Faces - A Nod's As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse

 
Released: 1971
     
Label: Warner, K 56006  
     
Charts:
chart peak
date certified
UK:
2

US:
6

gold

04.02.1972
 
Track listing:
 
1Miss Judy's Farm
Wood, Stewart

2You're So Rude
Lane, McLagan

3Love Lives Here
Wood, Stewart, Lane

4Last Orders Please
Lane

5Stay With Me
Wood, Stewart

6Debris
Lane

7Memphis
Berry

8Too Bad
Wood, Stewart

9That's All You Need
Wood, Stewart

Details:
Reviews:
Can you imagine the pleasure and excitement of three new album releases featuring Rod Stewart on lead vocals within the space of nine months! Unthinkable and difficult to believe now, I know, but in the vintage year of 1971 such events did actually take place. Firstly, in the spring, the Faces delivered their second album ‘Long Player’, the summer months heralded the third solo effort from Rod, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’, and finally in December, the third album from the Faces exploded onto the rock scene... ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse’.
By this time Rod had been propelled into the limelight and was firmly established as the rock world’s biggest star, enjoying enormous critical acclaim and publicity thanks to the huge worldwide success of ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ and ‘Maggie May’. The release of ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse’ not only cemented Rod’s position, but also shone the spotlight on the talents of messrs Wood, Lane, McLagan and Jones.
Early in 1972 ‘Long Player’ had peaked at No.31 in the UK and No.29 in the USA. But hot on the heels of ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’, the Faces could not fail with ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink’! Released exactly thirty years ago, it was and still is, a treasure chest overflowing with gems and still sounds brilliant today.
A large part of the success of the album was thanks to the bands decision to use a co-producer for the first time. Glyn Johns had previously worked with such giants as The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin. He had also worked with the Faces when they were Small. Johns offered his talents to the Faces in an attempt to break the mould of the previous two albums. He kept the band focused and spontaneous as they went for one or two takes maximum per track. He had them display a rare discipline and encouraged them to put their silly antics to one side whilst in the studio. Their attitude to recording changed. The recordings were not nearly as sophisticated as Rod’s solo projects, but even so, it was the essence of Rod Stewart.... ballsy, risky and sassy pomp. Rod sang as only Rod could, whilst the band fused together like a dream.
The songwriting from the band had peaked at the right time also. As with the two previous attempts, Rod and Ron Wood put together the boisterous rock tracks whilst Ronnie Lane penned the more thoughtful ballads. Recording began at Olympic Sound studios in London during September and October, only to be interrupted by the triumphant success the band enjoyed performing at the Concert For Bangla Desh at the London Oval on 18 September. Here they introduced the British audience to their rock anthem ‘Stay With Me’ for the first time.
This Stewart/Wood song (“the only real hit the Faces ever had”, Rod would wrongly claim in later years) was the single release from the album. It raced up the UK and USA charts peaking at No. 6 and No. 17 respectively. This raucous ode and quintessential groupie kiss-off gave us the best of the Rod and Ron songwriting prowess and also showcased the bands talents to the extreme, highlighting their individual skills towards the end of the song. It kicked and it kicked hard! Woody is the key figure though, exhibiting one of the most memorable guitar introductions in rock history before unleashing incessant powerful guitar work throughout, whilst the impressive and sturdy rhythm section of Lane and Jones keep it tight and the rollicking keyboards from Mac add infectious intensity to the song. The instinctive vocal performance from Rod is animated and commanding, belting out sexist lyrics that would make the Stranglers blush in later years:

You won’t need too much persuading
I don’t mean to sound degrading
But with a face like that
You got nothing to laugh about...


‘Stay With Me’ is still played live by Rod and it was used during Woody’s ‘Slide On Live’ tour in 1993 with Bernard Fowler on vocals. It also appears on Rod’s latest hits album.
The first indication that the Stewart/Wood songwriting partnership was beginning to mature is apparent on the opening track of the album, the blues inflected ‘Miss Judy’s Farm’. The lyrics are about a farm owner in Alabama forcing one of her 18 year old workers to satisfy her sexual appetite. Rod has the only voice imaginable for this kind of song, raw and energetic. The opening salvo from Woody’s rhythmic guitar is infectious, powerful and exciting, merely a pointer to what is to come from the other remaining tracks on the album. The nimble fingered Mac shows he is the master of the boogie woogie piano and the incessant beat from Kenny’s kit is determined. Lane’s bass pattern is indelibly fixed throughout. A powerful opening to the album which ensures the listeners attention is transfixed.
Ian McLagan’s previous songwriting credits with the band amounted to two numbers written with Stewart, ‘Bad ‘n’ Ruin’ and ‘Three Button Hand Me Down’ and the instrumental ‘Looking Out Of The Window’ with Jones. With this album he added another string to his bow co-writing the mid-tempo whimsically swaggering ‘You’re So Rude’ with Ronnie Lane who also handled the vocals. A true story from the pen of Lane, a bright bouncy ditti about getting caught in a compromising position with a sassy girlfriend during a family visit. It was written after he heard the tune on Mac’s harmonium. Mac recalls the story:

“I already had the tune when Ronnie popped round to my house one day. The harmonium was in the hallway, just inside the front door as I was having the walls of my studio re-plastered and there was no other place to put it. Anyway, I played him the melody, and he wrote the lyrics there and then!”

It saw the two ex-Small Faces, short statured and stout hearted, collaborating in true cockney street kid style.... an immensely appealing air of boisterous good cheer mixed with youthful, innocent enthusiasm. With Mac’s piano and B3 Hammond organ bouncing off Woody’s effervescent guitar work the desired effect is created. Melodic, fresh and free from excessive production. Ronnie excels on the vocals and you tend to think his efforts are more natural and less forced than Rod’s. He has plenty of charm and wit too. The song was the B-side of ‘Stay With Me’ in America. Although sadly never played live by the band, it was often used by Ronnie and his band Slim Chance after his departure in 1973. Mac continues to play it live when he tours with the Bump Band. The song is particularly close to my heart as Mac dedicated the tune to former Smiler writer Les Dear when he played in Leeds during his tour last year.
Next up is the first ballad on the album. ‘Love Lives Here’, a collaboration between Woody, Stewart and Lane, it tells the heart wrenching tale of a man returning home to visit the scene of his first love only to find it derelict. The songs prevailing tone is one of reflection. A simple aching ballad, again highlighting the beautiful and surging B3 Hammond and piano playing from Mac intertwining with Woody’s soulful fret work. Rod delivers a powerful and sincere vocal performance, skilled and enthralling. Because of their reputation as an out and out rowdy bar room rock act, the Faces rarely performed ballads live and sadly this tune was overlooked.
The next song on the album, the Ronnie Lane penned ‘Last Orders Please’ is a rollicking but tearful tune sang with gutso by Lane himself. It tells the story of two lost loves crossing paths once again and although it is painful to bear, they cannot reconcile. Lane had really started to blossom as a lyricist, his song writing repertoire was very special, it was sensitive and sensible and his unique voice seemed to fit his music like a hand to a glove. This was even more evident on one of his most outstanding song writing achievements ‘Debris’. Here he excelled himself. Is there any better country rock song out there? I think not. It does not get any better than this and I can’t think of anybody more suitable to sing this tune than Ronnie. The powerful backing vocals from Rod add to the poignancy of the ballad. It is a deeply moving, painful love song of intense regret with a deeply overriding emotional tone. Ronnie broke the mold on this one:

I left you on the Debris
Now we both know you got no money
And I wonder what you would have done
Without me hanging around


Only one song was covered on the album, the Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roll classic ‘Memphis’. Rumour has it that the boys were waiting around in the studio for Rod to show up and Laney was trying to remember the bass line. Apparently they threw it together as a slop track and Rod sang over it. Literally it’s a full blown jam session! Almost five and half minutes long, the intro is a full one-and-a-half minutes... Rod sings... and the outro is another two minutes, speeding up towards the end. The boys are in full swing on this number, it’s exuberant to the extreme. Kenny thrashing away on his drums, Woody displaying violent tendencies with his frantic guitar riffs, the boogie woogie playing from Mac threatens to spiral out of control. Oh, and yes, Laney did remember his bass line! A favourite on the live circuit too. British drunk rock at its best!
“Rod...... erh? Ronnie, can you let go of your guitar, get rid of the feedback for me. Sorry.” The opening lines from producer Glyn Johns on the Wood/Stewart rocker ‘Too Bad’. The foot tapping starts, the bass drum follows in tandem, Kenny’s sticks are next. Here we go, in one take! It has decidedly rowdy overtones, jovial keyboards, dirty guitar, raw drumming, rousing bass and the motley splendour of Rod’s vocals. This was not rock ‘n’ roll as art or technique. This was party rock! Five guys living it large. Ronnie Lane the diminutive bass player and typical east end boy. Ian McLagan, the cute Peter Pan with fingers quick and light in movement. Kenny Jones, the serious worker who would rather be heard than seen. Ron Wood, epitome of the seventies British lead guitarist and Rod, proud and commanding, a skilled wordsmith, a footloose romantic, yet rock ‘n’ roll hero.
We are treated to some of the finest bottle neck guitar you are likely to hear on the final track ‘That’s All You Need’. Woody’s music once again meets Stewart’s lyrics and their songwriting style is beginning to threaten even the most cemented of partnerships like Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Taupin/John. Containing something of the groove heard on ‘Cut Across Shorty’ the fat tone exhaled from Woody’s thrashing guitar is warm and breathtaking and the band prove that they are louder than the loudest! And then, to everybody’s surprise, at the end of the track the laid back cool Jamaican Steel Drum sound meets the tense, highly strung British rock sound head on! Rod had used the mandolin with great effect on ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ and it was his idea to use the steel drum sound on this track. A guy named Harry Fowler is credited for playing the steel drums. Mac again:

“I'm pretty sure it was a pseudonym for whoever Rod got in for the job. His name got lost in the shuffle. Harry Fowler indeed!”

This album found the Faces fusing together a grittier blues and soul sound than on past efforts, which were marked by a rather modish sound and Stewart’s then-folkier leanings.
Whilst together, the Faces never sold that many records and were not considered as important as the Stones, yet their music has proven extremely influential over the years. ‘A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...’ is the most representative recording of a band that helped shape hard rock and punk for years to come. Many punk rockers in the seventies learned how to play their instruments by listening to the Faces; in the eighties and nineties, guitar rock bands from the Guns and Roses to the Stereophonics took their cue from the Faces as much as the Stones. Their reckless, loose, and joyous spirit has stayed alive in much of the best rock & roll of the past decades. Any kid assembling friends and their guitars in the garage for the first time should heed its lessons.

Ian Roberts, Winter 2001


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