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)

 

75. Connie Francis – Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid (1958)

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Thanks to Who’s Sorry Now? Connie Francis had become a star. MGM changed their minds and offered her a new contract. The problem now was, how do you follow it up? Her next two singles, I’m Sorry I Made You Cry and Heartaches, sank without trace. Francis needed another track that would appeal to both young and old listeners. As luck would have it, she got one of each.

Yet again, her father suggested wisely when he picked Carolina Moon. Like Who’s Sorry Now? it was an oldie. It had been written by Joe Burke and Benny Davis in 1924, and was a hit for Gene Austin four years later. Both songwriters were responsible for a number of famous tunes – Joe Burke came up with Tiptoe Through the Tulips and Davis wrote Baby Face with Harry Akst.

Carolina Moon is a sweet, wistful ballad, tenderly sang by Francis. She’s missing her love and is hoping the moon will find him and tell him she’s ‘blue and lonely’. They can’t have had a decent postal service near Francis, I guess. Crap joke aside, it’s a good showcase for the singer, and the plaintive harmonica solo is a highlight. On it’s own though, I doubt it would have reached number 1 Luckily for Francis, her luck turned once more.

Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka were still in their teens and struggling to get their foot in the door of the world of songwriting. Eventually they wound up at the office of Aldon Music, a new company formed by producers Don Kirshner and Al Nevins. I say office… by all accounts the tiny room was a piano, two desks and lots of boxes as they had only just moved in. Nonetheless, Kirshner was impressed (Nevins less so), and he contacted Francis to say the boys could help her out.

Kirshner, Greenfield and Sedaka were surprised to see Francis was still living in humble surroundings, in a small house with no carpet. They played ballad after ballad to her and Bobby Darin (the singer had started in music as Francis’s songwriter). She later recalled in an interview for DISCoveries Magazine that hours later, after Kirshner had left, she said, ‘Look, fellas. I hate to tell you this and don’t get me wrong, your music is beautiful, but it’s too educated. The kids don’t dig this kinda stuff anymore. You guys are putting me to sleep. Don’t you have something a little more lively?’ Greenfield told Sedaka to play a sample of a new song they had written for the Shepherd Sisters. Sedaka was horrified. He considered Francis way too classy to even suggest such a thought. He relented, played her Stupid Cupid, and finally Francis, Kirshner, Greenfield and Sedaka got what they looking for. A big hit.

Stupid Cupid was inspired. Sedaka might not have thought it was classy, but music didn’t need to be anymore. It had witty lyrics, a memorable tune and great production from Morty Kraft. The bass player remains unknown but whoever it was, their work is considered some of the best in rock’n’roll up to that point. The guitar twang every time Francis reaches ‘Stupid Cupid, stop picking on me’ is clever or annoying depending on your mood, but the way Francis sings that line is perfect. She certainly had a knack of owning the songs she worked on

Spending six weeks at number 1, Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid finally established Francis, and although she never reached the top again, the hits continued. Lipstick on Your Collar is still considered a 50s classic. She continued her winning ways around the world for years to come, and had further number 1 success in the US into the 60s, but the 70s were tough on the singer. She was raped and nearly suffocated in a motel in 1974. The attacker was never found, and Francis became reclusive and addicted to medication. In 1977 she completely lost her voice following surgery. When it returned, she had to learn to sing all over again. She began performing again, but in 1981 her brother was murdered by Mafia hitmen, and she was diagnosed with manic depression before being committed to 17 different hospitals. Having led such a rollercoaster life, she decided to release her autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now? in 1984, and it became a bestseller. Despite her tribulations she is remembered as one of the biggest stars during a time that was mainly male-dominated. Greenfield and Sedaka of course became very successful, and Sedaka later a star in his own right, and Kirshner earned himself the nickname ‘The Man with the Golden Ear’, managing, among others, The Monkees, before they broke free.

On 1 October the sovereignty of Christmas Island is transferred from the UK to Australia, and two of the BBC’s longest-running television series also began during Francis’s second reign at the top. 11 October saw the start of sports programme Grandstand, which lasted until 2007, and five days later, Blue Peter began, which continues to this day. 21 October saw the first women take to their seats in the House of Lords, and a week later, the State Opening of Parliament was broadcast on TV for the first time.

Written by:
Carolina Moon: Joe Burke & Benny Davis/Stupid Cupid: Howard Greenfield & Neil Sedaka

Producers: Connie Francis/Leroy Holmes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (26 September-6 November)

Births:

Novelist Irvine Welsh – 27 September
Musician Thomas Dolby – 14 October
Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon – 27 October 

Deaths:

Birth control advocate Marie Stopes – 2 October
Cricketer Charlie Townsend – 17 October
Philosopher GE Moore – 24 October
Physicist Stephen Butterworth – 28 October 

71. Connie Francis – Who’s Sorry Now? (1958)

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October 1957: Connie Francis was finished. Her recording contract with MGM was almost at an end and she had failed to make an impact, bar a recent duet with Marvin Rainwater on The Majesty of Love. The record company had let her know they would not be renewing her contract, and she had one single left to record. Born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in 1937, the Italian-American had suffered one setback after another during her music career. Her father and manager financed a four-track demo that nearly every label turned down, on accounting of Francis sounding too similar to singers like Kitty Kallen and Kay Starr. MGM only signed her because one of the tracks was called Freddy, and that was the name of the son of a company co-executive, who thought Francis’s success with the record would make a nice birthday gift. But Freddy had sank.

And so Francis prepared to give it all up and study medicine at university, but she had one last single to record. Her father had asked her to perform a cover of Who’s Sorry Now?, a break-up song by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Originally recorded by Isham Jones & his Orchestra in 1923, it had also featured in the Marx Brothers film A Night in Casablanca in 1946. George Franconero Sr tried to tell his daughter that adults would remember the song, and, with the proper arrangement, teenagers would love it too, but she disagreed, and several heated arguments took place. She delayed recording on the other three tracks at the session so much, she told her father there wasn’t enough tape left to record it anyway. However, he insisted, and the session ended with seconds of tape left to spare. After its release, it seemed Francis was correct – Who’s Sorry Now? hadn’t made an impact. But on New Year’s Day 1958, she performed the single on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and the momentum began. George was right, Connie was wrong.

Until I discovered the origins of the song, I thought Who’s Sorry Now? was an example of the growing sophistication of pop – so it must have been very innovative back in the 20s. A jilted lover has warned her ex that they would regret leaving them, and they’ve been proven right. The fact vows are mentioned suggests they have divorced – not your average subject matter for a pop song. Producer Harry A Myerson did an excellent job in proving Francis’s father correct – the song sounds completely of its time, and is key to its success, as is Francis’s delivery. For someone who didn’t like the song, her performance really suggests otherwise as she is in complete control, especially as the drums kick in for the  second half of the song and she mocks her ex with ‘I’m glad that you’re sorry now’.

After so many failed attempts, Francis was fully deserving of her new stardom, and it was ironic that it was her old singing partner Marvin Rainwater’s Whole Lotta Woman that she knocked from the top. Who’s Sorry Now? was number 1 for an impressive six weeks, with a double A-side to come later that year. She had also finally broken the ridiculously long run of male domination of the charts. No woman had been at the top since Anne Shelton with Lay Down Your Arms in October 1956 – 17 months previous.

Written by: Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby

Producer: Harry Myerson

Weeks at number 1: 6 (16 May-26 June)

Births:

Singer Toyah Wilcox – 18 May
Singer-songwriter Paul Weller – 25 May 

Deaths:

Actor Ronald Colman – 19 May
Actor Robert Donat – 9 June
Writer Edwin Keppel Bennett – 13 June