By and large, there are some albums that transcend the era of popular music they were recorded in, and then there are some that remain forever tied to the culture and attitudes of the era. There is a very small group of albums that manage to do be both, or neither.
Released in 1968, Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is both an immortal classic, and a celebrated period piece. Released at the height of the very British take on counter culture, in many ways the album epitomised the very English, tea on the lawn psychedelia, with its side long fantasy tale narrated by Stanley Unwin, flirtations with a sort of prototype heavy rock, and a distinct music hall influence woven throughout.
Due to the second side of the original vinyl being dedicated in its entirety to the tale of Happiness Stan’s search for the missing half of the moon, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is inevitably an album of two halves. The first, more traditionally song-based side of the original album is a real mixed-bag of material as Small Faces realised that their audience were looking for an album which more closely followed the formulae of the band’s recent hits, “Tin Solider” and “Itchycoo Park”. From instrumental pieces, to soulful hard rock, to music-hall influenced beat-pop, the band does its best to demonstrate its diversity. Where it works, on songs like the title track, and “Afterglow”, the band knock it out of the park, however “Rene” over-eggs the music hall to the point where it becomes a novelty singalong cockney knees-up. The only thing that saves “Lazy Sunday” from the same fate is the band’s inherent ability with a pop song, as it touches, but doesn’t quite go over the line to the point where it becomes a novelty hit.
Given Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake’s second side’s fantasy narrative concept, it’s striking how it manages to avoid becoming a twee mess, given the fairy-tale imagery, Stanley Unwin’s gobbledygook verse, and the ever-present shadow of music hall influence. The fact that the narrative is kept tight, and that Unwin’s engaging charisma is allowed to take centre stage along with the band, instead of sounding like it has been added as an after thought, saves it from becoming a straight up experiment in novelty songwriting. It works, it’s cohesive, and most importantly, the band, and Unwin, all sound utterly committed to pulling it off.
While no one could argue that Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is an ageless album, it retains a charm of its own. Much of this can be put down to the fact that they were, at their very core, a hell of a band, with Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones being one of the best beat-combo rhythm sections of the 60s, both Lane and Steve Marriott being ace songwriters, and Marriott being one of the premier vocalists of his generation, and keyboard player Ian Mclagan being the band’s secret weapon. Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake may be the Small Faces’ masterpiece, but it is not flawless, but the fact that the band managed to pull it off in the manner they did, has menat that it remains a much loved period piece and one of those albums that everyone needs to hear at least once.