Album Of The Week Club: A Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse – Faces

Only one of the songs has a chorus, they were "pissed" most of the time they made it and it was their second album of 1971. So why is A Nod's As Good As A Wink… so loved?

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A Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse was released in November 1971, the Face’s third album (and second in that year). Singer Rod Stewart, meanwhile, had also had his own number 1 solo album that summer, backed for the most part by the very same band. Did that success cause friction in the band – or did it help create a timeless classic?

Listen to A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. Join the group here.

Here’s what we learned about A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…

BACKGROUND

  • Classic Rock once placed A Nod’s As Good As A Wink… #16 in a list of the Greatest Albums of the 70s, saying: “The Faces’ greatest moment on record, was the beginning of the end. Eclipsed by Rod Stewart’s burgeoning solo career (Maggie May hit No.1 just weeks earlier), the band had finally transferred the bloozy bonhomie of their live shows to the studio, serving up such irresistible items as Miss Judy’s Farm and, somewhat prophetically, Last Orders Please. Best of all were Ronnie Lane’s gorgeous ballad Debris, and the rambunctious Stay With Me which gave the Faces their first hit.
  • They interviewed drummer Kenney Jones, who commented: “Out of all the albums we did, I think that one best summarises the Faces.”
    The Faces were famously wild on stage, but what were you like at those sessions?
    “Just the same. There was a pub just up the road from Olympic. Any excuse, y’know? I think it helped to get us in that relaxed-drunken-stupor mood that we always preferred to be in.”
    Do you hear modern bands trying to replicate the feel of that album?
    “Yeah, all the time. Bands trying to sound as sloppy as we did. It’s quite simple: we were too pissed to play any other way.”
    Which are your own favourite songs from that album?
    Miss Judy’s Farm, that’s a good track. You’re So Rude is wonderful. Last Orders Please: that summarises the Faces’ drinking habits. But it’s got to be Stay With Me. It’s such a blinder, such an ‘up’ song. Woody’s intro is stunning. No one else can do that. Even when I do it with my band, y’know, we can’t quite get that intro right. You’ve got to be Ronnie Wood to do it.”
    Rod wrote in his autobiography that the album doesn’t do the band justice.
    “Basically, at the time, Rod was doing his solo albums, so a lot of the good stuff went on those, and we were left with the songs we were knocking up at the time, y’know? But we made them sound great, so there you go. Rod was in incredible voice, all the way through that period. And still is. I mean, he sings a semi-tone down now, but most people do.”
  • Initial copies of the album came with a free poster filled with images gathered from the band’s time on the road, including images of drugs and groupies (as well as the album’s lyrics and brief sleeve notes). Within weeks of release, the record company had second thoughts – subsequent pressings came without the poster.
  • The live shot used on the album cover was taken in 1971 at the Houston Coliseum, Texas. Photographer Tom Wright is credited on the poster that came with the album (pic attached) but it turns out he didn’t take it at all. Ian McLagan wrote in the sleeve notes to the Five Guys Walk Into A Bar… boxset “[Photographer] Tom Wright got credit for the picture, but he didn’t like heights. He asked Chuch to go up into the rigging and take it.” Royden “Chuch” Magee worked as guitar tech to Ron Wood in the Faces, and went with him to the Stones where he was also Charlie Watts’ drum tech. Chuch [pronounced ‘chooch’] died from heart failure on the road with the Stones in Toronto, Canada, in 2002.

THE ALBUM

A Nod’s… greatest weakness – and maybe strength – is the unusual structure of its songs. Few have choruses – hit single Stay With Me is the notable exception – which means that the album isn’t as immediate as other albums from the time. (You would be hard pushed to find another hit single from it – and despite Stay With Me’s top 6 placing, the record company didn’t event try.) The cover version of Chuck Berry’s Memphis, Tennessee is possibly telling – it doesn’t have a chorus either; its charm comes from the humanity at the heart of its lyrics. And maybe this is also Nod’s strength: it repays multiple listens. It’s an album you can play again and again with out being bored by nagging choruses, and instead revel in the uniquely warm atmosphere of a classic album.

The album’s ballsy opener, Miss Judy’s Farm, was written by Ron Wood and Rod Stewart , with two unlikely influences: Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home album, and (in classic Faces style) porn magazine Forum.

Set in ’old Alabam’, it tells the story of Miss Judy, the lady of the farm who uses Rod’s narrator for sex: ‘Miss Judy, she could have me any hour of the working day/She’d send me in the corn field, mid-afternoon/Said “Son, its all part of your job”’ – why else doesn’t he start til mid-afternoon? The free poster that came with the album gave credence to the idea that the song is part sex fantasy: “Rod wrote the words after reading and being inspired by Forum magazine”. Forum magazine was a porn/sex mag that specialised in dirty stories and readers letters.

He, meanwhile, is young, “crude and mean” (and, we guess, horny: ‘All I needed was to get my own way’) and, maybe, digs the sex more than the work. Either way, he’s pissed off, kicks Judy’s dog and gets “whipped in the barn until dawn” for his trouble.

Rod’s character decides he isn’t going to take any more (‘Last summer we was restless/Were gonna make a stand and burn down your farm’) but guess what: the National Guard show up and “We was beat before we started”.

Beyond the title and the lyrical theme of working for a female boss on a farm, the presence of “The National Guard” is another tell-tale reference that connects the song to Maggie’s Farm (in Dylan’s song, Maggie’s Pa’s ‘bedroom window is made out of bricks/The National Guard stands around his door/Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more’)

Where Dylan’s narrator just gives up – his revolution is just flat-out refusal to work there – Rod’s ends the song plotting violent revenge as the music stalks and broods and builds to a frantic climax: ‘…she always didn’t get her own way/Stage a fight, get it right/Kick her when she’s down’. Kenny Jones’s drums drop out, Woody and Robbie Lane speed it up, and MacLagan comes yammering in before Jones kicks the door down. Musically, Miss Judy’s Farm is the Faces on top form, from the grunt of Woody’s guitar, to Rod’s vocal ad-libs and the greasy rock’n’roll groove.

Is Rod’s character a black slave? There are possible hints we’re supposed to take it that way – the setting, in ‘old Alabam’, the whipping, the southern dialect (‘We was beat before we started’) – but it’s well-intentioned and probably more class struggle than racial analogy. Either way, it’s the Faces as you rarely think of them: it might not be as dark as Midnight Rambler or as insurrectionary as Street Fighting Man but it’s the band as more than just lovable party animals – these animals have teeth.

The story goes that a lot of Faces tracks were written in the studio, waiting for various members to return from the pub. (In this video clip, Rod says, “It’s two days before we’re going in to record the song and I have to write the words. I could never do it unless I’m pressured…”)

You’re So Rude feels like one of those: there’s no chorus and the lyrics rarely rhyme. The whole thing is redeemed by the authenticity of the tale Ronnie Lane tells (him and girl go to visit his folks, they’re out – of course they are, he planned it that way – so the two of them decide to have it away upstairs, the dirty sods, only for his mum and dad to come back early). These representations of blue collar, working class life are one of the reasons the Faces are held in such high regard – rather than act like Rock Stars or sing about nebulous concepts, the Faces sang about real life, with stories and situations you could relate to.

Love Lives Here and Last Orders Please are in a similar vein. Love Lies Here, is Handbags And Gladrags meets Sam Cooke’s You Send Me (a song later covered by Rod), a wistful and nostalgic love song for the buildings being knocked down across Britain and the good times they once held. Ronnie Lane’s Debris is a sentimental ode from son to father that adds the twist: ‘We both now you got no money/I wonder what you would have done without me hanging around’.

Too Bad and That’s All You Need close the album out in style, Too Bad with a guitar sound influenced by Jumping Jack Flash and a lyric about getting thrown out of a posh party because he doesn’t have ‘the right accent’. That’s All You Need tells the story of two brothers – one goes into business and is a great success, the other is a poor musician. When the rich brother comes to visit, broken and ageing, the musician plays him his music – ‘Maybe that’s all you need’. When the lyric stops, Ron Wood layers on blues riffs and slide guitar, was the song builds to a climax with steel drums (a nod to London’s Jamaican community). ‘Don’t it make you happy? That’s all you need…’

It makes us happy, Rod. This really is all you need.

STAY WITH ME

Stay With Me is the album’s big song, an undeniable classic that took them into the UK top 10 and US top 20. In 2018 you could ask, is it unredeemably sexist and misogynistic? The song is written from the point of view of a man taking a woman home for sex – and in the lyric, you could say he’s not asking, he’s demanding (‘tonight you better stay with me’) – a woman he doesn’t respect or even find attractive (she’s a ‘mean old Jezebel’ and ‘with a face like that/You got nothing to laugh about’) and isn’t interested in emotionally (‘In the morning, don’t say you love me/Cos I’ll only kick you out of the door’). It’s certainly brutal, we said, but is it sexist?

Brian Carr: Is it sexist? I’m sure it is to many and I wouldn’t say somebody is wrong for thinking it. But the song describes something that happens every night bars throughout the world.

James Utvandraren: If we have to go back in time and worry about sexist lyrics in classic rock songs, we might as well call it a day and start listening to Enya.

Martin Millar: Stay With Me is rather sexist. How much it would trouble female listeners, I can’t say. I’ve generally thought of the type of sexism in bands like the Faces comes under the heading of laddishness, with a touch of tongue in cheek, and British Carry-On films. Slightly different from American raunchiness, which seemed to me more macho. I wouldn’t have thought, for instance, that the Faces would seriously have turned women off from participating in rock, or discouraged them from forming their own bands. Unlike Led Zeppelin, who’s lyrics on their first albums were seriously sexist. (Zep is my favourite band, so I regret this.) One would think that Robert Plant had spent a lifetime being cheated on and oppressed by an evil crew of conniving women. In actual fact he was barely out of school at the time, and mindlessly parroting blues cliches. In retrospect, I do think their lyrics were quite objectionable.

Stay With Me’s lyrics aren’t pretty, but they are honest, effectively boiling down to ’You’re no oil painting and I’m not interested in anything other than sex’. If a gay man sang it today, it wouldn’t cause a stir. If Lady Gaga sang it (or lyrics like those), it would seem funny and just. (For an example of how times have changed, check out the lyrics to Sam Smith’s pleading, paranoid Stay With Me – possibly a direct opposite of the Faces callous attitude.)

WHAT THEY SAID

A Nod… is about entertainment, fucking, partying, nostalgia, and finally, the idea of fun itself.” – Creem

“At the same time [Rod Stewart] is riding the success of an intensely personal and beautifully crafted solo album, Every Picture Tells A Story, he participates in the making of another almost completely devoid of personality, character, depth, or vision… It sounds as much of a bore to listen to as it must have been to record.” – Rolling Stone

Sex Pistol Steve Jones chose it as one of the albums that shaped his guitar playing: “I loved [Ronnie Wood’s] sound when he was in the Faces,” he said. “He had a certain sound - I think he used an Ampeg set-up with a Zemaitis guitar. I was just a massive fan of that band, and they were great live. It was a nice, full sound that he had.”

WHAT YOU SAID

Stan West: An absolute classic front to back! Faces are one of the most underrated bands ever in my opinion, they’re much more than just their hits. Yes, Miss Judy’s Farm and Stay With Me are fantastic songs and great starting points but this album has so much more than that. Ronnie Lane sort of steals the show here with the songs he sings lead on. Last Orders Please, Debris and, in particular, the rollicking You’re So Rude are some of the best songs on the album! Throw in an awesome cover of Chuck’s Memphis, Tennessee and the smoothness of That’s All You Need and you’re looking at one of the best rock albums of the 70s, bar none! 1010.

Joe Jamal Caldwell: Right off the bat with Miss Judy’s Farm, you can tell you’re in for a ride with this album. Everything is really tight and I can’t help but nod my head with the beat to every song. THIS is what I see rock as – it’s emotional, raw, and makes you want to let the good times roll.

Michael Knoop: For me this is like finding an undiscovered Stones album from the golden age: Cocky singer, bad-ass guitar, ethereal organ and honky-tonk piano, drumming that’s just showy enough, and every so often another guy steps up to the mic for a change of pace. Entertaining through and through but particularly love the ballad, Debris, the choogling cover of, Memphis…, and the take-no-prisoners closer That’s All You Need, with some epic slide guitar by Ronnie Wood.

Richard Cardenas: The guitar tone, which carries throughout but is especially dirty on Miss Judy’s Farm is addictive. There is a soulfulness on this record that’s distinctively British blues that has always appealed to me. A working man’s record for sure.

James Utvandraren: For someone like me, who spent the early 90s praying at the altar of the Quireboys, I now realise that St. Spike and the gang were just merely channeling the very spirit of Nod and Wink. Here is that Brit Rock swagger, with the honky piano, the brazen guitars (courtesy of Ron Wood) and the raspy boozy vocals we have all learned to love in a thousand incarnations of various bar bands since.

Final Score: 7.810 (104 votes cast, with a score of 815)

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