When Marriott left the band in 1970 to form the bludgeoning boogie ensemble Humble Pie, the Small Faces became the Faces with the addition of Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood. Then the fun began. On their first three albums -- First Step, A Nod's As Good As a Wink ... to a Blind Horse, and Long Player -- the Faces perfected a kind of boozy, sloppy, and utterly charming working-class rock and roll that was powerful but loaded with nuance, swaggering but tempered with the band's self-deprecation. Although their hits were mostly written by Stewart and Wood, Lane's contributions (both his writing and his high, cracked voice) helped flesh out the band's persona and personality, especially "On the Beach," "Tell Everyone," "You're So Rude," and "Last Orders Please" (in which a bombed Lane is licking the wounds of a newly broken heart in a bar where the jukebox taunts him with Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears"). And his roving bass playing was a throwback to the supple styles of Chuck Berry sideman George Smith and Motown stalwart James Jamerson.

Lane left the Faces in 1973 and took to the road with the Passing Show, a traveling circus complete with fire eaters, jugglers -- the whole bit. In the studio he set about concocting a brilliant fusion of stomping blues, bashing rock, and dark British folk with the group Slim Chance. They never found an audience in the U.S. (and barely drummed up interest at home in the U.K.) and only one of Slim Chance's four albums was released in the States. It's a great one, though: Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, issued in 1975 by A&M, shimmers with the diversity and clarity of Lane's vision, from the hilarious blues of "Ain't No Lady" to the sweet melancholy of "Give Me a Penny," from the loopy street-parade instrumental "Anniversary" to a version of "Blue Monday" in which Lane sucks up the pity of Fats Domino's classic like the first beer of a Friday-night drunk.

By the late Seventies Lane had become debilitated by MS; his final album, See Me, arrived in 1980. Better, though, was 1977's Rough Mix, his one-off collaboration with good friend Pete Townshend. Despite the inclusion of some of Townshend's best solo work ("Misunderstood," "Keep Me Turning," and "Street in the City" in particular), it's Lane's "Annie" that steals the album and stands as his career-defining moment. An elegy that uses the arrival of winter as a metaphor for change, for death, "Annie" provides the best words I can think of to close this column, and I hope that someone had the good sense to remember them when thinking of something fitting to etch on Lane's headstone:

"Hear the children, they call, Annie
Every leaf must fall, Annie
God bless us all, Annie
Wherever we'll be."

-- By John Floyd

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