The Faces song Ronnie Wood took over from Rod Stewart

The band dynamic in the Faces was starting to grow tense by 1973. Lead singer Rod Stewart had landed hit early-1970s albums like Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment, leading to his own star beginning to rise above that of the band. The Faces were an institution that evolved from the classic mod act The Small Faces into a leaner and meaner rock and roll outfit. Band members like Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones had cut their teeth and survived as some of the top musicians in England only to be viewed as Stewart’s sidemen.

Caught between the two sides was Ronnie Wood, the gregarious guitarist who was originally recruited from The Jeff Beck Group along with Stewart in 1969. All of the Faces contributed to Stewart’s solo albums, but usually, that meant a guest appearance on a single song. Wood was a full-fledged collaborator, overdubbing multiple instruments and helping out with writing, recording, and arranging. Even though he was still loyal to the Faces, Wood was quickly becoming Stewart’s right-hand man in the studio, which the other band members saw as taking attention away from the Faces.

Live performances started to be billed as ‘Rod Stewart and Faces’ in order to fill halls, and though Stewart continued to pledge his allegiance to the band, his flamboyant stage presence was once again putting all of the attention on himself. Stewart’s solo hit ‘Maggie May’ was integrated into the Faces’ setlist, much to the chagrin of Lane. By the time the members piled into the studio to begin working on the 1973 effort Ooh La La, gripes and grumbles began to grow into conflict and open bitterness.

Lane and Stewart were openly critical of each other, and while the other members tried to keep the peace, the sessions ground to a halt on what would become the album’s title track. A folky foot-stomper written by Lane and Wood, ‘Ooh La La’ represented a softer side of Faces that wasn’t too far removed from Stewart’s solo work. With a jaunty central melody and some sardonic lyrics about weathering the trails of love and heartbreak between a grandfather and a grandson who can’t seem to see eye to eye, the track was a clear standout from the sessions. There was only one problem: no one could sing it.

From Lane’s point of view, Stewart wasn’t able to focus enough on the band and couldn’t put his best performances on tape. From Stewart’s side, Lane was micromanaging and nothing he produced was ever going to be good enough. The stalemate led to both Stewart and Lane recording lead vocals and neither feeling that the end result was up to snuff. The solution came from the man in the middle as Wood stepped up to the mic and gave the vocal his best shot.

Slightly weathered and a bit more charmingly scraggly than his bandmates’ voices, Wood managed to capture both the wide-eyed innocence of the grandson’s narrative and the hard-earned experience of the grandfather’s side of the song. Wood didn’t consider himself much of a singer, but when it was necessary to step up, the guitarist put himself out there and the results were strong enough for everyone to be happy. So happy, in fact, that ‘Ooh La La’ was released as a single, the only Faces release to feature Wood on lead vocals.

Bitter about Lane’s eagerness to complete as much of the album without him as possible, Stewart trashed Ooh La La in the press during its release. Lane countered, claiming that Stewart had missed the first two weeks of recording sessions, leading Lane to take control out of necessity in order to keep the band together. Ooh La La landed at number one on the UK Album Chart, the only Faces studio album to do so, but Lane was so disheartened by Stewart’s thrashing of the album that he opted to leave the band before they hit the road on a supporting tour.

Faces stumbled through live shows for the next two years, but after Lane’s departure, the band were directionless. Stewart became almost completely dedicated to his solo career while Wood began to associate with The Rolling Stones, a band he had previously purposefully declined to join due to his dedication to The Faces. Now that The Faces were falling apart, Wood was once again asked to fill a vacancy that was now being left by Mick Taylor’s departure. Not unlike his role as mediator between Stewart and Lane in the Faces, Wood became the go-between for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the Stones.

Stewart, Wood, and Jones have recently reunited The Faces, ostensibly for a new album and supporting tour even though neither have surfaced yet. Unfortuantely, it was only after the deaths of Lane and McLagen that the Faces were able to reform and bask in their massive impact on rock music.

 

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