Album Reviews: Rod Stewart – The Early Solo Years 1970-1978


An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1970)

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Great rock anorak and author of the magnificent ‘Great Rock Discography’ Martin C Strong wrote in his biography of Rod Stewart that his was the biggest and possibly most tragic sell out in the history of rock. Based on his early solo albums I would tend to agree with him.

This, Stewarts’ first solo outing, is a great mixture of heavy blues and folk with just a smattering of chocolate box sentiment thrown in for good measure.

To be honest the opening two tracks don’t get things off to a good start and are almost certainly the weakest cuts on the album. Although ‘Street Fighting Man’ does have a nice bass solo to fade.

Things pick up considerably though with the bluesy ‘Blind Prayer’. Despite the similarity to ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ it is still a fine tune. The following ‘Handbags & Glad Rags’ which is probably better known now as the theme tune to hit comedy ‘The Office’ closes side one and is rightly hailed a Stewart classic.

The quality continues on side two with the title track, ‘Cindy’s Lament’ and that staple of Irish music bars ‘Dirty Old Town’ all more than listenable.

‘I Wouldn’t Ever Change A Thing’ is the weak link on side two and in retrospect it’s a pity he didn’t take his own advice as this type of album is far more palatable than the disco dirge he ended up turning out. Although he may argue that the leggy blondes and the cash in the bank have more than justified his decision.

Gasoline Alley (1970)

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This is quite possibly my favourite Rod Stewart album. ‘Country Comforts’ is a classic and Elton John cover or not on here Stewart makes it his own. It is undoubtedly the album highlight. ‘Cut Across Shorty’ is not far behind and features some excellent guitar work as well as a perfect Stewart vocal. The other real standout on the album for me is album closer ‘I Don’t Want To Discuss It’ which has a feel of Led Zeppelin about it in places. For those only aware of his ‘sell-out’ material that may be difficult to believe but check it out for yourself and prepare to be surprised.

Opener and title track ‘Gasoline Alley’ is packed full of melancholy and gets things off to a good start. ‘My Way Of Giving’ has a very sixties feel and the Rolling Stones cover ‘It’s All Over Now’ is maybe a little too similar to a live Stones version but both are still good tracks. Dylan cover ‘Only A Hobo’, ‘Lady Day’ and ‘Jo’s Lament are the weaker cuts on the album but are still pleasant enough.

Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)

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The album gets off to a fine start with the Rod Stewart/Ronnie Wood penned title track which features the dynamic Maggie Bell on backing vocals. Or vocal abrasives as the sleeve notes  put it. The backing vocal Bell changes to Madelaine for the second track ‘Seems Like A long Time’ which although not as good as the opener is still nice enough.

Things get interesting with the Elvis cover ‘That’s All Right’, the early part of the song sounds like a Led Zeppelin sound check before it drifts into a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’.

The classic ‘Maggie May’ is probably the most commonly known of his earlier material and features a fine mandolin solo from “the mandolin player from Lindisfarne” Ray Jackson. It is also worth noting that its success is even more surprising given that it doesn’t really have what can generally be described as a chorus. Maybe that is why it was originally only the ‘B’ side of ‘Reason To Believe’ which although a good song in its own right is clearly inferior to ‘Maggie May’.

‘Mandolin Wind’ is another piece of pure genius from the pen of Stewart and is another of the album highlights.

This album stayed at number one in the UK album chart for six weeks and in the US for four whilst at the same time ‘Maggie May’ topped both singles charts. This is something which I believe had not previously happened and possibly justifies the opinion of the masses that this is indeed Rod Stewart’s finest hour (or 40 minutes at least).

Never A Dull Moment (1972)

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Trying to follow up the success of ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ can not have been easy but Stewart just about managed it with this 1972 offering. It was also a brave decision to call it ‘Never A Dull Moment’ a title which could have easily have come back to haunt him had it been a flop. But then Rod has never been lacking in confidence or faith in his own ability so he probably never worried too much.

If there is a dull moment on the album it certainly doesn’t come on side two which features the albums four best tracks, the Jimi Hendrix composed ‘Angel’, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, the Sam Cooke classic ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ and the albums most well known track ‘You Wear It Well’. All are top quality Stewart performances.

The album once again features the customary Dylan cover ‘Mama You’ve Been On My Mind’ and appearances by members of the Faces. Oh and we mustn’t forget the mandolin player from Lindisfarne was on there again as well!

Smiler (1974)

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This was really the beginning of the end for Rod Stewart as a credable rock performer really although the following years Atlantic Crossing did herald a brief return to form before the rot really set in.

My main gripe with this is that so much of it is unnecessary and a bit twee. I mean the cover looks like something on a cheap souvenir from a trip to Scotland. Which is made even more ridiculous when you consider Rod Stewart isn’t even Scottish. Maybe he got caught up in all the fuss surrounding Scotland getting to the World Cup but I seriously wonder what someone like the far more talented and genuinely Scottish Frankie Miller thought about a gravel voiced cockney being thought of the world over as a Scot and draping himself in tartan.

Cover aside there are also two totally pointless instrumentals. Okay so they are short and they are well played but Rod Stewart is a singer so why are they there other than as filler. Then you have barking dogs and to top it all a cover of ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural (Wo)man’ It just doesn’t work. Thank goodness they didn’t let him do a cover of ‘Only (Wo)men Bleed’ as well. But knowing Rod he would probably have made a fortune out of it being used on a commercial for razor blades or something.

So now I’m done with the moaning what about the good points. Well, there aren’t that many in truth but ‘Sweet Little Rock n Roller’ is fun. ‘Farewell’ is a nice song, ‘Hard Road’ is good time fun too and ‘Mine For Me’ is a nice heartfelt closer.

The spandex and leopard skin years were coming and the cracks were beginning to show.

Atlantic Crossing (1975)

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The first thing to say about Atlantic Crossing is that it is considerable improvement on the previous years Smiler. This in fact is on a par with his earlier solo output. So much so that it is the like the last dying kick from a trapped animal before it drifts off to nothing. Which pretty much sums up Rod’s career after this.

The great backing vocals make the opening track for me, a rousing boogie pub-rock stomp ‘Three Time Loser’. ‘Alright For An Hour’ and ‘All In The Name Of Rock n Roll’ keep the tempo and the quality going but if I’m honest I’ve heard better versions of ‘Drift Away’, Michael Bolton for one, but it is still a great song.

There is some great stuff on the second half of the album too. Not least ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ and ‘Its Not The Spotlight’ neither of which would have been out of place on his earlier albums. Of course the most well known song on here is the closer ‘Sailing’ which was a massive hit and it actually sounds a lot better than I remembered. In fact despite the over exposure it is still probably the best track on the album.

So this was really the last hoorah for Rod as a credible rocker although A Night on the Town had its moments. As I may have said elsewhere this is where I probably should have got off the boat and stopped sailing with Stewart.

A Night On The Town (1976)

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This is quite possibly the last musically credible album Rod Stewart put out before he turned into a leopard skin clad king of disco dirge but having said that it still isn’t a patch on his earlier solo output. Best track here is ‘The Wild Side of Life’ although ‘First Cut Is the Deepest’, ‘The Killing of Georgie’, ‘Trade Winds’ and more particularly ‘Big Bayou’ all show promise before ultimately leaving you with a feeling that they could have been better. The rest of the album is pretty ordinary especially the dire hit ‘Tonight’s The Night’. My biggest problem with the faster tracks is that they sound like a very poor mans watered down Rolling Stones.

Blondes Have More Fun (1977)

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This was the point at which I left the Rod Stewart story. Maybe I should have departed an album or two earlier in retrospect but retrospect is a fine thing … in retrospect !

First of all lets get our heads around the ridiculousness of the cover. ‘Blondes Have More Fun’ is the title, so why has the woman adorning the cover got black hair. Now I know Rod is blonde and the point is supposed to be that he is having more fun. But if he’d have thought about it sensibly he’d have made sure the woman was blonde too. That would have suggested she was having more fun too … with him. Now my cynical mind is suggesting that someone in the art department was taking the mickey out of Rod here by draping a dark haired woman around him. Suggesting maybe that the blondes were having more fun because they weren’t with him and the poor dark haired girl had got the short straw. Just pointless mischievous thoughts but it gave me something to do whilst I was listening to the album.

As for the music well I’m not going to even mention the first track. Except to say that even if it had been put out as a joke it wouldn’t have been funny. Rod though has been laughing all the way to the bank ever since. Only passable songs on the album for me are ‘Dirty Weekend’, ‘Ain’t Love a Bitch’ and ‘Is That The Thanks I Get’. The rest of it is pretty awful. The hideous ‘Attractive Female Wanted’ is nearly as bad as THAT single that I am not going to mention.

© Martin Leedham 21st November 2019

 

 

 

 

 

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
This entry was posted in Album Reviews, Classic Rock, Music, Music Reviews, Pop, Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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