Rod Stewart started out as an archetypal hard rocker and ended up a glossy pop star. In between came a good measure of folk influence, a dash of country, and a double shot of disco. I have often said that true genius mixes idioms, but then again there are some lines that, once crossed, allow no easy return.
Coming from a folk music background, Stewart made his big splash with the Jeff Beck Group, singing bluesy, gutsy R&B flavored rock in front of Beck’s masterful electric guitar. The group, a perfect template for all the headbanger bands of the next two decades, nevertheless dissolved in 1969. Stewart and the band’s bassist, future Rolling Stone Ron Wood, joined the Small Faces. Stewart’s face apparently being too large for the original name, the band became the Faces shortly thereafter, and cranked out several classic albums of down and dirty rock and roll.
It was during this time, however, that Stewart began recording solo projects, and he soon found that what had started as a side project soon eclipsed his work with the Faces. The reason for this was the startling sound that emerged, the sound of such singles as Reason to Believe, and its remarkable B-side, Maggie May. It was a wild blend of acoustic folk and electric rock, which became Stewart’s own peculiar area of distinction. He staked it out well with a series of increasingly popular albums, focusing his full attention on them once the Faces sputtered to a halt. That didn’t matter, though; Stewart had come into his own.
After a time, though, his work began being colored by his jet-set lifestyle, specifically the velvet-rope dance clubbing he did with high-fashion girlfriends like Britt Eklund. Courting the club crowd, wreathed in gold-lame glamour, Stewart shifted gears and began making a glitzy brand of dance pop typified by his notorious single Do Ya Think I’m Sexy. While disco may have saved The Bee Gees, it was disastrous to Stewart. He lost a large portion of his audience, and the respect of the critics. This was not the music he was born to make. It was like a brain surgeon doing nose jobs. Michael
Jackson nose jobs.
It doesn’t seem to have mattered to Mr. Stewart. Embracing his Palm Beach Celeb image, he has continued producing bouncy pop ditties, and, I admit, hasn’t fared too badly at it. Listening to his latest project, though, a set of albums that has him singing old standards like It Had To Be You and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, you may come to the same conclusion as I did: this man should not be crooning. He is one of the world’s greatest belters, and some of us miss that.