From Pub Singer to Rock Legend in 5 Uneasy Steps
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to be offered this set of albums to review; as I’m and pretty much always have been, an unashamed Rod Stewart fan and these albums in one way or another were the soundtrack to my transition from a boy to a teen to a man.
Like many others of my generation hearing Rod Stewart singing Maggie May on the radio across the Summer of 1971 was genuinely life changing as it sowed the seeds for my life long obsession with music. Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old man, it really was a different time then as buying LP’s was seen as a considered investment (they cost £1.50 = 3 weeks pocket money) and for me, at the tender age of 13 Christmas 1971 was going to be the first time that I would receive record tokens as gifts, and I could buy my very first LP. I already had a small box of hand me down LP’s – the first two from the Beatles, a Rolling Stones, a couple of Dusty Springfield and Aloha from Hawaii by Elvis Presley; things that my brothers no longer wanted as they’d already gone out of fashion.
When I totalled my tokens I had £2.50; leaving me with a monumental decision to make, so the following day I caught the #3 bus to Stanley and made my way to Herdman’s stall in Stanley Market where I pondered for an eternity before I selected Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart; and I entered the world of the Album buyer for the very first time.
That day had such a profound effect on me I can even tell you what clothes I was wearing!
I went on to actually wear out that copy and bought a replacement a year later and kept both when I sold my record collection ten years ago.
So; what do these LP’s sound like in 2015? I will try to compare and contrast with my feelings on first hearing them and what I feel today.
An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1969)
This would have been the last of the five albums that I got to hear, as it was quite rare and I eventually tracked down a copy owned by Pat Whittle’s brother who eventually loaned it to me in exchange for Rory Gallagher – Live in Europe AND Johnny Winter And – Live (such was our currency in those days).
After listening to his more commercial work night and day, this album was a bit of a shock as it was a lot more Folk influenced than I expected; which was why I never bought a copy at the time.
Subsequently this is certainly the sound of a young man with a voice, but no songs of his own, but his interpretations of diverse songs like the Stones Street Fighting Man and Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town show a man in transition, but one who knows a good tune when he hears one.
The key track here, of course is Rod’s version of Handbags and Gladrags which is still a staple of his concerts today and regardless of what Chris Farlow might think is the definitive version of a brilliant song and must have had the record executives rubbing their hands with glee, even though it hardly troubled the charts at the time.
I have to mention it; who on earth thought a cover picture of an old man in a dirty raincoat chasing a young child was a good idea?
Gasoline Alley (1970)
I bought this, second hand from Rhys Williams for 50p because he hated it. Me? I loved it then and I love it now.
The opening track Gasoline Alley took my breath away and it was my brother Brian who had to explain that the weird noises were a Steel guitar played with a bottle neck – a very heady sound for an impressionable teenager. Cut Across Shorty had a similar effect on me and even though this too came into my life after the next couple of actual issues; I fell in love with Rod’s singing style and trusted his judgment implicitly when it came to song choices which still had a Folk influence but the Rock groove was becoming more noticeable.
Listening today, in chronological order you can hear the voice and production developing; especially on Lady Day and Country Comforts but there still wasn’t anything ‘radio friendly’ here and nor was there from his band The Faces at the time, although they were building up a good reputation on the live circuit, which would have worried the Vertigo record executives (home of Black Sabbath!) who must have been getting a tad nervous at the poor record sales.
Every Picture Tells a Story (1971)
History tells us that is the album that brought young Mr. Stewart out from the shadows and into the spotlight in a way that had hardly happened previously nor since; a jobbing musician who became a success after something like 6 or 7 years – no X Factor for him.
The title track; which opens the proceedings still sends a tingle down my back 43 years later and the line about ‘I got arrested for inciting a peaceful riot’ still intrigues me and, of course, who uses the correct use of the word ‘spunk’ but at 13 – that was the dirtiest thing my ears had ever heard!
As I said in the introduction this record changed my life, not just because it was Rod Stewart but his choice of songs introduced me to the Blues with That’s Alright (Mama) by Arthur ‘Big Boy Cruddup,’ Bob Dylan with Tomorrow is a Long Time and even Soul/Motown with I Know I’m Losing You. What more can you ask from 10 songs at the age of 13?
Listening today, perhaps Amazing Grace and Henry are/were odd selections but at the time they were the keys to a new dimension.
Never a Dull Moment 1972
A matter of only six months passed between my buying EPTAS and Never a Dull Moment being released, but my life had changed in a million ways as girls had entered my young life; making this LP even more relevant in my life story, as I now got to ‘listen to this’ at girl’s houses J
For Rod this was a landmark album as a lot more money was thrown at the project and the production is at least 50% better and clearer from start to finish and instead of being a collection of songs, this feels like a lot more thought has gone into the selection making for a more complete and rounded album.
This is the sound of a man who knows he’s arrived and in control of his destiny, and while he’s still interpreting other people’s songs (Angel is another definitive version – fact) his own songs (along with Ronnie Wood) are at least the equal of the covers with Italian Girls with the exquisite line ‘she was tall thin and tarty/and she drove a Maserati’ still making it onto compilation tapes/CDs/playlists today.
Another song here started another lifelong love affair; Sam Cooke’s Twisting The Night Away.
By the time of this release I was earning both pocket money and baby-sitting so bought it on the first day of release. I loved it instantly as it was the quintessential Rod Stewart part album; and my idea of Rock and Roll; especially as it opens with a cracking version of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Rock and Roller (who I immediately had to research).
Let Me Be Your Car was a big, big deal as it was a duet with my other favourite Pop Star of the time, Mr. Elton John and I couldn’t think why it was not released as a single.
Jump forward to today and when I received this copy I could hardly remember anything about it apart from the beautiful combination of Sam Cooke’s Bring it on Home to Me and You Send Me which baffled me.
Then I played it, and again. It’s not great and with considered hindsight heralded Rod’s move to LA, superstardom, super-models and billions in the bank. He’d stopped being cool. A couple of songs, like the ones I’ve mentioned plus the Classic Rod song Farewell bare repeated listening but the others haven’t aged well.
I should have guessed what was happening as Rod looked was dressed in silk like a bi-curious Bonnie Prince Charlie on the tartan cover.
Soon afterwards Rodney moved full time to Glitter Gulch USA and split the Faces up; and his second act begun.
This last week listening to these five albums on almost constant rotation has been a rare treat; listening to the soundtrack to my youth and the memories there in. I have a lot to thank Rod Stewart for and still count myself a fan.
RELEASED in VINYL December 1st 2014
http://www.spincds.com/brothers-and-sisters-super-deluxe-limited-ed-2shm-cd-43447 (don’t worry – this is the correct link)