Rob Smith Can’t Say No: Rod Stewart, “Fly Me to the Moon: The Great American Songbook, Volume V”

It’s been said that no other artist in rock and roll has squandered as much talent and good will in search of widespread popularity as has Rod Stewart. I cannot disagree. Want to hear some great Seventies rock—classic songs that fuse the best folk and blues influences with a Stonesy swagger? Go find the first four Rod Stewart albums (and, while you’re at it, grab the first three records he made with Faces). Want to hear a handful of awesome songs, expertly played, though mixed in with some iffy filler? Go find the next four Rod Stewart albums—from Smiler (1974) through Foot Loose and Fancy Free (1977).

Want to hear a smattering of decent singles surrounded by hours of formulaic shit? Go find the 11 studio albums Stewart released from 1978 through 2001. With all due respect to my colleague Matthew Bolin (he of the fine Redeeming Rod column), I hear very little to recommend any of those records (even Vagabond Heart, which so many claimed was a return to form). Granted, the aforementioned decent singles tended to be quite decent indeed—the two he did with Jeff Beck (“Infatuation” and “People Get Ready”) and his Power Station-wannabe move “Lost in You” were splendid. I even have a soft spot for “Young Turks” and “Baby Jane,” though I fear I am very much alone in that regard.

Want to hear Rod Stewart in the most incongruous setting imaginable, his voice employed with minimal subtlety to material that begs—no, demands a gentle hand? Then give a listen to the inexplicably popular Great American Songbook albums he’s crapped out at the behest of the rock and roll crypt keeper himself, Clive Davis. There is nothing quite so exquisitely wrong as hearing Stewart trying to croon something like “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” (from the second volume, As Time Goes By), in a duet with Cher, ferChrissakes. Or “My Funny Valentine” (on volume 4, Thanks for the Memory), which he turned into “Mah Funneh Vahlintahn” in that same, inimitable hoarse, Kim-Carnes-gargling-razorblades manner with which he tackled the dozens of other standards Davis lined up for him like so many bowling pins, only these bowling pins were created by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and other nearly sacred figures of American song craft.

Stewart will release the fifth volume in the series, Fly Me to the Moon, tomorrow, and had my evil editor Jeff Giles (y’all) not compelled me to listen to it, I would have dismissed it completely.  Since I can’t say no, though, I did my best. Typically, when I review a record, I listen to it anywhere between three and five times at least before I even begin to write about it. I made it through this record exactly once, and it was like forcing down a plateful of beets, which, as longtime readers know, I detest.

Not only can I not bear to hear it again, I cannot bring myself to write a whole lot about it. I wonder how much time Stewart actually spent in the studio making this record; I imagine him coming in for an afternoon, listening to the professionally played (and, to be honest, occasionally lovely) orchestral arrangements, and laying down a vocal in a single take, one song after another, like some retirement home karaoke contestant. Once again, his voice is simply not built for these wonderful songs; it’s built for the boozy, amplified rock of those Faces albums, of his first four studio records. He’s betrayed his gifts for so long, though, I doubt he’ll ever find his way to engaging with that kind of material again. This record (like Stewart’s other standards albums before it) is mere product, a mere object—music made for the Home Shopping Network and little else.

So, instead of spending another 400 or so words slagging off Stewart and Davis and anyone else connected with this project, I would like to provide the curious among you with links to superior versions of the songs on Fly Me to the Moon, and, if you are moved by the songs, encourage you to seek out the artists who truly knew/know their way around the great American songbook. Enjoy.

“That Old Black Magic” (Sammy Davis, Jr.)
“Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darin)
“I’ve Got You under My Skin” (Frank Sinatra)
“What a Difference a Day Makes” (Dinah Washington)
“I Get a Kick Out Of You” (Tierney Sutton)
“I’ve Got the World on a String” (Bing Crosby)
“Love Me or Leave Me” (Ruth Etting)
“My Foolish Heart” (Joe Williams)
“September in the Rain” (Jo Stafford)
“Fly Me to the Moon” (Tony Bennett)
“On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Dean Martin)
“Moon River” (Andy Williams)




  • http://genxsingalong.wordpress.com Gigi

    “Alone in that regard”? In what universe? “Baby Jane” was a huge hit. Because it’s AWESOME.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    By the third go-round of this series of recordings, I lost track of whether he was serious, seriously lazy, or somehow he just got off on having people talking about him again, even if what they were saying was justifiably negative.

  • EightE1

    Well, some say I’ve lived in my own little universe for a very long time. But you’re absolutely right — it is awesome. Thanks for chiming in.

  • EightE1

    Well, some say I’ve lived in my own little universe for a very long time. But you’re absolutely right — it is awesome. Thanks for chiming in.

  • EightE1

    Well, some say I’ve lived in my own little universe for a very long time. But you’re absolutely right — it is awesome. Thanks for chiming in.

  • EightE1

    There’s a level of defiance there, I’m sure. You know, “You tell me I shouldn’t do this, but I’m gonna do it anyway.” You know, sticking his aged tongue out at his critics (and who knows where that tongue has been?). But even his side trips into classic rock and soul covers have sounded rote. I can’t tell you the last time I heard something of his that I thought was decent — probably the Unplugged record.

    But, again, you listen to those first eight records and, even on the weaker ones, there’s a helluva lot there to like.

  • Dumpsterbaby.com

    Such a travesty! Such as waste of talent! It makes me mad at the world!

  • eddie

    I thought I just heard somewhere that his next project was to write new material to do an album with Jeff Beck a la the original Jeff Beck Group

  • Anonymous

    Count me in for “Young Turks” and “Baby Jane” (with a side of “Some Guys Have All the Luck”), and I’d like to add Jeff Beck’s Truth and Python Lee Jackson’s “In a Broken Dream” to the list of peak-period Rod. As for the new GAS entry, my mother shall be receiving it for Christmas, which says it all.

    I clicked on the sidebar ad for Rod’s “lost album” of ’92 and saw that it comes packaged in a “vintage long box”. Yesterday’s ecological controversy is today’s collector’s quirk.

  • EightE1

    The Jeff Beck thing makes me hopeful — if it ever happens. Those two are a volatile combination, which often results in good music, when they can hold it together long enough to actually make any.

  • http://popdose.com Anonymous

    I’ll believe the Beck thing when we actually have product released. Remember, Rod was apparently raring to go with the Faces reunion, and we all know how that turned out.

  • http://popdose.com Anonymous

    I’ll believe the Beck thing when we actually have product released. Remember, Rod was apparently raring to go with the Faces reunion, and we all know how that turned out.

  • Anonymous

    “I even have a soft spot for “Young Turks” and “Baby Jane,” though I fear I am very much alone in that regard.”

    Not even a little bit. I loves me some 80′s Rod Stewart. “Passion,” “Baby Jane,” “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” “Love Touch,” “Young Turks,” “Infatuation,” “What Am I Gonna Do,” etc.

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/ Pico

    Thank you for listening to this dreck, so I don’t have to. No, Really.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Pico! Picooooooooooooooooooh, oh, Pico!

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Pico! Picooooooooooooooooooh, oh, Pico!

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Pico! Picooooooooooooooooooh, oh, Pico!

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/ Pico

    Thank you for making him listen to this dreck, so I, like, don’t have to.

    Nice write-up, btw. I need to pay closer attention to Rob Smith’s articles.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Rob Smith is the motherfucking MAN.

  • Anonymous

    You’re not alone, I like “Baby Jane”, too. But you shouldn’t underrate Ooh La La.

    The return to form album was the MTV Unplugged release. Shame it didn’t last.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s entirely possible that he both receives terrible advice from people who claim to have his best interests in mind, or perhaps he’s just seriously deluded. Or both. I thought he was on the right track a few years ago when he was covering Petty, Waits and Ron Sexsmith, but it came out sounding just as plastic and soulless as almost everything else he’s done since 1976.Hell, even Elton eventually realized what a dead end he’d run into and made an effort to get back to making listenable music again. You’d think there would still be hope…The thing that flummoxes me about him, even with the knowledge that his classic years meant little more than a means to an end (the “end” being megastardom, becoming filthy rich, and screwing supermodels), is how he can hear the music he made and not realize that he was part of something special, something with heart and soul and balls, and not want to recapture at least a little of it somehow. Maybe he thinks he’s above such foolishness, maybe he thinks he’s too old, maybe he is afraid to try. Maybe he’s just too comfortable and detached in his own private world. Who knows. But it’s just so sad and disheartening to contemplate the career of this man, whose music meant so much to me as a young man, frittering away the tiny remnants of what’s left of his reputation and later years.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s entirely possible that he both receives terrible advice from people who claim to have his best interests in mind, or perhaps he’s just seriously deluded. Or both. I thought he was on the right track a few years ago when he was covering Petty, Waits and Ron Sexsmith, but it came out sounding just as plastic and soulless as almost everything else he’s done since 1976.Hell, even Elton eventually realized what a dead end he’d run into and made an effort to get back to making listenable music again. You’d think there would still be hope…The thing that flummoxes me about him, even with the knowledge that his classic years meant little more than a means to an end (the “end” being megastardom, becoming filthy rich, and screwing supermodels), is how he can hear the music he made and not realize that he was part of something special, something with heart and soul and balls, and not want to recapture at least a little of it somehow. Maybe he thinks he’s above such foolishness, maybe he thinks he’s too old, maybe he is afraid to try. Maybe he’s just too comfortable and detached in his own private world. Who knows. But it’s just so sad and disheartening to contemplate the career of this man, whose music meant so much to me as a young man, frittering away the tiny remnants of what’s left of his reputation and later years.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s entirely possible that he both receives terrible advice from people who claim to have his best interests in mind, or perhaps he’s just seriously deluded. Or both. I thought he was on the right track a few years ago when he was covering Petty, Waits and Ron Sexsmith, but it came out sounding just as plastic and soulless as almost everything else he’s done since 1976.Hell, even Elton eventually realized what a dead end he’d run into and made an effort to get back to making listenable music again. You’d think there would still be hope…The thing that flummoxes me about him, even with the knowledge that his classic years meant little more than a means to an end (the “end” being megastardom, becoming filthy rich, and screwing supermodels), is how he can hear the music he made and not realize that he was part of something special, something with heart and soul and balls, and not want to recapture at least a little of it somehow. Maybe he thinks he’s above such foolishness, maybe he thinks he’s too old, maybe he is afraid to try. Maybe he’s just too comfortable and detached in his own private world. Who knows. But it’s just so sad and disheartening to contemplate the career of this man, whose music meant so much to me as a young man, frittering away the tiny remnants of what’s left of his reputation and later years.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Precisely. He takes one for the team on a bi-weekly basis (and aren’t you glad you don’t have to cover his health insurance?)

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    The full-on cynic says he’s in it for the easy money, but there’s a giant hole in logic if that’s true. The best of the crooners were working really hard but making it seem (and sound) effortless. I always go back to Frank Sinatra Sings Songs For Only The Lonely and pay close attention to the held notes. The tone in Sinatra’s voice is smooth and consistent. That takes real effort that, even if Stewart’s voice wasn’t raspy, isn’t being reflected in these performances.

  • Anonymous

    It’s more than a little ironic when one considers that in his classic era, Rod had the rep as someone whose greatest strength was song interpretation. Heck, I prefer his versions of more than one Dylan song to the writer’s own. I’m sure that must have been part of the reasoning behind this series; a faint, distant recollection of someone with his ear that he used to be good at that sort of thing.

    Something else that occurred to me was that perhaps his career trajectory was prompted by a lack of pride or belief in his own skills; perhaps he thinks that his early triumphs were done with the help of people like Beck and the Ronnies Wood and Lane, backing and enhancing his unusual voice. Even though he did co-write more than a few excellent songs, perhaps he sees himself as “the voice” and little else, certainly not a “serious musician” or craftsman. Sure, he’s always seemed to have a fronting sort of pride, but there’s always been a bit of self-effacement in his public persona. Who knows, he may be as big a prima donna in real life as you’d suspect…but perhaps it’s this attitude which has led him to coast and live down expectations.

    And perhaps I’m overthinking all of this.

  • Anonymous

    I was forced to listen to this album on Saturday and the most apt description is that it is “plastic and soulless.”

    I knew who was singing the songs, I knew the songs, but, I could not wrap my brain around how awful they were and how banal and totally unnecessary Stewart’s singing on them was.

    Really a shame!

  • EightE1

    I tell myself that every day, when I look in the mirror. And then my reflection laughs and laughs and laughs …

  • JonCummings

    “Baby Jane” is atrocious. Really, really bad. Perhaps the whiniest song in pop history. I pulled it up on YouTube just to make sure it’s as awful as I remembered, and while I was listening to it I heard out my window the sound of a pack of coyotes attacking something (a trash barrel, a small animal, I don’t know what). The coyotes sounded preferable to Rod.

  • Randy

    Two words for Rod and his management team to consider – Robert Plant.