Small Faces were near-overnight superstars in their native England, releasing a string of exciting mod era records that show the group's focus transition from hard-edged R&B to introspective psychedelia. Nearly all their singles and albums were big hits in the U.K., and nearly all floundered in the U.S., when released at all. Other than the Top 20 success of "Itchycoo Park," the band hit the Billboard Top 100 only one other time, when "Tin Soldier" scraped into the lower reaches.
Despite their success at home, and at least partly due to their teen idol image, as well as some unscrupulous management/record company shenanigans, the band was left without a frontman when singer-guitarist Steve Marriott decamped in early 1969 to form Humble Pie.
In one of the more happy reinventions in rock history, the remaining trio -- drummer Kenney Jones, keyboardist Ian McLagan and bassist Ronnie Lane -- found themselves both another larynx-shredding lead singer and another lead guitarist to boot when former Jeff Beck Group members Rod Stewart and Ron Wood joined the band. They re-dubbed themselves Faces and started anew in a back to basics rock/R&B/folk direction.
Despite Small Faces' relative lack of success in the U.S., their new record company, Warner Brothers, insisted the band continue to be called by that name! So that's why the first Faces LP, 1970's First Step, was released as a Small Faces album. At least, sort of: While the U.S. covers have continued to use Small Faces into the CD era, the LP label print was more wishy-washy, and can be found listing either name -- in some cases, such as on the copy I have, the name is actually both ways on the label! This is probably more information than anyone needs to know about the situation, which ended in the States by the time of their next LP.
First Step has been a longtime favorite just for "Flying," which may be my favorite Rod Stewart song. Other highlights include Lane's jaunty folk number "Stone" and the trashy rocker "Three Button Hand Me Down." The album overall is sort of a laid-back affair, with the group not afraid to throw in a few instrumental jams and acoustic numbers. But it's also tightly played, not necessarily an expected hallmark of a group remembered for being boozy, lackadaisical rockers working the rootsy libertine territory of fellow travelers The Rolling Stones.
Considering the Faces had something to prove following the departure of Marriott, the serious nature of First Step makes perfect sense. The group's organ/electric piano-anchored sound tends to remind me more of Booker T & the MGs more than it does the Stones anyway.
The Faces recorded three more studio albums following First Step before dissolving in the middle of the '70s. Various versions of the band have resurfaced since, including a late '70s Marriott-led (but Lane-less) incarnation, and a current tour featuring Wood, Jones and McLagan augmented by former Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall and former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Following Faces, Wood and McLagan were absorbed into the Rolling Stones universe, where Wood has remained; McLagan has lived and gigged regularly in Austin, Texas, since the mid-'90s. Kenney Jones drummed for The Who, The Law and various other bands and sessions. Original bassist Ronnie Lane died in 1997, after struggling with multiple sclerosis for many years.
And, of course, Rod the Mod was a superstar by the time Faces dissolved. Stewart launched his own solo recording career around the same time as he and Wood joined Faces. His own discs usually featured contributions from Wood and the other Faces, as well as working somewhat in the same musical territory, often with more of an acoustic country/folk bent. His third solo LP Every Picture Tells a Story ended up far eclipsing the commercial success of Faces, a level at which Stewart has remained pretty much ever since. (Warner Brothers, 1970)