Let’s face the unfortunate truth: other than a few other hits, the majority of Small Faces’ discography could be considered deep tracks by those who aren’t hardcore fans. Despite the band’s extremely talented members who would eventually form other notable groups including the Faces, Humble Pie, and Slim Chance, Small Faces were practically lost on American audiences and were often overshadowed by their fellow British contemporaries. That being said, any knowledgeable fan can tell you that this quartet produced a rich assortment of catchy, experimental, and even whimsical songs, ranging from the blues to pop to folk, that are perhaps more popular now amongst ’60s music lovers than they were first offered to the world.
For the purposes of this pieces, we’ll only look at the original ’60s discography rather than the reunion albums in the late ’70s which excluded original bassist Ronnie Lane. Let’s pay Small Faces due respect by looking at 10 deep tracks that will make you yearn to be a mod.
1) “You Need Loving,” Small Faces (1966)
If this song sounds familiar to you, you’re not losing your mind. This track is was inspired by a Muddy Waters song called “You Need Love” (penned by Willie Dixon) which also inspired, rather controversially, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Indeed Steve Marriott’s vocals are quite similar in power to Robert Plant’s, but the Small Faces version is distinctly mod in style.
2) “Just Passing,” The Autumn Stone (1969)
Unlike some of Small Faces’ earlier, bluesier tracks, this song is a great example of English folk, sounding more akin to the Kinks. The track is incredibly short at only 1:14, but the childish simplicity just makes you want to sway in the breeze on a quiet hillside.
3) “That Man,” From the Beginning (1967)
Here, the group delves into the world of psychedelia. Much of the guitarwork is still reminiscent of that quintessential mid-’60s pop sound, but the guitar intro immediately pulls you in. The drawn-out vocals and heavy bass make you feel like you’re floating in a dream.
4) “Here Come the Nice,” The Autumn Stone (1969)
The Autumn Stone was really more a compilation of singles, live performances, and unreleased material than a proper album. In this case, “Here Come the Nice” was actually a 1967 single. It’s a joyous, beat-driven tune about, that’s right, amphetamines. Basically a tribute to a drug dealer, it’s a great observation and preservation of mod culture, in which uppers and similar stimulants were often used. The songs long fade out and subsequent “crash” really drive the drug imagery. Everyone influenced by the mod era, even Noel Gallagher, has covered this track.
5) “(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me,” From the Beginning (1967)
This is a true rhythm-and-bass tune, lead by Ronnie Lane’s prominent bass and Kenney Jones’ flare on the drums. While the lyrics aren’t terribly profound or complicated, the repetitious cry of “heyr” is fun and screams for the listener to sing along.
6) “HappyDaysToyTown,” Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (1968)
Another song in the vein of “Just Passing,” this whimsically folky tune has a great marching beat and such an optimistic message it’s almost sickening. But rather than roll your eyes at the saccharine positivity, you can’t help but just go along with it. And remember, “Life is like a bowl of all-bran.”
7) “Mad John,” Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (1968)
Another short but poignant song, the lyrics tell of a social outcast who lived in a world of ridicule and fear while somehow maintaining a positive outlook on life. This minstrel’s fable is relatively stripped down, with extremely minimal percussion and a purer piano, unlike many of Small Faces’ other songs which often had “summer of love” organ-style keyboard chords supplied by Ian McLagan.
8) “Up the Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire,” There Are But Four Small Faces (1967)
Sleep and dreaming seem to be a common topic in British pop music, if for no other reason than the obviously connections that can be made to recreational drug use. The title is an old phrase used to get young children to go to bed, the wooden hills being stairs.
9) “The Universal,” The Autumn Stone (1969)
Another track which was actually released the year before, this track sounds like a ragtime-era vagabond’s anthem. It’s a carefree ode to escapism, individuality, and uncomplicated living, completely in the spirit of the late ’60s. This song is far removed from the band’s earlier mod R&B with a much earthier jam-band vibe. Fun fact: the barking is by Marriott’s own dog Seamus, who is perhaps more well-known for also being the barking dog in Pink Floyd’s “Seamus” off Meddle.
10) “I’m Only Dreaming,” There Are But Four Small Faces (1967)
This keyboard-driven song starts off sounding like a gentle ballad about a love lost. However, it quickly transforms into a jarring rock song and back before finishing with an unexpected cha-cha beat.