Sunday, 29 December 2019

Rod Stewart - The Classic Years (1969-1974)



The albums covered here are:-

An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down (1969)
Gasoline Alley (1970)
Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)
Never A Dull Moment (1972)
Sing It Again Rod (1973)
and Smiler (1974)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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AN OLD RAINCOAT WON'T EVER LET YOU DOWN (1969)

1. Street Fighting Man
2. A Man Of Constant Sorrow
3. Blind Prayer
4. Handbags and Gladrags
5. An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down
6. I Wouldn't Change A Thing
7. Cindy's Lament
8. Dirty Old Town           

Rod Stewart's debut solo album was a ragged, raw-edged beauty. Taking rock songs and turning them into soulful folk songs, dominated by an aggressive acoustic guitar and punchy drum attack he came up with something quite unique. Something that seemed to complement his throaty, rasping vocal perfectly.

Stewart cut his teeth in the mid-late sixties singing the blues and he applies the blues power to his vocals on here. The opener, The Rolling StonesStreet Fighting Man, is turned into an acoustic-driven but raucous slice of madcap folk-blues, compete with rumbling bass solo at the end. A Man Of Constant Sorrow is a traditional folk song sung over a slide guitar, acoustic guitar and bass backing. It is very raw and stark and a little bit of an acquired taste and nothing like later work in Stewart's career. Some searing electric guitar swirls all around Stewart's self-penned Blind Prayer, a song written as if it were an authentic 1930s road blues. As I said, it is all very rough round the edges, and the sound had been considerably polished by the following year's album, Gasoline Alley.

Everyone is familiar with the beautiful Handbags And Gladrags by now. It actually comes as a relaxing break from the frenetic blues/folk that had given such a breakneck opening to the album. The piano coda is lovely and Stewart's vocal just sublime. Possibly his finest moment. Yes, it that good. A big rumbling bass on it too.

  

An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down is a thumping, raw rocker with another big bass sound and Stewart's great vocal matching the pounding drum sound. I Wouldn't Change A Thing has an almost jazzy rhythm in its cymbal work, and also some "prog-rock"-style madcap organ. It really didn't sound like anything else at the time, although it has a Blood Sweat & Tears vocal part in it half way through. It is a bit indulgent in that late sixties way, but it has an appeal too, despite that. The same sonorous organ introduces Cindy's Lament. Once again the drums are massive and you get the feeling that Rod's vocals are completely ad hoc. It has a Hendrix-y feel to it. A star was born, of that there was no doubt. This young guy certainly had something. The same applied to his guitar-playing mate on this record, Ronnie Wood.

The final track is a warm, rhythmic cover of the folk classic Dirty Old Town, complete with some impressive blues harmonica. An interesting album worthy of anyone's spare half hour.

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GASOLINE ALLEY (1970)

1. Gasoline Alley
2. It's All Over Now
3. Only A Hobo
4. My Way Of Giving
5. Country Comfort
6. Cut Across Shorty
7. Lady Day
8. Jo's Lament
9. You're My Girl (I Don't Want To Discuss It) 

Rod Stewart's debut solo album, from the previous year, had been an eclectic, adventurous collection of cover versions of classic rock, folk and blues songs played in a largely "acoustic rock" style and some of his own songs written and played in the same style. It was very rough and ready, with an "almost live" energy that suited Stewart's blues-raised rasping vocal. This follow-up was more of the same, but it was slightly more polished, with Stewart sounding more confident, as if he was now convinced that the first experiment had been a successful one.

The album is pretty low on electric guitar, apart mainly from Ronnie Wood's bluesy bottleneck, although there are other sporadic appearances, but the full-on acoustic attack rocks as hard as any axe and the drums are huge and powerful. Stewart treats rock 'n' roll songs as if they were folk songs - but incredibly rocking folk songs. The whole album has a loose, unbridled feel about it that is positively infectious.

 

Gasoline Alley is a Rod Stewart/Ronnie Wood composition, full of nostalgic lyrics for a youth only a few years behind them, and it has a killer refrain sung over some crystal clear acoustic riffs. The Rolling Stones/Bobby Womack's r 'n' b bluesy number, It's All Over Now, is a six minute rambling romp that careers here and there, stopping and starting, but never losing its energy and rhythm. Bob Dylan's Only A Hobo is convincingly covered, showing respect to the original, but actually being one of the best ever covers of a Dylan song. Stewart turns it into a very catchy song.

Stewart's take on The Small FacesMy Way Of Giving is superb - punchy, powerful and vocally top notch. He has an untempered laddish appeal that had far more attraction here than say twenty years later by which time he had become a champagne-quaffing, hackneyed old roué. This really is Rod Stewart at his best, in many ways. Elton John and Bernie Taupin's Country Comfort, from the same year's Tumbleweed Connection album, is delivered fetchingly, although it actually doesn't divert too much from the down-home charm of the original.

Cut Across Shorty is similar in its flexible rhythm to It's All Over Now and contains some Eastern-sounding violin to add to a most unusual soundscape. Lady Day has some deliciously bluesy bottleneck from Ronnie Wood and a sensitive vocal from Stewart.

Jo's Lament is not my favourite on the album, I have always found it a tad mournful, although listening to it again, I am warming to its bleak melody. You're My Girl (I Don't Want To Discuss It) is one of the rockiest cuts on the album with some funky guitar and drums and a superb vocal. It contains the album's best guitar throughout, being pretty much irresistible. Great stuff.

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EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY (1971)

1. Every Picture Tells A Story
2. Seems Like A Long Time
3. That's All Right
4. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
5. Maggie May
6. Mandolin Wind
7. (I Know) I'm Losing You
8. Reason To Believe  

Rod Stewart's first for albums were mixtures of rock, folk, country and blues with some Sam Cooke-style soul atmosphere thrown in in places. They were highly credible, atmospheric and enjoyable albums. All five members of the Faces appeared on this one, so it was, to all intents and purposes, a Faces album.

The first two albums, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down and Gasoline Alley were more folky than rocky, in comparison with this album and had just a few rough edges about them, particularly the first one. All such edges were ironed out here, though, and this was Rod Stewart's first real quality release. It all came together and, together with an iconic single release taken from the album, made Rod Stewart a household name.

                                          
The storming Every Picture Tells A Story starts quietly and then kicks into a blast of rock with a few folk influences and a copper-bottomed Stewart vocal remembering how he "fell in love with a slit-eyed girl" in a way he would never have got away with now. This track really rocks and is a great introduction. Then we slow down the pace with the classic Rod Stewart slow bluesy rock ballad, Seems Like A Long Time. Some impressive drums, bass and lead guitar on this one, and, of course, Rod's vocal. Just perfect in so many ways. Rod's cover of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup/Elvis's That's All Right is sensational, pure Faces - brim full of rocking piano, acoustic and electric guitars merging, mandolin, thumping drums and Rod's blues-soaked vocal. It had that extended rocking Stay With Me - style rocking instrumental/vocal ending too. Glorious.

Rod loved a bit of mournful , Scottish-influenced folky instrumental, and we had it here with Amazing Grace. The Caledonian folky influence continues in to an impressive cover of Bob Dylan's Tomorrow Is A Long Time. Stewart liked a Dylan cover, and he always did them justice.


The now world-famous, memorable single, Maggie May (here with its nice, rarely used on the radio, mandolin intro) was initially the 'b' side to the lovely, and equally seductive Reason To Believe. However, the former's popularity gained through radio play and its "story" style lyrics that everyone sang along to ensured a "flip" of release and it became the 'a' side and a massive number one hit and an undoubted claim to be Rod Stewart's best ever song. Even now, I can never fail to enjoy listening to it. Lovely bass underpinning it too. Oh and did I forget that mandolin part at the end.

Mandolin Wind with its steel guitar intro, is, like the cover of Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe just beautiful. Soulful, evocative Stewart folky rock of the highest order. Just listen to the mandolin/drum ending to Mandolin Wind or the haunting vocal delivery on Reason To Believe. Both songs are unforgettable. As, too, is Stewart's peerless rendering of The TemptationsI Know I'm Losing You, one of few really credible covers of Motown material. Check out Kenney Jones' drum work at the end, and that guitar. Again, The Faces at their very best. Just a fantastic blues rock track.

"Through the coldest winter in almost fourteen years...". Rod could pen a line or two, it is often forgotten.

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NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1972)

1. True Blue
2. Lost Paraguayos
3. Mama You Been On My Mind
4. Italian Girls
5. Angel
6. Interludings
7. You Wear It Well
8. I'd Rather Go Blind
9. Twistin' The Night Away                 

Rod Stewart's fourth solo album follows the same excellent blues/folk/soul/rock path that was so successful on the previous year's Every Picture Tells A Story. Once again, members of The Faces make large contributions so the album is, once again, very much like a Faces album.

True Blue is a fabulous rocking opener - great riffs, drums, blues rock vocals from Stewart and another one of those Stay With Me rocking instrumental (with added vocals) endings that end things on such a high note. Lost Paraguayos is one of those mandolin-drive folky rock workouts like Reason To Believe and Mandolin Wind. Again, excellent, thumping drum backing from Kenney Jones and top notch work from the whole band. The quality continues into another impressive, steel guitar-dominated Dylan cover, Mama You Been On My Mind. As mentioned in the review of the previous album, Stewart rarely, if ever, gets his Dylan covers wrong.

The massive hit single, You Wear It Well,  is almost the match of Maggie May. It gets as much radio play, even now, and is up there in Rod's top five. It is another "character" song about a woman, in the Maggie May mould. Its intriguing lyrics certainly are worn well in the song. "I've been meaning to phone yah, but from Minnesot-agh..." has Stewart showing off his vocal affectations to the max.

Stewart's tribute to the recently-deceased Jimi HendrixAngel is soulful and beautiful. A worthy dedication to a great, departed genius. Italian Girls is a pure Faces rocker, dominated by Ronnie Wood's guitar and yet another convincing Stewart vocal.

 

I Would Rather Go Blind sees Stewart impressively taking on the Etta James soul classic, rather in the fashion he attacked The TemptationsI Know I'm Losing You, full of grit, blues energy and balls. Rod could cover soul, make no mistake about that. Once again, The Faces and the other musicians are outstanding on this. Then, to finish, Stewart covers a song from another of his heroes, Sam CookeTwistin' The Night Away is a true delight, fast, rocking, full of soulful vigour and marvellously catchy. Oh, and there is that great drum rat-a-tat bit near the end.

Only four original tracks - True BlueLost ParaguayosItalian Girls and You Wear It Well. No matter, the covers are of such a high quality that it still makes for a excellent album. The original 8-track cartridge release apparently included the country-rock hit single What Made Milwaukee Famous, which was ok, but somewhat lightweight and certainly is not missed here.

  

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SING IT AGAIN ROD (1973)

1. Reason To Believe
2. You Wear It Well
3. Mandolin Wind
4. Country Comfort
5. Maggie May
6. Handbags And Gladrags
7. Street Fighting Man
8. Twistin' The Night Away
9. Lost Paraguayos
10. (I Know) I'm Losing You
11. Pinball Wizard
12. Gasoline Alley
13. Oh No Not My Baby      
                         
This was Rod Stewart's equivalent of The Rolling StonesMade In The Shade, a pretty pointless compilation from his first four solo albums that saw him treading water somewhat in 1973. Of course, there is some outstanding material on here - Maggie May; You Wear It Well; Reason To Believe; the rocking Twistin' The Night Away, I Know I'm Losing YouMandolin Wind and Handbags And Gladrags. In fact, it is all good. The one "rarity" chucked in for fans who have everything else is Rod's cover of The Who's Pinball Wizard - approached with his expected vocal attack.

Obviously, the material is excellent, but I would recommend the four albums in themselves as opposed to this, on which there were not enough "hits" as yet to call it a "greatest hits".

  

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SMILER (1974)

1. Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller
2. Lochnivar
3. Farewell
4. Sailor
5. Bring In On Home To Me/You Send Me
6. Let Me Be Your Car
7. (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman
8. Dixie Toot
9. Hard Road
10. I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face
11. Girl From The North Country
12. Mine For Me

This was the last of the "credible" Rod Stewart solo albums, before he crossed the Atlantic and became a huge chart superstar, and consequently somewhat preposterous in image. This album still featured members of The Faces on many tracks and most of the other musicians from the previous four albums. It would be the last of those collaborations, though, which was a shame, but you could tell that something was going to give. The Faces had already virtually split, of course, with inter-band tensions all over the place

After releasing no solo album apart from the compilation Sing It Again, Rod for over two years, it was a watershed album for many reasons other than those already stated. It was simply not quite as good as the previous four and it had a feeling of "treading water" about it, with Stewart restless to have his shot at the big time, and his old mates, possibly, getting a bit cheesed off with his "Charlie big potatoes" posturings. It was also the first of his solo albums to take a critical battering, which is slightly unfair, because, as I said, it is not that bad. It has a certain loose, edgy charm to it.

 

Despite that, the album, for me, has something of the half-baked feel of Elton John's Caribou from the summer of the same year about it. Let's cover the good stuff first, though. The highlight is the last of the great early Rod Stewart Maggie May era singles - the greatly underrated Farewell. It was one of my absolute favourite Rod singles, with its great fade out line - "you don't get no mail, you'll know I'm in jail..".

Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller was a rocking, lively start to the album and Bring It On Home To Me/You Send Me was a convincing cover by Stewart of two of his beloved Sam Cooke's best songs, segued together.

Dixie Toot, the bluesy Hard Road, the instrumental I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face and the Bob Dylan cover, Girl From The North Country are all acceptable throwbacks to the folky rock sound of the first three albums, and Rod's cover of Paul McCartney's Mine For Me is thoroughly enjoyable too.

Rod's gender switching in Carole King's (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Man was probably not a great idea. It just sounds a bit silly, I have to admit. His cover of Elton John's Let Me Be Your Car is perfectly ok as is Sailor. In fact, despite that critical leathering at the time, I still have to reiterate that, in retrospect, it is all pretty much ok. Rod is on good vocal form. The songs are good. Just not as enigmatically special as the previous two albums.

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