Earlier this month, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards slammed the Beatles’ landmark 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, calling it a “mishmash of rubbish”. One can understand where Richards is coming from, considering the fact that his heart lies in American roots music. But Sgt Pepper should cop some of the blame for the deluge of arty “concept” albums and “rock operas” that came in its wake in the late 1960s.
I must confess that I am not averse to some of them, though it is also true that I find myself listening to them less and less as the years roll by. However, one album that I still spin often is Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake by The Small Faces. Easily one of the most whimsical albums by a major rock band from the 1960s, it made number one in the UK album charts for a few weeks when it was released in May 1968.
That a hard-edged rock band like The Small Faces would turn to flower power in 1968 is perhaps no surprise (for all of Richards’ Sgt Pepper put-downs, his own band released the sub-par Their Satanic Majesties Request). But The Small Faces were not completely won over by peace and love either. One of the quirks of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is its schizophrenic division of the album—Side one contains the heavy rock of “Afterglow Of Your Love” and the cockney throwaway “Lazy Sunday”. But it’s Side two that fans savour. Separately titled, “Happiness Stan”, it is a quasi fairy tale concerning the journey of the titular character, looking for the missing half of the moon. What Stan discovers at the end of his search is something you will never expect, even in your wildest dreams.That Odgen’s is a slice of eccentricity was evident to buyers of the album when they held it in their hands. It came in a distinctive circular sleeve that mimicked a tobacco tin. Even the album title is a mischievous play on an actual brand, Ogden’s Nut-brown Flake. In hindsight, the cover wasn’t very practical. Because of the shape of the cover, the record was prone to slipping out quite often, and you’d be hard-pressed to find unscratched copies of the original record. Most later pressings came in the conventional square record covers.
“Happiness Stan” has an engaging feel-good quality with its mix of psychedelia, soul, Marriott’s occasional cockney vocals and the swirling organ played by keyboardist Ian McLagan. But what lifts the B-side to its whimsical heights is the voiceover of British comedian Stanley Unwin. Known for his gobbledygook English, which he called Unwinese, it drives the narrative forward, filling in the blanks that the songs themselves leave out. One sample preceding the song “Rollin’ Over”: “And Happiness Stan, whose life evolved near a femerald coloured dreamy most, had his pure existance and his being in the deep joy and the multi colour of the rainbold…”
Largely forgotten for decades, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake has received a welcome re-mastering in its original mono on vinyl and a deluxe 3-CD edition in 2012.
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