Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rod Stewart [extended]

  • The Rod Stewart Album [Mercury, 1969] A-
  • Gasoline Alley [Mercury, 1970] A-
  • The First Step [Warner Bros., 1970] C+
  • Every Picture Tells a Story [Mercury, 1971] A+
  • Long Player [Warner Bros., 1971] B
  • A Nod Is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse [Warner Bros., 1971] A-
  • Never a Dull Moment [Mercury, 1972] A-
  • Ooh La La [Warner Bros., 1973] B
  • Live: Coast to Coast/Overture and Beginners [Mercury, 1973] C-
  • Sing It Again Rod [Mercury, 1973] B+
  • Smiler [Mercury, 1974] B-
  • Atlantic Crossing [Warner Bros., 1975] B+
  • Snakes and Ladders/The Best of Faces [Warner Bros., 1976] B+
  • The Best of Rod Stewart [Mercury, 1976] B+
  • A Night on the Town [Warner Bros., 1976] B
  • A Shot of Rhythm and Blues [Private Stock, 1976] C-
  • The Best of Rod Stewart Volume II [Mercury, 1976] B-
  • Foot Loose and Fancy Free [Warner Bros., 1978] B-
  • Blondes Have More Fun [Warner Bros., 1978] B
  • Greatest Hits Vol. 1 [Warner Bros., 1979] B+
  • Foolish Behaviour [Warner Bros., 1980] C+
  • Tonight I'm Yours [Warner Bros., 1981] B
  • Out of Order [Warner Bros., 1988] C
  • Vagabond Heart [Warner Bros., 1991] Dud
  • Unplugged . . . and Seated [Warner Bros., 1993] ***
  • It Had to Be You . . . The Great American Songbook [J, 2002] ***
  • As Time Goes By . . . The Great American Songbook Volume II [J, 2003] **
  • Stardust . . . The Great American Songbook Vol. III [J, 2004]
  • Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . [Warner Bros./Rhino, 2004]

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Rod Stewart Album [Mercury, 1969]
My prejudice against Stewart (who used to be Jeff Beck's singer) was so strong that I would never have really listened to this without the rave notices in Fusion and Rolling Stone. I'm still not quite convinced. But the music is excellent instrumentally, and Stewart's singing and composing mostly superb. Maybe it was all Jeff's fault. A-

Gasoline Alley [Mercury, 1970]
I suspected Stewart of folkie leanings the first time I saw him do his broken-down bluesman imitation with Jeff Beck at the Fillmore. But his solo debut proved such a landmark that when he opened this one with a title tune about the slums featuring only mandolin and acoustic guitar I didn't even snicker. Much all-around excellence here--Stewart writes songs with almost as much imagination as he picks them, and his band is as (dare I say it?) sensitive as his voice. Nothing as revelatory as "Handbags and Gladrags" or "An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down," though. A-

Small Faces: The First Step [Warner Bros., 1970]
One more complication in the Rod Stewart mystery. With Jeff Beck he parodies himself before he's established a self to parody. With Lou Reizner he establishes himself as a singer-songwriter of uncommon spunk and a vocal interpreter of uncommon individuality. And here he steps into the shoes of a purveyor of Humble Pie to pose as the leader of a mediocre white r&b band. Best cut: Ronnie Lane's "Stone." C+

Every Picture Tells a Story [Mercury, 1971]
Because he's tawdry enough to revel in stellar pop-and-flash, Stewart can refine the rock sensibility without processing the life out of it. His gimmick is nuance. Rod the Wordslinger is a lot more literate than the typical English bloozeman, Rod the Singer can make words flesh, and though Rod the Bandleader's music is literally electric it's the mandolin and pedal steel that come through sharpest. A smash as huge as "Maggie May" must satisfy Rod the Mod the way a classic as undeniable as "Maggie May" does Rod the Artist. But it's "Mandolin Wind" leading into Motown leading into Tim Hardin that does justice to everything he is. A+

Faces: Long Player [Warner Bros., 1971]
The difference between these guys and their smaller forebears, the ones who released round-covered albums and sang "Itchycoo Park" with whine and phase, isn't just Steve Marriott vs. Rod Stewart. It's 1968 vs. 1971. Marriott was a pop craftsman with the Small Faces; with Humble Pie he's a boogie man. Stewart is a pop craftsman solo; with the Faces he's a boogie man. Boogie's not a bad idea, especially when you play it fast and loose rather than 'eavy like the 'Umbles. But as exciting as it is theoretically--and by comparison with the competition, boogieing and otherwise--it doesn't have much staying power. That's partly because they play it too loose and not quite fast enough. And partly because Stewart reserves his popcraft for solo LPs. B

Faces: A Nod Is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse [Warner Bros., 1971]
Rod Stewart sings lead only half of the time, which gives Ronnie Lane a chance to prove himself--his "You're So Rude" is a better (funnier and warmer) song about getting laid than "Stay With Me." Other standouts include the story of how Rod's brother became a hippie and a version of "Memphis" that's a gift from a band that has tightened up just enough. A-

Never a Dull Moment [Mercury, 1972]
He's so in love with the run of life that it would be a contradiction for Stewart to attempt any grand aesthetic advances, so why wonder whether his art is improving until it gets boring? This doesn't peak as high as Every Picture. But "You Wear It Well" starts ringing in your head like "Maggie May" after a couple of plays. The three originals on the first side check in not long after. And Stewart's augury of the incipient early '60s revival. "Twistin' the Night Away," is the perfect nostalgia combo--the unimaginable twist with the irreproachable Sam Cooke. A-

Faces: Ooh La La [Warner Bros., 1973]
They do what they want to do very likably--this is as rowdy and friendly as rock and roll gets. But only on the title song and finale--written by the Rons (Wood and Lane) rather than the Rod--do they slap your back so's you'd still feel it five minutes later. B

Rod Stewart/Faces: Live: Coast to Coast/Overture and Beginners [Mercury, 1973]
I mention this only because it's even worse than most live albums. On the studio versions of these songs, the sloppiness is a fringe benefit, but this is so raggedy it falls apart. Do you really want to spend five bucks for a tacky guitar solo and a second-rate rendition of "Jealous Guy"? C-

Sing It Again Rod [Mercury, 1973]
In which Mercury bides time with a best-of while Rod makes faces. The selection is sharp until "Pinball Wizard," obviously thrown in as bait for those who already own Rod's four very sharp albums. Packaging advance: a jacket shaped like a highball glass. B+

Smiler [Mercury, 1974]
Except for an embarrassingly unnatural "Natural Man" (that's right, Aretha's), the failure here is elusive, but that doesn't make it any less real--spiritual tone, energy, horns, something like that. For me, the better part of valor is to give up before the Elton John track wears out the way the Sam Cooke stuff and "Dixie Toot" already have. B-

Atlantic Crossing [Warner Bros., 1975]
After Smiler I was convinced that his talent had vanished; this makes it seem that he'll be breathing life into ten songs a year in perpetuity. The Southern session men he works with here suit his more generalized interpretive approach, on the "slow side" as well as the "fast." B+

Faces: Snakes and Ladders/The Best of Faces [Warner Bros., 1976]
Not counting "Pineapple and the Monkey," a special for all those who believe their quintessence was sloppy instrumentals, this showcases the good stuff from Long Player and Ooh La La. Lots of fun, a solid testament to a band that was never very much into solidity--and a little more of a Rod Stewart album than is desirable for peak flavor. B+

The Best of Rod Stewart [Mercury, 1976]
As if to prove how arbitrary compilation albums from consistent album artists are, this omits four selections from Sing It Again Rod. The third side, which features both halves of a previously uncollected single and the previously unavailable-on-disc "What Made Milwaukee Famous," has its uses. And the stuff from Smiler should never have come out in the first place. B+

A Night on the Town [Warner Bros., 1976]
This is Stewart's most ambitious record since Never a Dull Moment four years ago, but its ambitions are only partly fulfilled. If he's gonna start doing big message numbers, he'd better rise above the pathetic liberalism of "Tradewinds," the most overblown song he's ever recorded 'cept maybe for the symphonic version of "Pinball Wizard." And if he's gonna break new ground thematically, as on the "gay" "Killing of Georgie," he'd better come up with slightly less Dylanesque melodies--in the course of comparing Stewart's song with its fraternal twin, "Simple Twist of Fate," I was reminded of just how precise an arrangement can be. B

A Shot of Rhythm and Blues [Private Stock, 1976]
Either Stewart hadn't learned how to communicate tenderness and passion when these tracks were cut a decade or more ago, or no one was encouraging him to bother. I like one over-familiar riff tune, and only rarely is anything actively unpleasant, but Long John Baldry's band and arrangements are as ordinary as you always knew they would be. Even collectors should think twice before investing in this--it'll be in the bargain bins soon enough, I hope. C-

The Best of Rod Stewart Volume II [Mercury, 1976]
Special price, says a simulated sticker on the jacket, but that's the only thing on this ragbag that's worth a glad hand. A fast shuffle, not a fair deal. B-

Foot Loose and Fancy Free [Warner Bros., 1978]
Gosh, what a terrific idea--a concept album about a cocksure rock and roller who Cannot Love. How'd all those cliches get in there, I wonder. I mean, the first side works up a very nice groove, although it'll add nothing to Rod's reputation as a composer or a humanitarian. But side two opens with a Vanilla Fudge remake and doesn't recover till the confessional finale, itself festooned midway through with a "Whoo!" so pro forma you'd think Rod had run out of steam. B-

Blondes Have More Fun [Warner Bros., 1978]
He used to mean to be meaningful and now he means to be trashy, but that doesn't make him decadent. Decadent is when Carol Bayer Sager writes all your songs for you. B

Greatest Hits Vol. 1 [Warner Bros., 1979]
Cut for cut this is Stewart's most consistent Warners album, and it does rescue three tracks from Foot Loose and Fancy Free. But its malfeasances are so annoying--there are already three (Mercury) albums that include the anachronistic "Maggie May," and it would be nice to have the disco mix of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" on an LP--that maybe you should seek out Atlantic Crossing. "Tonight's the Night" you know to death, right? But when's the last time you heard his "Three Time Loser" or "This Old Heart of Mine"? B+

Foolish Behaviour [Warner Bros., 1980]
It's not fair for punks to pick on him--rock Hollywood has spawned worse corruption, and his band is tougher and cooler than the Stranglers ever were. But he doesn't do himself many favors. He might have provided real songs after cut one side two, might have helped us believe in his ordinary blokehood by not putting the hotels he's trashed on a poster. Didn't really have to repeat the phrase "kill my wife" umpteen times (tell Britt it was only a "very nasty dream") or invoke "Passion" as universal solvent (like an asshole at a bar where the women are taken). And he didn't have to bury "Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight" on an album no one will remember two years after it goes platinum. Vulnerable, waggish, rude, he begs his sweetie to save the best parts on her pornographic postcard for him. "I haven't a cent," he adds, he's calling long distance on somebody else's phone. We know he's making it up. But we remember the young stud who was good enough for Maggie May. C+

Tonight I'm Yours [Warner Bros., 1981]
This is not only a comeback but a speedup--comes on like he thinks Depeche Mode is the next Vanilla Fudge. These days the "Mandolin Wind" man only sounds genuinely sensitive when his ego's threatened--on the cuckolded "How Long," not the icky-inspirational "Never Give Up on a Dream." And he's most convincing when he sounds really mad, on the cuckolded "Jealous." B

Out of Order [Warner Bros., 1988]
You know what "Produced by Rod Stewart, Andy Taylor & Bernard Edwards" means? It means he's elected to replace Robert Palmer in Power Station. And you know why Jim Cregan, David Lindley, and Lenny Pickett are on the record? Because he didn't have the guts to go all the way. C

Vagabond Heart [Warner Bros., 1991] Dud

Unplugged . . . and Seated [Warner Bros., 1993]
"We haven't done this together since we recorded it 22 years ago--most of the band weren't born--me wife was only one--" ("Reason To Believe," "Handbags and Gladrags") ***

It Had to Be You . . . The Great American Songbook [J, 2002]
he'll do anything to make her come--even hold her hand and gaze into her eyes ("Every Time We Say Goodbye," "The Nearness of You") ***

As Time Goes By . . . The Great American Songbook Volume II [J, 2003]
No Sinatra, but also no Ronstadt, plus he knows the difference between Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins ("Until the Real Thing Comes Along," "As Time Goes By"). **

Stardust . . . The Great American Songbook Vol. III [J, 2004]
See: Against Interpretation.

Faces: Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . [Warner Bros./Rhino, 2004]
Not that there's much competition, but the greatest box-set name ever is perfect for a band that was never as great as it should have been. Their music was so loose and that was such an up; their music was so loose and their songs fell so apart. Come to think of it, bar bands are generally tighter. But if five straight hours of shambolic garage rock is what you seek, you couldn't do better--the four CDs maintain a raucous level that crests rather than peaks and never gets boring. Ron Wood you know, Ronnie Lane you should. But above all, here for the hearing--why old-timers think Rod Stewart had something to sell out. [Recyclables]

See Also