An opening electric guitar chord, solo-strummed, then the drums and bass kick in. It is a simple, powerful rhythm that is instantly inviting and enveloping. If it was a concert, you’d be on your feet already. You could sway to this intoxicating rhythm forever, but Steve Marriot’s voice enters,
There’s wheat in the field
And water in the stream
And salt in the mine
And an aching in me
The soulful invocation is as strong as the ancient magic of bread-making. The staff of life. And as Marriot sings, that life flows through the melody, through the grain, the water, the seasoning, the heart of man.
I can no longer stand and wonder
Cos I’m driven by this hunger
He’s expressing it for us all, for all time. So simple, so powerful, so patient in the longing. So human.
So I’ll jug some water, bake some flour
Store some salt and wait the hour
When I’m thinking of love
Love is thinking for me
If you know the craving for intimacy, the hunger for emotional sustenance, then you will rise to the song. If you are searching still, your heart will expand. It may crack with the breakthrough of emotion demanded by life, loss, love.
And the baker will come
And the baker I’ll be
This is one of the best songs of the sixties and thus, one of the best songs ever. If ‘Song of a baker’ does not move you, thrill you, energise you, comrade you need help. Fast.
All this without even mentioning the tearing guitar solo or the great outro, complete with chopping piano.
This without even mentioning that ‘Song of a baker’ is the fifth song on the Small Faces 1968 amber-encased Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, an album that may well be the pinnacle of British psychedelia. The fifth song on side one, perhaps a perfect album side, that opens with the psychedelic title overture and flows straight into ‘Afterglow’, another superb white soul pop song.
Without even mentioning ‘Lazy Sunday’ and ‘Rene’, two classic Eastender music-hall romps, one of which is still a staple of Gold FM radio the world over and the other of which, though utterly incorrect in socio-political terms, manages to hilariously deploy the capital of Malaysia in verse, surely ultimate proof that pop lyrics can be better than any Emily Dickinson poem.
She’s Rene, the docker’s delight, And a ship’s in every night
Romping with a stoker from the coast of Kuala Lumpur
Even mentioning side two can cause those of a chrome-plated modern bent to screw up their faces. Yet the Happiness Stan story is vital perhaps because it takes a little wriggling, a little psychic jiggling, to access it in the second decade of the twenty-first century. You have to regress a little, unwind a little, return to a simpler, more credulous time. In short, you have to make like a child again. Do so and the magical nonsense poetry of narrator Stanley Unwin will deliver perfect cognisance, the story will convey its un-cynical message of hope, the music will reveal as much colour and richness as any paisley overcoat Carnaby Street could gift.
And Happiness Stan, whose life evolved
near a femerald coloured dreamy most,
had his pure existance and his being
in the deep joy and the multi colour of the rainbold.
‘The journey’ is a pleasing bridging instrumental, ‘Mad John’ touching and sincere and a wonderful expression of values we seem to have misplaced. Ogdens’, overall, is an essentialistic vinyl wandsparkle. Oh Yes.
Mentioning vinyl, near the tail-end of our recent sojourn in the Old Dart, I visited one of Cambridge’s most significant landmarks, Fopp Records. Exiting with a goodly haul, something niggled at the Vinyl Connection psyche. After a sandwich by the Cam I trotted back to the store and handed over my remaining sterling for a beautifully curated vinyl re-issue of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Sure, I have a pretty 1989 Castle CD re-issue in a proper metal tobacco tin but although it looks great, it sounds absolutely shit.
So I handed over a wad of notes, telling myself that it would certainly sound good and furthermore I would never, barring a lotto win, be able to afford an original in mint condition, assuming that such a thing even exists almost half a century on. I played it for the first time last night, and it was good.
Life may be a bowl of Allbran, but regular is as regular does. And playing Ogdens’ now and then will enhance your health. Just listen to the giant fly.
Not only will I transportnum there,
but I will sing it a deep joy of a songload in your eardroves.