Paul Fitzpatrick; November 2022.
I loved everything David Bowie released in the 70s up until Lodger.
Ditto, Stevie Wonder up to Secret Life of Plants.
Ditto, Joni Mitchell up to Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.
I never stopped loving those artists but there came a point where I stopped rushing out to purchase their new material unconditionally.
It’s not a criticism, they were geniuses and performing at the level they did for so many years is unsustainable for any mere mortal.
There are loads of different examples of artists falling off a cliff, or whatever metaphor you care to use, it’s all based on personal tastes and opinions anyway.
As an example, a year before Bowie’s Ziggy exploded on the scene and Stevie’s Talking Book was released, Rod Stewart came along with Every Picture Tells a Story and for a couple of years, he looked like the “Prince that was promised’ to borrow a Game of Thrones phrase.
Love him or hate him, Rod Stewart has had an unbelievable career – million seller’s like “Sailing”, critically acclaimed hits like “The Killing of Georgie”, collaborations with Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder and a stint in the best party band in the world – the Faces.
But for me there was a point in time when the guy could literally do no wrong – Rod Stewart vintage 71-72, was undoubtedly ‘The Man’.
Like a lot of people I had no idea who Rod Stewart was until I saw him singing “Maggie May” on Top of the Pops in October 1971.
It’s actually very rare for great songs to make it to number one in the charts. but “Maggie May” is one of the few exceptions, to add context, Middle of the Road’s “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” and Benny Hill’s “Ernie” also topped the charts in the same period
With his feather-cut, silk scarves and gravelly vocals, the androgynous Rod made a favourable impression – girls loved him, even getting their hair cut like him, and boys wanted to be like him, a veritable Jack the lad.
A big part of Rod’s appeal in the early 70’s was that he was a man of the people. Whilst Jagger was hanging out in Saint Tropez with Counts and Countesses, Stewart was down the boozer with his mates, playing Free & Frankie Miller on the jukebox.
If Rod drank champagne it was straight from the bottle.
Maggie May was the gateway to Every Picture Tells A Story, which is a top album, with the title track, “Mandolin Wind” and “Reason to Believe” all hitting the spot.
Then, just as Maggie May was starting to drop down the charts after a five- week stint at number one, Rod popped up again as part of a band called the Faces, entering the charts with a guitar-driven rocker called “Stay With Me”.
The Faces were a five piece band made up of 3 former Small Faces (Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, Kenney Jones) and 2 ex-Jeff Beck Group members (Ronnie Wood & Rod Stewart).
All accomplished musicians, the Face’s brand of boogie-rock wasn’t too dissimilar from American southern rock bands like The Allman Brothers and being at one of their gigs felt like watching your mates play in the local boozer. It didn’t matter if there were a few bum notes, you were there to have a good time and singalong.
The Rod juggernaut kept rolling through 1972 with the release of Never A Dull Moment, and the lead single “You Wear It Well” which repeated the success of “Maggie May”.
Three further singles would go on to reach the top ten that year.
“In a Broken Dream”, “Angel” and “What Made Milwaukee Famous”, it seemed like the boy could do no wrong.
As Rod adjusted to his new found fame things slowed down a bit. There was a new Faces album in 73, Ooh La La which Stewart described to the NME as a “stinking rotten album” before his next solo project Smiler was released in 74.
The lead single from Smiler, “Farewell” was another collaboration with Martin Quittenton who’d co-written “Maggie May” and “You Wear it Well”.
It’s actually one of my favourite Rod tracks but it didn’t fare as well, which triggered a change of direction.
Rod’s next number one was “Sailing” in 75 by which time the Faces had disbanded and Rod was concentrating 100% on his solo career.
He was a different Rod now, enjoying the trappings of success, draped in leopard skin, sipping vintage champagne from fine crystal with Mick & Elton and churning out formulaic hits like “Hot Legs” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”.
Rod may not receive the critical acclaim that some of his contemporaries enjoy but the old bugger’s still going strong. I went to one of his gigs a few years ago and was amazed by how many young people were there to see him, but then again I have kids who were brought up listening to his early stuff and they love it.
The set-list for his gig that evening didn’t include as many of my favourites as I would have liked, but the guy can still hold a tune and is plainly a national treasure.
I don’t think I bought another Rod album after Smiler apart from a couple of compilation albums but I still listen to Every Picture Tells a Story, Never a Dull Moment and the best Faces tracks.
I wasn’t a big fan of Hollywood Rod, the music or the person, but I loved Jack the lad Rod and the music he produced in the early 70s.
He may not have been a god for long, but very few ever get there anyway.
6 thoughts on “When Rod Was A God”
Nice piece! Listening to the playlist now, thank you. I think that “Ooh la la” got a bit more of a kicking than it deserved when it came out. The title track and “Cindy Incidentally” are both brilliant tracks that still sound great today. I know that “Atlantic Crossing” was the beginning of the marketing of Rod Stwart, but 16-year-old me used to have side two on repeat and I still think it is one of the best “sides” of an album ever, lol!
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Yeah I get it Nick but of the 5 songs on side 2 of Atlantic Crossing, 4 of them were cover versions, still a good record though and I like the Muscle Shoals production on that album.
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True, and the one that he did write is probably the weakest. To make the perfect side he could have swapped “Still love you” with “Drift Away”.
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Oddly enough I had a conversation with my brother about singers ‘singing covers’ and we had a credible draw between Rod and Joe Cocker; both making songs ‘their own’ and taking my record collection in brand new directions I’d not have found without them – see my review of Every Picture which was a Gateway to so many acts I’d never have found otherwise.
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Sadly to some degree, I never stopped buying Rod’s albums – although several never got played a second time! I agree about Ooh La La! It actually still stands up today from start to finish. In recent years he’s actually made a couple of very listenable albums; with my wife liking them more than me – but I don’t mind them on the background. Live in the 21st Century he’s still one of the best there is.
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This was his best period to me. He used the acoustic and electric guitar with his voice…a perfect mix. I liked some of his other songs but to me…nothing is better than this stretch of his career.
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