Depending on where you are at with Rod Stewart you walked out after Smiler (or because of it) or A Night On The Town or Blondes Have More Fun – and if you hung in there until Tonight I’m Yours and didn’t mind the “comeback” albums that were Vagabond Heart and Unplugged…and Seated you were, at some point, brutally offended by his American Songbook series (that now stretches to several volumes), Still The Same…Great Rock Classics Of Our Time (which is a musical vasectomy) and Soulbook. Even the “comeback-again” record, Time, couldn’t quite do it for me…
There are different levels of offence taken – but the rule seems to be that at some point Rod Stewart became the giant, all-time sell-out. The guy who took the money and ran – and he’s still laughing all the way to the bank, however many wives later, however many lazy covers projects and all of the barely authorised hits compilations and repackaging of the early years…
I was one of the ones that was – once – offended. I thought that Rod sold out, dipped out, took the easy road. And I probably still think that on some level. After all, from what I understand of the complaint – and it is, on some level, valid – most people that are upset with Stewart’s laziness, his cop-out pop music and full embracement of the Hollywood/celebrity lifestyle do really care about the early career, that’s why they claim to be so offended. You see here was a guy with an almost unnatural amount of talent – perhaps the great blue-eyed soul-singer; a rocker, a mod – and then just someone mocking…eventually someone to simply mock.
It’s only rock’n’roll though, right?
So let’s remember what it’s all about – the music. And what I realised, only recently, was the extraordinary amount of simply stunning – almost utterly perfect – music there is from Stewart. You can take a Greatest Hits disc (or double disc) and get part of the story but really you need to go a bit deeper.
I borrowed a copy of the four-CD set, Storyteller. Released a while ago, that really filled in a few gaps. And had me checking out the more recent set of alternative tales, The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998.
That’s eight CDs all up – four from Storyteller, four from The Rod Stewart Sessions. But I needed more. Another four discs arrived in the form of Faces box-set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar…
I’ve got a lot of Rod Stewart records already – the early years, or the first decade. In fact I go up to 1978 – because my introduction to Rod Stewart’s music was the one-two of 1977’s Foot Loose & Fancy Free and the following year’s Blondes Have More Fun. I still have the LPs that were part of my parents record collection; the last vestiges. So for that fact alone they stay with me – and I have stayed with them; up until then. But really A Night On The Town is where I go up to with Rod. That’ll do. Because I’m a fan of The Killing Of George (Part I and II). I love that song.
But I’m also a fan – a huge fan – of almost everything before A Night On The Town. It pays to cherry-pick, sure, but what an embarrassment of riches.
So I’m changing my tune.
No more of this mocking Rod Stewart for what he became. After all, what he became was successful. It would only really be a tragedy if his early music was not available to sample or hold on to.
But I don’t have to listen to his 1995 album, A Spanner In The Works. And in fact I don’t. Ever. I wonder if everyone so quick to point out that Rod Stewart is now awful has ever spent time listening to something as wonderful as I’ve Been Drinking by The Jeff Beck Group.
That song has blown my mind since I was 13 years old, a Jeff Beck fan craving whatever I could, post-Yardbirds, and stumbling into Rod Stewart’s incredible voice as a bonus.
And so the heavy Rod Stewart sessions that have been going on at my place over the last couple of months – the CDs, the ipods, the turntables all getting a workout – have made me realise that before there were disco-flirtations and simple pop ballads there was a singer capable of moving from blues to rock to the beginnings of heavy metal – all within the same album. I guess I always knew that – but it’s the range within such a short space of time that amazes me.
How great to hear this music again – as if for the first time. To focus on the very best elements and the very best material.
So I argue that Rod Stewart’s career needs, still, to be celebrated for all that is wonderful. It’s too easy to focus on what he has become – and if that is not interesting (and ultimately, it’s not) why not move on to/back to the magic, whether it be Every Picture Tells A Story and Never A Dull Moment or Atlantic Crossing; whether it be only the Faces and Jeff Beck Group material (of course the Faces were Rod’s backing band too – in that he was the lead singer and a band member, but they backed him on some of his early solo records as well).
A partial list would include:
Handbags And Gladrags, I’ve Been Drinking, Street Fighting Man, Only A Hobo, Mandolin Wind, Cut Across Shorty, Maybe I’m Amazed, Country Comfort, (I Know) I’m Losing You, Every Picture Tells A Story, Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Reason To Believe, Maggie May, Angel, Mama You Been On My Mind, Shapes Of Things, You Shook Me, Rock My Plimsoul, I Ain’t Superstitious, Stay With Me, Spanish Boots, Sweet Lady Mary, Plynth (Water Down The Drain), Hot Legs.
And there are more. There’s a lot more.
And on that, wow, when on form Rod Stewart was not only (with Ron Wood) a great writer, but such a great song-stylist, a wonderful interpreter. His versions of so many Bob Dylan songs stand out as being so deeply empathetic, a singer who knows how to perform the song by climbing right inside it. And the same can be said with his versions of songs by Sam Cooke (his very obvious hero) and Paul McCartney and Tim Hardin and Smokey Robinson – and many others.
So, I’m all about the Rod Stewart appreciation. I was raised on a lot of his music, discovered even more of it for myself and now I’m right back in the thick of it finding new gems, songs I’d possibly missed the first time around. His version of (I Know) I’m Losing You is killer – and that Faces rendition of Maybe I’m Amazed – well, it challenges the original. Different feel/sound entirely, but that’s part of what Rod Steward offers in his skill when interpreting a song; finding a whole new way to sing it.
What do you think of Rod Stewart? Do you agree that there’s too much good stuff early
on to worry about what came later? Do you like all of it – his entire career? Or none of it; were you never a fan? And what are your favourite songs or albums? Do you have a definitive cut-off point? And do you agree that the original Jeff Beck Group and the Faces are two bands that managed to achieve a lot with only a little – in terms of their recorded output?
So, what do you make of Rod Stewart – then? And now?