Lex on Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story)

I’m not going to “trash” Rod Stewart.

A lot of people get the impression that I go out on a limb to say nasty things about Rod’s music after a certain point.  I will admit that I did have the 45 RPM single of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”  I will also admit that I played it, more than a few times.  But I don’t think it’s any where near his best work.

By the time I became aware of my surroundings in ’71, Rod Stewart was a bona fide rock and roll star.  His raspy baritone was on AM radio 24 hours a day.  You could not escape the sound of “Maggie May.”  It remains a beautiful composition, as well as a stellar recording of an artist and his sidemen at the peak of their powers.  To this day, I will sit though “Maggie May” whereas I will not sit through “Sexy,” ifI can help it.

During all of the hoopla surrounding Rod’s career in the late 70s, I picked up one of his early “greatest hits” albums, primarily for “Maggie May.”  I rediscovered the atmosphere of that recording, and wondered what the song’s “parent album” sounded like.  I walked up to Record Retreat, just across from USC campus, and purchased my first copy of Every Picture Tells A Story.  According to some of the reviews and articles I read on the then 8-year old album, it was supposed to be”a high point in his early career.”

It wasn’t a high point – it was THE high point.  It was also the album by which I would judge all other Rod Stewart albums, which I admit isn’t fair.  It just “is.”

From the title track that opens the album to the minor hit single”Reason To Believe” (whose B-side, which disc jockeys preferred to play, was “Maggie May”) that ends the album, Every Picture Tells A Story was a stunner of an album.  It highlighted all of the things that made Rod Stewart a household name.  On this record, Rod touched on folk, rock, soul, country and blues.  He made the genres his own, and took his listeners on a sonic journey that left us wanting more.

His take on the Temptations classic “(I Know I’m) Losing You” combines soul and rock, and made me a believer.  The drum solo by Kenny Jones (who was also the drummer for the Faces, the band that Rod sang lead for at the time) just makes you want to get up and boogie.  His cover of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright, Mama” matches the intensity of Elvis Presley’s version, and goes a step beyond.  The same can be said of his version of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

Track by track, the layers are peeled to see the inner workings of a brilliant artist.  His band on this particular album (Ron Wood, Ian MacLagan, Mick Waller, Pete Sears. etc.) all turn in stellar performances as though their lives depended on it.  You can hear the whole band enjoying the experience, which makes this album fun for anyone who really loves music.

I’ll admit it – I have said that Rod’s music loses a lot of steam after’76.  The intensity was gone for me.  The songwriting didn’t touch meas much.  By the time the 80s rolled around, I thought that he was trading water, and living on that reputation that he earned in the late60s with the Jeff Beck Group and the 70s with the Faces and his exceptional solo material.  A lot of people will argue the point;that’s their right.

Rod’s released 4 volumes of “The Great American Songbooks.”  He’s also released an album where he covers some of the great American rock tunes of the past 40 years.  If you really want to hear him sing, pick up Every Picture Tells A Story and listen to his cover of “Amazing Grace.”  Absolutely fab!  If you want a damn-near perfect love song,listen to him cover Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe.”  In short, if you want to hear the music that put him on the radar, seek out this album -you’ll be glad you did.

January 10 find Rod “the Mod” getting another year older.  If he never recorded another note, we’d still have his classic albums, and then some!  Happy birthday, Rod.  I may criticize you a lot more harshly than I would others, but only because you touched my soul when you are at your very best.  I wouldn’t want you to make another Every Picture, but it sure would be nice to hear you having fun at your craft again.  Much love to you.

(Note: the album below was originally released in May 1971)

Currently listening:
Every Picture Tells a Story
By Rod Stewart
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~ by Poppermost on January 12, 2009.

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