Every couple of years the glossy music magazines will have a go at defining the ‘Top 100 Albums’. This has become a staple policy albeit a rather lazy one, after all all you have to do is get your staff writers to vote and then cobble together some brief facts on their favourite records . Increasingly the trend is to have a few celebrity musician to weigh in with their opinions and maybe write a couple of hundred words on how such and such a record changed their lives. Job done, the magazines are primarily read by men and men love lists, fact. There then follows a couple of months in the letters page where we can find out how incensed J Davison of Darlington was that Fun House was regarded as better than Astral Weeks or whatever.
This is all complete toss of course. Firstly the concept that we regard art as somehow a competitive process is ridiculous. Secondly our values reflect the time we live live in, Nick Drake for example was practically ignored for many years while now he is regarded as essential listening. When the lists first began Sergent Pepper was regarded not only as the best Beatles album but the best record ever. By the 90’s Revolver had been elevated to that position, when I last dared to look at a list The Beatles had slipped somewhat but The White Album was now regarded as their bestest. Thirdly, when we create a ‘classic’ album we freeze it, its now a classic, ignore it at your peril even though sometimes it may not actually be that good.
Being the inverted snob that I am I am fairly indifferent to the classic album, I actually have never listened to Sgt Pepper all the way through and I only listened to Pet Sounds for the first time six months ago (It was quite good).I like the fallibility of music which is one reason most modern music grates on me. I actually like to hear songs that are not that good or perfomances that have mistakes in them.
And this is why I like Oh La La by the Faces.
I’m not sure exactly how I obtained the record but it must have been in my first 10 record purchases and marked a move towards rockier music on my part. Superficially there was a lot to like about the record. The cover featured a top hatted gentleman and when you pressed the top of the cover his eyes and mouth moved. In addition to this the gate fold sleeve revealed the five grinning Faces superimposed in front of a high kicking can can dancers rather giving the impression they are looking up her skirt. In contrast four members appear rather pensive in the hand coloured photos on the back cover. The exception to this is the grinning Ronnie Lane who my Grandmother on spotting the album pronounced as ‘the only one who looks normal’.
By 1973 there was a lot to love about Rod and the Faces, they made great records and always appeared to be having a great time whenever they appeared on Top of The Pops. In that environment groups tended to appear slightly embarrassed maybe managing a grin and a shrug at fellow band member at the ridiculous situation of having to mime in form of a handful of 14 year olds. The Faces however managed more eye contact with each other than any other band, you got the impression they were having the best time ever.
The problem, such as it existed was the Rod Stewart and.. nature of the band. Stewart tended to keep his best songs for himself and could record them how he wanted without the constraints of a band. The Faces were just that, a band called the Faces but as their lead singer became more famous everyone started to refer to Rod Stewart and the Faces in the way that never happened with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
Oh La La has some proper made to measure rockers, some of the bands best, the single Cindy Incidentally, Silicone Gown, My Fault and Borstal Boys. The latter being an amazingly sloppy piece of work for a band in their prime. These days the engineer would have introduced a click track done a bit of quantising and re sampling and produced something very dull. Borstal Boys lurches along barely in control for just under three minutes then skids to a halt.
These are Faces by numbers tracks which is fine by me as they are still better than most other music. What, in my opinion,makes the record interesting are the other offerings. If I’m On the Late Side and Just Another Honky are gorgeous ballads sung by Stewart who, at this point could sing almost anything and make it sound great. Glad and Sorry plods along amiably with vocals by the two Ronnies, Wood and Lane. Flags and Banners is a gossamer thin Lane song where her play the underused elecric bouzouki and Stewart makes a rare outing on electric guitar. And there’s a fair amount of instrument swapping going on, Wood plays a bit a bass, you can always tell its him because the instrument gets cranked up and be basically plays a bass solo all the way through the track. Lane plays a bit of acoustic guitar and sings, the frailty of his voice providing a nice counterpoint to Stewart’s assured delivery
The problem with the album apparently was the lead singers increasing ambivalence to being lead singer with the Faces. This is amply demonstrated by the song Oh La La itself. Ronnie Lane wrote it but Stewart blew hot and cold about recording it declaring himself unhappy with any of the keys or the arrangements offered to him, Lane also struggled to produce a decent vocal so in the end Ron Wood, a man with a surprising work ethic, stepped up to the mike. The record was brought up to a full 30 minutes by the addition of an instrumental with the addition of a rare outside musician Neemoi ‘Speedy’ Accquaye on percussion, I suspect the track took exactly the same amount of time to record as it did to play.
So why do I love this record?, Stewart soon publicly called it ‘a bloody mess’. Well obviously its the time and the place, I was young and impressionable but I think Oh La La stands the test of time better than and awful lot of other music at the time. There’s a vulnerability about it that I find particularly endearing, this is not a band creating a ‘classic’ album its a band doing the best it can. There was a lot of criticism at the albums running time but for me the length was ideal every track counts.
Lane had had enough, after having a record he had put a lot into slagged off by the lead singer he needed to create his own adventures which were to be very different to a Faces American tour. The Band were to go on to make another couple of excellent singles and record what some critics felt was the worst live album ever.
But somehow the band was always about a lot more than mere music.
Here they are in their prime in 1972