Featured Albums – The Rod Stewart Album/Gasoline Alley

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.)

Spotify link

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

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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

30 thoughts on “Featured Albums – The Rod Stewart Album/Gasoline Alley

    1. Yeah, they’re great aren’t they? And even though I’m sure the guys sat down and arranged the tunes, I like the way it sounds like they all just showed up and played one take of each and said, “That sounds good” and called it a day. Given the overproduction of so many records then and now, it’s refreshing.

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  1. Yup, those early Rod albums are great. I’m sure past Rod would look at current Rod and think “what the fuck happened to you, dude?”… he’s so far removed from that guy. How do you go from rootsy rock records with balls to duets with Michael Buble and turning into some sort of cruise ship crooner!?

    I wrote a bit about An Old Raincoat… a while back. I’ve yet to get around to hitting down my thoughts on the others.

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    1. I’m glad there’s such a constituency for “that” Rod. I feared many would see him as that geezer singing standards and/or disco. I guess he contains all those elements. But it sure would be fun to see some sort of Faces reunion. Well, maybe. They played (minus Rod) at the HOF induction and I wasn’t knocked out.

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      1. I think Rod is too ‘refined’ for that type of shenanigans now. His voice is completely gone, anyway. Was it Hucknall that did the HOF induction?

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    1. Yea, ‘Truth’ and ‘Beck-Ola.’ The latter wasn’t as good but It was heavier and by then he and and his old bandmate J. Page were pulling water from the same well. The latest Rod is good for putting your grandmother to sleep.

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      1. You know I stay away from bashing (unless we get pissed at the bar) but I lost interest in the Rod thing years ago. I remember when guys use to get their hair cut like him. Sort of pre mullet days. I meant to say “Science fiction twin”‘ on previous comment. These albums are good and sort of run into each other. The first 4 for me.

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        1. Some guys deserve a little bashing. Oh, Rod. You let us down. But you know what? These records still sound damn good and I can get lost in them. So it’s all good. BTW, “Atlantic Crossing” is a good album and the one after that, “A Night on the Town” has some good stuff. Pretty much downhill after that.

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        2. Speaking of good music (I think I’ll bust out some of this Rod. This stuff is on my chronological musical journey. Take to come) the Spotify you turned me onto has taken me down a great rabbit hole today. Started out listening to Hambone Relay ‘Free Hugs’ (Up your alley Doc) and I’m am digging every other artist that’s on the spin. Fantastic!!

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        3. Are you listening to Release Radar? Each week, teo hours geared to the listeners’ tastes. Which in CB’s case seems to be rockabilly, blues, some hard rock, polkas, Bulgarian throat singers, the Go-Gos, hot rod, John Ford Western soundtracks, and Mongolian folk tunes.

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        4. You pretty well covered it. Soon as I got to the Bulgarian thing I was starting to chuckle. You nailed me again.

          Release Radar? No. But again you are giving me heads up. I like the groove I’m in with it right now.
          Falda asked me to put together a listening list for the casual wedding she’s having. She loves all that American Graffiti stuff and the like. I threw in all sorts of other tunes that I thought would fit the mood. Motown, Beatles .. you know. I put ‘I Scare Myself’ by Dan Hicks on it and it creeped her out. I laughed my head off. I’ll delete and put on some Rod.

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        5. I know your taste. Search for Release Radar in the search bar. They create it for every user every week. Dont forget my Indispensable 150 has all that Graffiti-era stuff. Search for that on my site. There’s a Spotify list there somewhere.

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        6. Here’s a story for ya Doc. I was at a George and the Destroyers convert, more of just a gig at a bar (fantastic). The place was rockin. Rod was playing at the big venue the same night. George suggested we all go down there and kick some ass. He had that big grin on his face.

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        7. Heh! I wouldn’t underestimate Rod. Some of those working-class Brit rockers grow up in tough neighborhoods. And I saw the Faces once a long time ago. Rod kicks a mean soccer ball so he’s got some fancy footwork.

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  2. Rod Stewart was really cooking on these early albums. I feel it’s exactly because of the way you described it: there was a certain degree of rawness in the sound I always thought is very cool.

    I guess if I could only choose one of his solo records, I’d probably go with his third one, “Every Picture Tells A Story.” So many gems on that album. In addition to the title tracks, I love Rod’s cover of “That’s All Right,” as well as original tunes “Mandolin Wind” and my all-time Stewart favorite “Maggie Mae.”

    I also think his albums with Jeff Beck and The Faces are excellent. And even as he became more pop-oriented/commercial, the one constant remained that cool smokey voice. To me that saved a good deal of tunes that were otherwise rather average.

    In that regard I feel he’s a bit comparable to Tina Turner who in the later stages of her career also adopted a pretty commercial sound, but it was her killer voice and high-energy stage presence that saved the day. In my opinion, that woman could have done “Old MacDonald Had A Farm,” and it still would have sounded cool!

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    1. “Every Picture” is a terrific album.. I especially like the title tune and his cover of the Temptations’ “I Know I’m Losin’ You.” (I kind burned out on “Maggie” from hearing it so much.

      What I like so much about those first couple albums is the plaintiveness in songs like the great “Handbags and Gladrags” or Dylan’s “Only a Hobo.” BTW, a particular favorite of mine is the much later “Rhythm of My Heart.”

      Tina Turner you say? There’s a post. In the meantime, there’s this:

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