Continuing our look at 1960’s concept/story records with the release of The Small Faces’ “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake in 1968.
OGDEN’S NUT GONE FLAKE (“HAPPINESS STAN”) – THE SMALL FACES
- Story by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, narration by Stan Unwin.
- Songs by Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagen & Kenney Jones
- Characters: Happiness Stan, The Fly, Mad John
- Songs: Happiness Stan; Rollin’ Over; The Hungry Intruder; The Journey; Mad John; Happydaystoytown
Each of the five recordings of the late sixties have unique facets that differentiate them from their spiritual cousins, but Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (hence ONGF) stands out from the five for its audacity. During a time period when rock bands were trying to make their big, serious statement on a simple slab of vinyl, The Small Faces used their “Concept Album” card to produce a fairy tale. There’s absolutely nothing serious happening on the second side of the S-Faces’ last album (nor on the first side, which is a good collection of psychedelic pop songs) and the song-writing Faces (the sadly late Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane) simply want to entertain on only a slightly larger scale than the fourteen-track album can provide. They’re expanding their recording capabilities, stretching the possibilities of the long-playing record, but in a fun way. Of the five story albums, this is the only one that does not feature death or tragedy. Stan’s mission to find out what has happened to the other half of the moon does not have the survival of mankind weighing in the balance; he takes on the mission purely for curiosity’s sake. Marriott and Lane provide no real conflict for Stan to endure during his journey: he even finds a friend halfway through who can help him (Stan shares his Shepard’s Pie with a starving fly, who eventually gives Stan a ride to his destination).
Once Upon A Time…
The S-Faces approached their project with an attitude that differed greatly from The Pretty Things, The Who, The Kinks or Lloyd Webber & Rice. Rather than devote an entire album to their new idea, they gave their fairy tale the second side of their album and didn’t even bother to name the album “Happiness Stan” (“Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” refers to the type of stimulants their listening public was indulging in and was appropriately packaged in a sleeve that resembled a tobacco tin). In respect to storytelling, The Pretty Things, The Who and Lloyd Webber & Rice provided the listener with a full libretto to ensure that no concept was missed while The Kinks gave a general (and rather vague) synopsis of their story. Keeping within the boundaries of their fairy tale, The S-Faces tell their story with the help of a vocal narrator, comedian Stan Unwin, who pipes in between songs and gives a wonderfully eccentric reading of Stan’s adventures. Unwin’s fanciful gobbledygook narration, peppered with sixties-era slang and the occasional actual word, immediately tells the listeners to sit back and enjoy themselves: that once they are all sitting on their “botties”, they’ll hear a simple tale with wonderfully expressionistic songs.
Fun Songs And Giant Flies
With so little in terms of plot, the immediate focus becomes the songs. It is a shame that the group would break up after this album because ONGF features a group at the peak of their abilities: Marriott, Lane, MacLagen and Jones are all playing and communicating with each other to the best of their collective talents. Tinkling guitar strings announce characters before thundering drums kick off the main portions of the songs. And on top of it all is the simple lyric detailing Happiness Stan, a boy who lives in a rainbow and who watches the moon. (Sebastian Sorrow also watched the moon. In years before space travel, were psychedelic drugs the only way for people to reach for the stars?) But with only half a moon to look at, Stan leaves his multi-colored home to search for the rest of it. Stan’s quest is happily unfettered by problems: no one opposes him and he receives only friendliness and assistance. The starving fly who begs a bite gets his fill of Stan’s picnic lunch and Stan’s magical powers transform the insect into an enormous creature that will happily fly Stan to the cave of Mad John, who will not only complete Stan’s quest but also give him the secret of life itself. Throughout the tale, the band chugs merrily along and gives only a hint of conflict as Stan approaches the crazed hermit’s cave. Marriott’s and Lane’s “Mad John” is an acoustic-guitar folk song with minor-key changes and an apprehensive tone, signaling Stan’s own nervousness as he approaches the cave. However, Unwin completes the tale by voicing John as a simple, slang-speaking hippie who points out that, as Stan’s journey has taken him two weeks, the moon has changed from half to full. When Stan asks for the secret of life, The S-Faces sing “Happydaystoytown” and reveal that “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran, you wake up in the morning and it’s there!” Unwin goofily signs off during the song’s coda and brings the fairy tale, and the album, to a silly and satisfactory end.
Because of the limits of its scope (its short length and refusal to deal with anything even remotely serious), one can only say about “Happiness Stan” that Marriott and Lane succeeded as far as their ambition took them. ONGF would sadly prove to be the group’s last album. With Marriott leaving the band soon after its release, the possibility that “Happiness Stan” might be followed by an even more ambitious project (one that might stretch throughout an entire album) was dashed forever. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake stands as the first tiny crack from a band trying to break free of the normal confines of sixites’ pop-standards, only to find that they’d run out of the steam necessary to break through completely.