Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6: Faces, "Ooh La La"

Artist: Faces
Song: "Ooh La La"
Album: Ooh La La
Year: 1973

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Throughout history, there are countless examples of the idea of a band "not being big enough" for multiple egos.  While power-duos like Richards and Jagger or Johnny and Joey Ramone have been able to co-exist, in nearly every case, such highly talented individuals cannot last long in the same band without some sort of drama.  Yet is is also often this very tension or power struggle that forces some of the finest music in history, and the competitiveness for ego boosts can be painted as a good thing in many cases.  Though the true brilliance of the rest of the band would be revealed after the breakup, one can see the "good" play of ego within the records of the early 1970's rock band, Faces.  Though the band is undoubtedly best known as the "jumping off" point for the solo career of Rod Stewart, the fact of the matter is, the music created by Faces remains massively influential and there has really never been another group with a similar sound since their time.  Fusing meandering folk sounds into a harder rock style, one can easily make the case that the music of Faces played a key part in the development of the punk rock style, and traces of their sound can be heard in bands from The Damned to Johnny Thunders.  It was in their final months before their breakup that the group created some of their finest music, and it is captured on their 1973 release, Ooh La La.  The album rocks like nothing else at the time, and one can find everything that makes Faces such a fantastic band in the albums final song, the timeless track, "Ooh La La."

Looking over the long history of music, one would be hard pressed to find a better example of a rocking acoustic song.  The layered acoustic guitars, courtesy of Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane are absolutely superb, and they help to create one of the most powerful and absolutely enjoyable acoustic songs ever recorded.  There is a spirit and energy behind their playing that is rarely found elsewhere, and it is this element that sets Faces far apart from their peers.  Furthering this distance from other artists, the piano from Ian McLagan helps to give "Ooh La La" an organic, timeless feel, and it is amazing to hear how he makes an almost "western saloon" piano sound fit in perfectly with the rest of the song.  It is this aspect that pushes the song into a class all its own, as at its core, the song revolves around a simple two-chord riff, and this simplicity of instrumentation makes the song easily relatable on every level.  Yet as carefree as the the music may seem, there is clearly a sense of melancholy underscoring the entire musical arrangement, and one must link this to the state that the band was currently in, as this would be their final song before the group split.  One can almost picture the band members sitting around recording this song, having a "knowing smile" on their faces as they played this fitting song which in every aspect speaks of moving on with no regrets of the past.  It is this spirit, and the minimalist, yet catchy instrumentation that turned "Ooh La La" into a true anthem and why it remains such to this day.

While the music on "Ooh La La" is nothing short of fantastic, the one aspect that sets the song far apart from the rest of the Faces catalog is the fact that neither Rod Stewart nor Ronnie Lane are handling lead vocals.  This time around, it is Ronnie Wood who is singing, and his performance proves that Faces were overflowing with vocal talent.  Wood's vocals are absolutely fantastic, as one can feel the high levels of emotion that run through the entire song.  The interesting aspect of Ronnie Wood's vocals are how similar they are to those of Stewart, and one can only wonder why his talents were not featured more prominently on the earlier Faces records.  Yet as good as both the music and singing are, there is little question that it is the lyrics of "Ooh La La" that make it such a special song.  Centered around the idea of a grandson not wanting to hear the "wisdom" of his grandfather, there are few verses as powerful as when Wood sings, "...the can-can such a pretty show, will steal your heart away...but backstage, back on earth again, the dressing rooms are grey..."  Within the words, the melancholy feeling is reinforced, and one can easily make the case that Faces drops one of the greatest choruses in history when they sing, "...I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger..."  Nearly everyone can relate to this feeling, and from generation to generation, the spirit behind these words continues to ring true.

In retrospect, it is almost unfathomable to consider that on the final song before he went solo, the talents or Rod Stewart are basically nowhere to be seen.  Yet it is this fact that drives home the idea of how talented the rest of the members of Faces were, and perhaps why the end of the the group was inevitable.  Groups with such a talent level rarely last long, as clashes of ego keep pushing the tension until it hits a breaking point.  It is this idea that makes Faces song, "Ooh La La" even more fitting, as one can easily see the lyrics as a final farewell for the band, and the iconic chorus can even be applied to the situation in which the band members found themselves.  Making a very simple instrumentation appear as far more, there is an undeniable "rock" element to the song, and this ability to bring an attitude and energy to an acoustic song is one of the key reasons why Faces remain so influential to this day.  Relying on little more than a tambourine and kick drum from Kenney Jones for percussion, the entire band creates the ebb and flow of the song as the guitars slide around brilliantly, and almost "force" the listeners to stomp their feet.  Proving that he was just as talented a vocalist as his bandmates, Ronnie Wood brings sheer perfection to the words that he and Ronnie Lane penned, and they remain some of the most moving and timeless verses ever written.  Few songs so brilliantly speak of moving on with life and trying to have no regrets of the past, and with a truly beautiful, yet simple instrumentation, Faces 1973 classic, "Ooh La La" stands in a class all its own to this day.

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