The Small Faces were four East London Mods who made it it big, four born stars who turned street suss into chart domination – except they wanted more.
Breaking from the shackles of manager Don Arden, father of Sharon Osbourne, and their label Decca, the band were enticed over to the newly-launched Immediate imprint, helmed by former Rolling Stones manager and dapper young man about town Andrew Loog Oldham.
The change was, pardon the pun, immediate. The band were handed a virtual open account at Olympic Studios just as the summer of love dawned, and their interest in pharmaceuticals was matched only by their curiosity for the new capabilities this studio freedom could offer them.
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Hit single ‘Here Comes The Nice’ – an open nod to their amphetamine dealer – was followed by groundbreaking Top 10 smash ‘Itchycoo Park’, notable both for its pioneering use of the flanging technique (spearheaded by engineer Glyn Jones) and for its surely unique referencing of Little Ilford Park in the London borough of Manor Park.
Supremely confident in their own abilities, songwriters Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane led Small Faces back into Olympic Studios as Autumn dawned, determined to push themselves to further artistic heights. What followed channelled Mod lore and the Lord Of The Rings, astonishing studio developments and some of the wisest, most lyrical songwriting of the age.
‘Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake’ opens with the title track, on the surface a re-tooled version of second single ‘I’ve Got Mine’ but in reality an astonishing band performance, with Marriott tearing himself away from the mic to support Ian McLagan on keyboards while flange splashes are layered across Kenney Jones’ astute, effortlessly controlled drumming.
Side One is the perfect match of cockney slang and counter-cultural conceit, with the crunching ‘Song Of A Baker’ set against ‘Rene’, the barely disguised tale of a dearly loved prostitute, the “docker’s delight” who works from the Crown & Anchor. ‘Long Agos And Worlds Apart’ betrays a baroque influence, the lyrics fusing a sense of ancient England with a growing awareness of hallucinogenics.
The opening side reaches its apex, however, with ‘Afterglow Of Your Love’. Simply astonishing, Steve Marriott’s vocal ranks as perhaps the definitive white soul document of the age, while the arrangement captures the white heat of rock’s primeval explosion, looking ahead to Marriott’s own achievements with Humble Pie.
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Much of ‘Ogdens…’ continuing reputation rests on its aesthetic completeness, from the groundbreaking ‘cigarette tin’ design through to the intricate lyricism. Flip the disc over, and you’re presented with one of the psychedelic era’s most creative, absorbing, and downright odd rock opera’s, with Stanley Unwin’s distinctive narration – labelled ‘Unwin-ese’ for obvious reasons – sluicing together Small Faces’ increasingly daring songwriting.
Any labels or marketing brackets facing the band had long since been thrown off, with ‘Happiness Stan’ stumbling into breakbeat-laden, proto heavy workout ‘Rollin’ Over’. ‘The Hungry Intruder’ and ‘The Journey’ are psychedelic whimsy par excellence, as the narrative finally reaches the fabled ‘Mad John’, one of the song’s closest to the gypsy heart of Ronnie Lane.
“His bed was the cold and the damp,” sings Marriott, “but the sun was his friend / He was free…” Even now, it’s as complete an exhortation to throw off the shackles of commercial existence as you’re likely to hear, probably the most effective demand to accept an earlier, more pure form of rural existence as was ever laid to tape during that most idealistic of eras.
A record of astonishing unity, ‘Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake’ hinges on one incredible moment, when youth culture seemed to present endless possibilities. Yet ultimately these possibilities drove the group apart – unable to replicate the record live, their frustrations resulted in Steve Marriott’s departure, desperate to evade the band’s still lingering reputation as a ‘pop’ act in an era of serious, album-led music.
Ironically, Immediate would repeat the flaw of the band’s earlier home Decca, cobbling together a few odds and ends to create one last album. The Small Faces’ final single – in this classic, original era – would be drawn from ‘Ogdens…’ itself: the immortal, unrepeatable ‘Afterglow Of Your Love’ and it’s evocation of young love, frozen in time.
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A deluxe edition of 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' will be released on September 28th.
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