The Small Faces: Under Review [DVD]

The Small Faces
Music Video Distributors

The Small Faces created more memorable music in their brief lifetime together than many groups pull off over great big decade-spanning careers. This DVD touches upon the outfit’s significant highpoints, ranging from their mod-soul beginnings to their psychedelic final days around about 1968.

If The Small Faces had been blessed with the longevity of either The Beatles or the “Eveready” The Rolling Stones, we might be talking about this act in the same breath as those two iconic groups. But its minute hand rotated way too fast for that. This group contained the strong songwriting team of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, as well as sporting the stellar instrumental chops from both Kenny Jones (drums) and Ian McLagan (keyboards). Additionally, it benefited from Don Arden’s managerial muscle, according to the information provided by this band study.

In most instances, the Under Review series focuses on bands and their various albums. But in the case of The Small Faces, who only made it through the second half of the ’60, their singles — rather than complete albums — are the primary subjects of this critical microscope. Sadly, the only song most Americans recognize by The Small Faces is the psychedelic workout, “Itchycoo Park”. So Americans have much to learn from this video document.

This band began as a rare believable white soul band, primarily because of vocalist Steve Marriott’s convincingly heartfelt vocals. The debut single, “Wat’cha Gonna Do About It” introduced the band as an act that instinctively knew their way around a soul groove. This disc’s panel, which includes Marriott biographer, Paulo Hewitt, Uncut Magazine features editor, Nigel Williamson among others, gives honest appraisals of many key Small Faces songs. For instance, these critics are none too pleased with “Sh-La-La-La-Lee” from 1966, which was little more than a throwaway single. Conversely, our gentlemen of the jury give high praise to “Tin Soldier,” a latter work.

This program points out how funny it was that the group attempted to explain away “Here Comes the Nice” as something other than the obvious drug song it actually was. The band further explored their psychedelic tendencies with the full-length album Ogden Nut’s Gone Flake. This album was released with a novel circular album cover, and its title and artwork were inspired by Ogden’s Nut Brown Flake, a familiar brand of rolling tobacco. This unique recording even features narration from esteemed Professor Stanley Unwin. It included “Lazy Sunday”, which this panel positively compares to The Kinks’ best musical-social observations. So while the band may have been expanding its minds on drugs at the time, it was also expanding its lyrical palate, too.

As good as The Small Faces music is it’s still tempting to compare the group to the likes of actor James Dean. Watching James Deans’s few films today makes you stop and wonder how great he would have, could have, and should have been, had he only lived longer. Sure, Steve Marriott may have made some memorable boogie rock noise along with guitarist Peter Frampton in Humble Pie, but nothing he did later holds a candle to the shooting star that was The Small Faces. Of course, The Faces (sans the “Small”), which replaced Marriott with some scratchy-voiced guy named Rod Stewart, and added future Stone Ron Wood to The Small Faces’s remaining mix, also made some mighty fine music later on. Nevertheless, it’s still hard not to wonder “what if”, every now and again.

After watching this DVD, I dusted off my The Small Faces “best of” CD and re-lived many of these Under Review scrutinized tracks all over again. And dang if they didn’t still sound wonderful! The sharp dressed young men pictured on this DVD’s cover sounded equally sharp musically, and still standup well in 2006.

This DVD is especially recommended for any Anglophile that hasn’t yet discovered The Small Faces. This not to suggest that The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, and The Kinks were not important; it’s just to say that without this band, such a list would be severely incomplete.

RATING 7 / 10