One of the earliest pieces I ever did was on Rod Stewart. But other than the tune “Handbags and Gladrags,” I didn’t specifically feature either of his first two albums, The Rod Stewart Album or Gasoline Alley. I got together with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while and he told me that I turned him onto these albums and I thought, well, I’ve got to feature one of them. But they’re both so outstanding I decided to feature both.
Rod had kicked around in any number of bands in the Sixties, most famously as a member of blues outfit Steampacket (Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger) and The Jeff Beck Group (Beck, Stewart, Ron Wood, MIckey Waller). Rod left the Beck group in July 1969, following his chum Ron Wood out the door.
Per Wikipedia, Stewart later recalled: “It was a great band to sing with but I couldn’t take all the aggravation and unfriendliness that developed… In the two and a half years I was with Beck I never once looked him in the eye – I always looked at his shirt or something like that.”
By the time The Rod Stewart Album (called An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down in the UK) was released (Nov. 1969), Rod had signed on as lead singer of Faces. But he managed to simultaneously have both a band and solo career.
What I like about these two albums is not only how great they are but how rough ‘n ready they sound. Like they made it in somebody’s basement. The first album “established the template for his solo sound: a heartfelt mixture of folk, rock, and country blues, inclusive of a British working-class sensibility, with both original material and cover versions.”
First up: Rod’s galvanizing version of the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.” Jagger wrote this song as a response to the London and Paris student riots of 1968. The whole band is outstanding but Ronnie Wood really shines on bottleneck and bass. (Keith Emerson plays on one tune on this album.)
I mentioned Faces and in fact, with Ron Wood and Ian McLagan playing, it’s kind of a proto-Faces album. I featured the terrific “Handbags and Gladrags” on my other post so I’ll shift over to another tune, the Stewart-penned “Blind Prayer.” He sings a tale of woe and God knows where he came up with the idea for this story:
Struck down by the time I was ten
By an illness
Which robbed me of the sight
Of the morning sun
Next up, I’m gonna go with “An Old Raincoat Won’t Let Ever You Down.” I love the way these guys throw acoustic guitars into the mix, intermingled with electric sounds, The whole things sounds casual and underproduced which gives it a nice feel. This one’s bluesy without being blues per se. You can hear Faces all over this.
That album did not take the world by storm but it got fantastic reviews (“Many LPs are a lot flashier than this one, but damn few are any better” – Rolling Stone) and Rod the Mod kept plugging away,
Rod’s second solo album, Gasoline Alley*, was released just six months later in June 1970. (The Faces first album with Rod and Ronnie was released in March so these were some busy lads.) “‘Gasoline Alley’ is nowhere in particular to me,” said Rod. “It was about a feeling I had when I was in Spain, and I couldn’t get back to England. I wanted to get back to England, but I didn’t have the money to get back. So it’s a song about going home; I’ve experienced that.”
Written by Stewart and Wood, the mandolin especially conveys that sense of longing:
Even though this is clearly a Rod Stewart solo album, it might be seen in some ways as almost the second Faces album. (I know there was a Small Faces from which this band grew but I’m considering this iteration of the band to have started with Stewart/Wood.) Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones join on a couple of tunes on this album, so a partial Faces album.
There are a couple of good rockers on here including the Bobby Womack tune, “It’s All Over Now.” But I’m going to go with an old tune called “Cut Across Shorty,” a B-side for Fifties rocker Eddie Cochran which was the last song he ever recorded:
From Rolling Stone’s original review of the album: “Stewart has a rare sensitivity for the delicate moments in a person’s existence when a crucial but often neglected truth flashes before his eyes and then vanishes. The amazing character of Stewart’s work is largely due to the fact that he can recall these fragile moments of insight to our minds without destroying their essence.”
Rod shows on these two albums he’s not just about the rocker or even only about the blues. (In fact, he largely abandoned blues after his stint with Beck.) Here he is in “Lady Day” talking about unrequited love:
I discovered that Rod’s first five albums have been repackaged as Reason To Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings. Fortunately, the whole album is up on Spotify so you can hear these first two albums. And then some.
If you liked what you heard, I urge you to take 1 1/2 hours and listen to both these albums. Trust me. Despite what you may feel about the “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” Rod, you will dig the early Rod.
*I’m assuming Rod got the title from the long-running comic strip. ‘Petrol’ is used in the UK, not gasoline.
Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Rolling Stone