I own probably two dozen CD box sets, but my favorite one is the Faces' box set that Ian McLagan compiled in 2004, Five Guys Walk Into a Bar…, because it so gloriously and perfectly recreates the band as they actually were instead of how revisionist history might have dreamt they were. The set isn't remotely in chronological order, nor does it stick to a clear "highlights and lost gems" game plan like so many other box sets do. Instead, it haphazardly runs through 67 songs that range from the singles to drunken rehearsals with unintelligible band dialogue.
If we've learned one thing from the history of rock artists compiling their own work, it's that they rarely know what the hell they're doing, and their misguided attempts at rewriting history only rob fans of informative listening experiences. Not so with McLagan, who proves to be one of the great exceptions. In the introduction to the box set, McLagan writes that he initially had it organized chronologically, but switched it because that bored him. He continues:
"So I sat down one afternoon, poured myself a pint of black madness, and put on 'Flying.' It was the first song Ronnie, Woody, and Rod wrote together, it was the first track we cut, and it became our first single. So it was the obvious place to start, a nostalgic beginning. But after that I was desperate to hear 'On the Beach,' and then 'Too Bad' followed it so well, and 'If I'm On the Late Side' was a natural after that. I was on a roll, pouring drinks and wiping tears from my eyes all at once."
He then also tells the story of how "Dishevelment Blues" came into existence, that the New Musical Express had asked them for an original song to include on a free flexidisc, and Rod suggested they give the publication this "abomination of a blues, knowing they wouldn't have the balls to use it. But they did." McLagan says he included it on the box because "piss-taking is part of what we were as a band."
In addition to compiling the definitive history and portrait of the band, McLagan also helped co-write many of The Faces' best songs, and "Cindy Incidentally," which was one of the singles from their final album, is among their loveliest. You can hear in the opening piano melody just how crucial and stylish his playing was to one of the greatest rock bands ever. He'll be deeply missed, but don't feel sad. Instead, pour yourself a pint and press play.
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