Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Song of the Day: The Faces - Maybe I'm Amazed (1971)

My cousin has been begging me for a Paul McCartney song, but since I'm not in the business of just totally giving people what they want, he'll have to settle for this, which is arguably the greatest cover of a McCartney song. 

If every band in history were ranked solely by the size of the gap between how great they are and how popular they are (at least for bands whose greatness is higher than their popularity, not the reverse), The Faces would probably be number one. While they enjoyed a good amount of success in the early '70s while they were together, they seem to have been totally and utterly forgotten by history. They have zero name recognition. None of their albums are in print on CD. They have exactly one song that gets touched by classic rock radio ("Stay With Me"). They were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame about 15 years too late. But Jesus, consider the pedigree! Three of their members (Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenny Jones) were previously in The Small Faces, who were a hugely successful British pop band of the '60s, and two of their members (Rod Stewart and Ron Wood) were previously in The Jeff Beck Group, which was a very popular heavy British blues/hard rock band. And after The Faces broke up, one of them replaced Keith Moon in The Who (Kenny Jones), one of them became the second guitarist in The Rolling Stones (Ron Wood), and one of them became Rod Stewart (Rod Stewart). That's a huge amount of mileage in terms of importance and popularity, and yet the best work any of those five guys did was with this band. So why doesn't anyone but music snobs know who they are? It's a mystery. For people that care about the history of art forms, we always hope that things will get straightened out once the dust settles. And yet that doesn't seem to be working out for The Faces. 

One of the most overused words in rock criticism is ramshackle, and The Faces were the band that word was created for. My app defines ramshackle as "loosely made or held together; rickety; shaky." Ummm, yep. That's these guys. By all accounts they didn't get along great behind the scenes, with two different songwriting/singing factions in the band. When Ronnie Lane wrote their best song, "Ooh La La," there was such a fight over who would sing it between he and Stewart that Ron Wood (who was absolutely not a singer) finally ended up doing the vocal just so neither could be pissed that the other won the fight. And yet, that's part of the song's charm, that it was just sung by this hugely flawed voice, with the great Rod Stewart merely chiming in for harmony work. It sounds like something the band recorded at a drunken bonfire. It also sounds utterly wonderful. Further contributing to the ramshackle nature of the band was that despite none of them having notable drug problems, they notoriously played their shows so shitballs drunk that the concerts had a sort of "anything goes" atmosphere. They were The Replacements before The Replacements. They even used to have a bar on stage! And a bartender!!

But they made truly timeless and phenomenal rock and roll, so much so that all of the band's many flaws appear as charming elements of the whole package. With this song, recorded less than a year after the McCartney version, they begin by eliminating all of the tenderness and poignancy of the original, and then somehow relocating those things along the way almost by accident. It starts like bar band rock and roll. They're probably drunk, they're smiling, the drums are loud. The organ acts as the lead instrument. You could make cogent arguments about how tight the instrumentation is and how loose it is. That's the kind of thing The Faces were very good at--leaving you completely unsure about whether they were on the same page, but thinking that no matter how on or off they were was part of what made it so great. And then, at the 2:46 mark, Rod and Ronnie--band nemeses--join each other at the mic for one of the most lovely chorus harmonies you're ever likely to hear. For just over 30 seconds the rest of the band comes to a virtual halt, and we just get two guys who allegedly hated each other coming together for a sound so beautiful that it demands to be experienced as loud as you can handle it. While the McCartney version is romantic, this one seems celebratory. Rod and Ronnie, huge grins on their inebriated faces, passionately singing to the skies and loving every moment of it. It's no wonder they stretched the song out to six minutes. Why stop when you can sound like that? Then when it finally does stop, the last few notes seem sloppy and accidental. The Faces wouldn't have had it any other way.

This was originally written and posted on Facebook on August 4, 2014

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