A cynically motivated product saved by the Small Faces’ extraordinary talent.
Sean Egan 2012-05-04
From the Beginning was released between the Small Faces’ first (1966, Decca) and second (1967, Immediate) proper albums, both of which were eponymous. Though it rounds up almost all their prior chart successes, From the Beginning (Decca, also 1967) is not a greatest hits as such, for it also includes previously unissued material scraped from the bottom of the session barrel. Two of its tracks are earlier versions of songs that appear on the Immediate album, with whose release its own coincided.
Behind this confusing discography lies a story rife with politics, From the Beginning being the cash-in of an unwanted record company and even more undesired manager from whose clutches the group had escaped. The band eventually made their displeasure with From the Beginning publicly known.
That this cynically motivated product is still a worthwhile listen is down to the Small Faces’ extraordinary talent. Lead vocalist Steve Marriott was a cockney urchin but sang with a bluesy gravitas, while he and his three colleagues executed a sparkling, organ-heavy blend of pop, soul, rock and nascent freakbeat.
Though their explosive entrée What’cha Gonna Do About It and signature song Sha-La-La-La-Lee had featured on their first album, the first-time collation of other hits like the joyous Hey Girl and the anguished All or Nothing was, pre-internet, rather handy. Said songs displayed the developing songwriting partnership of Marriott and bassist Ronnie Lane, further in evidence on high quality newies like My Way of Giving.
The mysterious That Man and the Eastern-inflected Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow demonstrate a thoughtful new path for the band's music that would ultimately culminate in their psychedelic extravaganza Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, although they do rather make adjacent covers like You've Really Got a Hold on Me and Runaway come across as reflexive exercises, however perky. Bonuses like brilliant contemporaneous B sides Almost Grown and Understanding fill out the enjoyable first disc.
The second disc, however, presents problems. Appending to an album that was already a bit of a dog’s dinner a whole load of alternate and “electronically processed stereo” mixes and different versions – plus more songs that had been better developed by the time of their appearance on their new label – and then slapping on the whole enterprise the designation "Deluxe Edition" comes close to what Marriott would no doubt have termed "having a laugh".