Monday, December 12, 2011

Caught Between Two Worlds: The Small Faces: "Lazy Sunday"

There is a type of guy that the UK specializes in: the bloke. A bloke is not quite a dude (US) or a hoser (Canada) but is something like both in that he is a guy that is a guy; in the UK I take it that the word 'bloke' means someone who is sociable enough, enjoys manly things or has a manly taste in things, and doesn't care for airs or fancies, most of the time. A great deal of music writing in the UK, from what I can tell, is aimed directly at these men, men who have an opinion as to what is and isn't music as strong as those gatekeepers of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in the US.

Which leads squarely to this song by The Small Faces, who are almost the uber bloke group*; from East London ('real' London as any bloke sees it), tussled and then broke free from dominating manager Don Arden, were drug-taking psychedelic mods who sang about getting high and got away with it. That they broke up (in part because they found themselves unable to do any songs from their hit album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake live, including this song) and reconfigured with Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart to become The Faces is yet another confirming fact for any bloke that this was their band, fun-loving, unpretentious and devoted to R&B and a good time.

This song, however, follows a growing trend in this blog of singers who have to be coerced into singing songs and bands having songs released against their wishes; "Lazy Sunday" was recorded as a joke, never intended to be a single (it was, as you can tell, Steve Marriott complaining about his neighbors) and was resolutely pop when Marriott wanted the band to be more serious. The "tweedle dee bite"s and exaggerated accent (done because the Hollies taunted him about his not singing with much of a Cockney twang) are pure music hall near-farce, the neighbors complain about his loud ways while he just wants to space out and "drift away". The tug-of-war between the two worlds - the complaining outside world and the peaceful inner one - resolves with the rush of surf, bells, birds; either this is the world he wants to escape to, or he has given up on staying home (so much for laziness!) and gone to the seaside himself.

In this, Marriott is not just a guy in a band who likes to escape but an Everyman, and an Everylondoner at that. London is a big place and a crowded one; the jostle and crowding might be fine for some, but for others just one day where they can be themselves and not have any hassles is desperately needed. But there is no escaping from others, some complaining, some inquisitive, all interrupting the need to just veg out and do nothing. There's a smile on Marriott's face - you can just see it - in the song, and even if I don't understand all the lyrics ("To sing in the khazi while you suss out the moon" is a bit more intelligible to me than Spandau Ballet's "Stealing cake to eat the moon") but I can certainly understand his joy in "sitting in a rainbow" and feeling at one with the world, only to have that broken by someone banging on his door, stopping his groovin' and making his life miserable.

That the group then made an album they couldn't reproduce live shows the difficulties bands had in (on the one hand) wanting to make progressive, psychedelic, modern music and (on the other) being able to make any headway with a public that would just as soon have them do songs like this (and "Itchycoo Park") than anything more complex. The Beatles could do it simply because they had stopped touring, thus freeing them from having to really please any crowds anymore; but they and only they had that luxury - everyone else had to play live. (Marriott left the band as he felt they couldn't top Ogden; in the free-floating crap game that was UK rock, there were always a few other musicians to form a band with, and Marriott got together with Peter Frampton** to form Humble Pie, yet another de facto bloke group.)

If other people are a bother in this song, then its most famous offspring is a celebration of the many people who make up London, all going about their own business with one of them giving a running commentary (saying everything but "Gor blimey Mrs. Jones/How's old Bert's lumbago?" as Marriott asks here) on what he sees and what he does. Here instead of irritated next-door-neighbors there's a stronger sense of unity - everyone hand-in-hand - though the jostle and crowding are nearly palpable, so is the joy in feeling a part of something larger. But in '68 the joy is in escape, in separating one's self from others, especially if those others are not like you - the song is a joke but the generation gap here isn't, and even in relatively placid London there is a tension between the public and private, not to mention tensions within bands as to whether to stay pop or go rock. You cannot please everyone, the late 60s seems to be saying, and so escape to somewhere else more congenial is one solution. Not everyone can fit in...not even blokes, who tend to think they are normal. But at this time there's normal and normal...

Next up: another song about someone who wants to leave the house, but can't. Has The Summer of Love turned into the Spring of Agoraphobia?

*The ultimate uber bloke group is up for debate, but I'm guessing it's either The Who or The Rolling Stones. There are blokes who hate The Beatles, I have learned (I've learned many things since moving to the UK) so I can't include them.

**Frampton was in his own strange pop band at the time called The Herd; if you like the idea of mythological 60s pop, they are for you.


Mark G said...

Well, the thing is, Girls liked the Beatles, that's why they're not a 'bloke' band. Of course, nowadays their fan following is pretty much male, showing that the 13 yr old girls understood, once again.

Oh yeah, so it's The Who.

Lena said...

Ah! Gradually I learn the ways of the bloke. Thanks!