I’m more than a little disappointed in how Rod Stewart’s career has turned out. I have to be honest. I detest the schmaltzy American Songbook crap. But while we’re being honest how many of us would have liked to have lived his life? Rod Stewart has something Ordinary Average Guys (thanks Joe Walsh) like me don’t have. He’s got Charisma with a capital C. Any dude with the nads to sing a song called “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” has to get some credit. What kind of credit I’m not sure, but while it wasn’t one of his better songs, I have to admit, it makes me laugh. Those of you who know me know that’s half the battle. He’s not an ugly dude, but should he be worshipped by women all over the planet like he is? I don’t know, that type of adulation escapes me, maybe in the next life with any luck, but while I’m no expert on the attractiveness of men, he must be something else. I mean, LOOK at the photo above! How sizzling hot was Britt Ekland? Are you kidding me? All I needed was some talent and I could have dated Britt Ekland? Not bloody likely John. His public resume with women is pretty impressive; Susannah Boffey, Dee Harrington, Britt Ekland, Alana Hamilton, Kelly Emberg, Rachel Hunter, Penny Lancaster…and those are only the ones that made it on record. I can only dream about the other 10,000 (just kidding Rod!…Aren’t I?) we don’t know about. You don’t have to be Wilt Chamberlain…come to think of it, I have my reservations about Wilt’s story…he did have a particular point of view that occasionally clashed with reality from time to time. Regardless, Rod Stewart is going to die a happy man no matter what transpires from here on out. Am I jealous? No question.
Roderick David Stewart was born on January 10, 1945. I believe that makes him 66 today. In fairness to my comments about his decision to do American Songbook stuff, he did have a bout with thyroid cancer in 2000 and it did affect his voice. I suppose that is the story behind his decision to eschew recent attempts at a Faces reunion, which would have totally rocked. I hope that’s the reason actually, but reading Robert Plant’s interviews these days you can ALMOST see his point of view. I don’t have to like it, but I can sort of understand it to some degree. Rod Stewart has been singing other people’s music for decades, but his raspy vocals are what make the songs he made even more famous his own. I’m a big Temptations fan, no question, but take a song like “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” Rod Stewart’s version is Titanic for my money. An even better example might be his version of Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe.” Man, that one stops me cold every time. “Maggie May,” his most famous and popular single ever, is all his though…well his and Martin Quinttenton’s. 1971 seems like SUCH a long time ago. Probably because it was. After making a half hearted attempt to become a professional footballer (soccer to us American types), Rod actually was singing in Ray Davies’ band for a very short while. The Kinks! File that under I didn’t know that either until today. Technically, according to our friends at Wikipedia, Rod was discovered by English Blues legend Long John Baldry playing Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” on a harmonica in a railway station. Rod Stewart bounced around for a couple of years until he began singing in The Jeff Beck Group in 1967. Ronnie Wood was a member of that band and the two of them embarked on a legendary friendship. Wood left The Jeff Beck Group in 1969 and it wasn’t long before his friend Stewart did the same. Jeff Beck, guitar God, wasn’t the easiest person to work with and while the group left a nice legacy. Beck, Bogert & Appice was the new direction, but Stewart chose to go his own way.
By 1970 Rod Stewart had released his first solo album. It was called An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down. It was released as The Rod Stewart Album in the United States. It’s a long forgotten classic here in America as far as I’m concerned. It featured a cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic “Street Fighting Man” and a cover of Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town.” You may recognize this song by the famous version by The Pogues that most people would think of when they hear “Dirty Old Town.” It’s a lot more of a Swing or Jazz version here. The Pogues put some real grit into their version. Advantage Pogues in my opinion. And you don’t have to ask me if I think The Rolling Stones’ version of “Street Fightning Man” has the edge either, but Rod was holding his own. The song “Handbags and Gladrags” was originally written by Mike D’Abo. ”Handbags” is a great old song that still sounds great to this very day. I don’t know if it was the way the songs were recorded or the production or what, but Rod Stewart solo, up until 1975′s Atlantic Crossing, had this great old sound to them. They cut to the bone in my opinion. They were released during my formative years so maybe that had an awful lot to do with what I’m babbling on about, but I distinctly remember listening to David Lee Roth, during his (unfortunately) ill fated takeover of the departed Howard Stern show, taking half an hour to discuss how great The Rod Stewart collection was during that period. I think Rod Stewart had just released Reason To Believe – The Complete Mercury Recordings if I remember correctly. It’s pretty rare to hear successful musicians go on about other successful musicians and the way Roth was talking about Rod Stewart is exactly how I felt.
The Rod Stewart Album, 1970′s Gasoline Alley, 1971′s Every Picture Tells a Story, 1972′s Never a Dull Moment and 1974′s Smiler all fall under the Mercury time period. These records are magical for my money. Gasoline Alley still sounds great too. The title track, “Cut Across Shorty,” and Elton John’s “Country Comfort” (by the way, I don’t understand how Rod could have covered this absolutely tremendous song before Elton John even got a chance to release it on his October 1970 masterpiece Tumbleweed Connection…very strange since Gasoline Alley was released in June of 1970…I’m sure the song was kicking around and being played in concert, but I’ve always been baffled by this…I’m sure one of you fine folks has the answer) are great tracks. Every Picture is a fantastic record and I’ve always loved Never a Dull Moment. “Interludings into You Wear It Well” is one of my all time favorite Rod Stewart tracks. One of the bummers of digital tracks is that they separate these two songs, although “Interludings” is only 40 seconds it’s as crucial to “You Wear It Well” as “Henry’s Tune,” all 32 seconds of it, is to the lead in to ”Maggie May.” This was the way this artwork was intended to be presented! Smiler was full of covers, but it sounded like Faces more than one of these old polished Rod Stewart records. Faces, what remained after Steve Marriott left The Small Faces (of “Itchycoo Park” Fame) to form the venerable Humble Pie, included Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Kenny Jones and Ian McLagen. They released three studio albums and a live record between 1970 and 1973. Faces could be construed as a sloppy drunken mess, but they were kind of The Replacements of their day. So very Rock & Roll everybody loved them warts and all. The Mercury Poisoning, as Graham Parker would later explain to us, was over for Rod Stewart. On to Atlantic (Crossing) Records.
In 1975 the single “Three Time Loser” came out of the speakers of my radio so I checked out the album. This featured Rod digitized in some get up stepping over the Atlantic Ocean or some such thing. The album cover was so very 70′s, but I bought the record even after not really connecting with Smiler the year before. I loved this record when I was 15. It had the ballad called “Sailing” a lot of people remember, but I loved “Stone Cold Sober” and “All In The Name of Rock & Roll.” Rod was going commercial though and the wave was just beginning. He covered Mentor Williams’ “Drift Away” made famous by Dobie Gray on Atlantic Crossing as well as the Holland-Dozier-Holland song “This Old Heart of Mine” made famous by The Isley Brothers. Sometimes, with Rod, you have to dig deep to find his own work, but none of us cared really. He had that spunk when he was rocking and he had a cockney-ed tenderness going for him when he was balladeering. It was hard to find anyone who didn’t like Rod Stewart’s voice. I know I did. In June of 1976 Stewart released Tonight’s The Night and it had, you guessed it, more covers. Mark Barkan’s “Pretty Flamingo” was a fairly big hit. Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is The Deepest” was excellent. “Tonight’s The Night” and “The Killing of Georgie Parts I & II” made for a solid record. I was about to say sales were taking off, but I checked with Wikipedia and came across these fun sales facts. The Rod Stewart Album went Gold (500,000 copies), Gasoline Alley sold 1 million copies, Every Picture Tells a Story sold 4 million, Never a Dull Moment sold 2 million, Smiler sold 3 million (I would have bet money Smiler sales did not outdo Gasoline Alley and Never a Dull Moment… that’s shocking!), Atlantic Crossing sold 16 million (16 Million! That’s Wikipedia talking, not me! I would have bet against that one as well) and Tonight’s The Night sold 5.4 million. Faces broke up by 1975 so Rod was depending solely on his own sales, but as you can see he wasn’t hurting for dough…or women God love him…
1977 bought us Foot Loose & Fancy Free, another album I just loved and in 1978 released Blondes Have More Fun with the aforementioned “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” on it. It wasn’t ”Miss You,” but it was the same sort of get on the Disco bandwagon song. It was right about here that, give or take a dozen more tracks, Rod The Mod sort of took a powder. Did I like songs like “Passion, Young Turks and Infatuation?” released post 1978? Yes I did. Did I buy any of those records? Absolutely not. But you know what? This will blow your mind…After Blondes Have More Fun sold 14 million copies Stewart probably made more money combined on the balance of his catalogue then he ever had before. 1980′s Foolish Behavior? 3 million copies. 1981′s Tonight I’m Yours? 12 million copies. 1983′s Body Wishes. 10 million copies. 1984′s Camouflage? 5 million copies. 1986′s Every Beat of My Heart? 4 million copies. 1988′s Out of Order? 8 million copies. 1991′s Vagabond Heart? 8 million copies. 1995′s Spanner in The Works? 6 million more. This goes on and on until the present day. You get the idea. That is staggering from my point of view. No offense to all you die-hard Rod Stewart fans out there, but that’s over 56 million records between 1980 and 1995 on a whole lotta nothing compared to his work prior to that. Rod Stewart went completely soft, but the ladies loved him more than ever. I shudder to think about how many records he’s sold since 1995. Oh well, what I know about women I could fit in a thimble so I suppose that makes perfect sense.
At the end of the day if you ask me if I’m a Rod Stewart fan I have no choice, but to say that I am. No question about that, but few artists that I once supported have taken a right turn out of my comfort zone sharper and quicker than Rod Stewart. I know, I’m old and I have no idea what makes women tick. Rod does. End of story. Still, we at The Giant Panther wish Rod Stewart nothing but the best of health and many more birthdays after all the joy he’s given us.
Buy or Download Reason To Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings From Amazon Here.