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Pissing off the Taste Police with Rod Stewart

September 25th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments
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Rock legend Rod Stewart is going to play concerts in South Africa, the morning radio DJ announced breathlessly. In our celebrity-starved land, that is big news. Amplifying the public joy is the certain knowledge that it will be the real Rod coming to our shores, not a tribute act pretending to be the real article, as happened when “Earth, Wind & Fire” toured the country. Our boy Rod is a real superstar. At least in South Africa. He always was. That’s why he could draw an audience to Sun City, the cheeky little cultural boycott breaker.

He is also entirely irrelevant these days. Today, Stewart’s output – mostly karaoke performances of the standards – is squarely aimed at the audience that has followed him faithfully ever since Sailing. The really obsessive reader of this little seed in the blogospheric silo may recall that I have great memories of Sailing – it was the soundtrack to my first (and last) slow dance with the first love of my life, the lovely Antje. So I ought to find it in my heart to forgive everybody’s favourite faux-Caledonian a lot of things. Like skin-tight leopard-print trousers and women’s legs growing out of his body. But it’s not as uncomplicated as that. You see, Rod Stewart made a meaningful contribution not only to my romantic vocation, but also was a protagonist in my socio-musical development.

Let me explain by backtracking to the 1977/78 season. That’s when the man who’d become my stepfather appeared on the scene. I was 11 going on 12, and he was very old indeed. I was still finding my way musically. I’d cheerfully listen to Showaddywaddy, Neil Diamond, Sham 69, Hot Chocolate and Jethro Tull, not yet realising that as an aspiring teenager it was my obligation to choose sides as a vehicle for the expression of my individualism. When stepfather began insinuating himself with us, it emerged that he really liked Rod Stewart. I was thrilled: so did I. And if an old man of 33 years liked what I liked, then I must have been achieving musical maturity. I was like a grown-up, at least musically. So out with the Bay City Rollers and Harpo records, let’s dig Rod together. But then came the awareness that if a really old dude of 33 liked Rod Stewart, then Rod Stewart had to be past it, uncool. Stepfather, who at his advanced age must have been past it too, certainly did not appreciate the cool music produced by the Stranglers (who included that fresh-faced stripling Jet Black). The peroxided hair and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy were the last straw. Rod was out of my good books, and would not return into them until I approached the geriatric age of 33.

Stewart’s romantic life did little to attract atonement for his descent into musical cliché. His cortege of blond partners seemed like evictees from the Playboy Mansion. I found few of them attractive – least of all Britt Ekland, who looked like a curious amalgam of porn star, soap actress and desperate housewife. Had Rod Stewart been born 25 years later, his affairs doubtless would have been the subject of reality TV shows on the E! Channel. Starring Jessica Simpson (and what exactly do people see in that preened-up boil?). I cannot deny my superficiality in dumping favourite singers once they become household names not for their music but for their notoriety. Rod Stewart, I decided, would have struggled to pull a toothless hooker in a crackhouse had he not stumbled upon success by singing other people’s songs badly and his own even worse. And, alas, Rod Stewart rarely gave me much reason to believe that I was wrong. Oh, I could have liked Young Turks or Baby Jane in 1983, but on principle I didn’t. Dad Pop, I’d scoff. And look at his fucking housewives’ hair!

Only later, in my 30s, did I revisit the music of Rod Stewart (who by then was through plundering the catalogue of Tom Waits). I had deprived myself. It should really be an article of musical faith that “Early Rod” was magnificent. Maggie May, You Wear It Well, Handbags And Gladrags, Angel or Reason To Believe are all wonderful songs performed superbly, though not necessarily invariably superior to alternative versions. But when exactly does the early period end? Some might say in 1975 with Sailing, which was followed by his disposable version of This Old Heart Of Mine. But that can’t be right: a year after Sailing, Stewart released The Killing Of Georgie, one of the earliest chart hits explicitly about homophobic violence (Rod the Mod merits our appreciation for his courage to sing about homosexuality). In 1977, he had hits with fine cover versions of I Don’t Want To Talk About It and The First Cut Is The Deepest, followed by the perfectly amicable sing-along number You’re In My Heart (which rocks for comparing his lady love to Celtic and [Manchester] United). Now that I am over 33, I’m down with Step-dad Rock.

So the cut-off to cool Rod must be 1978. The dreadful Hot Legs (a hit in ’78, though an album track from 1977) and that World Cup song for Scotland’s ill-fated Argentine adventure presaged the departure from sanity that was the grammatically criminal Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, a vaguely prurient discofied jingle aimed at people over 30 desperate to retain their youth by swinging their arthritic hips and waving their flabby arms to the unfunky beats of self-parody. Or so my analysis went for nearly 30 years. It is not a great song by any means, but it does not merit the detraction so cordially solicited by the sleeve on which Rod covers his companion’s eyes, thereby precluding the statement of her candid and informed opinion in response to his question, practically coercing an affirmation. The song, it must be said, is quite catchy in the way songs that are great to sing in the shower usually are. If ever I need to own up to having a “guilty pleasure” – I feel no guilt over musical pleasure – this song might be it.

Stewart had his last stab at pop relevance with his two 1983 hits, and then settled into the comfort zone of singing bland and pointless songs for housewives and chartered accountants who conspired to make his impertinent cover of Tom Waits’ Downtown Train a UK Top 10 hit. More recently, Rod enjoyed a revival with his American Songbook series, the first of which, beautifully arranged, was actually pretty good (not that anybody needs Rod Stewart’s interpretations when we can listen to the originals by Robbie Williams), before our boy reverted to flogging that particular equine cadaver to the point of decadent extremes.

When the b

ell tolls for Rod Stewart, as it does for every man, our obituaries will probably deviate wildly. There will be those of us who liked the Mod, those of us whose barely pubescent testicles stirred to the strains of Sailing, those of us who got the disco fever from Rod, those of us who thought he was the heir to Waits or Sinatra, and indeed those of us who despised the old fraud… What we all should agree upon, however, is the timeless charm and warmth of Rod Stewart’s music before he hit 33, as these eight songs show.

Rod Stewart – The Killing Of Georgie (Parts I & II) (1976).mp3
Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well (1972).mp3
Rod Stewart – Tonight’s The Night (1976).mp3
Rod Stewart – I Don’t Want To Talk About It (1977).mp3
Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley (1970).mp3
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story (1971).mp3
Rod Stewart – Maggie Mae (1971).mp3
Rod Stewart – You’re In My Heart (1977).mp3

Previously on Pissing off the Taste Police:
Bay City Rollers
Counting Crows
Simply Red
John Denver
Barry Manilow
Lionel Richie
The Carpenters
Billy Joel
Neil Diamond
America

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  1. whiteray
    September 26th, 2008 at 04:49 | #1

    I let Rod go after “You’re In My Heart.” Just didn’t work for me. On the other hand, “Downtown Train” is, to me, a marvel. Ah, differences!

  2. Ruby Jones
    September 26th, 2008 at 07:06 | #2

    I may be crucified for admitting this, but I liked both “Downtown Train” AND Rod and Jeff Beck’s “People Get Ready.” Of course I was about 10 or 11 then, and they were by far the least offensive things my mom (a huge Rod fan who’s seen him in concert 3 or 4 times) was listening to at the time. And I also liked “Broken Arrow.”

  3. Walter
    September 26th, 2008 at 07:36 | #3

    I’ve just turned 50 (where did that go then ?), for any (probably mainly) chap of my vintage Rod was the coolest thing around. To be early teens when Maggie May, You Wear It Well etc came out, football on TOTP, etcMarvellous

  4. Blind Owl
    September 26th, 2008 at 16:11 | #4

    I think you hit on the secret of Rod’s success in the selection ofgreat songs. Every few years he would surprise me with a great song despite his voice. Unfortunately he hasn’t surprised me in quite a few years.

  5. Paul
    September 26th, 2008 at 16:17 | #5

    I saw Rod in 82 or 83 when he came to Sun City and he really rocked. He had that great band that eventually ended up on the Absolutely Live album (Jim Cregan, Jay Davis, Jimmy Zavala). There were some serious rockers that came out in the early eighties like Young Turks, Tonight I’m yours and Baby Jane. He went totally off the rails with that album where he attempted to cover Free’s Alright Now. It also goes to show that when he surrounds himself with respectability like Beck and Ron Wood (that MTV live album) he can still get away with it.In spite of all that – I would argue that once the Faces had parted Rod was on a crash course to the purple-dyed hair brigade. He might, however be able to pull it off for us old rockers in South Africa this year.

  6. Lizzle-ba-Dizzle
    September 26th, 2008 at 16:18 | #6

    I was born in ’84, and it was a long time before I knew to associate Rod Stewart with ANYTHING other than “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” In fact, even when I realised he had other songs, I couldn’t think of him as anything other than a bit of a joke.So now I’m going to try to block the images of a group of (relatively) innocent grade 2 kids dancing around the playground yelling “IIIIIF you want my body AAAAND you think I’m sexy..” and listen to these songs with an open mind. :))

  7. Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas
    September 27th, 2008 at 00:58 | #7

    I, too, came to Rod late – “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” “Passion, “Young Turks.” Hearing his older material was a revelation.I don’t think I’ve really paid any attention since “When We Were The New Boys” (94? 95?). Personally, I was absolutely no fan of “Broken Arrow,” much preferring Robbie Robertson’s stellar original.Rod has had one schizophrenic career.

  8. wzjn
    September 27th, 2008 at 13:49 | #8

    Touch and go with Rod for me. Absolutley anything prior to his mega disco, but spotty there after. But, I do tend to enjoy at least one song per album. “Forever Young” is great and I find myself whistling it now and then. The poster above reminded me of an album that I enjoyed through and through – “When We WEre The New Boys” – “cigarettes and alcohol” I thought was very good.The standards albums? More mega sellers. Hey – someone bought them, and let’s not throw dirt on that in a knee jerk way.

  9. jb
    September 27th, 2008 at 19:29 | #9

    Rod and I went to a song-by-song relationship long about 1977. “Hot Legs” was an embarrassment, but “I Was Only Joking” was a fine, fine song. I only hated parts of the “Blondes Have More Fun” album, but most of “Foolish Behaviour.” I lost track of him for a few years after that, until “People Get Ready.” In the 90s, “Forever Young,” “Downtown Train,” “The Motown Song” and the Tom Petty song “Leave Virginia Alone” worked for me. I am consistent on one thing, though: the Great American Songbooks albums blow, artistically and morally. I don’t get the feeling he has any respect for those songs apart from their ability to bring him bushels of cash.But “Every Picture Tells a Story” will always be great.

  10. Urban Gypsy
    September 28th, 2008 at 06:32 | #10

    This is too hilarious… went on a date tonight and the bar was playing Rod Stewart songs ALL NIGHT LONG! He can be kitschy but at the same time extremely awesome, it all depends.

  11. fairest
    October 16th, 2008 at 08:00 | #11

    Madame Onassis ain’t got nothing on you.

  12. Fusion 45
    October 17th, 2008 at 06:50 | #12

    My very first radio gig was a Saturday overnight in November of 1979. I was 17 years old. I’d dreamed about my debut for years and figured the best way to open my maiden voyage was with a hot jingle into ‘Hot Legs’. I wasn’t 2 minutes into the song when I got a call on the studio hot line from the station’s drunken redneck music director, screaming at me for playing the song. Literally in tears, I called the girl who was the night-time DJ, who warned me to lock the building because the MD tended to get violent on drunken Saturday nights. Twenty minutes later, she showed to hang with me while I collected myself. Thirty days later, we started dating. I lost my virginity to her, listening to CKLW in the background. Can’t say “Downtown Train” gives me quite the fond memories.

  13. Anonymous
    October 4th, 2009 at 22:29 | #13

    when we were the new boys was 98… with that ridiculously out of tune cover of weak by skunk anansie loool

    im all over the place on rod, i think hes a legend for some stuff but absolutely hate him for the american songbooks, and then the shit tunes like every beat of my heart / rhythm of my heart (which i liked at the time) / plus his waste sting/adams/stewart collective effort on all for love!

    if you go back to the tom dowd produced stuff though, i love it!

    listen to “scarred and scared” from blondes have more fun, proper tune.

    ive always been a fan of the faces stuff as well, so anything that resembles that era is good for me!

    footloose and fancy free is definitely a faces-ish album, how can you not love hot legs lol with that massive solo (bass/guitar) in the middle? such a tune…

    the best tune on that album for me is born loose

    also im WELL AGAINST motown covers, but he does a massive job for me on standing in the shadows of love, with that tribal drum thing in the middle, proper class! fuck knows what he was thinking when he did this old heart of mine though….

    you’re in my heart stands out to me as another one ill always love, despite the fact he describes a girl as “my celtic united” lol i think i’d divorce him as well!

    i love the south park portrayal of him though i have to say! cant think which episode it is now but he performs in a wheelchair and all he says is “ooowwww” looool its ace!

    another lovely post, interesting readings :)

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