The Small Faces : All or Nothing

‘We were on tour, staying in the Station Hotel Leeds, when Steve suddenly ran down the corridor screaming – I’ve got it! I’ve just written our next hit!’ (Kenney Jones)

‘I think, ‘All or Nothing’ takes a lot of beating. If there’s a song that typifies that era, then that might be it.’ (Steve Marriott)

When it comes to Love and Romance we’ve all got History.

Everyone has History.

Bad Dreams, Baggage.

Betrayals, Battle Scars.

Heartache. Heartbreak.

We all know how it feels to be heart sore.

Yet, we all know how it feels to have Hope.

To believe in blessings.

To believe that we are not trapped by our pasts.

To believe in second, third and fourth chances.

History is made and remade every brand new day.

Now, given all that History you can be properly cautious and careful.

You can be measured and deliberate.

You can rehearse every scenario.

But, but, Brothers and Sisters, Spring doesn’t last forever.

You can look as long as you like but in the end you will have to leap.

Bystanders watch all the blessings pass them by.

Leap. Leap.

Even though soft landings are never guaranteed.

In the end it’s All or Nothing.

And, we know that nothing comes of nothing.

Ninety-Nine and a half just won’t do.

All or Nothing.

All or Nothing.

 

 

Nice, very, very Nice!

Admit it – resistance is useless.

In the long ago Vintage Vinyl days when I used to DJ I always insisted, whatever the audience, that we play, ‘All or Nothing’ at stun volume.

And, from the instant Kenney Jones’ drums crash in I would leap the Decks and go absolutely crazy!

Which is to say that The Small Faces’ All or Nothing is one of the definitive British Pop Singles.

Marriott’s vocal was characteristically direct, dramatic and dynamic – there’s no way you can get out of the way of Steve Marriott when he’s coming at you!

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Kenney Jones’ drumming drives us all headspinningly dizzy.

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Ronnie Lane’s warm bass and urgent backing vocals bonds everything together.

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Ian McLagen’s surging runs on the Hammond explode in the head and heart.

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Together they conjure a sound that shouts, exults, in the joy of being alive.

It was an unstoppable Number One in September 1966 displacing The Beatles from their customary sojourn at the summit of the charts.

The Small Faces : Steve Marriott on Vocals and Guitar, Ronnie Lane on Bass, Kenney Jones on Drums and Ian McLagan on Wurlitzer Piano and Hammond Organ were rogues and rounders, living it large London larrikins and highly Artful Dodgers!  (Steve Marriott had actually acted as that character in the stage show Oliver!)

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Young men living in the epicentre of Swinging 60s London they were having the time of their lives radiating big hearted joy in music making.

Listening to them, watching them, it was impossible, then or now, to do anything other than fall in love with them.

Steve, Ronnie and Kenney were East End Boys with Ian, the ringer, hailing from West London.

One fateful day in 1964 Ronnie Lane decided that he would be better off playing the Bass rather than the expensive Gretsch his Dad had shelled out for.

His friend, Kenney Jones, said why not go to the J60 Music Shop in Manor Park High Street where he had found his Drum Kit.

The ultra cheeky Sales Assistant, who immediately assured Ronnie that he would get him the best Bass in the store, was none other than Steve Marriott!

Just like in a Movie, Steve sold Ronnie a Harmony Bass and took over the Gretsch for himself!

To test out the sound Kenney sat behind  Drum Kit and set off the first Small Faces groove then and there!

So was born a true Band of Brothers.

Wherever they played they built a following.

Their own immense enjoyment in playing, their energy, their delight in Mod fashion, their similarity in looks combined to forge a winning charisma.

Their residency at London’s Cavern Club won them a manager, Don Arden, who secured them a Record Contract with Decca and a salary of £20a week each.

They also got an expense account to keep their Mod Look always at the cutting edge.

What they did not get, ever, were royalties for the string of hits they created.

It is estimated that they collectively lost out on more than £10Million!

That’s Show Biz in the Swinging Sixties for you.

At the time, especially when they we’re living together from Christmas 1965 to Christmas 1966 at 22 Westmorland Terrace in Pimlico, they were too busy partying, recording and touring to audit their accounts.

They were blazingly living in the moment.

In their sound you can hear the kaleidoscopic optimism of the Sixties.

You can hear the development from pure high energy pop to thoughtful explorations of their expanding minds.

You can almost inhale the pot smoke and pop the pills as the 45s revolve.

You can follow the development of dandified male fashion.

You can be swept along by their enthusiasm and largeness of spirit.

Now the high Summer of the Small Faces’ Sixties so wonderfully represented by, ‘All or Nothing’ could not last forever.

But, before Steve Marriott stormed off stage on New Years day 1968 The Small Faces had laid down an indelible legacy.

Records that will always thrill and charm.

Records that make you smile broadly and get up and dance whatever mood you were in before they came on.

The riches accumulated by The Small Faces were never reflected in their bank accounts.

Rather, they were embedded in their memories of golden youth and in the love and affection of their loyal following.

They left us songs in which our hearts lived.

I’ll leave you with a live appearance on BBC Radio.

 

In memory of:

Steve Marriott 1947 – 1991 (entirely appropriately All or Nothing was played at Steve’s funeral service)

Ronnie Lane 1946 – 1997

Ian McLagan 1945 – 2014

And for Kenney Jones wishing him good health and long life.

Recommended Recordings:

I wrote this Post listening to the 5CD ‘Decca Years 1965 – 1967’ Box Set which never sits on my shelves for very long as it is guaranteed to brighten any day.

The Albums, ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ and ‘Autumn Stone’ are classic records which will transport to those sunny 60s uplands.

 

Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Emmylou Harris : You Never Can Tell

When you are young you think you know.

You know how the world works.

You know just how things are going to turn out.

But you find out the world is a much stranger place than you thought.

People – your parents, your friends, your one and only love, strangely decide to behave in ways you never expected.

The 16 year old school no-hoper strangely turns out to a world-beater by 25.

Volcanos erupt. Impregnable Walls are torn down.

True Love sometimes turns out to be exactly that.

You learn not to make such definite snap judgments.

When things happen you didn’t see coming you’re not outraged.

Instead you smile a wry smile and say ’C’est La Vie – it goes to show you never can tell’.

 

And, if you’re a great songwriter reflecting wryly on life and love you decide to write a song filled with acute observation, humour and wisdom.

At least, that’s what you do if you’re Chuck Berry – even if you’re in Prison when the inspiration strikes.

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Chuck was, of course, a writer of both inspiration and deliberation.

There’s immense craft in the song.

The story is told in four short verses.

‘C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell’ is an arresting and immediately memorable lyric hook neatly and beautifully rhythmically encapsulating the moral of the song.

The AAAA Rhyme scheme is used with finesse and wit building up rhyme by rhyme a complete picture of the situation.

Chuck delights in marrying his New Orleans Creole Rhythm with a French name for teenage spouse, Pierre, and playfully using both madamoiselle and Madame, in the correct order, to signify that the truly in love couple have indeed rung the chapel bell.

So, married life begins with a well stocked Collerator just crammed with those dinners they wolfed while watching their favourite shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if they mixed that ginger ale with something a little more potent!

I was delighted to discover that ‘Coolerator’ was a genuine brand name (see image below) and that the refrigerators were manufactured in Duluth – making it certain that they would have been known to Bob Dylan and very likely stocked in the family electricals store.

 

It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well
You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle
And now the young monsieur and madame have rung the chapel bell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale
The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale
But when Pierre found work, the little money comin’ worked out well
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They had a hi-fi phono, boy, did they let it blast
Seven hundred little records, all rock, rhythm and jazz
But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
They bought a souped-up jitney, ’twas a cherry red ’53
They drove it down to Orleans to celebrate the anniversary
It was there that Pierre was married to the lovely mademoiselle
“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

 

Chuck always delighted in his references to US Car Culture and I have to admit that from the first moment I heard You Never Can Tell I sorely longed for a ‘Cherry Red ‘53’!

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I haven’t got mine (yet).

But, I surely did get me a fine Hi Fi Phono and boy, as all my neighbours will tell you, did I let it blast!

And, taking pride of place among my 700 or so 45s there will always be a high stack of Chuck Berry singles.

Because he was the greatest songwriter of the primal Rock ‘n’ Roll era and because nothing lifts the spirits like three minutes of prime Chuck Berry!

Consider that You Never Can Tell was preceded by, ‘No Particular Place To Go’ and succeeeded by, ‘Promised Land’ – a run of classics that would have worthily constituted a lifetime’s achievement for another songwriter/performer.

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I should draw your attention to the glorious piano playing of Johnnie Johnson for once foregrounded in this song.

Released from dramatic guitar playing duties Chuck concentrates his genius on his sly and smooth vocal.

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Of course, it was a given that once a new Chuck Berry song hit the airwaves and Jukeboxes that a flood of cover versions would appear.

So many to choose from for our Immortal Jukebox!

Let’s kick off with Emmylou Harris and her aptly named Hot Band more than kicking up their heels!

 

 

Emmylou and Co hit that shuffle rhythm from the get go don’t they.

Glenn D Hardin on piano and Hank Devito add colour with England’s own Albert Lee providing the stellar guitar.

What an apprenticeship in the big time this was for the young Rodney Crowell!

Naturellement he was in love with Emmylou  – putting him in company with all red blooded music fans of the time!

Now we let the arm come down on something really special.

You want a demonstration and distillation of the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen and Jukebox afficianados the whole world over I give you the one and only Ronnie Lane with Slim Chance!

 

 

Now that’s a New Orleans second line party!

That’s ginger ale laced with the very finest bourbon!

That makes the big toe in your boot shoot straight up to the sky!

Every time Ronnie Lane strapped on his bass and stepped to the microphone he put his whole heart and soul into his performances exuding sheer glee in the music he was making.

The same holds true for Bruce Springsteen.

I love this version of You Never Can Tell from Leipzig in 2013.

Bruce takes the crowd request and coaches the initially sceptical Band until they produce a wonderfully ragged celebration of Chuck Berry’s anthem.

Chuck Berry will always be the heartbeat of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Thank God apostles like Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Lane and Emmylou Harris ensured that the message still resounds.

 

 

And, even today, somewhere in Chicago or Cairo someone is saying – you know we could really do a killer version of that Chuck Berry ‘C’est La Vie’ song.

It goes to show you never can tell where a great song will end up except that it will surely keep traveling on.