In Your Face Again

Those of us in radio have not always done right by the group Faces. Your friendly neighborhood classic-rock station is more likely to refer to “Stay With Me” and “I Know I’m Losing You” as Rod Stewart records than they are to say they’re by Faces, thereby eliding the difference between Stewart’s music and that of Faces—and by extension, turning Faces into a mere backup band for Stewart during a brief phase of his lengthy solo career. We ought to cut it out. Faces is a group with a distinct history and identity, although in the States, we don’t know much of it.

The group started as the Small Faces, which landed two singles in the Hot 100 in early 1968: “Itchycoo Park” nudged into the Top 20, and “Tin Soldier” made Number 75. In the UK, however, the Small Faces scored four significant singles in 1966, three more in 1967, and a handful in 1968 and 1969 as the group was splintering.

When Steve Marriott left to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, holdovers Kenney Jones, Ronnie Lane, and Ian McLagan invited Stewart and Ron Wood to join. The new lineup called for a new name, and Faces was born., in a review of the band’s first album, released in the spring of 1970 (and credited in the States to Small Faces at record-company insistence), calls them “a group who always seemed like the boys next door made good, no matter where next door was.” Their albums and concerts were notoriously ragged, although Allmusic observes in the same review that “sometimes loose ends are as great as tidiness.” Somewhere in my library I have a bootleg of a concert recorded in Paris in 1973—Rod’s ripped to the tits and everybody’s having a ball, but the music sounds great nevertheless.

But that’s getting ahead of things. The group’s second album, Long Player, was released in March 1971. That May, Stewart’s solo album Every Picture Tells a Story came out, on which he was backed by his Faces bandmates. In November, while Every Picture was at the top of the charts, Faces released A Nod Is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse, which became a Top-10 hit itself. Around Christmastime of 1971, you could scarcely turn on the radio without hearing them: Stewart’s “Maggie May” and “Reason to Believe” were in recurrents; “I Know I’m Losing You” was just out, and so was “Stay With Me.” (“I Know I’m Losing You,” despite appearing on Stewart’s album, was billed on the single to Rod Stewart and Faces, meaning that some of the confusion 40 years later over how to credit the songs is the fault of Mercury Records. Indicative of my own confusion is the fact that I don’t know whether to call them “Faces” or “the Faces,” and I notice I’m doing both in this post.)

Clearly, 1971 was the year of the Faces. But sums up the problem that grew out of all that condensed success: “When Stewart’s solo career became more successful than the Faces, the band slowly became subservient to his personality.” After the 1973 album Ooh-La-La, which featured “Cindy Incidentally,” the final Faces single to chart in the States, Lane left the group; following a final tour, the band broke up in 1974. Lane died of multiple sclerosis in 1997 after inspiring the ARMS benefits; Jones joined the Who; Wood joined the Rolling Stones while McLagan became a touring member of that band; Stewart became a megastar.

But if a rock band was halfway successful and/or fondly remembered, no breakup needs to be final. After doing a brief set at a benefit last fall, Faces hit the stage for a full-blown show last week in London. Jones, McLagan, and Wood were joined by Glen Matlock, formerly of the Sex Pistols, and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. Last fall, Stewart had indicated he’d like to participate in a reunion but couldn’t do the charity gig. Now, however, his participation might not be necessary at all, given the success of Hucknall’s performance. (Rolling Stone weighs in on the show here and includes the setlist.) The show was a one-shot deal for now, although Jones is enthusiastic about the possibility of a tour or an album.

I can’t seem to embed videos at this blog right now, so you’ll have to visit YouTube for a brief clip of “Stay With Me” with Hucknall on vocals, recorded at the benefit last fall. I’d never have chosen him as Stewart’s stand in/replacement, but I get it now.

4 thoughts on “In Your Face Again

  1. Dan Kelley

    As I recall, here in the states, Faces as a band was signed to Warner Brothers while Rod Stewart as a solo artist to Mercury. I can only imagine that Mercury Records billing Know I’m Losing You” to Rod Stewart and Faces” probably got the lawyers from each company yacking back and forth for a while….

  2. You know, anything Rod did back in his early incarnation I thought was good. Ronnie Lane – remember the album (what was it’s name) that did with Pete Townsend with ‘My Baby’?

  3. I have “A Nod Is As Good As A Wink …” and never thought it was all that great.

    These guys were wonderful fun onstage;
    and backing Stewart’s best compositions on his own records, they were fabulous;
    but they didn’t have what it took to assemble a full LP of really good stuff.

    I still love them, and I’m glad a lot of other people do too, but it’s never been any great surprise to me that they never sold more records than they did under their own name.

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