Several years ago, in a pub at Xmas, among internet friends I had never met before in real life, and only one of whom I have met again since (and I still owe him a round), we talked of many things, music not least. I gave the opinion, agreed upon instantly by everyone, that the most underrated major band of the Sixties were The Small Faces.
When you set them against the likes of The Beatles and The Stones, The Who and The Kinks, The Beach Boys and The Move, indeed any band with a reputable string of hit singles (which excludes Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich and leaves The Tremeloes a borderline case), Messrs Marriott, Lane, McLagen and Jones are the ones who get the raw deal, pushed to the back of the class somehow.
But The Small Faces had a run of singles that stood up against everybody else, and ‘All or Nothing’, their only no. 1, was the best of them, a solid rock of blue-eyed soul, blues and pop. With a fearsome production that made it a chunk of sound, thrusting you out of the way.
Like all such things, I knew The Small Faces from Radio 1’s Golden Oldies of the Seventies, but ‘All or Nothing’ was rarely amongst those: it was always ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee’, ‘Itchycoo Park’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’. I had to learn to love this one myself.
Of these three, only ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee’ compares, coming from the same mod blues and rock period of The Small Faces’ career, for with the transfer to Immediate Records in 1967, and the escape from the vicious and restrictive management of future Led Zeppelin manager, Don Arden, the band took a turn into psychedelia, producing the feedback drenched ‘Itchycoo Park’ and the Cockney music hall magnificence of ‘Lazy Sunday’.
And I remember one Saturday night when my mate Alan was at Salford University, going down the bar at their Students Union, discovering ‘All or Nothing’ on the Jukebox. That was one powerful Jukebox, the sound a physical thing, so that I had to retreat very rapidly to avoid being blown away.
But ‘All or Nothing’ is every bit of what it says. After that propulsive intro, Jones’ drums building into the first blur of sound, the wedge of guitar, bass and especially the organ beating upon the ear, Marriott sings out in, at first, relatively restrained fashion, explaining himself to his girl about his need for commitment. All or Nothing.
And Lane and McLagen support him, repeating the title line behind Marriott’s white soul voice, screaming and roaring, vocalising in syllables, not words, his energy bent in impressing that this is what they’re saying. It’s extreme. It is, literally, all or nothing.
Commitment demanded, love from deep inside, from the soul as well as the heart. No games, no playing, no half-measures, nothing casual. All, or nothing, and Marriott’s voice is both pleading and commanding that it be all, absolute All.
Not that I love the song any less, nor want to add my voice to it with any less fervour, but I’m a lot more aware nowadays that Marriott’s demand for commitment makes this another one of those Sixties songs: you know the ones I mean.
It’s all very obvious: I thought you’d listen to my reasoning, he mansplains. But now I see you don’t hear a thing. Try to make you see, how it’s got to be… Ah yes. That’s how it’s got to be, all or nothing, no wishiwashiness, no half-measures. For Marriott, that is. He even says it plainly. All or Nothing. For me…
And if she, for some mysterious, unthinkable, unacceptable reason doesn’t want her All to be given to Marriott, that’s not going to happen. It’s got nothing to do with her, she doesn’t have a choice. I didn’t tell you no lie, yeah, he emphasises. So don’t just sit there and cry…
It’s a masculinist song, alright, from the days when everything was masculinist and no-one thought there was anything wrong with it (well, maybe some of the women, but who listened to them?), and it stands foursquare with the rest of the music of 1966, the last pre-psychedelia year, when the boundaries of what was possible were expanding in every direction before being diffused – some might say too widely – in the haze of acid.
And ‘All or Nothing’ bridges that very conservative blues-rock idiom with the freshness and imagination of the greater freedom growing, and it doesn’t really matter that it did so in the most chauvinist of fashion, because when Kenny Jones pounds the rhythm into being and Steve Marriott, Ian McLagen and Plonk Lane crash into together as an unbreakable unit, the passion takes over and you know that she will respond to that urgency of desire, and that before the song is over, she too will want All and not Nothing.