45 Years Ago: The Faces Release Their Second Album, ‘Long Player’
After introducing themselves with 1970's appropriately titled First Step, the Faces sought to build on that success with their follow-up effort — and they pulled it off in a big way with Long Player.
Released in February 1971, the group's second set found the Faces further setting themselves apart from the band members' better-known previous projects: singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood from the Jeff Beck Group; bassist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones from the Small Faces. Similar names aside, the Faces were their own outfit, and their work together brought the individual members a greater measure of long-deserved exposure.
"I was getting a bit worried I'd always be in the background," Wood admitted. "It's nice when someone picks up on the little things you try and do, when they point them out in reviews, you realize you got your point over. At one time I was feeling like that, well, being stuck away was going to be my position for the rest of my life."
After First Step, that wasn't as much of a concern. Although the album wasn't a huge seller, the Faces' first LP was enthusiastically received by the British rock press; in the days following the Beatles' dissolution, the arrival of another U.K. foursome that shared singing and songwriting duties was taken as an encouraging sign, and the Faces' drunkenly good-natured stage presence (and charmingly ragged sound) injected a fresh dose of good old-fashioned fun into rock at a time when many listeners felt it was lacking.
"It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t be popular, or that we would be big for that matter. It just felt right. I didn’t smell money, I smelled fun, and we had lots of it. It was as if young America was waiting to be entertained," McLagan wrote in his memoir All the Rage: My High Life with the Small Faces, the Faces, the Rolling Stones and Many More. "We were happy boys. These were the days and this was the life!"
The band's appeal, in McLagan's eyes, was a natural outgrowth of their unique chemistry — topped off by Stewart, who'd overcome the stage fright that gripped him early in his career to become "a vamp ... he was camp and he was comfortable with it." Meanwhile, "Woody was the guy's guy, with a cigarette stuck in his mouth or between the fingers of his right fist, eyes blinking continually with concentration as he worried the guitar, and sang and camped it up with Rod. Ronnie puffing like a blowfish, ambled backwards and forwards across the stage in his characteristic ‘Ronnie Lane Shuffle’ laying down the solid and melodic bass lines that were the foundation to all of our songs, and singing so sweetly. Kenney kept us all together, whacking his kit mercilessly with a fixed stare."
Although Stewart's vocals were arguably the most immediately identifiable aspect of the Faces' sound, the band didn't really have a leader, per se — their distinct chemistry was wholly dependent on each member's equal contributions, and they functioned, more or less, as a creative democracy. That had its definite advantages, but when it came time to wrangle the songs into shape in the studio, it could also make things difficult — especially when they elected to self-produce, as they did during the Long Player sessions.
Making the Faces' four-ring circus even more unwieldy were problems with the equipment at Morgan Sound, the London studio where the band tracked the majority of Long Player. Recorded during an era in which many albums were knocked off in a matter of weeks, the group's sophomore set took months to finish — including plenty of downtime that didn't really do any favors for the infamously rowdy quartet.
"The setup was pretty nice," Wood recalled in Andy Neill's Faces biography, Had Me a Real Good Time: The Faces Before During and After. "But we just had so many troubles with the board there. The headsets kept going wrong and it just got on top of us. Apart from that the bar there was open 24 hours a day so anytime anything went wrong it was, ‘Let’s go down and have a drink while they’re mending it,’ and that went on for months."
For Lane, the technical difficulties were only part of what ultimately kept Long Player from working as well as it should have. "The main problem was that we could never get that sound and feeling in the studio that we got on stage," he lamented in Had Me a Real Good Time. "We had a very haphazard idea about recording. Long Player took so long I almost completely lost interest in it."
Looking back, it isn't difficult to understand Lane's frustration. While Long Player contains its share of vintage Faces moments, including the band's cover of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" and future Faces classics like "Bad 'n' Ruin" and "Had Me a Real Good Time," it's overall a fairly disjointed album — owing at least in part to the hodgepodge nature of a track listing divided between studio recordings and live performances. Even for a group whose boozy looseness was part of their charm, Long Player wasn't anywhere near as cohesive as it should have been.
Be all that as it may, none of Long Player's deficiencies did much to slow the band's ascension. The album peaked at No. 29 in the U.S. and No. 31 in the Faces' native U.K., and although neither of its singles charted, the group's live appearances in support of the LP increased their profile throughout 1971 — as did Stewart's growing profile as a solo artist, solidified by the chart-topping performance of his third release, Every Picture Tells a Story. In the midst of all this activity, they'd reconvene later in the year to record their next effort, A Nod Is As Good As a Wink ... to a Blind Horse — and its arrival in November 1971 signaled the band's true arrival as a transatlantic success story.
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