Rod Stewart

TrackAlbum
Handbags And GladragsAn Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down
Gasoline AlleyGasoline Alley
Maggie MayEvery Picture Tells A Story
Mandolin WindEvery Picture Tells A Story
You Wear It WellNever A Dull Moment
SailingAtlantic Crossing
The Killing Of Georgie ...A Night On The Town
You're In My HeartFoot Loose & Fancy Free
Blue SkiesThe Great American Songbook Vol.IV
Live The LifeTime

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Contributor: Peter Viney

I saw Rod Stewart live in the early days. He was with the Soul Agents at the sweaty downstairs cellar club The Disques-A-GoGo in Bournemouth, and I still think his version of Walking To New Orleans was the best I’ve heard the song. Never recorded of course. The Soul Agents did record, but not with Rod.

Then there was The Hoochie Coochie Men, which became Steampacket in 1965. Long John Baldry towering in the centre, Rod on one side, Julie Driscoll on the other, a competition of spikey hairstyles. Rod has a lot to say about hairstyles in his autobiography. They were fantastic live, the CDs and budget vinyl are easily available but recording quality is rough. However, the 4 CD set Storyteller has remastered versions of the cream of his early work on CD1, and Can I Get A Witness? from Steampacket sounds way better than vinyl versions.

A better recording was Shake with Brian Auger & The Trinity, proving what a soul singer was … I’d take the youthful Shake over his many later visits to soul classics.

Then we get the Jeff Beck Group. I Ain’t Superstitious from Truth has his trademark vocal style, with incredible guitar work and a storming drum solo. You could bottle this sound and sell millions. You could call it Led Zeppelin, perhaps.

There was an aside as Python Lee Jackson for In A Broken Dream, a demo that got reissued once Rod was famous. Rod was told they only wanted a guide vocal, and he obliged in exchange for a new set of carpets for his car. It sounds like Rod Stewart with Vanilla Fudge and was a deserved hit on reissue.

Rod kept The Faces and solo career separate, and I’ll do the same. The Faces thoroughly deserve their own list. He preferred to import Mick Waller on drums, then Martin Quittenton on guitar for his solo ventures, separating them from The Faces, though Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan are on Rod solo as well as The Faces, and Ronnie Lane plays on a couple of numbers. When he appeared on TV, The Faces backed his solo stuff.

There is a block of three albums: An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1969), Gasoline Alley (1970) and Every Picture Tells A Story (1971) and they form the core of his long career for critics. If he’d done a Buddy Holly or an Otis Redding in 1972, he would be called one of the greatest voices ever in rock and roll. You could stretch that to six albums and 1975 if you’re a fan. Later stuff ate into his rock cred, or rather his “rock snob rating”.

An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down shows Rod as an old man in a long mac chasing a kid (with two more kids on the foldout). An unfortunate sleeve nowadays. At least one artist has scrapped their recordings of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl from later reissues. Rod left his version on Storyteller. The LP starts out boldly with a cover of the then recent Rolling Stones’ song Street Fighting Man, but Rod takes an Americana slant on it, rather as the Stones themselves did on Country Honk as opposed to Honky Tonk Women. An Old Raincoat was released while Rod was still touring with The Jeff Beck Group, then promoting Beck-Ola. He carried the need for two simultaneous careers into The Faces. Handbags And Gladrags is a Sophie’s Choice song. Mike d’Abo gave it to Chris Farlowe at Immediate first, and Rod had wanted it then. I love both versions. Mike d’Abo had written Little Misunderstood for Rod Stewart in a brief spell on Immediate records, and it was over-arranged as some Immediate singles could be. Another from that period is his duet with P.P. Arnold, Come On Home Baby. On An Old Raincoat, Rod wrote the title track and four more. His Cindy’s Lament was competing as the representative track from the album, and is another which sounds like Led Zeppelin. Or rather, which Led Zeppelin sounded like.

Gasoline Alley was the title track of the album, and was co-written by Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. This was a hard one to select as Elton John’s Country Comfort, Eddie Cochran’s Cut Across Shorty, Bob Dylan’s Only A Hobo and Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now all jostle for inclusion. But most importantly, Rod was emerging as a songwriter … Lady Day and Jo’s Lament were also written by Rod. Only A Hobo is fascinating as an obscure Dylan track, and it’s fair to say Rod’s take is the best-known version. It would be in if this was a Toppermost Eleven.

Every Picture Tells A Story is a magnificent album. It also has the first song chosen, Maggie May, written by Rod with Martin Quittenton, and inspired by an older lady who “took advantage of” the then virgin Rod at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival, according to his autobiography. It seemed no one, including Rod, thought much of the song, and it got put out as the B-side of his first-rate cover of Tim Hardin’s Reason To Believe. It’s the classic Killer-B, one where a DJ flipped the single and discovered his greatest song. It was performed on Top Of The Pops where The Faces decided to send up the mimed format by putting DJ John Peel on mimed mandolin. The BBC instructed cameramen not to show Peel but Rod made sure he stood in positions where they couldn’t avoid it. They had to cue John Peel to mime the solo. Note Ian McLagan on organ. RIP.

Rod’s albums had upped the status of the mandolin and Mandolin Wind is the other essential track from Every Picture Tells A Story. Yet again, Rod (a shyer man than you might think) put his composition on the B-side of a cover, The Temptations (I Know) I’m Losing You. Flipped again. The Americana lyric was just right for 1971 and it competes with Maggie May for his greatest song. The video (above) shows Rod Stewart and Ron Wood performing the song on Unplugged, with Rod on banjo. The same Unplugged shows Rod’s keen sense of humour on Maggie May.

Never A Dull Moment follows on from that trio of albums, in 1972. You Wear It Well was co-written with guitarist Martin Quittenton. The only criticism is a similarity in rhythm (or swagger) with Maggie May. The addition of violin increases the Americana feel. As usual, for Top Of The Pops Rod used The Faces, augmented by Quittenton. Martin Quittenton was a vital element in this run of albums, but he plays seated in the show, and looks out of place among the laddish Faces.

Smiler in 1974 was a dividing line. Suddenly the critics decided they didn’t like Rod any more. To a degree they had a point as the covers were from the predictable writers. Rod may have felt the same because on Storyteller the album just gets the one track, Let Me Be Your Car, duetting with Elton John who wrote it specifically for him. Elton, as Reg Dwight, was the pianist in Bluesology, the Long John Baldry band after Steampacket, so the connection is long. Dixie Toot is a Rod Stewart/Ronnie Wood composition, and the Dixieland band that comes in made it a possible.

Sailing. The theme to a BBC documentary on the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. It was written by The Sutherland Brothers and recorded in Muscle Shoals Studios for Atlantic Crossing. It was a huge hit, and it also has dubious status of being a favourite choice for funerals, not rivalling My Way, My Heart Will Go On, Seasons In The Sun and You’ll Never Walk Alone perhaps, but nevertheless popular. It was just one of those “BIG” songs like Mull Of Kintyre for years until I heard it a neighbour’s funeral. He was an old sailor and I really concentrated on the lyric and delivery and there wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel. I Don’t Want To Talk About It was also on Atlantic Crossing, and a cover of a 1971 song by Danny Whitten for Crazy Horse. It’s one of Rod’s favourites of his own back catalogue and was in one of the drafts of this Toppermost. It was issued as a double A-side with The First Cut Is The Deepest, and a major hit (though I reckon First Cut got the lion’s share of the airplay). The First Cut Is The Deepest is one of my all-time favourite songs, but not by Rod Stewart nor by the writer, Cat Stevens. See the P.P. Arnold Toppermost. P.P. Arnold had the original hit which is unbeatable. As she says on stage nowadays, ‘This is a message for Rod Stewart … the first cut was the deepest!’ And it was.

The First Cut Is The Deepest was put on A Night On The Town. The track I like best on there is a Rod Stewart song, The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II). Rod has a way with narrative songs going right back, no doubt why he called his compilation Storyteller. He says it’s a true story. I’m also leaning towards Rod Stewart compositions. He is indeed a marvellous interpreter of other writers’ material and has never been able to fill albums with his own material. It’s odd because so often his song is the best on the album.

After Atlantic Crossing there is a run of hit singles and albums, and I admit immediately I know the hits but not the albums in any depth. We’re into the era of self-parody almost with Hot Legs (co-written with Gary Grainger, from Foot Loose and Fancy Free), Do Ya Think I’m Sexy (from Blondes Have More Fun). Actually both are highly enjoyable as long as the sexism doesn’t offend you. We’re in an era of tabloid fascination with Rod and young blonde women. From 1976 on he co-wrote with guitarist Jim Cregan (ex-Blossom Toes, Family, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel) and their collaborations include Blondes (Have More Fun), Passion and Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me). Passion is another strong narrative song with Shaft guitar chopping away, huge bass and stadium dramatics. It always reminds me of Bowie’s Young Americans era.

The representative song from the later 70s is You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim), a 1977 Rod Stewart composition (of course) from Foot Loose & Fancy Free. He can sing quiet and laid back. The chorus is singalong. Look at the band he has assembled. Jim Cregan, Gary Grainger and Steve Cropper on guitars, Carmen Appice (Vanilla Fudge) on drums, Paulinho da Costa on percussion, Phil Chen on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano. The element that lifts Rod’s confessional song though is violin by the great Richard Greene (of Seatrain).

Broken Arrow is a tribute to Rod’s taste, covering Robbie Robertson’ song from his first solo album. It appears on Vagabond Heart in 1991. The difference from the original (the arrangement is similar) is that Rod is a specialist lead vocalist. But because I like the original better, it narrowly missed the cut.

When We Were The New Boys in 1998 had Rod Stewart deliberately working with an early-70s style again and focussed mostly on covers of 90s bands: Cigarettes And Alcohol from Oasis, Rocks by Primal Scream, Shelly My Love by Nick Lowe, Hotel Chambermaid by Graham Parker, and What Do You Want Me To Do? by Mike Scott of The Waterboys. Conceptually interesting. Rod re-did Ooh La La by The Faces as a Ronnie Lane tribute.

We enter the cover versions era, starting with The Great American Songbook in its five volumes. Eric Clapton recently said you reach an age when you want to perform all those songs you heard on the BBC Light Programme when you were a kid. Rod got there earlier. Then Still The Same … Great Rock Classics is from 2006, Soulbook in 2009, and Merry Christmas Baby in 2012. Because he has such a distinctive voice he remains himself whether doing rock, folk, blues, soul or standards. I find his covers mainly satisfying, and there are so many of them. I don’t go for the standards from choice, but I can appreciate his versions. He got pals to collaborate … Eric Clapton on Blue Moon, Stevie Wonder on What A Wonderful World, Dolly Parton on Baby It’s Cold Outside. From the Great American Song Book I have to choose Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies from Volume IV. This is familiarity. I saw him doing it on TV, bought the album and we played this song to death. Maybe it’s the song, as I like every version I’ve ever heard.

Soulbook has a dedication from Rod: This is the album I have waited all my life to record … These are the songs I’ve danced to, made love to, cried to, and yes, fallen on the floor to. The unusual twist is that he carries over some Great American Songbook style. So The Same Old Song starts out as a gentle ballad before launching into The Four Tops song we know and love. Just My Imagination has rich orchestration.

Time came in 2013, a very strong return to original songwriting after what Stewart has said was a “dark period” of twenty years. In writing his autobiography and reviewing his life, he was inspired to write songs again. Incidentally, the autobiography got excellent reviews, and is more readable than most.

The song Brighton Beach is a romance as a 17 year old busker in Brighton, as described in his book. On current listening it would make the ten, but I think I should cover the whole career. So from Time I’ll just pick Live The Life. On first hearing I thought the first line, You wrote it in your e-mail that your sad and lonely because a girl in college has stolen your heart … was pushing his luck on being contemporary, but the more you hear this reflection from a parent to his college age kid, it is very moving. The tune is vintage early 70s Stewart, as is the swagger and instrumentation, it echoes Maggie May and You Wear it Well. I guess I’m of an age when I can relate to the sentiments. Time is throughout a fine album.

When I started out I had no idea that the list would end up as 80% songs written by Rod Stewart. That was fortuitous. I’m going to add ten great cover versions by Rod, because he is such a powerful cover singer. In a way Handbags And Gladrags above was a cover as Chris Farlowe was first, and had a Top 40 hit, which Rod didn’t. But I would guess that An Old Raincoat vastly outsold Farlowe’s Immediate single. Mike d’Abo has said that Rod had wanted the song in the first place, but it had already been promised to Farlowe.

Can I Get A Witness (Marvin Gaye) Steampacket
Shake (Otis Redding) Storyteller CD (+ Brian Auger)
I Ain’t Superstitious (Howlin’ Wolf) Truth (Jeff Beck Group)
Country Comfort (Elton John) Gasoline Alley
Only A Hobo (Bob Dylan) Gasoline Alley
Reason To Believe (Tim Hardin) Every Picture Tells A Story
Broken Arrow (Robbie Robertson) Vagabond Heart
Cigarettes & Alcohol (Noel Gallagher) When We Were The New Boys
Have You Seen The Rain (John Fogerty) Still The Same
Rainy Night In Georgia (Tony Joe White) Soulbook

 

Rod Stewart official website

Smiler: Rod Stewart Fan Club

Rod Stewart biography (iTunes)

Peter Viney writes on popular music and the arts at his website.

TopperPost #390

8 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Dec 16, 2014

    I maintain Rod is the greatest English male singer of his generation, which was a great generation… Cocker, Baldry, Jagger, Clapton, Morrison (ok, not English, but…) He is capable of great rubbish, but I don’t think anyone can touch him at his best.

  2. Bob Fino
    Dec 16, 2014

    Peter, great job!. I really enjoyed the write up and the songs you picked are all great choices. So many to choose from. The first time I saw him was in 1971 with The Faces at The Capital Theatre in Port Chester, NY. They were something special!

  3. Ian Ashleigh
    Dec 16, 2014

    Great list Peter, Footloose and Fancy Free was one of the first LPs I re-bought on CD and from it would have to include the epic version of You Keep Me Hanging On (maybe at the expense of Sailing because I prefer the Sutherland Brothers original). Carmen Appice had played on the Vanilla Fudge cover of the song some 10 years earlier and from which Rod takes some cues.

  4. Keith Shackleton
    Dec 16, 2014

    For me.. Handbags, Gasoline, Mandolin, Wear It Well, Losing You, Reason, Sweet Little Rock and Roller, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, First Cut, Georgie. And play them on a loop. When Rod is good, he is very very good.

  5. Andrew Shields
    Dec 16, 2014

    A superb list, but would have to have ‘It’s Not The Spotlight’ in my top ten.

  6. Peter Viney
    Dec 16, 2014

    I’m sure we all do it with Toppermost. You choose your ten … then start playing other tracks, and now I can’t believe I missed out “Three Time Loser” from Atlantic Crossing, as well as “Picture In A Frame” from “Life”. But I’ll grit my teeth and stick with the ten.

  7. Calvin Rydbom
    Dec 18, 2014

    Well done Peter, really well done. Although I have to say I was surprised when I realized nobody had tackled Rod up to this point. Here in the States his major turning point had to be “Do You Think I’m Sexy”. And while he stayed a significant hit maker for another 15 years he was never viewed without a little chuckle after that. I’d echo several folks sentiment, when he is good he is magnificent but capable of such garbage at times.

  8. Colin Duncan
    Dec 21, 2014

    A good, comprehensive article relating the list to Rod’s contribution to music. I’d agree with the first eight selections, but not the last two. However, I could happily take ‘In A Broken Dream’ and ‘Broken Arrow’, which receive honourable mentions. Interesting how Rod replaced ‘bottle of water’ with ‘bottle of wine’, perhaps reflecting his musical journey in his version of ‘Broken Arrow’. I could also select ‘Angel’, ‘What Made Milwaukee Famous’, or ‘Bring It On Home To Me/You Send Me’. Enjoyed reading the article, Peter.

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