Books · Music

Happy Birthday Rod Stewart!

Rod Stewart Reason to Believe

Rod Stewart is 67 today.

I bought his autobiography, the ingeniously titled Rod, for a friend for Christmas. She ripped through it and loaned it to me; I’m currently a few chapters in and so far, it’s been a hoot. After the first two chapters, Rod has a digression in the form of a chapter about his hair. Perfect.

He seems to have had a pretty great time of it, life being filled with booze, birds and music. And model trains.

The book is well written and has enough of Stewart’s cadences to make me think that Giles Smith, who is thanked as editor and confidant was not necessarily the “ghost writer” some have suggested. Maybe it’s just assumed that any celebrity autobiography cannot have been written by its subject…

Celebrity biography…Rod Stewart has been a “celebrity” since the mid-seventies, just around the time he was last making reliably good records; but I still believe he is one of the greatest musicians of the era. As I write, wearing my Rod Stewart World Cup ’90 Scotland shirt (which was given by Warners to record retailers in the distant days when record retailers and the Scotland football team mattered a damn,) I’m also listening to the Every Picture Tells a Story album, as I have been doing on and off for the last forty years. To be accurate, I’ve been listening to the follow-up Never a Dull Moment for longer, because I bought that before I bought EPTAS – that was how it worked in these days. Seduced by “Maggie May”and having bought that single from EPTAS in 1971, I’d probably only saved up enough by summer 1972 to buy a Rod Stewart album.

NADM came out on the same day as The Slider by T.Rex. I could only afford one LP and T.Rex got the nod (it was probably 10p cheaper or something) but I did manage to get the Rod album a few weeks later.

I’m still seduced by “Maggie May.” Every time I hear it, in a bar or a cafe or wherever, Rod chills me with that line “Oh Maggie I wish I’d never seen your face…” sung so matter-of fact, but at the same time so full of hurt and regret.

NADM has many great tracks; the first hit single and re-write of “Maggie May,” “You Wear It Well” is in many ways superior to its template parent; it reeks hurt and regret. Hendrix’ “Angel” and Dylan’s “Mama, You Been On My Mind” are masterclasses in interpretation. But ultimately, a couple of make-weights and a funny sequence make it a marginally inferior album to EPTAS…

…which of course, includes the peerless “Mandolin Wind” written by Rod alone. His songwriting skills have often been glossed, but I well remember seeing a friend, a man of exquiste taste, at a Rod show in Glasgow about 1990 near the rim of the stage carrying his “Rod Stewart, Songwriter” placard – I hope Rod saw it too.

Anyway, it’s indisputable to anyone with ears and common sense that most of the work until, say, 1976, is the work of a man in love with music and the sound of his voice (in a good way.) But you’ll remember I said a few paras ago that ” I still believe he is one of the greatest musicians of the era.” That’s “is,” not “was.”

Because there are still flashes; Nick Lowe’s “Shelly My Love,” on 1998’s When We Were The New Boys; his performance of “Handbags and Gladrags” with which he opened another Glasgow show I saw a few years ago; the way he touches Nicola Benedetti’s shoulder at the end of their number to remind her who’s the band leader in the recent Rod Stewart in Stirling TV programme.

I saw most of that programme on Christmas Eve and it was pretty grim. Rod did of course have throat surgery some time ago and his string of American Songbook albums have been truly uninspired, if the most succesful commercially of his career. It is doubtful there will ever be more than flashes of his brilliance in the remainder of his working life.

However, as I watched Rod Stewart in Stirling, it struck me strongly that it is probably better for Rod Stewart to be looking a wee bit silly in the twilight years than absolutely ludicrous like some of his contemporaries.

One thought on “Happy Birthday Rod Stewart!

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