The Small Faces Bask In The Afterglow Of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake!!!
The Small Faces. Four well-dressed diminutive mods in search of a proper psychedelic album found their Holy Grail in between the grooves of a long player that landed on God’s Earth in 1968. Of course it’s called Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Why not?
This heavily played record is a basher. It’s unlike any other I’ve heard in the genre. Excellent musicianship, interesting production, hilarious East End accents (“Ello Mrs. Jones, ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?”) and a kind of self-parody come together to punch you in the kidneys after tickling your toesies.
The bulk of what is called “psychedelic music” is often overly serious and occasionally too self-aware. The first bit of this record – the opening instrumental title track in particular – might fool you into thinking you’re in for a pretentious festival of swirling guitars and echoing organ runs. You’d be forgiven for thinking something like that, but it is a great cut. But it’s the next track – Afterglow (Of Your Love) – that will set you straight for the rest of the record. Mostly. It starts with some hand clapping, East End mumbling, bongos and acoustic guitar before descending into a heavy Motown-fueled soulful punch of overcranked musicianship that feels like the older, tougher brother of another, earlier Small Faces winner called “All Or Nothing.” And that’s not nothing, my friends. Strong medicine indeed.
More hand claps and heavily echoed organ kick off the next track – Long Agos And World’s Apart – which serves as a romping bridge to the next song – Rene. Pronounced “Reeney” by a mugging, winking Steve Marriott, this one’s a song and a half really. It’s the story of Rene – the docker’s delight – and it reminds me of the kind of old-timey fishermans’ songs until it kicks into an instrumental psychedelic freakout. Which is a good thing because it works. Probably because Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Steve Marriott manage not to overthink their brand of psychedelic. Song Of A Baker then pulls itself up by it’s flour and water and forms itself into a quite a pie indeed. The last cut on the A side of this long player is Lazy Sunday. Hilarious. Even more so because it was written as a joke and accidentally (?) released by Immediate Records as a single (to Mr. Marriott’s great displeasure). But like so many tales of pop groups and record labels, the joke managed to be on everyone. Lazy Sunday became a number 2 hit in Great Britain.
Flip this long-player over. But not before preparing yourself. Suck down a pint of your favorite ale, tickle the wife and scream out the window to clear your pipes. It’s on side two where this business of not taking psychedelia too serious gets down to business. It’s all about some Cockney cat named Happiness Stan – narrated throughout by a real Stan – Stanley Unwin. I don’t know where the Small Faces found this guy but man is he freaky. Funny too. Speaks nonsense to my ears but I can’t be sure. He’s probably some Lord of Hamburger-Wolverhampton. Rollin’ Over is the second track and it’s worth the wait. Heavy bit of flash, this one is. A few more dollops of psych follow in the form of The Hungry Intruder (a light moment), The Journey (silly stuff really), and Mad John (great vocals by Mr. Marriott!). The record finishes with Happy Days Toy Town – a song that shockingly reveals the meaning of life through the opening line “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran!” It’s a downhill giggle the rest of the way, love.
And, that’s it exactly. The Small Faces introduce us to a giggle of a psych album that somehow manages to rock hard enough to keep your toe tapping and give you something to think about. Sure keeps your mind off the war in Indo-China.
For weirdos only: The record pictured above is a Get Back label reissue of the original 1968 LP. Good luck finding a clean original! The package ripped off a brand of tobacco called Ogdens’ Nut-Brown Flake. The cheek! Some guy named Mick Swan designed the cover. Nice work, Mick! Ogdens’ was the last studio record of new material by this line-up. Not long after it’s release, Steve Marriott jumped into a band called Humble Pie with future talk-box weirdo Peter Frampton. But in these early days Humble Pie were an authentic blues-rock group worthy of their name. The hole left in the Small Faces was filled by two well-known rockers – Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. They cut one LP as The Small Faces and then dropped the “Small” after realizing Ronnie was a hair over 5’6” tall with the right haircut. God bless his socks.
I know how silly that sounds. Honest I do. I just can’t come up with a better way to describe this record in one sentence given the tight deadline I’m dealing with on this torturous music blog. I’m not even sure if I’m reviewing this album or if it’s reviewing me. Since dropping a needle onto this record I’ve had a confused, hazy feeling. One thing is certain. This record is the fairly righteous rocking curiosity known as Bull Of The Woods by the 13th Floor Elevators, the darlings of late 1960s Austin, Texas. So smitten by the band were local authorities that they ran them off to San Francisco (how predictable!) and locked up their lead singer (Roky Erickson) in a mental institution.
This review attempts to settle once and for all an issue we’ve all been grappling with since puberty – is Bull Of The Woods a worthy final studio statement from the sweethearts of the south Texas psychedelic rodeo? The answer is yes. But you’d like some proof and I don’t blame you.
The record is unusual in the 13th Floor Elevators canon in that there’s much less electric jug from Tommy Hall, a lot less Roky Erickson (legal problems related to “exhaustion”), more horns and a lot more writing, guitar noodling and singing from Stacy Sutherland. On paper this should mean that Bull Of The Woods stinks. And while there is an aroma wafting out of the grooves cut into the lacquer, it’s not a bad one. Rather, it’s the smell of the sun-drenched, dew-covered grasslands of a south Texas pasture. Albeit a weird one.
Let’s start by laying it on the line my friends. This record isn’t as good as their shockingly awesome first record – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators. And it’s not as strangely trippy as their second LP – Easter Everywhere. But it is a fine record.
The best songs are sung by Roky Erickson (four of them). Those include the opener – Livin’ On – a great single with really neat unpredictable drumming. Never Another has me cheering on the electric jug which rests comfortably high in the mix. Dr. Doom isn’t as gloomy as it sounds. Although who knows? I can’t figure out what it’s about but it sounds great and has some horns that come out of nowhere.
Sure, Roky’s a better singer but he was in jail! It’s a good thing the songs sung by Stacy Sutherland hold their own. Barnyard Blues sounds a little bit like Season Of The Witch by Donovan but more lo-fi, psych-like in its approach. Till Then sounds like something a less super-serious Jefferson Airplane might’ve cut if they weren’t so pompous and were more earthy. Rose And The Thorn is a romping, ghost-imbued rocker. Give a listen and you’ll understand what “ghost imbued” means. Down By The River (not the Neil Young song) is a great pulsing, oozing thing imploring you to get down to the river because that’s where it’s at, man. And at less than two minutes it states its case and then moves on to Scarlet And Gold, which is a thumping and chugging workout with a bass heavy groove. Street Song is a layered piercing guitar story about a guy wanting to go back to the country. It’s at odds with itself in a good way.
The final song on the album is May The Circle Remain Unbroken and it’s amazing. If you’ve ever heard anything like it before I want to meet you and your parents at a Denny’s of your choice to discuss it. This song defies time and invents a new dimension. It almost literally reaches in to your spleen and fools your body into thinking it’s a spaceship trying to peel out in pool of molten molasses. Which makes me hungry for pancakes.
In the final analysis I think I’ve proven that purchasing this record is probably a civic duty. Buy it and if you don’t like it I’ll get somebody to refund your money. Keep in mind, however, that not buying this record may prove to be un-American. Look what that got Alger Hiss!
For weirdos only: The red vinyl pressing being reviewed was pressed in Italy on the Get Back Lo-Cost label (ironically, it wasn’t that cheap). God bless the Italians! There’s an extended version of this album inside the Sign Of The 3 Eyed Men box set. This box set is now hideously rare but worth seeking out if you love this group like I do. The bonus tracks on the compact disc in the box set are: Livin’ On (single version), Scarlet And Gold (single version), May The Circle Remain Unbroken (single version), Livin’ On (alternate horn arrangement), and Bull Of The Woods Bay Area Radio Spot (Finally, right?).