Rod Stewart turns 70 on January 10th and I thought it would be fun to take another look at his breakthrough album, Every Picture Tells a Story. For those who know Stewart as that old guy who’s now singing standard ballads, believe it or not, he was once a wild and crazy rock star.
Originally a member of the Jeff Beck Group, the hard rocking band featured guitar hero Jeff Beck and longtime Rolling Stone Ronnie Woods. Like most bands from England of the time, they were steeped heavy in the blues as they covered such classics as Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” and “You Shook Me.” After the band split in 1969, Rod and Ronnie joined Faces, whose touring escapades are legendary. The group only had one hit, “Stay With Me,” but enjoyed a nice run until 1973. While in the group, Stewart embarked on a solo career and released The Rod Stewart Album, which was followed by Gasoline Alley. However, his third solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, made him a star.
The album kicks off with the title track, “Every Picture Tells a Story.” The song tells the story of a young man’s travels, women and high jinx and proved to everyone that Stewart was much more than a pretty boy; he was a gifted songwriter. While Stewart only wrote three of the nine songs on the album, he chose his covers carefully. “Seems Like a Longtime” has a gospel feel with drums accompanying piano and backing vocals by Madeline Bell. Rod pulls off an unforgettable performance of “Amazing Grace” before he jumps head first into the Elvis hit “That’s Alright Mama.” He tips his hat to Dylan with “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” Recorded live in the studio, the track features acoustic guitars, mandolin and is pretty close to Bob’s original version.
The next track made him a household name. “Maggie Mae” hit the UK charts at number one and stayed there for five weeks. Over here, it dominated the charts as well, Billboard ranked the song at the number 2 spot for 1971 and in 2004 Rolling Stone ranked it number 131 of their top 500 of all time. The song tells the story of Stewart’s first sexual encounter with a much older woman. Though the title was borrowed from a Liverpool folk song, Rod crafted a masterpiece which has been his signature song for decades.
Stewart and company give us a rambunctious version of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” with amps turned up to 11. The album closes out with the tender ballad, “(Find a) Reason to Believe.” The importance of this recording can not be understated. It gave us one of the most dynamic performers of all time and set the stage for the raspy-voiced singer to continue giving us finely-crafted songs for over four decades.