Born in North London in 1945, Rod enjoyed the usual flurry of teenage jobs before trying his hand at skiffle and rock and roll with his early band The Raiders who got as far as a Joe Meek session and no further. The Bohemian lifestyle and support for the CND movement took Rod round the country and he hung around with the future Kinks before becoming a very early adherent of Mod. The spiky rooster hairstyle came in 1964 just as he was eschewing British folk for US soul and R&B. Having discovered Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, Rod began performing on the London club scene where there was always a stack of well-paid work. He parachuted through various bands before joining the Long John Baldry set-up, made demos for Decca Records and then fronted Steampacket, a fine band featuring his future drummer Mickey ‘the Wallop’ Waller as well as Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll. Then to Shotgun Express, where he played next to Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green, and finally Jeff Beck’s Group, post-Yardbirds, where he graced Truth and Beck-Ola.
Despite a decent working relationship with Beck, Rod felt the need to try his solo hand out. His debut was recorded in 1968 but not released for a year by which time Rod was lead singer of the Faces with his old pal Ron Wood swapping Beck’s bass for lead guitar and lining up next to Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Ronnie Lane, all of whom would appear on choice cuts on his albums.
An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (known in the US and on catalogue now as The Rod Stewart Album) was a tentative step into the dark. Rod’s trademark rasp and flamboyant delivery are audible from the off as he swings into a fine version of the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”, embraces the gentler ballad folk of Mike D’Abo’s “Handbags and Gladrags”, gets inside Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town” and tries his hand at songwriting to grand effect on “Cindy’s Lament” and “I Wouldn’t Ever Change a Thing”. Teeth cut, the follow-up, Gasoline Alley, hones this clever mix and match approach with songs from the greats – Bob Dylan, Bobby Womack, Elton John and old mucker Steve Marriott – with ever more confident Stewart gems like “Jo’s Lament” and “Lady Day”. On this album, Rod calls in the acoustic and electric guitarist Martin Quittenton, who will prove a creative foil, while all the Faces join in as do Waller on drums and the pianist Pete Sears.
A five-star disc for sure but Stewart being notoriously worrisome feared that might be it for him – his gasoline run out. In fact the next album, Every Picture Tells a Story went to number one in Britain and America. Everything about this disc reeks come and get me! It’s just about perfection with Rod on top form surrounded at Morgan Studios by ace engineers and the most sympathetic players in town. “Maggie May”, penned in North London with Quittenton, must be one of the most famous rootsy rockers ever written while Rod’s version of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” is sublime. There’s a Bob Dylan outtake – “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” – some Elvis, and Rod’s own stamp is all over the magnificent title track and the elegiac “Mandolin Wind”. This is totally recommended. Every collection benefits from a bit of Story.
The ensuing Never a Dull Moment and Smiler are just as charming and you can find them on the ever so handy Reason to Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings, a terrific stand-alone 3CD package that is remastered and includes everything available to that date plus singles and unreleased material. Alternately raw, as on “Twistin’ The Night Away” or tender and sweet, “You Wear It Well”, this bumper set is a terrific way to play Rod catch up and get yourself a musical education.
Mr. Stewart returns to our manor for 2013’s Time album. Here you’ll be delighted to hear the man back on top form, especially during the co-write with Jim Cregan, “Brighton Beach”, and on one of his sundry Tom Waits covers, here it’s “Picture in a Frame”.
Now, amongst our compilations and anthologies we also have The Best of Rod Stewart and The Best of Rod Stewart Vol.2, the nifty The Very Best of…, Gold, Angel – The Love Songs, the self-explanatory The Seventies Collection, the ever so punchy Classic, the booklet version of You Wear It Well and the vintage The Very Best Of Rod Stewart. A personal favourite is the man’s Rarities disc since that includes alternate versions and BBC sessions of “Maggie May” and “Country Comfort” with the Faces, hard to find B-sides and hints at Rod’s future developing love for standards and country music, all accomplished with his own inimitable twist of course.
Something for everybody here – all tastes and all wallets. You can be completist – we’d love you to be – or you can duck and dive amongst the tracks that made Rod Stewart famous. He’s pretty much a national treasure these days but we love to hear him starting out on that long journey towards superstardom. If this is nostalgia, bring it on. Sing it again Rod.
Words: Max Bell