Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out in 1967, but it wasn’t until the following year that the Beatles’ concept of telling a singular story within the span of a two-sided LP came to life. And 1968 was teeming with a multitude of variations on the idea, but there was one album from ’68 that distilled all the bombast and buffoonery of the singularly themed song cycle in pop music, housed in a round LP jacket miming the vintage tobacco tin it was named after.
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake was the fourth LP by East London’s Small Faces, a quartet who set themselves apart not only by their uniformly demure stature among its members—guitarist/vocalist Steve Marriott, bassist/vocalist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones—but their heavy influence on the grittier end of the R&B/soul spectrum that was propelling many of the British Invasion bands. Under the recording guidance of the great Glyn Johns — who had also spent ’68 already working on a ton of other albums including Beggars Banquet by the Rolling Stones, the second Traffic LP and the debut from The Pentangle — the group pushed their art beyond the pop charts and toward a more adventurous strain of their signature sound. The sense of raggedness exhibited by the band upon their return from an Australian tour opening for The Who is quite palpable in the mix as well.
Theoretically, the conceptual aspect of Ogdens’ doesn’t appear until the second side of the album, based on a character named Happiness Stan and his quest to find the missing half of the moon, narrated in a form of gibberish by renowned English comedic actor Professor Stanley Unwin and at some point features a giant fly. But the real story existed on side one, candidly chronicling a band enduring a battle within itself over creative direction that pit the ardent, theatrical approach of Marriott against the knockabout Cockney charm of Lane. And it was the tension of that push-pull dynamic which would drive the heady swirl of the opening title track, the unapologetic Englishness of “Lazy Sunday,” the full-tilt yearning of “Afterglow” and the searing embryonic AOR of “Song of a Baker,” a song that simultaneously foreshadows the direction Lane, McLagan and Jones would take as the Faces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and the groundbreaking route Marriott would take as the frontman for Humble Pie in 1969. What the Small Faces constructed with Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake were the blueprints to some of the most important music movements of the ’70s and ’80s, including hard rock, Britpop and even aspects of new wave.
In fact, all you really have to do is take a glance at the range of artists who shared their thoughts on Ogdens’ with Billboard in honor of the album’s 50th anniversary today (May 24) to collect a sample of the wide pool of great music this masterpiece has impacted.
“If all the flies were one fly, what a great enormous fly-follolloper that would bold,” declares Unwin on this album. In looking back on the influence Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake has established over this last half-century, that little quip of gobbledygook makes more sense now than ever before.
Ogdens’ was the best Small Faces album for me. It was just after its release that I first met Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, and there was talk of me joining the band as the fifth member as well. They were always one of my most favourite bands from, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” onwards. This album’s great material and concept are what made it their finest work. Its eye catching round cover made it unique before you even heard the music. Love this record!!” –Peter Frampton
I was born in East London, and Itchycoo Park in Manor Park is actually really close to where my dad’s buried in the cemetery there. There were a lot of great things that came out of East London when I was a kid, not only Stevie Marriott and Small Faces, but Rod Stewart, Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac, all of these guys were from the same area that I was from, really. And when I was a kid, I was very young when the Small Faces first came out, and it was all really exciting. I remember my parents buying me “Lazy Sunday” on 45 off Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake back then, and that’s really where it all started for my awareness of them. They were local for me. – Phil Collen, Def Leppard
I first came across it when I was in Santa Cruz and we were just getting Comets on Fire started. It was like 1998 or so, and a lot of the Italian bootleg-y labels were reissuing a lot of these lost psychedelic records. Ogdens’ was certainly more overground than some of the stuff getting dug up, but it was one of the ones that was popping up there in reissue form, and I remember one of the psych heads at the record store I went to was telling me it was a pinnacle record along with S.F. Sorrow and Odessey & Oracle. That was where I fell into it, and I feel like Ogdens’ as far as concept albums go, you hear a lot of these concept albums like Tommy or The Wall and it feels like a Broadway musical. With Ogdens’, it felt more like a small English village playhouse style musical. Plus, I also love the big amps and the guitars playing these huge slashing chords Marriott is playing throughout, it sounds like every other string is out of tune. There’s this patchwork, countryside feel to it that’s a long way from the urban majesty of Sgt. Pepper. – Ethan Miller, Howlin Rain
They felt like a big underground band to me. It’s amazing to know the lasting effects of Ogdens’ on music culture and rock ‘n’ roll. It seems like the album really had a lot to do with the Britpop movement. It’s amazing to go back like Blur’s Parklife and hear how much of an influence Ogdens’ had on those songs. And also Paul Weller, a very obvious Small Faces devotee who took so much of that record into his life. For me, Ogdens’ was one of the first Small Faces albums that I bought because the artwork was so cool. And then when I first heard the Black Crowes, I was like, ‘Wow!’, because you could tell they were listening to all that stuff, absorbed it perfectly and did their own thing with it. I was so into the Crowes back then, and they turned me onto a lot of music. – Neal Casal, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood
I was more of a Faces fan growing up and I liked the Small Faces singles I could get my hands on; namely “Itchycoo Park.” I got a re-issue of Ogdens’ probably 1981 or so? It’s very British and as usual, Kenney Jones plays great. What an underrated drummer. –Stan Demeski, The Feelies
I never appreciated Hammond organs until I heard that glorious moment in the chorus of “Afterglow” where the organ plays the perfect cadence and Mac slows down the Leslie speaker. Before that I thought those organs mostly sounded old and slightly depressing! I also was completely turned on by the sheer exuberance of the whole record! For all I know, they did a million takes of everything. But it doesn’t sound like that, it sounds like a band at the height of its powers, where every take is just… killer. – Mitch Easter
“I would hesitate to say that any album of its era truly ‘has it all,’ but then there’s this one. It’s psychedelic and heavy and whimsical and funky, and very deeply British. Heroic vocals by Steve Marriott. Kenney Jones is on fire. (I love how the drums on this record are twice as loud as everything else!) And it’s got flashes of the World’s Greatest Pub Band vibes that would take them into the Rod-and-Woody era. I hear its immediate influence in Free, Badfinger, even Harry Nilsson, and those are three of my favorite things.” —John Brodeur, Bird Streets
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is one of those treasures, like Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies, that were important albums in their day but are mostly known today for selected breakthrough oldies radio hits rather than as the masterful, complete works that they are. A must for music cognoscenti. A mix of high concept and just general tomfoolery (at least we know what they were smoking!), ONGF contains, among other ingredients, the powerful “Song of A Baker,” which was a staple of The Posies live shows — I kind of feel the blueprint for the Screaming Trees is contained in this song and indeed I swear we might have seen them cover it as well. And “Afterglow”…well, this is epic to a degree that “led” the way for Mssrss Plant & Page*, and really all the heavy soulful rock of the ’70s…
*see what I did there… – Ken Stringfellow
Ian McLagan would have celebrated his 73rd birthday just a few days ago, so all of us in Austin (where he lived for many years and until his passing) were already sharing stories and photos and how much he was loved. Revisiting this album here on its 50th Anniversary, I’m reminded of how Small Faces hit such a incredibly high mark creatively on this album, and of Mac’s brilliance throughout. Especially so on “Long Agos and World’s Apart.” This will forever be one of the greatest albums in my collection. – Jeff Plankenhorn
Crazily psychedelic, irresistibly tuneful and sometimes completely hilarious. I’ve always loved the music hall aspects of the record in particular. That combo of soul, psych, music hall and rock has been a huge inspiration and influence on my own work, especially on my album Third. Marriott’s vocals are so fantastic on this record, ’60s British soul at its finest. I love the entire record, but side two is absolute magic. It’s a cockney fairy tale, a psych-soul spiritual predecessor of Harry Nilsson’s The Point. The story’s told with great economy—many bands would have turned a concept album like this into a bloated mess, but the band wisely kept it compact, distilling the best parts onto one side of the record. There’s so much charm in it, and you can feel the goofy fun they had in making it. Stanley Unwin’s narration is so weird and so brilliant that you kind of expect him to turn up in your kitchen mumbling bedtime stories in his unique Unwinese dialect. There’s nobody quite like him.
The amazing soul singer P.P. Arnold doesn’t get enough credit for her influence on the Small Faces and on Marriott in particular. He and Ronnie Lane backed her on several of her songs, and she and Steve were romantically involved for a bit around the time they made the album. He originally wrote “Afterglow Of Your Love” for her, and then decided it was too good to share, so he kept it for Ogdens’ and sang it himself with more than a little bit of her vocal style. She should be as well remembered as the Small Faces are, but I think the fear of being in an interracial relationship and having to keep it secret was too much, and she kind of got pushed to the side for years. It’s a shame. – Cait Brennan
I first heard Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake when I was riding in Low Cut Connie’s tour van as we were driving through southern Ohio late at night. I had been listening to another concept album that was also released in 1968, The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow. What stood out to me was the tangible roughness and swagger that seemed to be blossoming into new era of The Faces. As a songwriter and guitarist, albums like Ogdens’ Nut serve me like a handbook to proper garage music. In Low Cut Connie, I’ve found us constantly borrowing ideas from how the guitars interact with a central keys instrument like McLagan’s organ or the piano of Steve Marriott.
I was particularly drawn to Glyn Johns’ production qualities. It is a constantly reminder to me that beautiful melodies and sonic layering can be focused around the most simple of chord structures. McLagan’s keys are perfect blend of summer of love and the impending exile boogie of the early 1970s. Drummer Kenney Jones seems to be inventing garage rock drumming on the spot. Before the hot legged-blues of Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, you can hear the foundations of psychedelia and British folk that reach beyond the music into the whimsical quest of Happiness Stan and his search for the missing half of the moon. – James Everhart, Low Cut Connie
I love the opening title song Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. The mixture of the wah-wah’d electric piano, thumping drums and the swirling string section with deep cellos really sets you up for the LP to come. – Simon Love
My one true goal in life is to fully absorb and reflect the loping ferocity of Kenney Jones in my playing. His creative and loose-but-madly-skilled drumming synchs perfectly with Lane’s rollicking bass and Mac’s “Booker T on acid” approach on this record. Funky as hell! I’m a fan of anything Steve Marriott every uttered, but his impassioned vocal still shreds my heartstrings each and every time I listen to him lay into an R’n’B number like “Afterglow.” Though not fully a concept album, I see the Ogdens’ as the light half of the ‘moon and dangly’ to the Pretty Things’ darkly brilliant concept album S.F. Sorrow released six months later. From the mouths of these pint-sized babes came such a joyous ruckus that I never could shake them…and I can certainly pinpoint them as the reason for choosing the Joker’s life.” – Linda Pitmon, The Baseball Project/Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3
Love ‘Lazy Sunday’ — it’s part of my musical DNA, but never took to the LP. No arguing with the greatness of Marriott’s voice, but musically and lyrically too much hippy shite for my taste. – Cait O’Riordan
I made a big decision the Summer of 68: Go to Israel for two months and get two weeks in London. Small Faces was one of my fave bands, but had little impact or press in the USA other than “Itchycoo Park” in 1968. When I get to Israel I searched out records and Wham Bam Thank You Mam, not only do I find many other gems but I purchase the Israeli copy of Ogdens‘! I had been hearing “The Universal” on the radio which I would purchase a couple months later, one of their smaller singles. Not only did I love this record. Go on YouTube and watch the Colour Me Pop episode of them performing it!! I probably played “Song For A Baker” with anyone I could while learning drums. My friend Kevin DuBrow, who went on to Quiet Riot, was a regular in playing songs with me off this magnificent album. – Danny Benair, The Three O’Clock
“Close my eyes and drift away…” Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake gave us a song with no words and no tune, an ambience, an attitude, a refuge we could run to, anytime there was no room for ravers! – Dave Wakeling, The English Beat
Ogdens’, in its fall-apart round cover, has been a part of my life since it came out. The tone that every instrument achieved is remarkable — warm, dirty, enormous. And Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane sing beautifully throughout. Add in Professor Stanley Unwin, and it’s been a source of great joy forever. Well, by dint of its arrival before either of the other bands by a year, it was. But really, it’s its own animal, I think. It’s so different from the R’n’B Small Faces that came before ONGF, its brilliant pop. None of them ever went in that direction again, right? Humble Pie was covering Ray Charles and Dr. John, and the Faces were superstars, being a little like the Stones but with more booze and less junk. Maybe some of Ronnie Lane’s latter-day stuff, but that was so cloaked in the caravan sound. Ogdens’ is such a perfect pop album, never equaled in any of the principals’ canons in that specific genre again. I hope that makes sense. –Peter Holsapple, the dB’s
It was the late sixties, I believe. I was at Heathrow to meet Sandy Denny, for some reason. I was standing beside four or five of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. The archetypal 60’s dolly birds, as they were called. Barely there skirts, gorgeous legs. Perfect in every way. Then The Faces came off the plane, and I realized of course, that these stunners were waiting for their boyfriends! The Faces only went out with incredible looking girls. The guys ignored them completely, rushed over to me and said, “Hello Linda. All right mate?” Made me laugh. -Linda Thompson
The greatness of Small Faces can be summed up in the guts, passion and harmonies of “Afterglow.” It should have granted them the keys to the universe in the 60s. Kenney Jones is one of the most underrated drummers in rock ‘n’ roll. With great power and finesse he created the perfect middle ground between Ringo and Keith Moon. – Dennis Diken, The Smithereens
I loved the Small Faces…Ian was my favorite keyboard player…Duck Dunn turned me onto them with the 45 of “Itchycoo Park” and the flipside “I’m Only Dreaming.” That was a pre-release promotional copy that he had…We used to spend every weekend listening to different music at his house in the mid to late 60s, including Ogdens’.…He was my first producer and introduced me to Stax…I was the first white artist to be signed to their HIP label. –Bobby Whitlock
Seems strange to say but it was a record I was too young for at the time – I remember the Barron Knights spoofing “Lazy Sunday” on kids TV during the 1968 Olympics – “Wouldn’t it be nice to win the ‘undred meters!” I owned this during the 80s, lost it in a burglary but the Small faces keep coming back at you don’t they? Covered “Song of a Baker” with my Voodoo Space Rock band Bad Luck Jonathan last year – a song about how to make a loaf of bread. The Stanley Unwin bits still seem full of impossible genius to me. McLagan became a huge mate of ours while he was living in Austin and he told me great stories about his best mate Ronnie Lane and just what a great songwriter he was. –Jon Langford, The Mekons
The only disappointing thing about this LP is it was the final Small Faces offering of their first era. It jumps beautifully from Hendrix to Bart whilst stepping on John Mayall’s toes. I think by this point they had given up any ambitions of being pop stars and had matured in to rock musicians… many of the great bands of the early 70’s owe a huge debt to Ogdens’ as it opened a musical bridge to a British rock revolution. – Eddie Roxy (Department S)
The magic of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake lies in its musical diversity. The influences of soul, rock, English folk, jazz, jug band and a heavy dose of industrial English LSD lunacy! Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is the winner in the grand psychedelic garden part of rock n’ roll. – Chris Robinson
When I was eight there was only one band I listened to – The Beatles. It was as if no other bands existed. Then my stepmother bought “Sha La La La Lee” by The Small Faces and I was transfixed by the singer, that voice was so powerful – easily up there with, perhaps surpassing, Lennon’s or McCartney’s. A couple of years later I heard “Lazy Sunday” on the radio, with its incredibly hooky Wurlitzer intro fused with Marriott’s addictive voice. Ogdens’ was the second album I saved up for after I bought Sgt. Pepper’s. The band were confirmed to me as special – they had all the ingredients – one of the greatest white male singers of all time, a fantastic bassist and writer in Ronnie Lane, a keyboard player, Ian McLagan, who came up with fantastic hooks and a drummer, Kenney Jones, who understood what to play within the band. Incidentally, about four years later, the first gig I ever attended was The Faces (not to be confused with The Small Faces, although they had three members in common) at The Sundown in North London. — James Stevenson