The Story and Meaning Behind “Ooh La La,” Faces’ Last Big Hit Before Imploding

Faces combined serious virtuosity with a shambolic attitude and briefly became a sensation in the early ’70s. They were a bit too combustible to last, but with “Ooh La La,” they managed a sweet send-off of sorts before it all came crashing down for the quintet.

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What is the song about? Why was there an unusual singer on lead vocal? And how did the group’s usual lead singer put a bit of a damper on the release of the album containing the song? Let’s find out all about “Ooh La La” and the memorable band that made it.

A Quirky Quintet

Faces were an offshoot of sorts from The Small Faces. That original British band was shaved to three members when lead singer Steve Marriott abruptly left in 1968 because he was frustrated the band were pegged as pop music. When Marriott departed to form Humble Pie, the remaining trio (Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones) recruited Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood to make up a five-piece.

Stewart and Wood naturally pushed the band in a bluesier direction. Faces struggled to make much of a dent with their first two studio albums. But then Stewart’s solo career took off. That brought far more attention to the band’s third LP A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… to a Blind Horse, released in 1971.

To their credit, Faces rose to the occasion at just the right time with their strongest set of songs. Everybody but drummer Jones contributed as writers, the band’s instrumental chemistry was just right, and Stewart was at the peak of his vocal powers. The hit single “Stay with Me” solidified their ascension, they began playing bigger venues on both sides of the pond, and, for a minute there, they were as big as anybody in British rock.

A Lovely Parting Shot

Unfortunately for the four instrumentalists in the band, Stewart’s star was rising even faster than that of the band he fronted. His solo album Every Picture Tells a Story (also released in ’71) soared thanks to the smash single “Maggie May.” Many venues started advertising the band as Rod Stewart and Faces. Stewart couldn’t help but think of his burgeoning solo career, which is why he barely took part in the making of Faces’ fourth album Ooh La La, which was released in 1973.

The title track for that album, which was placed as the final song on the record, came from an idea by Ronnie Wood, the band’s lead guitarist. Bassist Ronnie Lane filled in the lyrics. But Stewart balked when it came time to sing the song, complaining it wasn’t in his key. Lane also couldn’t get it right. It was then suggested that Wood sing lead, and the offhand charm of his vocal perfectly fit the song’s tale.

“Ooh La La” was a Top-10 hit in the UK and scraped the U.S. Top 40. But Faces were crumbling. Stewart insulted the album in the press the week it was released. That was the final straw for Lane, who left shortly after. Faces still pressed on as a live act for another year or two, but they didn’t record another album together. When Wood joined the Rolling Stones in 1976, they were officially kaput.

What is the Meaning of “Ooh La La”?

“Ooh La La” is framed as some grandfatherly advice, but the grandson already holds the wisdom to realize that Gramps might be a bit too embittered to trust: Poor old Grandad, I laughed at all his words. The advice is on the topic of women, and how, according to the grandfather, a young boy can get swept away in the romance of it all if he’s not too careful: For love is blind and you’re far too kind / Don’t ever let it show.

In the second verse, the grandfather speaks of exotic dancers and how any physical delights they provide can be outweighed by what they do to your heart: But love is blind and you soon will find / You’re just a boy again. Finally, he realizes that no amount of advice will make up for cruel experience: Poor young grandson, there’s nothing I can say / You’ll have to learn just like me / And that’s the hardest way.

What keeps this song from seeming like it has a negative attitude towards women is it’s clear the grandfather wouldn’t change an ounce of his past times with the fairer sex; he just wants to save his relative some potential heartache. Wood’s kindhearted vocal, and the gentle instrumental workings of the band, make sure it comes off as benign. “Ooh La La” is a lovely slice of life, rendered by Faces with just the right nostalgic touch. Even if the band had known going in it would be the last song on their last album, they couldn’t have done any better job of saying farewell.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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