The Who and Small Faces
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., May 19, 2000
BBC Sessions (BBC/MCA)
The BBC Sessions (BBC/Fuel 2000/Varése Sarabande)Who says a top-down socialist broadcasting model never leads to anything good? If it weren't for the Musicians'-Union-backed "needle time" rules limiting the amount of recorded music played over BBC airwaves in the Sixties, we wouldn't have a treasure trove of unreleased radio sessions from virtually everyone in British rock royalty. Perhaps 1967's The Who Sell Out was intended as the Who's tribute to the offshore pirate stations that revolutionized British radio, but the band was not above reworking "My Generation" into a promo for BBC Radio One that same year. The catchy jingle ("Talkin' 'bout my favorite station!") begins a solid-if-not-always-revelatory journey through the band's BBC work from 1965 to 1973. The album serves as a sort of alternate to Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy, collecting the Who's most endearing mod-era nuggets in a mostly live, no-second-chance studio setting. The band's live prowess ensures great performances on virtually every track, including a few that surpass the original versions. The BBC version of "Boris the Spider" puts Keith Moon's merciless pounding deservedly higher in the mix, while "Good's Gone" is given extra weight by Pete Townshend's punkish fuzztone solo. A version of Eddie Holland's 1963 Motown hit "Leaving Here" shows how the Who lived up to the "Maximum R&B" moniker, but their take on "Dancing in the Street" provides the album's sole unqualified clunker. While I hate to encourage patronizing big-box retailers over independents, the Best Buy version of BBC Sessions comes with a bonus disc featuring seven additional songs, including a bass-heavy take on "I Can See for Miles." BBC Sessions is essential for die-hard fans, but only a few of the tracks truly qualify as must-hears for everyone. Because the Small Faces' only dent in the U.S. charts was "Itchycoo Park," their BBC album will sound considerably fresher to most American ears. Anyone who questions why the Small Faces never achieved widespread popularity on this side of the pond will find plenty of ammunition here. From 1965 to 1969, guitarist Steve Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenney Jones, and keyboardist/current Austinite Ian MacLagan played loud, hook-laden pop songs with soulful, Solomon Burke-style urgency. Focusing on the band's earlier sides, the album kicks off with the 1965 garage-blues burner "What'cha Gonna Do About It?" and keeps the momentum going with rousing covers of Rufus Thomas' "Jump Back" and Sam Cooke's "Shake." Marriott's vocal acrobatics set the stage for Robert Plant, a fact driven home by the band's take on Willie Dixon's "You Need Love." The album also includes most of the band's biggest British hits, such as "Sha La La La Lee," "All or Nothing," and "Lazy Sunday." Although the sessions took place over a three-year period (1965-68), the band's incendiary performances lend uncommon cohesion to this compilation. Their gospel-tinged rendition of Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts" is the perfect album closer. Taken with properly enunciated intros from staid BBC announcers, these raw-yet-transcendent performances pack all the veneer of found history.