FIVE GUYS WALK INTO THE BAR

With their recent Faces/"Five Guys Walk Into A Bar." box set (…this one aimed at ya I-94 barflies or what?), Rhino Records have managed to reinvigorate the reputation of that lovable but previously not-to-be-taken-seriously seventies party band. Receiving goodwill from the press for compiling a fat 4-CD set that merges the band’s meager recorded output with an over abundance of rarities - - plus the usual bang-up job on the packaging front, I have been suckered in as well albeit with reserved skepticism.

Naturally, Rod Stewart remains an easy target for you punks dead set on decrying the greatest of all '70s sell-outs (just look at the %$#@ that keeps him in the charts these days!). But I inferred years ago, by way of a cassette laid on me by the proverbial rockin’ older brother (Dave Jarema, RIP), which mixed-up Mercury Records Rod (GENIUS era, ’70-72) with the lowlights of the Faces’ parallel career on Warner Bros, that the band was strictly second banana in the song department. In fact, it seemed pretty obvious that beyond “Stay With Me” and “Ooh La La”, the songwriting of the Faces was hardly in the same league as Rod’s ’70-72 run of masterworks.

(I don’t care what he says 30 years later in these CD liner notes, Rod managed to hold back his best songs for his solo releases. I’ll never believe otherwise.)

The accompanying CD liner notes go a long way toward annotating the heavy duty influence of the Faces. Unfortunately, this posthumously implicates ‘em for inspiring Faces-lite tribute band the Black Crowes. On the other hand, I’m happy to report that the music included in the "Five Guys…" box set is worthy of this skeptic’s reevaluation. In fact, I can’t seem to remove it from the CD player.

Now, anyone claiming that this collection is faultless is either on Warner/Rhino’s payroll or simply out of their mind. But the great majority of this material is vital, from flat-out rockers (nothing pedestrian about “Borstal Boys”, “Pool Hall Richard” or best of the lot, “Too Bad” and the expected “Stay With Me”) to ballads that will thaw-out even the most mean-hearted of you punks. On these latter tunes, the Faces make surprisingly understated, even beautiful music. Many of the most moving slow’ees are from the pen of bassist Ronnie Lane (another RIP, damn) whose strained singing was the antithesis of Stewart’s steroid strength, perfectly pitched delivery. Personally, I never much liked Lane’s lead vocals in the Small Faces but here it is a comfortable fit.

Of the plenitude of BBC tracks found across these four discs, one of the most amazing performances can be found on their cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed” (don’t laugh, the playing is especially amazing); a democratic arrangement with vocals shared effectively by Lane and Stewart. Having heard this, I have no use for a Stewart-only version. The way this one is woven is just fine by me.

I’m less inclined than others to give the whole of the BBC performances a rave review free pass. Sloppy-but-great radio takes of solo Rod milestones (“Maggie May”, “I Know I’m Losing You”) hardly eclipse their incomparable originals, yet do exceed inebriated expectations. But no one is going to convince me that this BBC live “Stay With Me” holds a candle to its studio version. Two BBC renditions of “Miss Judy’s Farm” is definitely two too many, too. Frankly, Rod the Mod’s introductory banter on these tracks is embarrassing. When not singing, he sounds like an idiot. Then again, as the 60 pages of liner notes go to great length to point out, he was plastered.

The real stunner amongst the 15 performances retrieved from the BBC vaults is a medley, so to speak, of “Around the Plynth/Gasoline Alley” (from 1970) with Ron Wood wigging out on slide guitar plus a furious finale from all concerned. More than the radio cuts, I’m drawn to the live version of Wood’s “I Can Feel the Fire”, which not only cooks like a muther but confirms how right the Stones were in poaching him; a real coup.

Most of this can be recommended. The instrumentals are good fun, the dozen or so demos/outtakes are largely listenable (an obscure Beach Boys cover, “Gettin’ Hungry”, is even better than the band is willing to admit in the liner quotes), and the swan song proto-disco single, “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything” (George McRae’s “Rock Me Baby” doubtlessly on the dial when they slapped this together), a flop harbinger of the singer’s future fortune.

"Five Guys Walk Into a Bar…" is bar approved!!

I delivered my I-94 2003 Top 10 list right under the wire on December 30th. I was told that it was too long (and some) and that it would need to run instead as an installment of my column. No thanks. I originally envisioned “Everything Louder Than…” as a reserve for my absolute obsessions, not temporary Top 10s. Maybe I ought to get started on my ’04 top ten. (After that Faces review, it’s one down, nine to go).

Right now, my favorite CDs of the year aren’t even from this year: It seems that I missed the positively beyond-essential reissue a few years back of the first two from Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps (on Capitol Records; vinyl from Norton Records). The eponymous second is arguably one of the great, rock solid LPs of all-time. In its CD packaging, famed liner note scribe Jeff Beck states, “If you aren’t completely freaked by the time "Hold Me, Hug Me, Rock Me" ends … then, my friend, you need to seek help – and you are not a Rock & Roll fan.” Buy ‘em before they get the corporate axe.

Besides the Faces box, coolest package to show up lately has got to be the Byrds’ "Cancelled Flytes" 45 RPM box on Sundazed. This limited edition, five single set comes complete with a booklet, loud mono mixes on hi-grade 7” vinyl, thick full-color picture sleeves and even a box like you’d expect your French lessons to be issued in, only instead of a pic cover of the Eiffel Tower, you get more full color scruffiness from everyone’s fave folk-rockers. Far out and hopefully to be followed with similar cartons of Shadows of Knight and/or Paul Revere & the Raiders!

On August 5, I dedicated one hour of my irregular radio show (WXYC-FM, USA) to the Move. To say that the emphasis was not on Jeff Lynne would be fair. In fact, I sent an email notice of the show to Carl Wayne, Ace Kefford, and Trevor Burton prior to the big day (of course, with zero expectation that any of them would actually bother with its internet feed scheduled in their UK early hours), knowing good ‘n’ well that the program would be almost exclusively ‘66/68.

Well, what can I say? It was one of the most enjoyable hours I’ve ever had on the radio (nearly matched by the following two hours, dedicated individually to the aforementioned Gene Vincent as well as the Seeds). All the more, it was a damn shock to hear one month later that Move frontman Wayne had passed away unexpectedly from cancer.

Carl Wayne was an extraordinary vocalist and one curiously undervalued in his position in the British '60s top of the pops hierarchy. For decades, his indispensable contributions to the Move have been overshadowed by accusations that he was musically middle of the road. In an otherwise fantastic Move review (in Ugly Things), a typical example of this shortsightedness is a description discounting him as, “a smarmy, over-the-top vocalist with a penchant for cabaret.”

While there is some truth to this (based on the odd MOR musical misstep in the Move and primarily his career path after leaving the band), it somehow dismisses an array of accomplishments that amount to some of the most memorable vocals of the era. Besides the obvious hit single performances, his supporting bridge and backing vocals on the otherwise Roy Wood-sung “Fire Brigade” make for a particularly sublime delight… pure pop perfection. Grotesque guitar and poor production can be blamed for the follow-up failure of “Wild Tiger Woman”, not Carl Wayne who sounded only too convincing with the off-color material. As for those cabaret complaints, for sheer sonic power, check-out Carl belting out Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis and Love covers, or better yet, his atomic takes on Spooky Tooth and Jackie Wilson. For that matter, just be glad that you weren’t a television set or Cadillac at a ‘67 Move gig in London! Middle of the road? Hardly.

Wouldn’t a Move reunion have been too much? Now we’ll never know. On the Move Online (official, excellent) website, there are links to radio interview transcriptions from recent years where Carl very generously passes the spotlight to his interview guests and even less lauded ex-Move members, Kefford and Burton, attributing the band’s dynamic chemistry to the unheralded rhythm section. This showed a thoroughly different side to the man filmed on stage gobbing on a poor cameraman …in the hippy heyday of 1968, no less. Poor lens care aside, Carl Wayne is another that will be greatly missed.

Now, I see that Johnny Ramone and Arthur Kane, too, have passed on after illnesses. The only sense I can draw from these deaths and the relevant cliché “tomorrow is promised to no one” is as a reminder to us all to live our lives to the fullest. For my part, I’m at least gonna make it a point to hang out at the bar more than in ’04.

See ya there,

Jeff Jarema
September 2004

 

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