FACES: In defense of Rod Stewart
How do you know Rod Stewart? Is he that shaggy haired old lady in your mom's CD collection, the one doing lame covers of old standards these days? Do you know him as the disco shithead from "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," or as the creepy middle aged man trying to get into young girls' pants, like in "Tonight's the Night?" Or maybe you remember him from (s)hits like "Love Touch," the theme song from LEGAL EAGLES.
Well, believe it or not, there was a time when Rod Stewart was cool. A brief window - in fact - that began in the late 1960s. Stewart began his career as the frontman for a few barely known bands like the Hoochie Coochie Men, or The Shotgun Express. In 1966, Stewart teamed up with ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck in the Jeff Beck Group. In that same band was future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood (who was playing bass for Beck's group).
In 1969 as the Jeff Beck group rose to power and then disbanded, Steve Marriott also left the Small Faces (he would go on to form Humble Pie). The remaining members of the Small Faces brought in Ron Wood and Rod Stewart (who had just begun a successful solo career), shortened their name and created one of the most fantastic yet unheralded rock groups of all time, the Faces. Wondering if you've ever heard them? If you've ever seen the end of Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE, you've heard "Ooh La La." Oddly, that was the only Faces track ever on record sung by Ron Wood.
While Stewart sometimes ceded vocal duties to Ronnie Lane, the man who actually wrote "Ooh La La," and some of the bands' other classics like "Debris", the Faces were largely Stewart's show.
Check out the first song the Faces ever recorded, "Flying." Who would have thought that a Scot would have pipes to sing like this? Stewart's raspy voice peaks like a distorted guitar and combines blues with glam rock. Hot stuff.
"Cindy Incidentally" is a bit more of a bluesy groove and shows off the Faces as the greatest bar band that ever was. "Had Me a Real Good Time" gives any of the Rolling Stones' 70s output a run for its money.
Many say that as a live band, the Faces were unmatched among classic rocks greats like the Who and the Rolling Stones. Part of that reputation is because the Faces' shows were one huge drunken party. Anyone who has read my Guided by Voices posts can appreciate the special breed of rock band that can pull off a flawless rock show while sauced. This live version of "Stay With Me" proves that the Faces were that band.
And just to show that they weren't just some sort of blues rock juggernaut, check out how the Faces, and more specifically Stewart, take absolute ownership of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" from another live BBC session. Ronnie Lane sings the introductory part just like Mac, and then Stewart comes in after the first few lyrics like a vocal fuzz pedal. The greatest thing about the Faces is their constant shifts in tempo, and this song has no shortage of ebb and flow.
Anyone curious about these guys should really check out FIVE GUYS WALK INTO A BAR, the superb 4 CD box set recently released by Rhino records. I couldn't recommend it more highly. If you're looking for a cheap deal, you might be able to find it for under $25 HERE.
FOR MORE ON THE FACES:
Rod Stewart fan club.
Their official site.
Buy merch from Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen.
Official info on the box set.
Ron Wood's official site.