Rod Stewart, eh? Before the gold watches, swish suits and the mission to become some sort o’ smokey-faux-Sinatra following his discovery of the American Songbook, the Rodster was actually responsible for some pretty brilliant music. Seriously. As part of The Faces and the Jeff Beck Group, there’s absolutely no disputing that the man was actually a credible source of good ol’ rock n’ roots music. And then there’s his early solo stuff. Don’t get me wrong, he did release some pretty uninspired albums, but he also released some right crackers, too.
It was actually my ol’ man that got me interested in Rod Stewart’s catalogue. Over the years living at home I’d grown accustomed to hearing the dulcet Stewart tones emanating from the stereo. It was also the ‘go-to’ present when it came round to birthdays and Christmases – “is there a new Rod Stewart album?”. He had them on LP, so when one record player died we’d buy them on tape. Then it was catalogue and new releases on CD. You get the picture, right? So his continued for many years. Well, until my ol’ man got sick of the metropolitan Rod (think Rolling Stones Undercover or Dirty Work and times that by a trillion). Now, as for my experiences with the music of Rod, I think the first album I actually really got interested in was Lead Vocalist. In hindsight it was a tad dull, but there were some decent interpretations of other people’s songs and he did them quite well, y’know.
Over the years I have learned three key things about Rod:
- Smiler boasts the 4th best album cover ever *
- Rod always does good readings of Bob Dylan numbers
- He’s been sporting the same hairstyle since the 60s
Anyhoo, let’s move on to the topic of this post. Rod’s first solo album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down – released in the UK in 1970, but late 1969 in the US under the alternative, and highly imaginative, title of The Rod Stewart Album. This one entered the collection on a semi-permanent basis thanks to my ol’ man. Given he has no record player he told me to keep a hold of it. Although it’s looking unlikely that he and my mother will purchase a new record player, I won’t rule it out. So, while he says I can have it … I’m looking after it, I guess.
It’s a really brief but pretty tremendous debut. A big ol’ pot o’ folk, blues and rock n’ roll not a million miles from Jeff Beck Group’s Beck-Ola or even the Rolling Stones. In fact, the opening number here is a take on their Street Fighting Man. And it’s a good take, too. Structured a tad differently, with some nice big bass soloing towards the end. Rod doesn’t go into it posturing like Jagger, either. He goes into it just like Rod Stewart would. The mood is swampy and the groove loose. Lordy, what’s the Rodster and his pals doing!? It’s marvellous! That’s followed by a fairly wonderful Man Of Constant Sorrow (that’s right, the tune made famous by the Soggy Bottom Boys in the Coen Brothers’ O’ Brother Where Art Thou?). It’s ace for three reasons: 1, the song is ace; 2, Rod plays guitar; and 3, he also arranged this one and that arrangement allows the song to breathe. Good work, Rod.
Blind Prayer (one of 4 Stewart originals) is really pretty stunning. Seriously. This is the first real sign that ol’ Rod has a grand plan. This is his album. His sound. He and his band o’ pals really hit a groove and lock into it. Most folks have probably heard Mike D’Abo’s Handbags & Gladrags more times than they care to given it has been killed a death by those Stereophonics lads. However, it remains a really pretty ace piece of work and Rod’s vocals are brilliant – refrained and his timing and phrasing pretty perfect. A suitable close to side A.
Side B starts off with the title track. It’s another splendidly crafted song, but the following two originals are just excellent. I Wouldn’t Ever Change A Thing has some pretty hypnotic keyboard courtesy of that chap Keith Emerson. Things go all calm for a moment, too … then Rod and Lou Reizner have an inspired ‘conversation’. The pick of the bunch here, though, is Cindy’s Lament. The late Ian McLagen starting things off before the drums and guitar kick in … then … well, you’ll hear it. An outstanding tune and you can hear that Rod took something from his time with Jeff Beck. The album ends with a fine version of the old Ewan MacColl number Dirty Old Town.
I should point out that Ron Wood’s playing is exceptional … there’s even an harmonica turn during Dirty Old Town. But then, everyones performances are exceptional. It’s a really pretty excellent album and a nice introduction to solo Rod. It’s rich, warm and, well, it’s just a really damn fine rock n’ roll album.