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If tomorow wasn’t such a long time: Rod Stewart As Rock Artist

It’s a little hard to remember now, feels like so long ago what with the model girlfriends and the houses in LA, cocaine and dayglo before punk washed him away for awhile, up till today where he records huge chunks of the American song book and turns art into money playing the same, admittedly excellent, set decade after decade.

Or the beginning when working class soccer hooligan joined the blues rockers the Jeff Beck Band and then left to transform the remnants of the (Small) Faces into a good time pub rock group.

All achievements but none the consecutive albums (his third and fourth solo efforts) he recorded in 1971 and 1972 at the ridiculously young age of twenty-six.

The rule of thumb is the first one, “Every Picture Tells A Story” is the masterpiece and the follow up, “Never A Dull Moment” is the also ran. A little knee jerk -they are about as good as each other, but everybody overrates “Maggie May” off “story” and underrates the best song he ever wrote “You Wear It Well” on “Moment”.

Stewart’s first two solo shots, “An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down” and “Gasoline Alley” were folk albums with rock trimmings and both featured Faces kb Ian Mclagan and guitarist Ron Wood as did the next two but the first two were more insular and there wasn’t that one home run to turn it into a pop hit.

Still they were different enough from the Faces you can understand why Stewart needed a solo outlet for them, why he needed a solo outlet for the following two albums is open to discussion. For all the harm the Faces would do to rock -they simultaneously trivialized the music while making the musicians elitists- they were certainly, because they played on it- capable of calling Moment and Dull band albums.

Perhaps it was simply a question of the decision making process or, more likely, a musical self portrait going deep and wide from country to soul to rock: a party album where the party, as it does in “You Wear It Well,” ends in tears.

Anyway, think of them as a two part arc or, to mix genres, Godfather Part I and II. Each song is answered in the next album. Here the first song is from Story the following from Dull:

Maggie May/You Wear It Well
Every Picture tells A Story/Italian Girls
Tomorrow Is A Long Time/Mama You’ve Been On My Mind
Reason To Believe/I’d Rather Go Blind

“Story” ends with a downer, Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe”, “Dull” with a dance track, Stewart influence Sam Cooke’s “Twistin‘ The Night Away”. “Dull” is tastier, shadier. Stewart’s singing while not better is wider, on “Picture” Stewart has his only misstep on both albums combined, an intrusive “Amazing Grace”.

And, “Picture” has “Maggie May”. It isn’t Stewart’s fault we are all bored to tears with “Maggie May” but it is to his credit that we are not bored with “You Wear It Well”. Both songs were written with journeyman guitarist Martin Quittenton. “Maggie May” is a major piece of self-myth and simultaneously a portrait of the artist as a young dog. The singer is having an affair with an older woman and wants out. It opens with a Medieval sounding mandolin instrument and breaks for a second before the famous guitars and two beats on the drum like the physical tug as he wakes up Maggie to tell her its over. The lyric has the brush of genius, “…the morning sun when its in your face really shows your age,” he tells her both clear eyed and heartbreakingly tender. By the end of the song Stewart is on his way into the future he is singing from: “I suppose I should collect my books and go back to school or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool or find myself a rock and roll band that needs a helping hand…”

On this song, on both of these albums, Stewart uses his too many cigarettes and filled with feeling tenor to add nuance to a collection of songs he doesn’t really need to sell: the songs and the sequencing alone would excite by most good singers. But it is the addition of Stewart’s searing performances they reach whole levels they have never cheived before or since. “Reason To Believe” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” are rejection songs so in pain they are hard to listen to. Stewart is getting to some sort of universal truth about loss and it hits you in the heart bringing back so many of your own memories it can move you to tears like breathing. The two Dylan songs are among the best Dylan covers imaginable, neither song was known at the time so I guess they are not really covers. A coupla posts ago I was talking about the sexual callousness of some of Dylan’s 60s songs like “All I really Want To Do” and “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind” has the same coolness but not in this version (ps: and not in Joan Baez cover either, but the flip of sexual direction helps her). Stewart imparts the deepest humanity in every song he sings here.

Never more so than on one of the greatest pop songs of all time. My only complaint with “You Wear It Well” is it isn’t longer. From the instrumental intro to the weak joke after the “I love you” iterations…” this is a million miles from the casual misogyny and paedophilia of “Lost Paraguayos” -a perfect Faces song off “Story”. Among the differences is, “Lost” is in his here and now, and “Well” is, like its twin “Maggie May”, a memory song of a lost romance before he was Rod the Mod rock star. On “You Wear It Well” Stewart is on a coffee break from his job and writing to a girl he loved and lost through his own mistakes. “Since you’ve been gone it’s hard to carry on…” he claims and the song pulls, pulls, pulls, on this not uncheerful sounding song. Like “maggie May” this is both a great drinking song and a great drinking till you’re in tears song.

The two albums end with Sam Cooke’s “Twisiting The Night Away” and if today it’s a harbinger of the shallower hard partying Stewart yet to come, at the time it brought relief to the fairly dejected Stewart (look at him on “Dull’s cover: slumped over in an armchair he looks ready to fall apart). Because of Cooke’s murder any Cooke song brings an edge to it: the soul great was the victim of a lynch mob and to sing Cooke, certainly in 72, is to add the dark side of the party -and Stewart’s two albums are all about the dark side of the party.

From time to time in the past knocking on forty years Stewart has managed to tap into and share his humane artistry (“I Was Only Joking” comes to mind for one) but all too often he coasted on his voice’s ability to give depth where none exis
ts.

Well, tomorrow was a long, long time ago and Stewart was both younger and older in 1972

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