Small Faces are one of the all-time great British bands from the 1960’s but they never got the attention, success or respect they deserved. (Some of that was due to self-inflicted damage, but still…) Their biggest hit was “Itchycoo Park“, 2:45 of psychedelic pop perfection. All 4 members of the band shine, and engineer Glyn Johns gets to introduce the world to the sound of flanging. Feel inclined to blow your mind? Check out this episode.

“Itchycoo Park” (Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane) Copyright 1967 United Artists Music Limited, EMI United Partnership Limited


Welcome, everyone, to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, part of the Pantheon family of podcasts. I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode, I pick one of my favorite songs, and we listen to it together, uncovering all the little moments, those special touches that make it a great song. You don’t need to be a musical expert here, we don’t get too technical. All you need is a love for music, and you’ll fit right in here.

On this episode, we are revisiting the Small Faces, because I really do love this band, and I think they’re criminally underrated, certainly here in the US.

The mid 1960’s were an amazing time for music: lots of change, experimentation, and invention. The psychedelic sounds of this era are this perfect blend of adventure, exploration, and naivete. There’s an “Alice in Wonderland” feel to all of it. And one of the best examples of this is “Itchycoo Park” by Small Faces.

We talked about the Small Faces before on this podcast, back on episode #54, and their song “Tin Soldier”, so I won’t rehash their biography again. You can go back and listen to that episode.

But for a quick refresher, Small Faces was formed in 1965 by guitarist/vocalist Steve Marriott and bass player Ronnie Lane, with Kenny Jones on drums and Ian McLagan on keyboards. Like other British bands of the era, The Who, for example, they started by playing covers of American blues and R&B artists. But by 1966, they were writing their own songs, primarily composed by Marriott and Lane. “Itchycoo Park” was their 10th single overall, but only their second single for their new record label, Immediate Records, who allowed them a lot more freedom in the studio to experiment.

The song was released in August 1967, the height of the “Summer of Love”, and it reached number 3 on the UK charts, number 16 in the US and number 1 in Canada.

The song was written by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. It all started with an idea from Ronnie Lane, inspired by Oxford, England, and a park near where Marriott and Lane lived. Exactly which park is a question, because both Lane and Marriott referred to different parks over time. According to Lane, the initial musical idea came from a hymn called “God Be In My Head”.

See if you can catch how that melody influenced this song.

They structured “Itchycoo Park” as a dialogue between a normal average “straight” person and someone who was “tuned-in” and enlightened. That’s pretty much the psychedelic sixties in a nutshell.

Marriott and Lane are credited as producers on the track, with Glenn Johns as the engineer.

The song begins with an acoustic guitar in the left channel. Pretty quickly after that, Ronnie Lane’s bass joins in on the right channel, followed by the drums also on the right and the organ on the left. I think there’s a piano in there as well, but it’s pretty low in the mix. And that’s it for the intro– pretty short. The vocals come in right there.

Steve Marriott is one of the all-time great soulful belters, just one of the ballsiest singers. He influenced generations of vocalists, from Robert Plant and Paul Rogers right up through Chris Robinson of the Black Crows and beyond. He’s on my list of the all-time greatest singers. I just love his voice.  But, you know, he could also hold back and sing more gently, as he does here.

A couple of other things I want to point out before we move on: Let’s remove the vocals and listen to just the backing track here. You can hear Ian McLagan’s organ part a lot clearer and especially listen to the bass. Ronnie Lane had this really unique loping style of playing that’s really on display here.

All right, let’s get to the second part of the verse. This is the part where the dialogue between the two characters comes in, as we mentioned before, with the backing vocals from Ronnie Lane; Ronnie Lane playing the part of the straight man and Steve Marriott being, well, Steve Marriott.

That’s more of the classic Marriott vocal there. This leads us into the chorus. “It’s all too beautiful”– the ultimate vision of the sixties if only that were.

There’s this little descending keyboard lick that’s kind of central to that whole chorus.

Now this brings us to the bridge. This was Steve Marriott’s biggest writing contribution to the song. He wrote this part, but what really makes it interesting is the way it was recorded. This was one of the very first records to use the effect that would become known as “flanging”. You can hear it on the vocal and the drum track.

A recording engineer named George Chkiantz is generally credited with inventing this flanging technique. He showed it to Glyn Johns, who used it on this recording. Eventually, they developed a way to do this electronically. And of course, now, like everything, you can do it digitally. I’m using a software plugin to do it to my voice right now. But back in 1967, the only way to do this was manually. Two tape machines were synchronized together, playing the same song. And by slightly slowing down one of the tapes, usually by placing your thumb on the flange of one of the tape reels, hence the name flanging, you would get this effect, which would then be recorded onto a third tape machine. There was a lot of work required to get this sound.

So we’ve been listening to the stereo version of this song because I think the stereo version provides a little better differentiation on the individual parts. But on the original mono mix of this track, I think the flanging is a little more obvious. So let’s just hear this chorus from the mono mix.

Let’s go back to the stereo version and hear the second verse. This features more of the back and forth between the lead and the backing vocals.

Let’s listen to just the vocal track.

The BBC initially banned this song because they were concerned that “I get high” was a drug reference. But the band said, “Oh, no, this song, it’s about a park. Of course, we’re talking about swinging on a swing. You know, when you’re swinging, you try to get higher and higher. That’s what we meant.” They were shocked – shocked – that you would think this song was about drugs. And the BBC bought that story.

Here’s the second time around for the bridge, and this time I think the flanging is even more prominent.

That “Ha” that Marriott puts in there. From here, they repeat the chorus until the song fades out, and they apply the flanging effect to it as well. Steve Marriott, as he always does, sounds great here.

Small Faces – “Itchycoo Park”

The small faces recorded dozens of songs that I think stand up to the best British bands of that decade. The Beatles, Stones, The Who, The Kinks… The Small Faces released stuff that was just as good, in some cases even better.

But fate just didn’t really go their way and to be honest, they never really got their act together. There was a self-destructive streak there, especially with Steve Marriott, which would only get worse throughout his life. As we’ve discussed on this podcast before, Steve Marriott died in a house fire in 1991. He was 44. Ronnie Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and died in 1997, age 51. Keyboard player Ian McLagan had a long career as an in-demand session musician and sideman until he died of a stroke in 2014. Drummer Kenny Jones went on to play with The Who, and at the time of this recording, he’s still with us and continues to oversee the legacy of the Small Faces.

If you’d like to explore more Small Faces, there’s a ton of compilation albums out there. Some are better than others. My favorite is one called “The Autumn Stone”. I would start there. There’s also one called “The Ultimate Collection”. That one’s pretty good, too.

Thanks for hanging out here on this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. As you probably know by now, new episodes of this show come out twice a month, so I’ll be back in about two weeks with a brandy new episode. If you can’t bear to wait for the next episode, you can catch up on all of our previous shows on our website, or just look for us in your favorite podcast app.

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And thanks for listening to this episode on “Itchycoo Park” by Small Faces.

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