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Rod Stewart

Album Guide

      The Rod Stewart Album (Mercury, 1969)
      Gasoline Alley (Mercury, 1970)
      Every Picture Tells a Story (Mercury, 1971)
     Never a Dull Moment (Mercury, 1972)
    Atlantic Crossing (Warner Bros., 1975)
     A Night on the Town (Warner Bros., 1976)
    The Best of Rod Stewart (Mercury, 1976)
    The Best of Rod Stewart, Vol. 2 (Mercury, 1977)
    Foot Loose and Fancy Free (Warner Bros., 1978)
    Blondes Have More Fun (Warner Bros., 1978)
     Rod Stewart Greatest Hits, Vol. I (Warner Bros., 1979)
    Tonight I'm Yours (Warner Bros., 1981)
    Absolutely Live (Warner Bros., 1982)
    Camouflage (Warner Bros., 1984)
    Out of Order (Warner Bros., 1988)
      Storyteller: The Complete Anthology: 1964–1990 (Warner Bros., 1990)
    Downtown Train (Selections From Storyteller)
(Warner Bros., 1990)
     Vagabond Heart (Warner Bros., 1991)
    Unplugged and Seated (Warner Bros., 1993)
    Vintage (PolyGram 3145, 1993)
    Spanner in the Works (Warner Bros., 1995)
    If We Fall in Love Tonight (Warner Bros., 1996)
    When We Were the New Boys (Warner Bros., 1998)
   The Rock Album (Rebound, 1998)
   Human (Atlantic, 2000)
    Millennium Edition (Universal, 2000)
    1964–1969 (Pilot, 2000)
   It Had to Be You: The Great American Songbook (J ¬Records, 2002)
   As Time Goes By: The Great American Songbook 2 (J Records, 2003)
   Stardust: The Great American Songbook Volume III (J Records, 2004)
  Thanks for the Memory: The Great American Songbook Volume IV (J Records, 2005)
  Still the Same: Great Rock Classics of Our Time (J Records, 2006)
    The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998 (Rhino, 2009)
   Soulbook (J Records, 2009)

For a golden hour, Rod Stewart was one of rock's finest singers, a strutting ass-man with a sandpaper croon and a lock on sincerity, taste, and self-mocking humor. Since his Seventies heyday, Stewart's output has been mixed at best: He continues to get it up for brilliant bits, but he has often turned out cheesy, forgettable pop that found him rushing headlong after megabucks.

In the late Sixties, no one rocked harder. Paired with ex-Yardbird Jeff Beck in the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart debuted the proto-metal sound Led Zep would later perfect; scorchers like "Let Me Love You" made Truth and Beck-Ola exercises in brilliant bombast. Two talents this huge, however, weren't easy roommates, and Stewart moved on to replace Steve Marriott as frontman of the (Small) Faces and thrive on the giggly fraternity of that band. In the interim, he'd put out an astonishing solo debut. Between Ronnie Wood's ambitious guitar-playing, drummer Mick Waller's sloppy thunder, Stewart had plenty of help on The Rod Stewart Album. But he remained the star, revealing himself as a highly original interpreter whose skill at selecting material encompassed the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and Ewan MacColl's lovely "Dirty Old Town." Even better, Rod's songs, "Cindy's Lament," "Man of Constant Sorrow," and "An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down," ushered in a writer capable of startlingly bare emotion and compassion for the hard-hit strivers, misfits, and survivors who peopled his songs.

The songs on Gasoline Alley were equally strong. With Stewart's folk heart thumping, the dignified empathy of "Only a Hobo" saw him beginning a minicareer of covering Dylan consistently better than anyone else. "Gasoline Alley" marked the cementing of the Stewart-Wood alliance—the blending of slide guitar and hoarse-voiced yearning is a thing of rare beauty, and when the duo kick it up on homage's to the Stones and Eddie Cochran, rock seldom sounds freer or more fun. "Maggie May" and the title track of Every Picture Tells a Story made for Rod and Ron's finest hour—happy lads wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Never a Dull Moment was still strong: Raw and honest, it found Stewart refreshing his narrative skills with the lusty travelogue, "Italian Girls," and paying his debt to Sam Cooke on "Twistin' the Night Away."

With the now-deleted Smiler, danger signals began to flash. Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" was fine, but Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller" was far too obvious, and trans-sexing Aretha, on "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man," was shockingly misguided. Also, a fatal tendency toward hokum reared its head. A Night on the Town, with an excellent take on Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is the Deepest" and a gallant nod toward Stewart's gay following ("The Killing of Georgie [Part I and II]"), was Rod's last cohesive and respectable set for quite some time. Subsequent album titles like Foolish Behavior and Blondes Have More Fun spell out his disastrous turn toward stadium-mediocrity and soft-porn eroticism.

Throughout the Eighties, Stewart's singles— "Lost in You" and "Forever Young," from Out of Order—were competent hitcraft. And (shockingly, felicitously) he began to revive at the end of the decade. 1991's Vagabond Heart was Stewart's best in years. While hardly a return to his early form, a Tina Turner duet, material by Robbie Robertson, and help from the Stylistics show a songman beginning at last to think again. Unplugged revived memories of the early years; Spanner in the Works continued the progress, with a fine Tom Petty cover. And on When We Were the New Boys, he even rocked convincingly again, turning in, of all things, a nice version of an Oasis' "Cigarettes & Alcohol." Human marked another downturn, with Rod trying for slick, up-to-the-minute contemporary R&B.;

It Had to Be You was puzzling: Stewart sings pre-rock standards—not exactly with knowing grace, but with the Voice in fine form. It became a triple-platinum smash, his most successful album since the Seventies. Having finally found a new hit formula, Stewart repeated it for increasingly embarrassing annual sequels: As Time Goes By (ever wanted to hear Rod the God duet with Queen Latifah? Here you go, sport. Oh, did we mention it was on that song from Casablanca?), Stardust (guest stars Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton shuffle through in a cocktail-lounge daze), and Thanks for the Memory (hearing Stewart and Elton John mug their way through "Makin' Whoopee" is like watching a pair of toothless old panthers stare balefully at a wildebeest). Still the Same – which focused on rock rather than standards—is lifeless karaoke versions of songs like John Waite's "Missing You". Soulbook is, you guessed it, Jukebox Rod mechanically applying his signature rasp to classic Motown and its contemporaries; at least you can sort of tell that he cares about these songs.

The four-disc set The Rod Stewart Sessions salvages raucous work tapes and intriguing outtakes from three decades; it's a treasure for Rodophiles, if not particularly useful to the unconverted. A much better introduction is the terrific Storyteller, which collects a ton of prime Rod. Even better, get the first four records of his shining moment and honor an incredible singer by forgoing his tripe.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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