Hollywood, 1986. Fade in. The scene is an executive’s office.
Exec: So what’s the pitch?
Producer: Okay, Martin Short is this bumbling dude, okay? And somehow, he gets stuck with this needle, only the needle has Dennis Quaid in a tiny spaceship in it, ’cause he’s been shrunk down as part of this government experiment. Now Dennis Quaid is inside of Martin Short, and now the bad guys who want to…
Exec: Hold on. Hold on!…You had me at “Martin Short gets stuck with a needle”! Now, all we need is a happening song. Something to push the soundtrack tie-in and get the kids into the theaters.
Producer: I was thinking of having Rod Stewart do a new version of a Sam Cooke song that he originally covered fourteen years ago.
Exec: Son…..you’re a money-making machine!
They bow. Fin.
And yet, it’s an admirable performance, if not one that was made easier by having a personal blueprint to follow (in the middle of the new version, he even incorporates the same “I don’t know” ad-lib that appeared in the fadeout of his first version). It’s not quite as good as the earlier version, but is still performed much, much better than anything on Still the Same…., his rock covers album from 2006, which was as paint-by-numbers as you can get.
And this is probably what makes it the most amazing: That, considering Rod’s track record for the past quarter-century, it’s so easy to imagine him going through the motions. But he doesn’t. I thought about it, and the best parallel example I came up with was Sean Connery returning as Bond for a one-off in Never Say Never Again, itself a remake of a Bond film he’d made 18 years before, Thunderball. He could have embarrassed himself quite easily, what with the inescapable comparisons to the earlier film, and his advanced age. But you know what? He did all right. And that’s the same thing with Rod. He could have just taken the paycheck and been done with it, not giving a crap about whether or not he actually turned in a decent performance. But listening to the song, you’ve got to say he did more.
First of all, while he uses the old version as a blueprint, he doesn’t copy it. The 1972 version goes Verse 1, Verse 2, Solo, Verse 3, Chorus, Chorus, Fadeout on Verse 4 (which is a repeat of the last two lines of Verse 1 and the first two of Verse 2). The 1987 version goes Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 3 (with the last line actually the last line from Verse 2), Chorus, Chorus, Solo, Verse 2, Chorus, Chorus, and further vamping over the an instrumental repeat of the chorus. Whether these changes were the work of Rod or (more likely) the track’s producer doesn’t really matter, as much as the fact that Rod went along with it, rather than keeping consistent with the previous version.
More importantly, he seems to be having fun, and is into it — perhaps (gasp!) even more than he was in 1972: He runs up and down the notes in his delivery, especially the second verse; gives a wink and a nod to Sinatra with the way he delivers the line “that chick’s moving up and back”; and gives some extra “yeah”s and “woo”s for good measure. Nothing, it seems, brings out Rod’s pleasure in the studio more than Sam Cooke. If he had any sense, he’d get Ron Wood, Booker T and the MG’s, the Memphis Horns, meet at Keef’s home studio for a couple of days, and knock out an album of live takes of Cooke songs (sort of like Paul McCartney’s Run Devil Run, but with a singular purpose and focus). Of course, as we have learned from the last quarter-century of Rodness, the man has no sense. So, please, stop salivating, and forget what I just wrote, okay?
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Special bonus: Go here if you want to see the video for the song (sorry, no embedding with this clip), which proves that, even when putting in a good vocal performance, Rod’s not above wearing a shiny suit, ogling female buttocks, or getting down with Martin Short.