223. Small Faces – All or Nothing (1966)

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As the summer of 1966 drew to a close, Britain’s first Polaris submarine, HMS Revolution, was launched in Barrow-in-Furness, and two days later the Oberon-class submarine HMCS Okanagan was launched at Chatham Dockyard. It was the last ship to be built there. On 19 September, Scotland Yard arrested Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards for his part in the Great Train Robbery of 1963.

The number 1 at the time was All or Nothing. This was the only chart-topper for east London mod rockers Small Faces, one of the best groups of the period, who had only formed a year previous.

Singer and guitarist Steve Marriott, born in East Ham, London in January 1947, came from a working class background. His father Bill was a dab hand on a pub piano, and he bought Steve a ukelele and harmonica. Marriott joined his first band, the Wheels, in 1959. He was a huge Buddy Holly fan, like so many at the time. In 1960, the 13-year-old joined the cast of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! as the Artful Dodger. One of his audition songs was Connie Francis’s number 1, Who’s Sorry Now? From 1961 he was gaining lots of work in television, film and radio, often typecast as a cheeky cockney lad. A family rift ensued when he decided to concentrate on music, and he moved away from home.

From 1963 onwards Marriott attempted solo success and fame with several bands, including the Frantiks (later the Moments) and the Checkpoints. By 1965 Marriott was working in a music shop when he first met Ronnie Lane, who came in looking for a bass guitar. The duo bonded and went back to Marriott’s to listen to records. they decided to form a band and Lane’s friends, drummer Kenney Jones and guitarist Jimmy Winston, who switched to the organ, as Marriott wanted to play and sing. Thanks largely to Marriott’s attention-grabbing, powerful vocal prowess and a strong bluesy sound, they quickly progressed from pub gigs to the club circuit and christened themselves Small Faces. Back then, a ‘face’ was a mod term, for special, cool bastards, and the quartet were all small in stature. It was the perfect name.

The Small Faces’ early sets were made up of US soul and R’n’B covers, all mod staples, and early compositions from Marriott and Lane. Singer Elkie Brooks was very impressed with Marriott’s stage presence, and thanks to her recommendation to an agent, the band started finding work outside of London. Their first gig in the north, at a working men’s club in Sheffield, went disastrously. They finished early and offered to play at a nearby mod club, King Mojo Club, owned by Peter Stringfellow. They went down a storm. Soon after they had a residency at Leicester Square’s Cavern Club, and among their support acts at the time were Sonny & Cher.

Around this time, Small Faces signed with the impressario Don Arden, who helped snag them a contract with Decca Records. Debut single, Whatcha Gonna Do About It, featured lyrics by Ian Samwell, a former member of the Drifters (later the Shadows), who was responsible for Cliff Richard’s legendary debut record, Move It. Although it reached the top 20, second release I’ve Got Mine bombed.

Winston chose to leave the group, according to Jones, because he started pushing to replace Marriott as star of the band. He was replaced by Ian MacLagan, another shortarse. They were back on track with their third single. The upbeat pop track Sha-La-La-La-Lee was written by Elvis songwriter Mort Shuman and British entertainer Kenny Lynch. Their debut, eponymous album also did well. They were gaining traction.

Marriott and Lane came up with fifth single All Or Nothing. According to Marriott’s mother Kay, her son’s lyrics were inspired by his split with his fiancee Sue Oliver. However, his first wife Jenny Rylance claimed he told her it was about her split from future Faces singer Rod Stewart.

For such small guys, this band could really make a racket. Opening with a fade-in of Jones’s drums, All Or Nothing is a great slice of mod power-pop, soul and rock. The riff has an appealing, plaintive, elegiac sound, and it’s that and Marriott’s stunning vocal that must have caught the public’s imagination. Some say the lyrics are dated and sexist, but to me it’s either simply a very young man who’s desperate to get his end away, or, digging deeper, the lyrics perhaps hint at the singer trying to persuade his lover to leave their partner for him, for good. However, it’s not Small Faces’ best single, and it surprises me that some of their other tracks couldn’t outdo it commercially.

After All Or Nothing toppled Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine, they were one of the biggest bands in the country, but were unable to tour the US initially due to MacLagan’s recent drug conviction. By the end of 1966, they were still broke, and confronted manager and producer Arden over money. He tried to scare the parents of the band by telling them they were all on drugs. They left Arden and Decca and in 1967 they signed with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Their next single, Here Come the Nice, explicitly referred to drugs, yet performed well, and they released a second, eponymous album. Were they too stoned to come up with a name?

The next two singles are classics. Itchycoo Park, released during the ‘Summer of Love’, was full on lysergic pop, featuring flanging and an ecstatic chorus. Tin Soldier, released at the end of the year, took the sound of All or Nothing and outdid it, with PP Arnold bolstering a superior 60s rock anthem. Although Immediate released Lazy Sunday against their wishes in 1968, and many find it grating, I think it’s great, and Marriott unleashes his full-on cockney to great effect.

Also that year came the album that raises Small Faces reputation above that of a great singles band. Contained in a round replica antique tobacco tin, Ogden’s’ Nut Gone Flake was their psychedelic opus. The opening title track hints at what might have been if they’d stayed together and become a progressive rock act, and Afterglow and Song of a Baker are further great slabs of soul-rock. The second side is a surreal fairytale about Happiness Stan, narrated by Stanley Unwin (Spike Milligan having been the original choice).

Sadly, things began to fall apart, and the increasingly frustrated Marriott recorded most of their final official single, the folk-influenced The Universal, in his back garden, with his dogs barking in the background. He had got bored with pop, and he walked off stage that New year’s Eve, shouting ‘I quit!’.

Soon after, he announced he had formed a new supergroup, Humble Pie, featuring guitarist Peter Frampton, who went on to great success. Meanwhile, the remaining trio teamed up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane from the Jeff Beck Group and became, simply, Faces. Treading further down the ‘lad rock’ path that Marriott wanted no part of, they became one of the biggest acts of the early 70s, thanks to hits such as Stay with Me and Ooh La La, and also made a megastar of Rod Stewart.

Once Faces broke up in 1975, Small Faces resumed with the classic line-up. Sadly they didn’t last long. Lane was beginning to show signs of multiple sclerosis, but the other three thought he had a drink problem. Former Roxy Music bassist Rick Mills soon replaced him. Two albums – Playmates in 1977 and 78 In the Shade a year later, but the magic was gone. This final album also featured Jimmy McCulloch, who had recently left Wings. The following year he sadly died from a heroin overdose.

Upon the Small Faces’ split, Kenney Jones joined the Who to fill the huge hole left after Keith Moon’s death. He stayed with them until the late-80s. In 2001, he worked with Wills once more in his own group, the Jones Gang. MacLagan toured with top artists including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, now featuring former Faces’ bandmate Ronnie Wood. He died from a stroke in 2014. Lane’s MS curtailed his musical output, but he battled on until 1997. Marriott had reformed Humble Pie in 1980, but went solo in 1982. In 1991 he tragically died in his sleep when a lit cigarette set fire to his house. All or Nothing was played as the requiem at his funeral.

Despite their brief time together, Small Faces burnt bright and went on to influence the Jam in the 70s and many Britpop groups in the mid-90s. It’s a shame they split just as things were getting really interesting. Marriott is much underrated, and is up there with rock giants like Robert Plant. They seem to have fallen out of fashion again since, which is a great shame. I’m sure their time will come again.

Written by: Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane

Producer: Don Arden

Weeks at number 1: 1 (15-21 September)

 

222. The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine (1966)

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The Beatles spent the majority of the spring of 1966 on one task: the masterpiece that was Revolver. From George Harrison’s sarcastic counting at the start of Taxman to the dying seconds of Tomorrow Never Knows, it was a startling leap forwards in the sonic palette of the world’s biggest group.

The month after its completion, John, Paul, George and Ringo upset the first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos by declining an invitation to breakfast while touring there. The subsequent riots left the group in considerable danger, and they were relieved to make it out in one piece.

Soon after they encountered controversy again in the US, after Lennon’s comments about Christianity (see Paperback Writer) were blown out of all proportion when fan magazine Datebook reprinted the comments. He tried to defend himself at a press conference, but found himself saying sorry anyway.

It is likely that they had already decided their US tour would be their last, anyway, but this fuss over nothing will have only helped their belief that there was little point any longer. They could barely be heard over the screaming, and the songs from their new album were going to be difficult to replicate without studio trickery.

Before the tour, however, came the release of Revolver to a stunned world. Unusually, they chose to release a double-A-side from the album on the very same day. That they chose two of the least traditionally pop-sounding tracks suggests to me it was a state of intent more than anything else. And as usual, it paid off, making Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine the most unusual number 1 single yet.

In a 1966 interview, McCartney explained that Eleanor Rigby began life as he played around on the piano. He came up with the line ‘Miss Daisy Hawkins picks up the rice in the church’. A day later he added ‘Father McCartney’ He has always insisted there was no conscious decision to name the song after the Eleanor Rigby on the gravestone later discovered in the graveyard of St Peter’s Church in Liverpool. McCartney claims the forename came from Eleanor Bron, the female lead in Help! (1965), and the surname from a shop in Bristol.

As with many classic Beatles songs, there is some debate as to who did what. Paul played what he had to the other band members, as well as Lennon’s childhood friend Pete Shotton, at Lennon’s home. They are said to have contributed ideas, but it’s likely to be mainly a McCartney song, despite Lennon claiming several times to have a fair stake in it creatively. George Harrison is alleged to have come up with the haunting ‘Ah look at all the lonely people’ refrain, and Ringo Starr contributed ‘Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear’. Shotton has stated the ending, in which Father McKenzie conducts Rigby’s funeral, came from him.

What is not in doubt is who did what in the studio. Although Yesterday had featured McCartney only with a string quartet, he insisted he wanted the ensemble for Eleanor Rigby to be much darker, and apart from the backing vocals from Lennon and Harrison for the refrain, he’s the only Beatle featured. This is the first time this had happened on a UK single release from the Fab Four. Macca had been listening to Vivaldi thanks to his girlfriend Jane Asher, and it was his idea to feature a violin.

George Martin did indeed arrange a stark performance from the string players, with the stabbing sounds in the verses making it akin to something from a horror film. He and Emerick demanded the players perform much closer to the mics than they were used to, and throughout recording they tried to move away in case they audibly messed up, causing Martin to lose his natural cool. The producer came up with the masterstroke of layering the backing vocals over Paul singing ‘All the lonely people’.

So much has been said about the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby over the years. It has a depth hitherto unseen in the pop charts. Since Ticket to Ride, the Beatles were taking steps to move away from the happy-go-lucky, direct pop material. Here, they cast it aside completely, to sing about loneliness and death, in an uncharacteristically blunt manner. This must have sounded simply astounding, the first time around.

So much is said, and for good reason, about the bold new musical direction of the Beatles when they released Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever in 1967. Yet, surely, Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine would have seemed a more incredible release? Maybe it’s because, as formidable as Eleanor Rigby is, it’s a song to appreciate rather than enjoy. The emotional detachment from the narrator to the characters perhaps rubs off on the listener a little too much in the end. It should put paid to the cliche that Lennon was always the ‘arty’ one of the duo, though.

Eleanor Rigby began in the studio on 28 and 29 April, and was finished on 6 June. The best way to hear it is the original mono version, or the reworked stereo version on 1, which corrects the error in which McCartney’s vocal is accidentally double-tracked at the start of the first verse.

The flip side, Yellow Submarine, couldn’t be more different. Over the years, as with many Beatles songs, the waters have muddied when it comes to authorship claims. In a joint 1967 interview Lennon and McCartney both took credit, with John having done the verses and Paul the chorus. Since then, McCartney has claimed the song was his and he had it in mind for Ringo Starr from day one, so he deliberately ensured his limited vocal range could take it. Originally there were going to be multi-coloured submarines, but he settled on yellow. According to Lennon in 1980, singer-songwriter and friend of the band Donovan came up with ‘Sky of blue and sea of green’.

Recording commenced on 26 May, and most of the track was finished in five takes. George Martin was ill with food poisoning, which caused the band to treat the session rather like a day at school when the class is allowed to play with board games. After much messing about, the job was done. Before finishing up, Lennon decided to add some flavour to the final verse by repeating Ringo’s lines a funny voice as if he was speaking through a megaphone. Due to an accident, the original stereo version missed out the start of Lennon’s interjections.

They returned to add sound effects on 1 June. George Martin was in his element, having spent his pre-Beatles production career making comedy records full of unusual noises for acts like the Goons, with whom the Fab Four shared a similar sense of humour. Most of the afternoon was spent recording a bizarre introduction, written by Lennon, in which Ringo said ‘And we will march to free the day to see them gathered there, from Land O’Groats to John O’Green, from Stepney to Utrecht, to see a yellow submarine, we love it!’. They did the right thing abandoning this idea – having heard it via a bootleg, it doesn’t really work.

A cupboard was then raided for sound effect items. Lennon blew bubbles into a glass, and even tried to replicate the sound of speaking underwater. Friends including roadie Mal Evans, who banged a big bass drum as everyone sang along to the final chorus in a conga line, and Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, who clinked glasses together. According to Ian MacDonald’s book Revolution in the Head (1994), the snippet of a brass band you hear is from the 1906 recording Le Reve Passé. Apparently, hidden among the sound effects is the cash register you hear at the start of Pink Floyd’s Money.

What to make of Yellow Submarine, eh? Understandably, it divides opinion, probably more than any other Beatles song, and certainly any other single. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I can be listening to Revolver, it comes on, and I think ‘Oh nevermind, it’ll be over soon’. Like most novelty songs, it can be irritating. Why didn’t they just make it a B-side? Well, probably due to the drugs, and partly because they just could. This was 1966, the musical horizon was expanding rapidly, and the band’s imaginations were limitless at the time.

I can’t understand the fans who hate it, though. It’s a bit like those who use McCartney’s We All Stand Together as a stick to beat him with. Both tracks are bloody good children’s songs. I have a very early, hazy memory of being at school and learning about Yellow Submarine, which may have been my first exposure to the Beatles, so I can’t help but have a soft spot for this funny little song that was sung by the man who would narrate one of my favourite programmes growing up – Thomas the Tank Engine. And, all these years later, I would sing it to my eldest when it was her bath time as a baby.

Yellow Submarine was so iconic, a whole psychedelic animated feature film was released in 1968, named after it, and telling the tale of how the Beatles saved Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. It’s far from the best work linked to the Fab Four, and drags in places, but as always the songs are great, and there’s some astounding animation on display. I was blown away the first time I saw the film’s opening, featuring Eleanor Rigby.

Such was the group’s status at the time, this single, like all the others since From Me to You, hit number 1. However, it was the end of an era in some ways. On 29 August, the Beatles played their final gig, at San Franciso’s Candlestick Park. There would be no Christmas single in 1966, and famously, Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever didn’t top the charts, ending an incredible run of 11 concurrent number 1s.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (18 August-14 September)

Births:

Garbage singer Shirley Manson – 26 August