For a change, let’s talk about the band. The group Rod summons for these albums may be the best around. They’ve worked out a sound and now they work within it: brilliant strummed cues from Quittenton, steady and inspired drumming from Waller, bass playing of remarkable sympathy from Wood or Lane, fluid, thoughtful leads from Wood, and an absolutely gorgeous organ from McLagan. It resolves itself into a sound that evokes London, Birmingham, the English countryside, pubs, boutiques, dance halls, football fields and Robin Hood, usually all at once. It is a sound that is at its best a flow, and the mesh of acoustic instruments (miked very loud) with Waller’s drums, Wood’s guitar, and whatever Rod happens to be doing with his voice couples the moods of a very English kind of delicacy and an equally English kind of drunken raunch. Stewart and his band have a sound that is unmistakable, that is already classic, and that is unique. This is the heart of any of the solo albums.
As for Stewart himself, nobody writes songs like Rod Stewart. There is probably more affection, more truly authentic love in his songs than in the rest of the rock and roll scene put together. This should have been obvious after “Country Comforts,” “Maggie May,” or “Every Picture Tells a Story,” but if not, listen to “You Wear It Well,” my choice for the best number here (though the first, “True Blue,” is close). That flow is there, Rod singing easily, with an emotional range that seems to have no limits. His girl’s left and he’s writing her a letter, trying out lines and balling up the paper and flipping it away, because all he wants to say is, You’re really great, I’m so dumb. He tries out compliments: “Madame Onassis got nothin’ on you.” No good, ping into the wastebasket. “Think of me and try not to laugh,” he says finally, “And I’ll wear it well.” By the end I was praying they’d get back together. A lot seemed to depend on it, somehow. But I knew they never would. Stewart’s love songs are not only profound, they’re infectious.
This is not the set the last album was. Maybe there are four songs on that last one better than anything here. No “Maggie May,” no “Every Picture Tells a Story,” though “You Wear It Well” will keep on growing, I know that. I don’t hear any hit singles, though I could be wrong. Still, almost no one comes up with anything like side 2 of the third album twice in a row, and absolutely no one produces a single with the grace, the depth, or the staying power of “Maggie May” twice in a row. But “Los Paraguayos” and “Italian Girls” (mainly one who said she was a killer and owned a flood-lit villa) are funny and move well, especially on the former where Rod begins with a cold and ends with pneumonia. The last cut, “Twistin’ the Night Away,” is a marvel, especially when Waller steps out near the end and bangs away like a twelve year old with a baseball bat and a set of garbage cans. The cut fades the whole album into a small and perfect rock ‘n’ roll party, where you can have a good time without trying to prove anything.
The truth of this album, though, is clinched with its first line, from “True Blue”: “Never be a millionaire.” The ease of this album is, I think, its subject matter, a mood necessary to great success. Never be a millionaire, Rod sings, even though he may be one already, because he’ll never really feel like one; where it counts, he’s just too small-time, too friendly, too smart. It’s as if nothing will be allowed to subvert the friendship among the musicians that produced this music or the friendliness they would like to feel toward the people who listen to it. Rod’s a great star and he loves it, but then, he’s only fair on the football field so it’s not everything. The conscious and witty equation of football and rock and roll on this album indicates they mean the same thing to Rod and that he thinks they might mean something similar to his audience: have a good time, learn something, never a dull moment. He probably got into both for the same reasons.
Rod is working his way through superstardom, fairly conscious that he carries a large part of the rock and roll tradition on his shoulders, not to mention a large part of the rock and roll audience.
The homesick brews
and the radical blues
Haven’t left a mark on you
And you wear it well…
That about sums it up. The next few years are going to make great demands on Rod Stewart, and I think he intends to get through without a mark on him, like the kid in “Every Picture Tells a Story”: move out and get the lay of the land, dodge the cops, never let the good slip away, make friends and learn how to keep them, come back older, a little wiser, still free, but with a better idea of what freedom means–and don’t let the bastards get ya. Rod Stewart is the best we’ve got, and I hope he makes it.
Creem, October 1972