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Review of 2012 2-CD edition
on 31 May 2012
"From The Beginning", originally released in mid-1967 by Decca, was a last ditch cash-in by ex-manager Don Arden & ex-label Decca. The L.P. combined previously unreleased tracks(some dating back to sessions with early keyboardist Jimmy Winston) with non-L.P. single A-sides. The album was a "spoiler" designed to compete with the group's first "Immediate Records" album, which was released a few weeks later. "Small Faces" wanted this album taken off the market, but, the bottom line was that the group still owed more recordings to Decca under contract, and even "From The Beginning" didn't fully satisfy the group's obligations, so Decca was given non-exclusive use of two "Immediate Records" songs("I Can't Make It" & "Just Passing"), which Decca then released as a single.
This 2012 2-CD edition is the most thorough edition to date. As a group whose recordings were (then, in the 1960's) licensed to(but not owned by) Decca, the group couldn't use the superior recording facilities of the big record company, and had to use independent studios. Many of the Small Faces' Decca recordings are tinny, grungy & distorted, even by 1960's standards, and don't really do justice to the group's fine performances.(there are exceptions, such as "All of Nothing", "Sha La La La Lee", "Hey Girl" & "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" & "I Can't Dance With You" , which are significantly better recorded).
Disc One gives you the 14-track original album, plus 5 non-L.P. singles tracks. It is reassuring that the album is being taken from the original mono master tape(a photo of the master tape box is shown in the superbly illustrated booklet). It should be noted, that with only 2 exceptions, that there are no true stereo mixes of the tracks from this album. As for the sound quality, you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear. You can't boost the low frequency content on certain tracks which basically don't have any low frequency content. I did comparisons between the original 1980's "London" label West German CD, the 1996 expanded reissue and the new 2012 edition, listening through audiophile grade headphones(Sennheiser HD-650). For the 14 album tracks, the 1996 CD did provide audible improvements over the 1980's effort, mostly on the tracks which were better-recorded. The 2012 edition's improvements over the 1996 effort are more subtle. There is more clarity to the vocals, but there are no truly dramatic improvements. There is no reason to think that the 1996 CD didn't use the original master tape too. Disc one ends with the non-L.P. singles tracks "Almost Grown", "Understanding", "I Can't Dance With You" ,"I Can't Make It" & "Just Passing".
Disc Two opens with a significant find: a true stereo mix of "Runaway". I had always wondered whether the Decca recordings would have had better fidelity if released in stereo. The answer is "not really", but I am still happy to have this stereo mix. It has the vocals in the middle, and instruments on both left & right, somewhat contradicting Kenney Jones claim that the Decca recordings were all done on 2-track(perhaps the debut album was, though). Previously unreleased alternate (mono) mixes of "That Man" & "Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" follow, and they are worthy additions to your "Small Faces" collection. There's been some controversy over the inclusion of three "electronically reprocessed" (I.E. Fake) stereo tracks here. Two of them("My Mind's Eye" & "All or Nothing") were created by putting most of the sound on the left channel, and only the extreme high frequencies on the right channel. I wouldn't advise playing those two tracks through headphones, because the right channel is tinny and shrill. The fake stereo "Understanding" creates a fake stereo effect through echo & reverb, and is more listenable. If you are offended by fake stereo, then just skip those 3 tracks. The set also includes the instrumental "Picaninny", presented in needless mono, though a true stereo version was released on the Castle label 2-CD set "Darlings of Wapping Wharf Lauderette".
The French E.P. alternate takes of "Hey Girl", "Take This Hurt off Me" and "Baby Don't You Do It" are included, and though the compiler still hasn't been able to find a full fidelity source, the release on this 2-CD set is significantly better sounding than on the 1996 CD.(I suspect that they have been de-clicked from the original French vinyl).
The set closes with a number of previously unreleased outtakes(most of them backing tracks) from sessions for the first "immediate" album. "Talk to You" "I Can't Make It" & "All Our Yesterdays are backing tracks, while "Show Me The Way" is a backing track attempt which breaks down due to musician error. You get an alternate take of the "Immediate" version of "(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me" featuring what is likely a rehearsal lead vocal and no double-tracking or background vocals. And the set ends with an alternate stereo mix of "Things Are Going to Get Better" which is barely/scarcely any different to the familiar released version. By the way, the backing track attempt at "I Can't Make It" presented here is a genuine alternate take, because the various vocal mono & stereo mixes of the song(released on various labels) all have their basis in the same take. This backing track attempt IS a different take.
Various labels have been credited for supplying sources for the recordings on this set, including Charly Records, for whom I compiled the 1995 4-CD box set "Small Faces-The Immediate Years". If Charly supplied the source for the mono mix of "Picaninny", then it is the dub from (very clean) vinyl which I did in 1994(the source was a U.S.A. 2-L.P. set "Small Faces-Big Music" on the "Compleat" label)
Does this 2-CD Deluxe edition of "From The Beginning" render all previous editions obsolete? Basically, YES. The 1996 CD included a BBC version of "Whatcha Gonna Do About It", but that is available elsewhere(on "The BBC Sessions") . The 1996 CD also included a "French E.P." alternate mix of "My Mind's Eye", but Universal Music's source was unlistenably poor. That early mix of "My Mind's Eye" was also heard on the RCA Victor U.S.A. single, and you can hear it with much better sound on the 4-CD "The Immediate Years" box set. So, basically, if you're looking for the "Small Faces-From The Beginning" album on CD, this is the edition to get. You can dispose of the previous CD editions.