Small Faces and From the Beginning, Reissues
It can be fairly bewildering considering bands who had the talent, the songs, and the look to become huge in their native land, yet barely make a dent in America, especially at a time when the United States was going crazy over all things British. Listening to Hip-O Records' recent deluxe reissues of Small Faces' self-titled album and From the Beginning, will make the listener exclaim "Why weren't these guys huge?"
The self-titled album shows an English band in love with the sounds of American R&B and soul music, just playing their hearts out trying to put their spin on the sound. Opening with Sam Cooke's "Shake," done in a grittier Otis Redding style, the listener is amazed at just how soulful and bluesy Steve Marriott's vocals could be. Many of these tunes hint at how incendiary they must have been live, when the band could stretch out a bit more, notably "Come On Children" with its "a little softer now" chant and "E to D" with its slow simmer to explosion. The album is similar to The Who's My Generation, some originals, some covers and some instrumentals, with "Own Up Time" and "Grow Your Own" displaying keyboardist Ian McLagan's heavy Booker T. influence. While a tight band, there is a playful, shambolic quality, as if the whole thing could fall apart at any second, mostly due to Kenny Jones' drumming style. While steadily anchoring the songs, he also manages to hit every piece of his kit, sounding like a drum kit falling down a flight of stairs. "Sh La La La La Lee" and "What'cha Gonna Do About It" were the hits off the album, which is fitting, as both will lodge in the listener's head for weeks, even if the keyboard line from "What'cha Gonna Do About It" is borrowed from Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." Aggressive and tuneful, the self-titled album is a true Mod classic, one that encapsulated the best qualities of English people playing black American music.
From the Beginning is a bit less incendiary and bombastic, with hints of the psychedelia the band would soon display. While there are several stompers on the album, such as "Hey Girl" and "I Can't Make It," the band is experimenting a bit more with melody and slower tempos. Songs like "My Mind's Eye," "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," and "Just Passing" feature processed vocals, a wider variety of instruments (everything from bike horns to something that sounds like a sitar) and more studio experimentation. If the self-titled album was the soundtrack for all night Mod dance parties, From the Beginning would be the house party with funny cigarettes album.
Both albums have extra discs, mostly stereo mixes or alternate takes. From the Beginning has several gems on it, however, including "Talk To You" and "Things Are Going to Get Better" which display a nice bridge from the craziness of the first album to the more tuneful second.
Almost 50 years later, will America respond to these albums the way they should? Who knows. Fans of early Who, Kinks, and Creation will not be disappointed.