|The Faces in the 1970s.|
One of the joys of being a perpetual student of popular music is discovering songs you never really knew from bands you thought you knew all about. I thought I knew all about The Faces, the wonderfully ramshackle early 70s English rock band who featured not only a young Rod Stewart, but a pre-Rolling Stones Ronnie Wood as well as Kenney Jones and the sadly deceased Ronnie Laine (1997) and Ian McLagan (2014).
The Faces are so often referred to as “ramshackle” or in similar terms that I somehow overlooked these next two very pretty songs. As a diehard Rod Stewart fan, every now and then I force myself to listen to titles in his back catalogue that don’t ring bells. Occasionally this is surprisingly rewarding and throws out works like Two Shades Of Blue (a 1998 When We Were The New Boys cast off superior to anything on the album) that deserve a bigger audience. I own every one of his studio albums, including his work with the Jeff Beck Group and in this case, The Faces.
But owning every album doesn’t always mean being an encyclopedic authority. Right now my latest musical discoveries are much like the time I unearthed Christine McVie’s Why from Fleetwood Mac’s 1973 Mystery To Me album and went, “What!? I thought I knew every great Fleetwood Mac song!”
So with that gorgeous, sad, bluesy slice of California-inspired pop / rock in mind, here are my two new favourite very old songs. Rod Stewart has come through for me again, though in this case, these two Faces gems that somehow escaped my ears and appreciation weren’t written by him but fellow Faces member Ronnie Laine.
For a band so beloved for their pleasantly drunken sloppiness, songs like Debris and Glad And Sorry are reminders that the reasons people originally loved them so much were possibly a fraction more nuanced. The Faces gave the appearance of being the kind of bad boys who really weren’t that bad. They liked to rock ‘n’ roll, but you always knew they’d one day get vaguely sensible, perhaps because entire album listenings revealed fully-realised ballads alongside the rockers.
And isn’t that exactly how Rod Stewart turned out? For all the partying, for all the women, for all the accusations that he betrayed his talent by venturing too far into the middle of the road, wasn’t his charismatic Faces persona a perfectly accurate predictor of the man he’d one day become? Don’t most of us eventually settle down?
Not in Phil Rudd’s case (AC/DC), but what is undeniable is that a band regarded as one of the great British rock ‘n’ roll outfits, an act who reportedly inspired the hugely influential though not necessarily massively talented Sex Pistols, were capable of real moments of pathos and beauty. With Ronnie Laine on leads and Rod on backing vocals, here they are, Debris (1971) and Glad And Sorry (1973). Listen for dominant piano hooks, gracefully meandering guitar and organ lines, lyrics that detail lost love and the fears of dreams unfulfilled. Crucially, hear the kind of emotion that is essential for rock bands who want to elevate themselves from the ephemeral to the timeless.
Afterword: Rumours of a Faces reunion have been swirling for some years. Rod has expressed interest, though Ronnie Wood claims Rod’s management and their desire for money is putting a hand-break on things actually happening. With two of the lineup having died it’s moot point as to how much credibility a reunion would have.