you still wear it well,rod
Published 03/06/2013 | 05:00
The late Alan Clark once noted in his infamously rapacious diaries that he could only properly enjoy carol services if he was day-dreaming that he was having an illicit affair with some young lovely in the congregation. Similarly, Rod Stewart could only properly enjoy his walk to school as a kid when he was lost in a reverie about being a young turk. He would dream he was Memphis Slim or Otis Redding or Sam Cooke onstage singing.
The prominent-nosed blond roue from Highgate, North London, it transpired, went some way to fulfilling those dreams in life. James Brown once described him as the greatest white soul singer he had ever heard. Van Morrison might take umbrage with this critical assessment having heard Rod's cover of Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, but the kernel of truth is irrefutable: Rod has an incredible set of pipes on him. He has a history of inspiring and inspirational songs.
This has often been obscured by all the talk of his legendary womanising (as The Observer recently put it, "a list of statueseque, blonde partners longer than that of Cyprus's creditors".) But you would want to have cloth ears not to hear the magic of Rod's voice on tracks like Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe from 1991 with his old mucker from The Faces, Ronnie Wood.
And 1972's You Wear It Well is as good a song as anything Bobby Gillespie or Paul Weller would write, if we are to be honest.
His 1971 cover of The Temptations' I Know I'm Losing You is one of Rod's best vocal performances, which is close enough to the original in terms of delivery, and beautiful for it. As Rod once said of his youth, "I would listen to all the black singers that came over from America – Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, blues singers like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. This was a new world for me. I wanted to be able to sing like these people."
"They let me go into music," Stewart said in his autobiography about the influence of his parents. "You can understand that in the early Sixties, it wasn't like it is now, where every Tom, Dick and Harry is in a band. In those days, it was rather brave." He added that when he went to America with the post-Yardbirds Jeff Beck in the late Sixties, he wasn't exactly in his comfort zone. But he wore it, as ever, well.
"Because I was a white boy from North London trying to sing rhythm & blues and soul music, I was paranoid that the curtain would go back and it would be all full of black people, and they'd yell, 'Fraud! Fraud!' But it wasn't: We were on a bill with The Grateful Dead and it was loads of hippies, and they accepted me."
You can see why they, and we, would accept him. You can hear magic on tracks like Every Picture Tells A Story, the title song from the 1971 album that made Rod a name, and of course on Maggie May, the soul-belter that made Roderick David Stewart a star overnight literally in 1971. Prior to that song, critics had sniped at him, unfairly and erroneously, that he was a journeyman vocalist who played with Jeff Beck and the Faces. Rod threw up the odd, and sometimes clearly brilliant, surprise. In 1976, The Killing Of Georgie (Part 1 & 2) was an extraordinary soulful and folky song, written by Rod himself, about the murder of a gay friend. He released it as a single and it got into the Top 30.
OK, he's made some awful records (I will hate the mush-fest of Sailing til my dying day and If You Think I'm Sexy is sphincter-tighteningly naff) and some bad career choices along the way (what artist hasn't?).
I actually like the much-derided rock-disco raunch Hot Legs from the mid-Seventies. The Stones got away with the same thing on Some Girls. And his 1990 cover of Tom Waits's Downtown Train – excuse my sacrilege for saying it – is better, much better, than the original. (And you have to love Rod for the fact that he cried openly when his team Celtic beat Barcelona at Parkhead in Glasgow a few months ago.)
US critic Greil Marcus's notorious indictment of Rod is often cited: "Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely. Once the most compassionate presence in music, he has become a bilious self-parody – and sells more records than ever."
But the fact remains Rod still has a back catalogue nearly as good as the soul singers from America he grew up wanting to be. And that's good enough for me.
Rod Stewart 'Live The Life' Tour is at RDS Arena, Dublin, on Saturday, June 29. All Ticketmaster outlets, 24hr credit card bookings: 0818 719300 (ROI) 0844 277 4455 (NI) Book online at www.ticketmaster.ie. Ticket prices: seated, €54.65/€76/€86/€106. General admission, €76