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A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...To A Blind Horse

Warner 2574
Released: December 1971
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 24
Certified Gold: 2/4/72

Kenny JonesRonnie LaneIan McLaganRon WoodRod StewartThe original Small Faces were quite a band in their day, and although before this album I had my doubts, I have now answered the question of whether or not the new band can equal the old. The Small Faces, good as they were, are in every way matched or surpassed by Rod, Ron and company, who feel disposed to rock out a lot more than they used to.

I mean, First Step was excellent in spots ("Nobody Knows," "Three Button Hand Me Down") but a weak album on the whole. Those instrumentals were often pisspoor, things that you just skipped over when you played the album. Shortly after this album's release, I was fortunate enough to see the band perform (twice), and was knocked flat by the sheer energy and raunch release of Mssrs. Stewart, Wood, McLagan, Lane and Jones, but tightness was noticeably absent. At one point in the "Plynth" jam, Ian went into "Wicked Messenger" quite unexpectedly, and although I thought it a bit clever, Roddy Stewart was not at all pleased. In fact, backstage there were some heated squabbles, with Rod doing most of the yelling.

Faces - A Nod Is As Good As A Wink...
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The next time I saw the band (a few months later), they seemed to be wearing a bit more polish (and alcohol), but performed basically the same set of songs. I was slightly ticked at this; the spontaneity seemed less present and all that, but it was an enjoyable concert.

Their second album, Long Player, had some surefire knockout cuts on it, but was weighted down by much filler material ("On the Beach"), and the extended live instrumental jam didn't do a heck of a lot for me. However, on this third return to the United States, the band was much tighter, friendlier, drunker, raunchier, and just plain better. I saw them twice on this tour, and they seemed to be a lot closer as friends, which naturally made them a better band. They did all kinds of neato stunts like pass out bottles of Mateus to the audience, which is certainly a good thing for a band to do. They were also the top name on the bill.

A lot of things have happened since then, most notably the making of Rod Stewart into a superstar with his hit singles of enormous popularity and all. Rod doesn't have to worry about monopolizing things anymore with his solo album ventures, so he can lay back a bit and let the two Ron's (Lane & Wood) take over.

And that's why the new album is so stupendous. Ronnie Lane has always been a favorite of mine, but his rock 'n' roll ventures have never appeared on record (His tunes've always been quiet and beautiful ballads with pretty words.) Not this time, my friends. Good old Plonk has given us a few rockers, and they're tops in my book. In fact, "You're So Rude" ranks with the top English bawdy numbers, including all those great ones that our friend Steve Marriott (an ex-Face himself) wrote for Humble Pie.

"Memphis" features some knockout vocal delivery by Rod the Mod, not to mention a cooking guitar-through-Leslie intro by Woody. "Stay With Me" and "That's All You Need" are my favorites on the album, I guess, with the latter's fine, fine bottleneck guitar.

The Faces have finally reached a level where not only are they capable of writing and performing good material, they know which tunes not to do. The band has waited until they got a full album's worth of great songs, so there's no need for fillers. I wholeheartedly recommend this album to anyone with ears not yet shattered by Grand Funk...the Faces have proved to me that they can save rock 'n' roll with their music, and no act as merely a backup band for an exceptional vocalist. Hot diggety doggie!

- Jon Tiven, Phonograph Record, 1/72.

Bonus Reviews!

There has always been a subtle shade of difference between Rod Stewart albums and Faces albums. Somehow on the latter, Rod has shared more of the spotlight with his cronies. This is definitely the case on Nod... In fact, Stewart only sings lead on two-thirds of the tracks, letting Ronnie Lane step up to the vocal mike for the reminder. And a funny thing happens. Lane nearly pretty much steals the show. His voice is smooth and clear. He knows how to hold a note and draw the humor from a lyric, something he does quite handily on a little refrain entitled "You're So Rude." This is the age-old tale of a young man trapped flagrante delicto, and Ronnie works it for all it's got.

This is still very much Rod's show -- it seems as if he must dominate the proceedings whether he wants to or not. Could be his scratchy set of pipes. Could be his effervescent personality. Maybe it's his breath. It doesn't matter. By now everyone's become accustomed to Stewart's extraordinarily appealing style, and from the opening track, "Miss Judy's Farm," on which he takes the love-crazy hero of "Maggie May" farther out into the pastures of raunch, to the closing number, the appropriately titled "That's All You Need," he is neatly in command.

The material on the record is pretty evenly divided as far as songwriting credits are concerned. "Stay With Me," penned by Rod Wood and Stewart is a cockeyed masterpiece which Rod treats in a properly raucous and rowdy fashion. A nod (and a wink as well) go to Chuck Berry via a smartly moving version of "Memphis." An album of high level hi-jinks which should appeal to even the blindest of horses.

- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 3/72.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Long Player

Single Review:
"Stay With Me"

Rod Stewart:
In His Own Words

Seventies' Greatest
Album Covers:
Ooh La La

Faces Lyrics

Faces Videos

Rod Stewart sings lead only half of the time, which gives Ronnie Lane a chance to prove himself -- his "You're So Rude" is a better (funnier and warmer) song about getting laid than "Stay with Me." Other standouts include the story of how Rod's brother became a hippie and a version of "Memphis" that's a gift from a band that has tightened up just enough. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Boasting "Stay with Me," the only hit the Faces ever had, A Nod is as Good as a Wink is their most consistent record, and arguably their best. "Stay With Me" and "Miss Judy's Farm" showcase the band at their best -- they're all over the place, threatening to fall apart altogether before they snap it all back into place. Nobody rocked better than this, and the album is full of such terrific moments, including a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis." As with all of the Faces' albums, it's a little messy, but it is a classic rock & roll band at the top of their form. * * * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... to a Blind Horse offers all of the Faces' best sides, from Ron Wood's slashing slide guitar on "That's All You Need" to Ronnie Lane's sensitive ballad "Debris" to Rod Stewart's macho boasts on "Stay With Me." * * * *

- David Yonke, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

When Rod Stewart hooked-up with the remnants of The Small Faces in 1969 by hanging round their rehearsal rooms with similarly unemployed pal Ron Wood, he was not universally welcomed. Having been ditched by Steve Marriott, en route to supergroup Humble Pie, the three remaining Small Faces were not keen to be anyone else's backing band. Yet overwhelming musical compatibility kept such worries in the background until 1971, when the band's excellent third album coincided with Rod's solo Every Picture Tells a Story.

A Nod is As Good As A Wink...To A Blind Horse had much going for it, not least the songwriting ability of bassist Ronnie Lane. His vignettes of East London life -- the likes of "Last Orders Please" and especially "Debris" -- were the necessary antidote to the Wood/Stewart laddishness for which the Faces became famed. It can only be a matter of time, for example, before "Stay With Me," still Wood's finest open-tuned moment despite a quarter of a century as a Stone, is resurrected as a theme for a lad's magazine commercial.

It was this tough but tender dichotomy that led John Peel to make them his pre-Undertones favorites. Even a cheery trundle through Chuck Berry's hoary old "Memphis, Tennessee" cannot spoil things.

Sadly for the Faces, the follow-up, Ooh-La-La, is best forgotten, and their star waned as Stewart's rose toward the commercial apogee of Atlantic Crossing and stadium anthem "Sailing." One thing is for sure -- it would never have been given house room here.

- Michael Heatley, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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