#171: Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart


Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart (1971)

Favorite Tracks: "Every Picture Tells a Story" and "Seems A Long Time" and "Amazing Grace" and "Tomorrow is a Long Time" and "Maggie May" and "Mandolin Wind" and "Reason to Believe"

Thoughts: Rod Stewart Feels Sequence BEGIN! This is the only Rod Stewart album on the list (travesty) so I've got to blow my whole Rod wad in this post. You should know I really enjoyed coming up with that last sentence.

First off: I'm glad that if only one Rod Stewart album makes it on the list, it's the one with "Maggie May." Second, both the album title and cover are kick-ass. Finally, FUCK YES IT'S AT #171. Damn straight.

As with most 60s/70s greats, I can attribute my appreciation to my folks. It's rare for my dad to give me a mix CD without a Rod Stewart song on it. We continue to disagree over which version of "Ooh La La" is better to this day, and he remains in Rod's side of the court, while I stand by Ronnie Lane's vocals. At this point it's no longer about which one is better sung, it's more about standing our ground. :)

I should confess that I am not a die hard Rod Stewart fan. I'm glad he's had such a long, illustrious career, but let's just say that when my dad and I were in Vegas in November, we mutually agreed to skip on seeing Rod at Caesar's Palace. It goes like this:

60s Rod: Like Like
70s Rod: LOVE
80s Rod: We're Cool
90s Rod: Not Bad
00s: Meh
10s: Meh-er

There aren't many artists that keep my interest musically once they're into their 60s and beyond. I know that is very ageist of me, but between their aging voices and song/production choices, their later work is rarely my 'thing.' Rod fits in this pattern. Old Rod Stewart doesn't do it for me like old Springsteen, ya know? But young Rod Stewart scares me. Sexually.

So let's get started! Before we get to the album, let's just take a moment to begin this Rod Stewart LoveFest with a YouTube video I only recently discovered (on Twitter) from 1970 of Rod singing "Gasoline Alley" (from his second solo album) a capella in Berlin:

I mean, COME ON.

Ok, to the album. For starters, "Every Picture Tells a Story" delivers. At 3:33 the music holds back to just Rod harmonizing with himself (on two separate tracks of course) and the acoustic guitar with a touch of percussion. It's just thrilling. TURN. IT. UP.

"Seems Like a Long Time" is soulful and ends with amazing backing vocals from what seems like a choir but according to the wikipedia page was only 3 people. "That's Alright" has a fun country guitar opening, and it makes sense because this song, written by Arthur Crudup, is best known for its Elvis version (which is how I recognized it as well).

When I saw that "Amazing Grace" was the next track on the album, I confess I was skeptical. As much as I love Rod, it's hard to imagine him bringing anything new or different to this song. It opens with a lovely steel (?) guitar intro. Of course once Rod started singing (and he only does the first verse) it couldn't be ignored. He sang in a higher key that really brings out the scratchiest of emotional tones from his range.

The final track on side one is a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time." It is...perfect. The violin, the guitar, the singing. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Side two opens with a short instrumental acoustic piece called "Henry." But THEN comes the musical intro for one of the greatest songs of all time: "Maggie May." Some say "Henry" was meant to be incorporated into the full track of "Maggie May" but I just find it sort of pointless. The musical intro to "Maggie May" is more than enough to start off the second side, in my opinion. Anyway. MAGGIE FUCKING MAY.

This is the first 'old' song of Rod Stewart's 'young' years that I got to know. Introduced to me by my dad, it remains in my top 5 mandolin songs, and easily in my top 100 songs of all time. It's based on Rod's real life experience with an older woman. I know all the lyrics by heart, and they're a blast to sing along to, particularly:

 I laughed at all of your jokes, my love you didn't need to coax
Oh Maggie, I couldn't have tried any more

The mandolin solo, originally performed on the album by Ray Jackson of the band Lindisfarne, is sublime. The whole song from start to finish is a classic rock masterpiece. The song reached #1 in the UK and US, even though it was originally pressed as the B side for "Reason to Believe."

Apparently a lot of people feel that the next track, "Mandolin Wind" (also written by Rod), is just as good as "Maggie May." I'm new to the song, so it doesn't hold the same emotional pull on me at first listen. But Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic calls the song "unbearably poignant." So I gave it some more time. It's not catchy in the way "Maggie May" is, but it is much sweeter and more vulnerable.

Oh, I never was good with romantic words
so the next few lines come really hard
Don't have much but what I've got is yours
except of course, my steel guitar
Ha, 'cause I know you don't play
but I'll teach you one day
because I love ya

I intend to listen to keep listening to it. The next track, "(I Know) I'm Losing You" is a fun, fast-paced rock cover of the Motown hit with an excellent drum solo at the end by Kenney Jones. All good things must end, so the album finishes with "Reason to Believe." The piano intro alone is unforgettable. Then Rod, the organ, the violin. You may remember I mentioned Rod's version when The Carpenters covered it at #174. His is the definitive cover in my opinion. The vocal solo! A total classic.

Is This Better Than Desire?: Oh yeah.