305. Rod Stewart – Reason to Believe/Maggie May (1971)

Sir Roderick David Stewart, aka ‘Rod the Mod’, was one of the biggest-selling artists of the 70s and 80s, with over 120 million records sold worldwide, and six number 1 singles. And yet his first chart-topper, Maggie May, was tucked away as a B-side. Were it not for its appeal shining through, Stewart may not have become as big a superstar as he did.

Stewart was born at home in Highgate, London on 10 January 1945. He was the youngest of five children, the other four having been born in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, where his father Robert, a builder, came from. After he retired, Robert bought a newsagent’s shop, which the Stewart family lived above. His youngest’s main hobby, which he still loves, was railway modelling.

Stewart’s other big obsession was football, and he became captain of his school’s team. His first musical hero was Al Jolson, but he soon got into rock’n’roll, and he saw Bill Haley & His Comets in concert. In 1960 he joined a skiffle group called The Kool Kats, and would play Lonnie Donegan covers.

Stewart left school at 15 and had various jobs working in the family shop, as a silk screen printer and at a cemetery, but he longed to be a professional footballer. In 1961 he decided to try his hand at singing, and along with The Raiders he auditioned for eccentric producer Joe Meek, but he wasn’t impressed.

Soon after, Stewart turned into a left-wing beatnik, listening to the folk music of Bob Dylan, Ewan MacColl and Woody Guthrie and attending protest marches, getting arrested three times between 1961 and 1963. He later confessed he often used the marches as a way of bedding girls. In 1962 he took to playing the harmonica and would busk at Leicester Square with folk singer Wizz Jones. They took their act to Europe, and Stewart found himself deported from Spain for vagrancy in 1963. Around this time, he was considered as a singer for The Kinks, then known as The Ray Davies Quartet.

Later that year he became a full-on Mod, adopting his trademark spiky hairstyle and becoming enthralled with soul and R’n’B music. He found his first professional job as a musician in The Dimensions. This was his introduction to London’s R’n’B scene, where he would take harmonica tips from Mick Jagger.

In January 1964 the 19-year-old had been to a Long John Baldry gig and was playing harmonica at Twickenham Station when Baldry himself heard him and invited him to join his group. Over time, Stewart overcame shyness and would dress up more, and would sometimes be billed as Rod ‘the Mod’ Stewart. He made his recording debut with Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men that June, uncredited. Two months later, after a performance at the Marquee Club, he was signed as a solo act to Decca Records. His debut single was the blues standard, with a terribly dodgy title, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which featured John Paul Jones among the session musicians.

Baldry’s group broke up, but he and Stewart patched up their differences and in 1965 became part of the line-up of new group Steampacket alongside Brian Auger. Steampacket were conceived as a white soul revue, and while supporting The Rolling Stones he had his first taste of crowd hysteria. Due to all being signed to different labels, Stewart’s group were unable to record any material. His solo career continued, but without making much impact. In 1966 he jumped ship from Steampacket to Shotgun Express, whose line-up included future Fleetwood Mac members Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood.

It was The Jeff Beck Group that finally gave Stewart his break when he joined their ranks in February 1967. He formed a long-lasting friendship with guitarist Ronnie Wood, began writing material, and his vocal technique developed into the rough rasp that made him stand out. However, he and Beck didn’t get on, and when Wood was announced as Steve Marriott’s replacement in Small Faces in June 1969, Stewart joined him a few months after as their new singer, and they became Faces.

At the same time, Stewart was making inroads with his solo career. Now with Mercury Records, he released his first album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, a mix of well-received original material and rock, folk and blues covers.

1970 saw the release of both Faces’ debut LP First Step and his solo follow-up Gasoline Alley, which introduced the mandolin to his sound. Faces quickly amassed a dedicated following at their gigs, and Stewart was one single release away from becoming a household name. The plan was for (Find a) Reason to Believe to be the first single from his forthcoming album, Every Picture Tells a Story, with Maggie May as the B-side.

Reason to Believe (the bracketed bit dropped upon its single release) was the final track on the accompanying album. It’s a cover of a Tim Hardin track, which the folk singer had released on his debut album in 1965, and The Carpenters covered it in 1970.

Stewart plays the wounded lover, whose girl has lied to him. His gravelly voice suits the song well, and there’s some nice Hammond organ and piano work courtesy of Faces’ Ian McLagan. It’s a good album track, but it was never going to light up the charts the way its flip side did. So much so, the single became a double A-side as word spread.

Stewart has rather pissed away his potential over the years, and growing up in the 80s, I saw him as a ridiculous figure. However, Maggie May is a classic, and it’s the best number 1 he’s had. There’s no chorus, but it’s a compelling story, with a memorable mandolin intro courtesy of Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson.

Stewart had been inspired to write the song while working out some chords with guitarist Martin Quittenton of Steamhammer. He recalled his experience of losing his virginity in 1961 to an older woman at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. The song isn’t named after her though. Stewart took it from the old Liverpool folk song about a prostitute (as briefly heard on The Beatles album Let It Be). Amazingly, you can see him taking part in the event here. The festival, not the self-confessed very brief sex… Also on the recording, which was only added to the album at the last minute, are Wood on bass and 12-string, McLagan and drummer Micky Waller, who played a drumkit with no cymbals, which were added later.

The original version of Stewart’s song opened side two of Every Picture Tells a Story with a 30-second guitar intro from Quittenton, named Delilah. In full, it’s over five minutes long, but the single edit cuts off some of the detail.

However, Stewart’s tale of love for an older woman remains fascinating. He gets you interested right from the start with those famous opening lines, revealing he was in fact a schoolboy when he was sleeping with Maggie. More mature than your average love song, Stewart finds time to insult Maggie only to remind her how deep he feels about her before she has chance to slap him:

‘The morning sun, when it’s in your face really shows your age
But that don’t worry me none in my eyes, you’re everything’

Stewart resolves to get over May by, among other things, joining a ‘rock’n’roll band’ (mission accomplished), and although he claims he wishes he’d never seen her face, you don’t believe him, and as that beautiful mandolin rings out over the fade, you’re left wondering what happened to the singer that wrote such a great song.

A song that’s taken on new meaning to me of late, as my in-laws fell in love when this was in the charts (Maggie was my father-in-law’s name for his future wife) and it was played at his funeral, 48 years later. It’s difficult to listen to anymore without welling up.

Maggie May established Stewart both here and in the US, reaching number 1 in both while he also held the number 1 album spots – a rare feat. Above you can see the famous Top of the Pops appearance of the song, in which he’s backed by his Faces bandmates and Radio 1 DJ John Peel miming the mandolin.

Written by:

Reason to Believe: Tim Hardin/Maggie May: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton

Producer: Rod Stewart

Weeks at number 1: 5 (9 October-12 November)

Births:

Fashion photographer Simon Atlee – 9 October
Comedian Sasha Baron Cohen – 13 October
Big Brother winner Craig Phillips – 16 October
Actor John Alford – 30 October
Archer Alison Williamson – 3 November
Footballer Michael Jeffrey – 8 November

Deaths:

Independent MP AP Herbert – 11 November

Meanwhile…

13 October: The British Army began destroying roads between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a security measure.

21 October: 20 people were killed in a gas explosion in the town centre of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire in Scotland.

23 October: When a car failed to stop at a Belfast checkpoint, Mary Ellen Meehan, 30, and her sister Dorothy Maguire, 19 were shot dead by soldiers.

28 October: Prime Minister Edward Heath scored a big victory when the House of Commons voted in favour of joining the EEC by a vote of 356-244.
Also on this day, the Immigration Act 1971 restricted immigration, particularly primary immigration into the U.K. and introduced the status of right of abode into law.
Plus, the UK became the sixth nation to launch a satellite into orbit using its own launch vehicle, the Prospero (X-3) experimental communications satellite.

30 October: The Democratic Unionist Party was founded by the formidable Reverend Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.

31 October: A bomb, likely planted by the Angry Brigade, exploded at the top of London’s Post Office Tower.

10 November: The 10-route Spaghetti Junction motorway interchange was opened north of Birmingham’s city centre. The interchange would have a total of 12 routes when the final stretch of the M6 was opened in 1972.

223. Small Faces – All or Nothing (1966)

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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 with 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 momentum.

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)

Meanwhile…

15 September: As the summer of 1966 drew to a close, Britain’s first Polaris submarine, HMS Revolution, was launched in Barrow-in-Furness.

17 September: The Oberon-class submarine HMCS Okanagan was launched at Chatham Dockyard. It was the last ship to be built there.

19 September: Scotland Yard arrested Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards for his part in the Great Train Robbery of 1963.