By the late ’60s, the world was beginning to beat a path to Rod Stewart’s door. After kicking around for most of the decade in bands such as the Ray Davies Quartet (later known as the Kinks), Steampacket (whose members included Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and Micky Waller), and Shotgun Express (which included Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green), Stewart was hot. He joined the Jeff Beck Group, and they recorded two pivotal albums, Truth and Beck-Ola, before breaking up at the end of 1969. It was in the Jeff Beck Group that Stewart first worked with Ron Wood.
Stewart got an offer to sing with the hard rock band Cactus, but he and Wood opted to join three members of the Small Faces, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones. The renamed band was simply called Faces. Never one to put all of his eggs in one basket, Stewart also signed a deal with Mercury Records as a solo artist. His first solo album was called An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. In the U.S., the album was re-titled The Rod Stewart Album, and released in November 1969 by Mercury.
Employing a core band that included Ron Wood on bottleneck guitar and bass, Micky Waller on drums, and Ian McLagan on piano and organ, Stewart forged an album that rocked from the very first groove, a cover of the Stones “Street Fighting Man.” Ron Wood plays some amazing slide, reminding you what you loved about him in the first place, and Ian McLagan does what he does, which is provide brilliant and soulful keyboard tones throughout. But the really hero for me is drummer Micky Waller, who simply beats the hell out of the drums. When I interviewed Ian McLagan earlier this year, he told me that Waller’s drums lay in a heap on the floor when recording was set to begin. He put them together in a flash, and the record button was pushed. The results are evident, and startling. The sound is fresh and spontaneous. Nothing feels premeditated about this album, and that’s a very good thing indeed.
Rod Stewart may since have sounded as good as he did here, but he’s certainly never sounded better. The songs are a blend of stomping, blues-based rockers and acoustic folk and country blues numbers. “Blind Prayer,” from side one, is definitely one of the former, and the standout track on this album for me, with devastating work from Wood and Waller. The cover of Mike D’Abo’s “Handbags and Gladrags” (which features D’Abo on piano) is probably most recognizable these days as the theme song for the British version of The Office. Stewart provides a very powerful vocal for this gentle, melodic lament.
Keith Emerson guests on organ for “I Wouldn’t Ever Change a Thing.” “Man of Constant Sorrow” and Ewan McColl’s “Dirty Old Town” are the album’s acoustic gems, featuring nice guitar work from Martin Quittenton. Five of the album’s eight songs are Stewart originals, portending a bright future for him as a songwriter.
Rod Stewart doesn’t make it easy for us to remember him as the great rock and roll singer that he was. His recent forays into the American Songbook have defined him as a middle-aged crooner. He probably needs his day in Rock Court here on Popdose. But there was a time, from the late ’60s and into the ’70s, that he was quite possibly the greatest rock and roll singer of his time.
He followed this effort with Gasoline Alley in 1970, and Every Picture Tells a Story the following year. Meanwhile, he was still recording and touring with the Faces. By 1972, it became apparent that Stewart’s solo success was creating tension in the band. By the end of 1975, Stewart announced the end of the Faces. In 1974, Stewart released Smiler, his last original album for Mercury. He then signed to Warner Brothers, and moved to the U.S. in 1975. The golden age of Rod Stewart, at least from an artistic perspective, was over.
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