on the planet.
Yes, Rock'n'Roll was the description that realistically fit Rod almost 40 years ago. I'm talking about the era circa 1968-73, before his Hollywood style of Rawk, when Rod, the Faces and other backing musicians took the old stuff we grew up with, swung it like mad, and added insightful, original songs.
It's an accomplished catalog: two Jeff Beck albums, four uneven but sometimes thrilling Faces LPs. And then, sheer brilliance: The four solo Stewart efforts that finish with 1972's Never a Dull Moment are robust, sometimes touching and loaded with his trademark self-deprecating humor--what an era. When Stewart sang, "Never been a millionaire/and I tell ya mama I don't care," you believed him. Backed by acoustic and
electric guitars, mandolin, fiddle, rocking drums, eloquent piano (not everything on the same track, of course), practically every arrangement stuck to the senses.
Unlike Pete Townshend or Neil Young, who welcomed the challenge served up by late '70s punk, Stewart shot back at any punk--or even a growing legion of disinterested mainstream fans and Rock journalists--who questioned where he was going musically. It's been a long letdown, as Stewart's decline was ultimately painful because his newer, often trashy stance conflicted with the immense care he had once taken with his recordings.
Stewart's best work is going to have a place near my music player for a long time: "Lady Day" and title track from Gasoline Alley; his hard hitting "Street Fighting Man" and "Handbags and Gladrags" from The Rod Stewart Album (U.S. title of his 1969 solo debut); six minutes of bliss in the title cut of Every Picture Tells a Story, and the gorgeous "Mandolin Wind" (that huge hit single was pretty good, too). Plus his Hendrix and Sam Cooke covers on Moment, and even more with the Faces ("Had Me a Real Good Time," his duet with Ronnie Lane on "Debris, " the remarkable "Flying").
But by the end of the '70s, the music had become pitiful.
Let's be mean and sum up the high points since then: That passionate-to-the-max version of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" in 1988, even if the production was out of control. In the '90s, the various artists Carole King tribute Tapestry Revisted brought the last truly great Rod Stewart track, his reading of "So Far Away" (listen to how he sings the word "new").
Forget most of his output after the 1970s; his four volumes of standards (Rodgers & Hart, Johnny Mercer, etc.) are the pits, and now he's covering tired Rock and Soul standards. Oh wait...Rod had a final terrific moment in 2004, but it didn't have anything to do with singing.
At the end (and I mean very end) of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," when Dolly Parton finally gives in, Rod's chuckle is worth the price of admission. Wait, we don't pay to hear him chuckle, do we? Well, I hope you're happy these days, Rod. Happy Birthday.
Enjoy that discount.