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The sixties was a great decade for change, from fashion to cars, to politics to the music. In Britain in 1960 rock n' roll was still at the forefront of the charts, guitar based groups seemed to be emerging from every corner of the country. By 1963 The Beatles were a household name and well on their way to global domination of the record charts, they were seen as the trendsetters of the musical world, everything they did seemed to be emulated by hosts of other groups. So it is no surprise that after The Beatles released what is classed as the first concept album, 'Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band' in June 1967 that other bands decided to copy that format, one of these bands was the Small Faces and their 1968 album 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'. I had listened to a lot of the Small Faces earlier stuff, as I was getting into the whole Mod thing some 30 years after the original Mod scenes decline. I had read about the Small Faces, and that is when this album came to my attention, although the band had come out of the whole Mod thing, moved into psychedelia and had released 'Itchycoo Park', I still loved the sound they created and was itching to hear more (excuse the pun)..I certainly was not disappointed.
The Small Faces formed in 1965 on the back of the Mod movement, they signed with Don Ardens management company and released one album, the self titled 'Small Faces', and seven singles (four of them top ten hits, including one number one) on the Decca record label. Due to the scrupulous management, the band had little to show for all their success and decided to jump ship to ex Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham's new record label Immediate. In 1967 the bands sound had developed from the heavy r n' b to psychedelia through to rock. The band released 3 singles that year, 'Here Come The Nice' - number 12 UK Singles Chart, 'Itchycoo Park' - number 3 UK Singles Chart and 'Tin Soldier' - number 9 UK singles chart, and one album, which reached number 12 in the UK Album Chart, again the self titled 'Small Faces'(not much inspiration there then). The band embarked into the studio in early 1968 to record what would be their only number one album and also their final one as a group...'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'. The first part of the album is a collection of songs and the second half of the album is a little psychedelic fairytale narrated by comedian Stanley Unwin in his nonsense language (he created his own language, which was known as Uniwise). When the album was released, it was critically acclaimed and stayed at the number one spot in the UK Album Charts for six weeks. Alas, by the end of that same year, the band broke up.
Steve Marriott - Lead vocals (Tracks 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11) lead and rhythm guitar
Ronnie Lane - Lead vocals ('Song Of A Baker', 'The Journey' & 'Happy Days Toy Town'), backing vocals and bass guitar.
Kenney Jones - Percussion
Ian McLagan - Keyboards, backing vocals, lead vocal ('Long Agos And Worlds Apart' )
Stanley Unwin - Narration on tracks 7 - 12
The album opens up with quite an unusual way to open an album; an instrumental. The title track 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake' sounds reminiscent of an earlier single 'I've got mine' except without the vocal and more keyboard heavy. It sounds a bit like the opening titles to a film and is probably the reason why it was used as the trailer for Grand Theft Auto V, because it really fits into that genre well. It's got a nice sixties psychedelic feel to it. Although I'm not a fan of instrumentals, I actually love this track and it opens up the album nicely.
Next up is one of my favourite tracks from this band; 'Afterglow', it was released as an unofficial single, after the band broke up in March 1969, and it only managed to reach number 36 in the UK Singles Chart, a poor showing for such an amazing song. The song starts off with a whimsical parody of the chorus played acoustically before kicking off into this amazing power ballad of a song. Marriotts vocal is amazing as ever on this track and you can't help but feel there should have been more to come from them as a group, as all the band members seem to gel so well here.
'Long Agos and Worlds Apart' is a track composed by Ian McLagan and his vocal is pretty inaudible and is almost drowned out by the band, especially his keyboard. Just when it starts to fade out at the end, it fades back in leading you into a false sense of security. Probably the worst track on the album in my opinion, hence the reason why I was disappointed that the song didn't end when it first faded out.
A bit of traditional east end music hall next with 'Rene', Marriott sings this song about a prostitute in an exaggerated cockney accent, even as a Scotsman I can't help but mimic it as I sing along. "She's Rene, the docker's delight, and a ship's in every night, groping with a stoker from the coast of Kuala Lumpur" what a chorus! Written by Marriott and Lane but you could be forgiven for thinking it was a reworked traditional cockney knees up song. The song ends with a jam session that seems to go on for too long, would have liked to hear another verse or two instead.
'Song of a Baker' is a power ballad sung by Ronnie Lane, that starts off with Marriotts heavy guitar followed by the rest of the band. I don't know where Marriott and Lane got the inspiration for this song from, because lyrically it isn't their best, but it is a truly brilliant track despite this. I think they could have probably sang about anything, it's the vocal and the music that really does it for me. There is a little glimpse of an electric guitar solo in this track, and overall you can see where their musical direction was heading, into a more rockier sound.
One of the Small Faces best known tracks and the staple for many a sixties compilation album, 'Lazy Sunday'. Another slice of cockney knees up that flows into a power ballad towards the end. This was the bands only official single from this album, reaching number 2 on the UK Singles Chart, also released against the bands wishes, probably because it was too poppy; the type of tag the band were trying to escape from. The band all shared a flat together in Pimlico and this song was written by Marriott about their experiences with their neighbours who obviously didn't share the bands enthusiasm for partying hard and playing loud music at all hours. This song brings to an end the non concept part of the album...Be prepared for the weird but interesting story of 'Happiness Stan' for the next six songs!
The second half of the album opens with Stanley Unwins nonsense narrative "Are you all sittycomftybowl twosquare on your botty? Then I'll begin" before a harp is heard leading us into 'Happiness Stan'. The first part of the song sounds like something you would probably have heard being played in a medieval setting except with an organ being played. The second part of the song changes pace and direction as it enters into psychedelia complete with distorted vocal parts. The song tells the story of Stan who watches the moon and discovers half of it is missing, prompting him to think "black has stolen half the moon away"(black being the dark of night of course, but Stan wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed).
Next we have a little more nonsense narrative from Mr Unwin, before kicking into a rock number; 'Rollin' Over'. This track sees Stan setting off on his quest to find the other half of the moon (silly man), "Save all your lovin' 'til I get home, to the sweetest lovin' sunshine that I've ever known, tell everyone that I'm gonna find it, there ain't nothin' gonna stop me" (I'm on the edge of my seat here, is he going to find the other half of the moon?). Overall, this track would not sound out of place on any Small Faces album, it fits into the rock genre perfectly, it's just a great rock number, would have been great to hear this live I reckon, minus the narrative of course.
All this questing is making Stan hungry, so he stops to eat, well that's basically what Stanley Unwins narrative says before the song, 'The Hungry Intruder' starts. The intruder in the name of the song is a little fly, "Here am I, Tiny Fly, may I share your Shepherd's Pie?"(not exactly amazing lyrics but they will do and not many songs boast to having the words Shepherds Pie in them, and come to think of it, who would take a Shepherds Pie on a quest anyway? Surely a sandwich or a flask of soup would have sufficed). The song is an acoustic number with sung parts and spoken parts it, it is pretty hippie era sounding, sort of semi folk.
Stan lets the fly share his food and proceeds to tell the fly of his quest, the fly tells Stan that he knows of a man who could help him, if only the fly were big enough to transport him there. With that, Stan pulls out a magic wand and makes the fly bigger, Stanley Unwin of course describes this scene much better than I have. Stan hops on the fly and this leads us into 'The Journey', another psychedelic track with distorted vocal effects on Ronnie Lanes lead vocal, the lyrics don't really have any relevance to the story at all and this could have probably fitted anywhere on this album.
Another piece of narrative here, we learn that the fly and Stan travelled for seven long days before landing, the fly shows Stan where 'Mad John' lives, he is a man who will tell you all the answers that you're looking for. The song that follows is a folky song complete with "Aye-diddly-aye-die" refrain. During the fade out Stanley narrates again and 'Mad John' explains that while Stan was on his quest the moon has changed shape again and is now full..quest solved! This leads us into the finale track.
'Happydaystoytown' is yet another jolly cockney knees up to finish the album off. Sung by Ronnie Lane this time with a well over exaggerated cockney accent, this track is one of my favourites on the album (oh I do love a bit of music hall). I love the start of the song "Life is just a bowl of All Bran"(nice product placement there). The song reminds me of a cockney 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' with its imagery. There is a bit of comedy by Stanley when he talks over the fade out, before saying his final words "Stay cool won't you" before returning to the fade out. This track is very very catchy and half way through you will probably find yourself singing along to it as I do.
**All songs written by Marriott, Lane, unless otherwise stated.**
1) Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake (Marriott, Lane, McLagan, Jones)
3) Long Agos and Worlds Apart (McLagan)
5) Song of a Baker
6) Lazy Sunday
7) Happiness Stan
8) Rollin' Over
9) The Hungry Intruder (Marriott, Lane, McLagan)
10) The Journey (Marriott, Lane, McLagan, Jones)
11) Mad John
12) HappyDaysToyTown (Marriott, Lane, McLagan)
The album title is a parody of a brand of tobacco called 'Ogden's Nut-Brown Flake' and as such, the original album had a circular sleeve made to look like a tobacco tin. You can still purchase a special 3 disc CD edition in a tobacco tin on amazon.co.uk, but for three discs it is quite expensive at £39.99, so only for true collectors of Small Faces memorabilia.
You can purchase this album on CD from amazon.co.uk for the bargain price of £5.00 including postage and packaging. There is also a 3 CD deluxe edition of the album, which includes stereo and mono mixes and a CD full of bonus tracks available from amazon.co.uk for £13.99 including postage and packaging.
Overall I love this album, but I have weird musical tastes sometimes, this album will definitely not appeal to everybody. Some of the stuff on the first part of the album is quite eclectic, with a mixture of power ballads, music hall and psychedelia, you will appreciate the second half of the album a lot better if you listen to it as a story (as much as the story is a lot of nonsense) rather than separate tracks. The band were originally trying to get Spike Milligan to do the narrative, but in my opinion no one could have done this better than Stanley Unwin, his mixture of comedy and nonsense speak is what really carries the second half of the album and without him I don't think the album would have been as good. If you like The Who album 'Tommy' then you will like this, although not a rock opera in the same league as 'Tommy', 'Ogdens Nut Gone Flake' it does share some slight similarities, having some of the album tell a story for one.