The Small Faces were one of the best of the O.G. English Invasion bands. Okay, they came five minutes after Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Swinging Blue Jeans, but they were in there, towards the trailing edge of the first wave. They were a first-class act, with good material and great production. They rocked hard, and they were way up on the fun program. They, and their producers, understood the power of the hook.
Sha La La La Lee is an interesting song in several ways. Many acts leaned on the hook from the beginning of the song. The Beatles were merciless. Think about, “She Loves You.” The song leads off with a chorus, and the hook is in every chorus and every verse. Think about, “Let's Spend the Night Together,” by the 'Stones. It begins with the hook, and the hook is never off-screen for more than a moment or two. Sha La La La Lee puts the big hook at the end of the song.
It's set up this way:
Outro? Coda? What do you call it?
That last part is new; it's different. The song is like, “A, A, B, A, B, A, C.” That's a horse of a different color, now isn't it?
There's a hook in the verses; it's in with the “sha la la la lee” parts. It's a real hook, it works, it keeps you interested. That last bit, though, smacks you hard. I can only speak for myself, but the new hook in that last bit knocked me flat, and it still does, after fifty years. For many years I had a music room in my house in Los Angeles. I bought a set of drums, I had six guitars and five amps, I got a bass and a bass amp, and I'd invite friends over on the weekend to jam. (You can't expect drummers to tear down and rebuild their kits two times in one day just to show up at a jam.) During the week I'd fool around by myself, playing guitar or bass, playing along with records or tapes. I loved playing bass to this song, because the bass gets the big finish with the surprise hook. The bass is the hero.
Bands like the Small Faces never made any money. The economics of the business were all wrong for artists. Bands like the Small Faces, the Kinks, the Hollies, and even the Who, all great bands with great original songs, worked their asses off during the mid- to late-Sixties and had hit after hit on the English charts, and even a hit or two in America, but there wasn't really any money in it. They worked and worked and worked, playing shitty tours with multiple acts, selling 45 rpm records, and making bupkis. The Hollies had fourteen top-ten hits in a row and got nowhere. The Who finally cracked the big time with Tommy, they were never as exciting after that but I was still happy for them. The Small Faces tried very hard, and Ogden's Nut-Gone Flake is one of the best records of the period, but it wasn't enough. They broke up and tried different approaches, with Steve Marriott going with Peter Frampton of the Herd into Humble Pie, and the rest of the lads bringing in Rod Stewart and Ronnie Woods and changing the name of the band to simply “the Faces.” Humble Pie had some success in America, where the money was; Faces made a few very good albums, but nothing came of it. We're all so old by now, and so many of us are already dead, that I guess it doesn't really matter much. But there was a time, boys and girls. There was a time.
And it was good. We could go wild on a regular basis and still make some kind of easy living. The music was great, the cars were fast, and sex, whether in real life or in films and magazines, had gone mainstream. Life was much less stressful, and it was not because we were all young and stupid. Everything was cheaper and easier, jobs were plentiful, an almost free university education was easily available, medical care was never a problem. Hell, you could get married, have children, and buy a house! If I could do it, anybody could! Things are terrible now for young people starting out. I wish you all luck, although I'm afraid that nothing short of divine intervention will solve your problems.
So, how about that Sha La La La Lee? Pretty cool song, 'eh? Nice hook, don't you think? It's still three minutes of fun, and we can all use that every now and then.