Monday, 5 October 2020

Rod Stewart - Only Joking (1975-1981)


Atlantic Crossing (1975)


Three Time Loser/All Right For An Hour/All In The Name of Rock 'n' Roll/Drift Away/Stone Cold Sober/I Don't Want To Talk About It/It's Not The Spotlight/This Old Heart Of Mine/Still Love You/Sailing            

Atlantic Crossing is a most enjoyable album, immaculately played by top session musicians including the legendary Steve Cropper, but it is the sort of album that, a while after listening to it, you can’t really remember much about it. Its not a classic, but neither is it bad. It was commercially huge, of course, so who am I to say it is ordinary? I do feel. However, that it just didn’t have that appealing folky blues vibe of Rod Stewart’s first five solo albums. Those acoustic guitars and mandolins were gone, replaced by a driving US rock sound. It marked the start of his transatlantic mega-stardom and much of that homely feel of those early albums was gone, forever. Rod Stewart albums would now be musically note-perfect, played by experienced musicians, but from now on they would just be a little soulless, which was a shame. That joie de vivre of those albums and the Faces work would never be repeated, unfortunately.

                                      
There is excellent material on the album though, notably a superb cover of The Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine; the beautiful, heartbreaking cover of Danny (Crazy Horse) Whitten's I Don't Want To Talk About It; a soulful cover of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away; some upbeat Faces-style rockers (sort of) in Three Time Loser (about venereal disease); All In The Name Of Rock 'n' Roll (with a namecheck for “Mr McCartney”); Stone Cold Sober and Alright For An Hour. All pretty good, but nothing incredible. 

There are a couple of love songs in the touching Still Love You and It's Not The Spotlight.

Oh, did I forget something? Oh yes, Sailing. I had known it from 1972’s dirge-like Sutherland Brothers single. I didn’t go for Rod’s anthemic version then and I still don’t. Sorry Rod. Millions love it though, so fair enough.

As I said, a pleasant album, but one I rarely return to.




A Night On The Town (1976)


Tonight's The Night/The First Cut Is The Deepest/Fool For You/The Killing Of Georgie (Parts 1 & 2)/The Balltrap/Pretty Flamingo/Big Bayou/The Wild Side Of Life/Trade Winds                 

Of the albums released after Rod Stewart "sold out" and became a somewhat preposterous, preening superstar, this is by far my favourite. I prefer it to the incredibly successful predecessor Atlantic Crossing. It is packed full of excellent, riffy rock songs and big rock ballads of the sort that Stewart did so well.
                              
First up is the sensual, seductive majesty of Tonight's The Night with Rod going all lecherous as he tells his innocent young companion just exactly how good her night is going to be. It is ludicrously corny, of course but I can't help but love it. The original recording had Rod's squeeze at the time, Britt Ekland, sighing and cooing all over the end part. Subsequent releases have deleted it out, which was a shame as the vocals added a certain erotic atmosphere. 

The First Cut Is The Deepest is an absolutely stonking cover of Cat Stevens' tender original. Stewart turns it into a soulful anthem. 

Fool For You is a romantic tribute to a lover, with Rod preferring her to StreisandBardot and Loren. This is very much a typical mid-seventies Rod Stewart melodic organ-driven ballad.

The Killing Of Georgie is a remarkable song. A slow tempo, moving narrative about a friend of Stewart's killed (possibly) for being gay in the mid-seventies in New York. It may seem strange now, but a song like this was genuinely ground-breaking in 1976. Songs treating homosexuals sympathetically were extremely thin on the ground. Stewart's song was extremely tender and sensitive, coming from such a "lad". Fair play to him at the time.

 

The old "side two" was the "fast" side, for a night out. It is full of classic Stewart rock. The Balltrap is a pulsating tale about having continual sexual encounters with the same woman, who has poor old Rod by the balls, it would seem. 

Manfred Mann'Pretty Flamingo is covered soulfully in true Stewart style, not detracting from the original in any way. 

Big Bayou is a pounding, horn-driven Stewart original rocker and The Wild Side Of Life is given a barroom honky-tonk makeover.

Trade Winds ends on a slow tempo note with a captivating ballad ending in a big singalong chorus. In many ways this is a commercial album that gets critically-ignored, which is a shame as it has hidden depths. A quick half hour of this every now and again is good for you.




Footloose And Fancy Free (1977)


I Was Only Joking/You're In My Heart/(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right/You Keep Me Hangin' On/You're Insane/Born Loose/Hot Legs/You Really Got A Nerve     

This was perhaps the last completely credible Rod Stewart album for many a year. The first five had been excellent, the two "American" ones - Atlantic Crossing and A Night On The Town were more than acceptable. This was another one recorded since he became a Transatlantic superstar and the quality was still pretty good, just about holding on in there. Critically, I have seen it regularly panned as a lazy, complacent offering. I have to beg to disagree here. The next album meets that description, but this one, in my opinion, still has a lot to offer.
                                        
It includes two copper-bottomed Rod Stewart anthems - the evocative I Was Only Joking, with its killer acoustic guitar solo from Jim Cregan and the paean in praise of a lover You're in My Heart, which, although somewhat cheesy in places, is also totally infectious and endearing. "The big-bosomed lady with the Dutch accent who tried to change my point of view.." was a great line.  

A slow, soulful cover of Millie Jackson's If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right) is impressive.  The one track that doesn't convince me on the album is the strangely slowed-down cover of Diana Ross & The SupremesYou Keep Me Hangin' On. For some reason it has never done it for me. It sounds clumsy. The experimentation is interesting, but flawed. Its Deep Purple-esque organ intro and rock guitar riff doesn't fit this particular track at all. It is also, at over seven minutes, way too long. He would have done better covering it straight.

 

You're Insane is a grinding piece of funk-rock with an industrial-sounding guitar and a bluesy rhythm. This is Stewart on Faces-style rocking form, which is good to hear. 

Born Loose is another solid, upbeat rocker which owes more than a passing nod to The Rolling StonesStar Fucker in both its melody, pace and its slightly risqué lyrics. The line "I wanna get a belly full of beer" comes directly from old mate Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting). The track finishes with a bit of Midnight Rambler guitar and harmonica interplay.

Everyone knows saucy old Rod's Hot Legs. Again, it is corny and contrived, but it rocks, it has to be said, with some great guitar and vocals. There is a great, little-mentioned Stewart gem in the atmospheric and haunting, folky ballad You Really Got A Nerve. This is certainly no self-satisfied track, it is as good as anything he recorded in the 1974 period onwards.

Overall, this is an underrated album and deserves more than the occasional listen. Things got considerably worse from now on, remember.

The photo below shows Rod hoisted on the shoulders of Scottish football fans as they invaded the Wembley pitch after beating England 2-1 in 1977.




Blondes Have More Fun (1978)


Da Ya Think I'm Sexy/Dirty Weekend/Ain't Love A Bitch/The Best Days of My Life/Ain't Love A Bitch/Attractive Female Wanted/Blondes (Have More Fun)/Last Summer/Standin' In The Shadows Of Love/Scarred And Scared  
                          
Having put out a surprisingly good album in 1977's Footloose And Fancy Free, Rod Stewart still a huge chart-topping artist, just about held on to his reputation with this album - just about. Released at the height of punk, it bore no relevance to the revolution that hung in the air, being a mixture of chugging, now typical guitar-driven rockers and somewhat corny romantic, often lecherous ballads. Stewart still knew how to pen a catchy tune, his muse had yet to desert him. Some have described the album, over the years, as his "disco album". Personally, I don't really get that. It is still very much a mainstream radio rock album for me, despite the layered disco synthesisers of its most famous track, the abomination that is Da Ya Think I'm Sexy. Even after all these years, I still have a fair amount of contempt for that song. I have to admit, however, that it is impossibly singalong, even for me. There can't be many men who haven't ironically sung it.

Dirty Weekend is a full-on , pounding rock, full of searing guitar and Stewart at is most "dirty old man". "I wanna rock you 'till your pussy's sore..." he sings. Don't hold back eh, Rod, you leery old goat. 

The laid-back, tuneful melodic rock of Ain't Love A Bitch has its appeal, as Rod addresses Maggie from his most famous song. "If you're still out there..." he enquires, nostalgically. 

The Best Days Of My Life is heartbreaking in its sad vocal delivery, it sounds like something from the mid-seventies, however, three years behind the times. It would have been fine on 1976's A Night On The Town, but not now, in the febrile year that was 1978. As a young punk at the time, I still I couldn't help but love it though. I just love the Sam Cooke-ish "la-da-da" bit at the end.

 

Another lovely, mid-paced but powerful rocker is the evocative Is That The Thanks I Get?. There's certainly no disco in any of this material so far. Again, I loved this song at the time, keeping my secret love for it well hidden as I went to see The Clash and The Ramones

Attractive Female Wanted is another solid rocker with some amusing lyrics as Rod says how he still is forced to buy Penthouse and Hustler to satisfy his lust. Sure you did, Rod. The rest of us really did, though. It is an endearingly funny song. It even launches into a bit of Police-style white reggae in its backing.

Blondes (Have More Fun) has an upbeat blues rock guitar straight off The Rolling StonesShake Your Hips. Once again - disco? My backside. 

Last Summer is a wistful, summery slow number full of airy flute and melodic acoustic guitars. Again, Stewart expresses his lust in the lyrics. Lust is all over this album. Let's hope he managed to satisfy it. I'm sure he did.

The previous had an unconvincing cover of a Motown classic in Diana Ross & The SupremesYou Keep Me Hangin' On. This time it was the turn of The Four TopsStanding In The Shadows Of Love. This, along with Da Ya Think I'm Sexy is, I suppose, where the disco misconception came from. This has a Miss You-style rubbery bass line and a bit of a disco beat, but it also has some huge rock guitar riffs. It is a much better cover than the previous one. 

Scarred And Scared was a moving, confessional ballad with Stewart feeling a bit sorry for himself. It is another one I like.

Despite this album being utterly incongruous and culturally irrelevant in 1978 I can't help but like it. Yes, I was a punk in 1978, but not everyone was. Rod Stewart still shifted huge amounts of records. This was no different.




Foolish Behaviour (1980)


Better Off Dead/Passion/Foolish Behaviour/So Soon We Change/Oh God, I Wish I Was At Home Tonight/Gi' Me Wings/My Girl/She Won't Dance With Me/Somebody Special/Say It Ain't True  

This an almost totally forgotten album from Rod Stewart, sandwiched in between the far more popular Blondes Have More Fun from 1978 and Tonight's The Night from 1981 and realised during the punk/new wave/ska period. In many ways, it was a complete irrelevance.
                                  
Better Off Dead is a frantic, guitar-driven rocker to open with, full of riffs and rock 'n' roll saxophone. 

The only hit single, Passion, is actually an excellent, innovative track, with a mysterious, intoxicating rhythmic backing and a stark vocal from Stewart. It is disco-ish, sort of, but it has some searing guitar in it and some beguiling piano parts. It is one of his most unusual, atypical singles. 

Foolish Behaviour has some bluesy slide guitar at the beginning and some bizarre lyrics about wanting to kill his wife. It is all tongue-in-cheek, of course, but none the less a little odd. It is a strange song, but infectious at the same time.

 

So Soon We Change appropriates the opening riff from The Police's Walking On The Moon and continues with a white reggae derivative rhythm throughout. It's a good song, with an atmosphere to it. 

Oh God, I Wish I Was At Home Tonight is one of those solid Stewart rockers with nostalgic, yearning lyrics. He always does these songs so well. The thing about albums like this, the last one and the next one is that they were completely out of touch with the music that was going on all around them. They actually sound ok now, but put yourself in 1980 and imagine listening to this. That is probably why I didn't, back then. There was so much better, new, and exciting stuff around.

Gi' Me Wings is a chugging, unremarkable rocker. My Girl is a similarly ordinary-ish slow number. She Won't Dance With Me is a very Stones-esque rocker sounding so much like Respectable its untrue. 

Somebody Special is laid-back, easy-listening, harmless rock. Unlike its title, though, it isn't particularly special. Say It Ain't True is a soulful late night ballad, with a good guitar solo in the middle.

There is some acceptable material on this album. It is certainly much better than 1983's Body Wishes or 1984's Camouflage. It suffers from having nothing really distinct on it, something that really sticks in the memory. The bonus track, a storming live version of I Just Want To Make Love To You shows that Stewart could still sing the blues. There is also an extended version of Passion which has Stewart in a Rolling Stones Fingerprint File vocal mode.


Tonight I'm Yours (1981)


Tonight I'm Yours/How Long/Tora, Tora, Tora (Out with The Boys)/Tear It Up/Only A Boy/Just Like A Woman/Jealous/Sonny/Young Turks/Never Give Up On A Dream 
                    
This was a bit of a patchy album from Rod Stewart. We are now moving into the eighties - a decade blighted by "synth-pop" and drum programming. This album was not as bad as the next two would be - 1983's Body Wishes and the appalling Camouflage from 1984. This one has its moments and hangs on to critical credibility far more than those two did. Just as 1978's Blondes Have More Fun was supposedly Stewart's "disco album", this was claimed by some to be his "new wave album". I don't get either claim. They are both completely mainstream rock albums, really.

Tonight I'm Yours is an infectious, lively opener with enough rock guitar to save it from the wall of synthesisers utilised in the backing. 

A cover of Ace's How Long from the mid-seventies is ok, but nowhere near as soulful as the original. It sounds somewhat perfunctory to me. 

Tora Tora Tora (Out With The Boys) is a frenetic barroom rocker with Stewart on great vocal form, and some wryly amusing lyrics. It takes its title from a seventies war film about the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour. 

Tear It Up is another breakneck pace song, with some rockabilly-style stand-up bass and rocking lead guitar.

 

Only A Boy is a mid tempo rock chugger that has Stewart getting regretful and nostalgic about his past, as was often his wont. It has a certain appeal, as I find these songs of his always do, being a shameless nostalgist myself. 

A cover of Bob Dylan's Just Like A Woman may not seem like the best idea, but Stewart's big rock production of it is actually ok. 

Jealous has one of those Da Ya Think I'm Sexy disco synth mixed with rock guitar backings. It still retains enough "rock" about it to be listenable (whereas some of the material on the next two albums did not).

Sonny is a big rock ballad that seems pretty out of kilter with the 1981 zeitgeist, to be honest. Young Turks, however, has always held an appeal, with its slightly Dire StraitsSultans Of Swing-style guitar and moving, observant lyrics about a young pair of runaway lovers. 

Never Give Up On A Dream is an emotional, piano-led ballad to close what is actually a pleasant enough album, not one of Stewart's best, but certainly not one of his worst, either.


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