Birds of a Feather: The Young Rascals and the Small Faces
When I got hold of their Ultimate Collection double CD a few years back, I gained a new appreciation for one of my favourite British bands of the 1960s, the Small Faces. The intense quality of the selected B-sides and album tracks – wild, explosive R&B jams – proved a joy to behold for someone who had only ever gathered up the singles and later albums. And when I wrote All Hopped Up and Ready To Go, I gained a new understanding for one of America’s most successful singles bands of that decade, the Young Rascals: their reputation as dedicated purveyors of Rhythm & Blues, as fans of southern soul music on a flourishing and competitive east coast circuit, and ultimately as a positive influence on subsequent American rock music, was evidently second to none.
Yet only when I put together the playlist for our 1966 party last week did I realize the extensive similarities between these two groups. Some of these similarities are evident on the surface. The names, for one thing, a single syllable adjective followed by a double syllable noun. (In the case of the Rascals, that adjective was added at the last moment, to avoid confusion with another group of the same name; given the way it typecast the group as somewhat inconsequential at a time when many American beat bands were proving to be just that, has long been regretted by the group.) Their capital city hometowns: London and New York, reflected in the very white, somewhat cockney appeal of the Small Faces and the indisputable Italian-American make-up of the Young Rascals. Timing, too: both bands were formed around 1963-64, signed record deals and released their first singles in that cataclysmic music year of 1965, and had domestic number one hits in 1966: the Rascals with “Good Lovin’,” the Small Faces with “All Or Nothing.” And, to some extent, in line-up and sound, as well: both groups employed the then requisite Hammond Organ alongside guitar and drums – though in the case of the Rascals, band leader Felix Cavaliere doubled up the bass on the Hammond Organ, given that his co-lead singer Eddie Brigati did not play an instrument.
But there, I might have thought, the similarities ended. My inherent prejudice towards the British mod movement, along with Paul Weller’s own obsession with their front man Steve Marriott during the period I was hanging with him, has long led me to believe that the Small Faces were absolutely the real deal; a similar (teenage) discrimination against American music of the sixties, perhaps reinforced by their unfortunately anachronistic choice of foppish suits, caused me to assume that the Young Rascals were somehow manufactured, or insincere.
In actuality, both groups were equally true to their influences, equally adept at rocking out, equally dedicated to the dance floor – and equally willing to cover other people’s songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Sha La La La Lee”) and dress the part to make the charts. Their differences, ultimately, are that much more minute than their similarities. Evidence really hit me when my iTunes playlist lined up “You Better Believe It” by the Small Faces (a cover version from their debut 1966 album) followed immediately by the Young Rascals’ “You Better Run” (a self-composed single from the same year), and just for a moment, I struggled to tell the difference. Don’t believe me? Try the two tracks, back to back (the YouTube Clips are each from the studio versions) – and if the Rascals’ song seems just a little slow off the ground, give it until the chorus to see what I mean.
Similarly, check out these two what I believe to be live-in-the-studio TV clips from 1966: the Young Rascals performing “Good Lovin’” and the Small Faces doing “Sha La La La Lee.” (Both groups, incidentally, were encouraged by their record companies to record songs by conventional songwriting partnerships, but preferred authentic Rhythm & Blues. The Young Rascals, after becoming the first white group to sign with Atlantic, had to endure their label bosses raiding their live set – most notably “Mustang Sally” – for Wilson Pickett’s repertoire.)
At the end of the day, the Small Faces remain my personal preference. Not only is there the inherent British mod connection, but with “Hey Girl” and “In My Mind’s Eye,” the songwriting rapidly developed into a style I identify with that much more than the Rascals’ own “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long” and “Love Is A Beautiful Thing.” In particular, it’s notable how the two groups veered as rock music grew outwards from its initial R&B roots: the Rascals hit the top of the American charts again in 1967 with the delightfully hippy-dippy blue-eyed soul of “Groovin’” while the Small Faces toughened up and tapped their inner psychedelic cockneys with “Itchycoo Park.” Interestingly, both groups continued having enormous domestic singles success into 1968 (the Rascals topping the American charts for the third year in a row with “People Got To be Free,” the Small Faces coming perilously close with “Lazy Sunday”), after which, in quick succession, they dropped the adjective at the front of the name in an attempt either to look more mature (the Rascals) or due to the departure of their talismanic front man (the Faces).
An argument can certainly be made that the depth of musicianship ran deeper in the Small Faces, given that Marriott, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane, and Kenny Jones went on to not just the Faces, but Humble Pie, the Rolling Stones and the Who. Sadly, less has been heard over the years of The Rascals’ Brigati, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli. But it’s hard to disagree with or challenge either group’s impact in their home country during the mid-sixties – and perhaps, as a result, it’s time to celebrate the greater similarities between British and American Rhythm & Blues of that period.