The Story of Faces’ Final Album, ‘Ooh La La’
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Released in April 1973, Ooh La La was the fourth and final studio LP by the Faces. The ongoing mega-success of singer Rod Stewart‘s solo career would ultimately prove too difficult to keep the Faces’ raucous party going for much longer.
Throughout the recording sessions for the album, Stewart was often out of the picture due to the demands of his status as a hit maker in his own right. The huge success of hits like “Maggie May” and “You Wear It Well” were proving a hard act for the Faces to keep up with. The had band scored their only U.S. hit over a year prior with “Stay With Me,” but were more and more being referred to as Stewart’s backing band.
With Stewart’s presence diminished during the sessions, things fell to Ronnie Lane to take charge. Ooh La La was ultimately “Ronnie’s album,” said keyboardist Ian McLagan in the liner notes to the Faces box set, “Rod wasn’t there a lot, but Ronnie had his songs together already.” You’d never guess there was any tension within the group as you put that needle on the LP. “Silicone Grown” kicks things off in perfect raunchy Faces style as the band deliver their signature ramshackle rock and roll. Written by Stewart and Ron Wood, it shows that despite any internal issues, or perhaps because of them, the band have lost no fire in their engine.
“Cindy Incidentally,” a hit single in the U.K., follows perfectly. The song barely made a dent stateside and makes one wonder if its fate would have been different were it released as a Stewart solo disc. Alas, we will never know. “Flags and Banners” is another diamond from the pen of Ronnie Lane, this time employing a traditional folk-style melody and feel with great results. “My Fault” is a real stomping rock and roller with classic Faces dirt all over it while “Borstal Boys” is one of the band’s very best rev’d up rockers. Hats off here also to producer Glyn Johns who was able to capture the band’s natural raw vibe on this one.
“If I’m on the Late Side,” written by Lane and Stewart, is another simple, folkish tune that still feels a little tentative, as if there is something missing from the final mix. On the other hand, “Glad and Sorry” is a genuine treat, and certainly one of Lane’s finest moments here. “Just Another Honky” is a solid mid-tempo groover the band were so adept at, with McLagan’s piano as the star here. The instrumental “Fly in the Ointment,” however, seems like an afterthought here and is somewhat out of place.
The album ends with the title song, which, over time, has become one of the band’s best-loved tracks. Written by the two Ronnies, the direction of the song was in question at first. “It was too high or low for Ronnie — I can’t remember which,” said McLagan in the box set liner notes. “And Rod said it was in the wrong key for him.” Ultimately the lead vocal was done by Wood, who remembers the band making jabs at his singing. “They were taking the piss out of me,” he said. “Ahh, he can’t reach the notes–what a terrible barrage to work against.” But work against it he did, and his endearing vocal fit the song like a glove.
The album sailed to the No. 1 spot in the U.K. and hit No. 21 in the States, but things were starting to unravel further for the band, and Stewart partially blames himself. “I didn’t particularly help the deteriorating atmosphere within the band,” said Stewart in his autobiography Rod. “In an interview, I described Ooh La La as ‘a bloody mess.'” In fact, Stewart has some reservations about all the Faces albums. “None, to my mind, really did us justice or brought the energy of which we were capable onto record.” He was quick to note that part of the reason may have been the preparations used for recording. “Sessions with the Faces always started out in the pub,” he said. “Quite often we were in the pub longer than we were in the studio.”
Be that as it may indeed have been, the Faces albums are more than sufficient argument to refer to them as one of the finest combos ever to rock and/or roll. Only with hindsight can we ask questions like, “Would these same records been hits had been released as Rod Stewart albums?” It’s anyone’s guess, and it’s all in the luck of the draw. Most bands didn’t have to compete with their own lead singer for sales or radio play.
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