which often focus on the seamier side of life. The album opener, “Down On the Street,” sets the tone simply by dint of its title, let alone the lyrics: “I’m lost, I’m lost, I’m lost, yeah/Faces shine, real low mind, real low mind, I’m a real low mind.”

The album continues in a similar vein with “Loose,” even more so: “I took a record of pretty music/I went down and baby you can tell/I took a record of pretty music/Now I’m putting it to you straight from hell.”

The LP’s first side continues with “TV Eye,” which explores the primal urge from the female point of view, and “Dirt,” Iggy’s chronicle of self-disdain: “I’ve been hurt, and I don’t care/’Cause I’m hurting inside/I’m just dreaming this life.”

Not quite “Sugar, Sugar,” to cite one of the big hits of 1970 …

Side Two contains the title track, a lengthy jam augmented by saxophone player Steve Mackay, during which Iggy growls, hoots and hollers about his vision of an ideal fun house: “I came to play, baby, yeah I came to play.”

The proceedings conclude with five minutes’ worth of “L.A. Blues,” which is an ironic title considering the song’s complete lack of structure: Iggy screams over a wall of sound, Ron Asheton’s guitar wailing away on one side and Mackay’s sax squawking on the other. I’m guessing the guys either were listening to a lot of Albert Ayler and late-period John Coltrane at the time, or some kind of “substances” may have been involved. Or both.

“Fun House” hits its apex with “1970,” the LP’s first track on the second side, a song that sums up the Stooges’ whole package: “Out of my mind on Saturday night/1970 rollin’ in sight/Radio burnin’ up above/Beautiful baby, feed my love/All night till I blow away.” Throw in a killer riff, and “1970” should’ve been a hit.

Well, at least Elektra tried to release it as a single. No one was buying.

Lack of sales doomed the Stooges, as did various personal problems of the band members. A particularly high-profile fan, David Bowie, sort of brought everyone back together in 1973 – substituting James Williamson on guitar for Alexander, with Ron Asheton switching to bass – for “Raw Power,” the title of which says it all.

But that was it for the Stooges, until a growing number of impact musicians started citing the group as a primary influence. Eventually the Stooges were recognized as ahead of their time instead of talent-deprived noisemakers, and for what it’s worth, the band wound up enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Now, if only they’d have sold more records …

“High Time” by the MC5 (1971)

For those who associate ’60s-era rock with flowers, beads, incense and peppermints, I present the MC5.

The Motor City Five, as the Lincoln Park, Mich., band once was known, melded overt political rhetoric with what probably was the loudest music of their day: If you’re discussing the roots of heavy metal, the MC5 had better be prominent in the conversation.

On Oct. 30 and 31, 1968, the tape recorders rolled at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom for what eventually became the MC5’s first album, “Kick Out the Jams,” which at the same time represents one of the few live debuts and one of the most incendiary. If John Lennon’s “Revolution” poked fun at would-be subversives, members of the MC5 – and particularly their manager, John Sinclair – were serious.

If you’re connecting the dots, you’ll recall that Lennon later recorded a song called “John Sinclair,” who indeed was the victim of “10 for two”: a decade-long prison sentence for two marijuana cigarettes. That was the price paid for expressing radical views at the time.

Along with running afoul of the “establishment,” the MC5 managed to alienate a much more important entity with regard to its short-term interests.

When Elektra Records released “Kick Out the Jams” in 1969, the introduction to the title track contained a certain term, the first half of which was “mother.” As a result, Hudson’s, a major Detroit department store, refused to carry the album. And as a result of that, the band took out an ad to the effect of “Stay alive with the MC5 – and @#%& Hudson’s.”

Hudson’s responded by refusing to carry any Elektra products, which meant big-time sellers like the Doors weren’t going to move as many units in Detroit. So Elektra settled the matter by dropping the MC5.

Atlantic Records promptly signed the band, and its first studio album, “Back in the USA,” was on par with its live predecessor on several levels. The political commentary still was there, albeit in a more subtle form, and the sonic quality was muted somewhat by producer Jon Landau’s decision to mix everything with high-end equalization; you can hear Michael Davis’ bass playing, but it doesn’t exactly boom through the woofers.

“Back in the USA” didn’t sell particularly well, and Atlantic gave the MC5 one more chance to redeem itself. The result was yet another stylistic departure.

“High Time” – yes, the cannabis-oriented magazine takes its name from the album title – veers away from the metallic assault of “Kick Out the Jams” and the trebly roots rock of “Back in the USA” by incorporating a variety of elements that were rather innovative for 1971.

Along with the core quintet – Davis, guitarists Wayne Kramer and the late Fred “Sonic” Smith, drummer Dennis Thompson and the vocalist, the late Rob Tyner – the album is augmented by more than a dozen musicians, including keyboard players, female backing singers, a horn section and (listed as playing percussion) future truck-commercial staple Bob Seger.

No, it’s not your imagination: Jennifer Aniston sports an MC5 T-shirt on an episode of “Friends.”

The band gives no quarter with its subject matter, as the kickoff track, “Sister Anne,” amply illustrates: Smith writes about a nun who “never tries to tease, she always aims to plase/She’s gonna squeeze you tight and make you feel all right.” To provide the song with a quasi-religious element, it wraps up with the horns playing rather loosely in the manner of a Salvation Army band, reminiscent of what Syd Barrett incorporated into his Pink Floyd swan song, “Jugband Blues.”

If “High Time” had a chance of yielding a hit single, it might have been “Baby Won’t Ya,” which kind of cops Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” lick, although nowhere near blatantly as Steve Miller later did with “Jet Airliner.” And the chorus is as catchy as they come. Then again, the lyrical content would have stood in the way, with Smith penning such lines as “Sweetly, serenely, she showed me her gun/Baby let’s go get high.”

“Gotta Keep Movin'” hearkens back to the rhetoric of “Kick Out the Jams,” as Thompson pulls no punches regarding his worldview: “Presidents, priests and old ladies, too/They’ll swear on the Bible, what’s best for you/Atom bombs, Vietnam, missiles on the moon/And they wonder why their kids are shootin’ drugs so soon.”

“Poison” continues in the same vein, with the guitar interplay of Smith and Kramer providing a suitable foundation for the shared vocals of Kramer and Tyner, who sound rather desperate as they recount the plight of many of their contemporaries, including Sinclair: “Used, abused, locked up, beaten and fined/But I got free, copped a plea, and i can see/That there ain’t no freedom bell gonna chime this time.”

“Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)” wraps up the album with an appropriately heavy jam augmented by the horn section, as Smith seems to sum up the band’s career at that juncture in time: “Oh, baby, off we go, headin’ for a brand new place/The song’s been sung, the deed’s been done, staring you right in the face.”

The high point of “High Time,” though, probably is the song that opened the LP’s Side Two, “Future/Now.” Tyner continues in a paranoiac vein but offers a way out: “If you’re drifting or wandering lost, you’re perfect for the double cross/Freedom is yours right now, if you rule your own destiny.”

The first part of the song rocks along at the MC5’s usual furious pace, until that’s supplanted by subdued guitar arpeggios and Tyner’s spooky incantation: “And our mind will explode in a post-atomic dawn/The future breaks like a tidal wave, engulfing everyone/Confusion and chaos, the trauma of birth/A strange new day for the people of earth/Traditions burned away by that rising sun.”

The “Future” quotient of the song wasn’t in the cards for the MC5. “High Time” failed to make the charts, and Atlantic dropped the band. An attempt to keep going in Europe failed, and by 1972 the MC5 was history. It wasn’t until later that the band’s influences, especially on the sonic and political aspects of punk rock, gained widespread attention.

I’m not a great believer in the concept of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but sometimes I really pull for certain artists to receive their due recognition. And the MC5 deserves a place of honor in Cleveland.