The ironic album portrait may have suggested otherwise, but life was anything but boring for Rod Stewart in 1972. After endless toil, he had made it big beyond his wildest imaginings the year before, both as a solo artist and with his beloved Faces.
Now, after the spectacular breakthrough of Rod’s Every Picture Tells A Story album and “Maggie May” single, came further new glory. The follow-up album may have featured more than a little help from his mates, but it was again entirely self-produced. When it was released, on July 21, Never A Dull Moment was an apt title.
Faces by another name
The north London-born singer won praise for his diligence on the new album in both his songwriting and choice of outside material. He composed three songs for Never A Dull Moment with his longtime pal and confidant Ronnie Wood, while the album’s best-known track, the glorious single “You Wear It Well,” was another collaboration with writer-guitarist Martin Quittenton, Rod’s foil on “Maggie May.” Elsewhere, Stewart’s range of influences was well displayed with a range of covers of such inspirations as Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.
To equal the achievements of late 1971 would be the tallest of orders. “Maggie May” and Every Picture Tells A Story had recorded the extremely rare achievement of each topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. But the focus now, admirably, was on creative credibility rather than out-and-out commercial potential. Recording the new album at two London studios, Morgan and Olympic, Stewart the producer created an ambience in which the artistic camaraderie oozed from the grooves.
Never A Dull Moment opened confidently with two of the Stewart-Wood creations, the first the relaxed and melodic “True Blue.” It was, effectively, the good-time rock of Faces by another name, with Rod’s spontaneous energy complemented by Wood’s urgent electric guitar, Ian “Mac” McLagan’s eloquent electric piano, Ronnie “Plonk” Lane’s steady bass (on this song and on two others) and, for this song only, the drums of Kenney Jones (replaced elsewhere by Micky Waller).
‘The best rocker Stewart has committed to vinyl’
An enthusiastic fan of this opening salvo was writer Mark Leviton, who reviewed the album for the New York-based Words And Music magazine. “Stewart’s unique, bright songwriting talents are highlighted with the opening ‘True Blue’,” he wrote. “Rod writes catchy lyrics, couplets that leave a real impression because of their looseness and the way they flow naturally off the tongue.
“The hero of the cut is Ian McLagan, who contributes dazzling electric piano. Ron Wood and Kenn[e]y Jones produce crisp assertive lines with clever syncopations which make this tune the most cooking Faces recording for a long time. ‘True Blue’ may just be the best rocker Stewart has committed to vinyl in his last three outings.”
That led to the splendid “Lost Paraguayos’, which showcased more of Stewart’s winningly plain-speaking lyrics, especially concerning his relationships with women. Wood’s nimble fretwork had uncredited horns as their counterpoint, as the narrator announced his departure for South America.
‘There’s no letdown’
The album’s first cover was of Dylan’s “Mama, You Been On My Mind.” The bard wrote this song in 1964 and performed it in concert, but didn’t release his version until decades later, on 1991’s The Bootleg Series Vol.1-3 (Rare And Unreleased) 1961-1991. Stewart’s superbly sympathetic reading was underpinned by Waller’s drums and Wood’s lyrical pedal steel.
“Italian Girls” was a brawny Stewart-Wood rock workout with much to admire, including Lane’s lithe bass runs, McLagan’s stirring piano detail and Dick Powell on violin (as he was, thrillingly, on “You Wear It Well”). Mandolin was by Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s very own Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson, also a key feature of “Maggie May.”
Ken Barnes in Phonograph Record offered another highly supportive review of the album. “The Stewart formula,” he avowed, “is broad-based enough to allow for widely varied species of old folk tunes, blues and funk numbers, hard rockers, and the melodic ‘Maggie May’ mainstream; the instrumentalists have it all down, Rod himself stands ready to apply the smooth sandpaper finish, and all that’s required for another ace album is a new set of dynamics – and on Never A Dull Moment there’s no letdown in this department.”
‘When Stewart strikes, the listener gets caught’
Side Two of the original vinyl album began with Rod’s tribute to Woody’s late friend Jimi Hendrix, with a suitably reflective remake of “Angel.” Later in the year, it would be released as a double-sided single with Stewart’s take on Jerry Lee Lewis’ “What Made Milwaukee Famous,” creating a No.4 UK hit. In his notes for the 1989 box set Storyteller, Rod described his version of “Angel” as being “played with gusto by the Faces in splendid disarray.”
The album’s 40-second “Interludings” constituted an acoustic guitar piece with a writing credit for Ronnie Wood’s older brother Art. Then came “You Wear It Well,” which gave the singer another UK No.1 single and which stands as one of his greatest pieces of work. It recreated the feel of “Maggie May,” but with its own marvellous mood and a self-effacingly rueful lyric about a lost love.
“Very similar to [‘Maggie May’] in many ways (which I was quite aware of),” wrote Stewart of the new hit. “I’ve always loved the combination of acoustic guitar with loud snare drum and Hammond organ – played here by the delectable Ian McLagan, of loud, obtrusive sock fame.”
‘Isn’t that what rock’n’roll is all about?’
Never A Dull Moment was also the album on which Rod offered his interpretation of the much-covered Billy Foster/Ellington Jordan song most associated with Etta James, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” James cut it in 1967 and British blues band Chicken Shack had scored the UK hit with it in 1969. Stewart’s pass at the song spoke of his backstory as a rhythm’n’blues devotee. “I first heard Etta James sing this, a version I urge you to find and listen to,” he wrote. “In the meantime, here’s my humble effort.”
The album closed with a tip of the hat to another of Rod’s greatest heroes, Sam Cooke, on a rollicking version of Sam’s 1962 pop and R&B hit “Twistin’ The Night Away.” “I could never sing it better, so we just took it in another direction,” he said modestly.
Gold in no time
Never A Dull Moment entered the UK chart at No.5 and was certified gold there within a week of release. It moved up to No.3 and then spent no fewer than four weeks at No.2, before a two-week run at the top in September. In America, the album rose to No.2, only beaten to the top spot by Chicago V. It was also a Top 3 seller in Australia, Holland and elsewhere.
Mark Leviton of Words And Music wrote of “Twistin’ The Night Away,” in summary of the album: “The closer embodies all the qualities that one admires in Stewart, the refusal to take himself too seriously, the attention to detailed arranging, the energetic involvement in the material, the way his voice can propel a tune as well as the best drummer. When Stewart strikes, the listener gets caught up and has a good time right along with him. And isn’t that what rock’n’roll is all about?”
Buy or stream Never A Dull Moment.