Lots of us—and I am a particularly big offender in this area—have praised Rod Stewart’s early solo work to the skies at the expense of what came later. By the end of the 1970s, the story goes, Rod had arrived. Because he no longer needed to work as hard as he did on the way up, his music became looser and more casual, sometimes bordering on sloppy. But it’s worth remembering that even while he was making his early 70s masterpieces, he was also recording with Faces—a band famed for its loose, casual-bordering-on-sloppy vibe. Somewhere in my archives I have a bootleg Faces show recorded in 1973, in which Rod is obviously ripped to the tits and everybody in the band is having a blast. Focusing meticulously on art is way down the band’s list, but it’s great music nevertheless.
So it should be possible to give Rod Stewart a pass for his 1977 hit “Hot Legs,” which comes from the Faces side of his musical personality. But I’m not gonna do it. “Hot Legs” is pretty clearly one of the World’s Worst Songs.[youtube id=”AHcjjxYbgNM” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Start with the opening guitar lead, which has all the gentle subtlety of the brass in the David Rose chestnut “The Stripper.” Rod starts hooting immediately, and he squeals through the first lines like a Mississippi bluesman who’s unexpectedly been goosed: “Who’s that knockin’ on my doh-wah / It’s gotta be a quahtah to foh-wah.” From that, it’s pretty clear what we’re going to get here: “Hot Legs” is about an underage girl who’s come around looking for love, and Rod is happy to oblige, and to describe her while he does it: satin shoes, most persuasive tongue, and legs right up to her neck, all good for keeping his pencil sharp. (In the video, however, we don’t see the girl doing anything, or even a whole girl—mostly just legs and later, a backside—and never a female face at all. Which says a lot, actually.)
Rod does all of this not so much by singing as yelling, trying to make himself heard while the band bashes away behind him. He claims to be exhausted by the girl’s attentions, but he’s not half as exhausted as we are by the end of the record: by the relentless noise of it, and by its brain-dead sexism.
The net effect of “Hot Legs” is to make a person sorry he keeps making the effort to find something creditable in Rod Stewart’s late-70s work. Rod would do better at various points in the 80s and 90s, but “Hot Legs” represents the nadir of a 40-year career.