I came late to the Small Faces. To be completely honest, I learned about the Small Faces some time after 1971, when I already decided that the Faces “A Nod Is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse” was my favorite album of all time. Forty years on, I haven’t change my opinion of “Nod Is as Good as a Wink, ” but I’m still trying to ascertain where I land with “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.”
This is such a hippie album that it confounds me. Is it a creative masterpiece, or is it one of the flakiest albums ever made? How can I wade through all of the Anglo-airy-fairy stuff without pre-judging the record as pretentious, stereotypical hippie bullshit? The Faces were a band that sounded incredibly down to earth and grounded – drunk beyond all measure, perhaps, but nonetheless grounded in reality. The Small Faces, though, seem obsessed with a particularly English brand of fantasy that suited their hippie-fried ability to ignore reality. Now that it’s been around for well nigha half century, it’s more than high time that I gave it a proper listen, as I certainly couldn’t have relied on the help of American radio for all of these past years.
America was never properly exposed to the Small Faces. Like the Kinks or the early Who, they were simply too English for our market. Also like the Who, they represented the Mod faction of English youth, for which there was no American counterpart by which we could relate. The Mod movement was built around American R&B, but American kids were much more interested in the rock and roll side of the British Invasion, so the early Small Faces records went unnoticed on our shores. In Great Britain, the band had a steady grip on the top 10 singles charts from 1966 through 1968. America remained disinterested…until 1967’s ‘Summer of Love’, when the Small Faces openly embraced flower power. “Itchycoo Park” was an icky sweet but stunningly appropriate and undeniably awesome psychedelic single that broke the top 20. The single in turn generated (minor) interest in the band’s albums, which caused their back catalog to sell a bit, and allowed their next LP release, “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake,” to become an obscure treasure for those who discovered it. The album’s packaging was quite unusual as well, with a round die cut cover made to resemble a tobacco tin.
The contents were a bit headier than mere tobacco. Side one collected six tunes that practically screamed “Swinging London” (with a cockney accent) while side two compiled Tolkien fantasies, all held together with a narrative as charmingly British as the songs themselves (although most Americans could barely understand a single word of it). Prepping this page, I’ve finally given this album its due, and it’s beautiful.
May 1968 - Billboard Charted #159
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