BIOGRAPHY - A New Millennium



On 31 December 1999, Rod played a one-off and somewhat over-priced New Years Eve date at the 7,500 capacity Rio Suite Hotel & Casino Pavilion in Las Vegas. As the new millennium was welcomed in, Rod was joined on stage by all five of his children. The date was a far cry from the sweaty rock 'n' roll Rod had offered earlier in the year on the When We Were The New Boys tour. It attracted a crowd predominately consisting of wealthy middle-aged women and their unwilling partners. It represented the nightmare scenario for those aware of just how good Rod was in front of the right crowd and had followed him through thick and thin. In typical Rod form, however, he boasted that he only played the date for the money: "Through a haze of New Years Eves, I don't remember one from the next. I want to make this one memorable for the audience. I know it will be memorable for me - because they're paying me so much fucking dosh!"

Top of the mountainOn 10 January 2000 Rod celebrated his 55th birthday and started work on a new studio album. It was apparent that he was keen to broaden his audience and a series of one-off gigs were arranged. On 29 February he topped the bill at the Houston Rodeo in before a crowd of 57,000, whilst in April he appeared at the Top Of The Mountain concert in Austria. The latter proved to be his last live date for more than a year as bad news was around the corner.

Following a routine CAT scan, a cancerous growth was discovered on Rod's thyroid gland. Those around him were sworn to secrecy and the press informed that the growth was benign. It did, however, cause serious problems with his voice and plans for a November 2000 release date for a new album were shelved. Meanwhile Run Back Into Your Arms, the first single from the new album, was released to UK radio and press in error and even hit the shops in several European countries. This was the start of a fiasco which cost Rod several hit singles and eventually his recording contract with WEA.

The new album titled Human was eventually released in February 2001 on Atlantic Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. With several producers to its credit, it was a blatant attempt to place Rod directly into the mainstream of popular music, featuring songs specially written by Macy Gray, Gregg Alexader and John Reid. Rod spent more time than usual at his home in Los Angeles during the recording of Human. He worked in a leisurely fashion, laying down vocals over the instrumental tracks executive producer Rob Dickens had put together in London. The significant factor with 'Human' however, was that it was the first album in Rod's recording history which didn't feature any original Stewart penned songs!

Atlantic were the label that had produced hits for many of Rod's role models, including Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. And at the time he was very excited about the labels promotion plans: "I had been with Warners for so long, I felt like a piece of the furniture. I was being overlooked. They went through staff changes twice when I had albums coming out, and if the staff are confused and trying to keep their jobs, it hurts the promotion side. I'm not blaming them, but it didn't help."

Rod was seriously aiming to return to the top of the pop charts and if he had had a decent, well thought out and properly co-ordinated publicity campaign to support the release, he may just have succeeded. However, when it came to the crunch, Atlantic proved to be even more clueless than Warner Brothers. Whoever was responsible for the timing of the release of the two singles and album in the UK made the whole promotional tour a pointless fiasco. Pre-release, the single I Can't Deny It was receiving healthy airplay and reaction from disc jockeys was extremely positive. High street retailer Woolworths predicted a No. 6 entry in their weekly pre-sales chart and Virgin Radio tipped the song for No. 1. Even Atlantic Records were convinced they had a world wide chart topper on their hands. But to everyone's disbelief, the record was released A FULL WEEK BEFORE Rod arrived in Britain to promote it! Everyone knows that nowadays, ninety per-cent of singles peak during their first week on the charts. Everyone, it seemed, except Atlantic! The single entered at No. 26 - very good without any personal promotion from the artist - but the following week it predictably nose-dived.

To let such a situation occur once was bad enough, but Atlantic succeeded in scoring a hat trick! The album was released BEFORE a key appearance on the Parkinson chat show, rather than the Monday after the Saturday night show. It charted respectfully at No. 9, but had it been released a week later, would have easily made the Top 5. Most laughable of all was the promotion for Don't Come Around Here, the second single from the album. Firstly Woolworths, the biggest high street retailer of singles in the UK, decided they were not going to risk stocking the single following the performance of I Can't Deny It. Then Atlantic got things wrong by releasing the single 10 DAYS AFTER a Saturday night performance on the National Lottery Show! It was quite unbelievable that Atlantic could so completely mess things up and dash any chance of a major comeback. By the time the single made the shops, the impact of the lottery show had been lost. The record failed to chart and was soon dropped by radio. The papers soon got wind of rumours that Atlantic were planning to dump Rod and within two months the album was dead and buried in both Britain and the USA.

Despite Human being his least successful selling album in the USA ever, Rod went ahead with a lengthy USA tour playing venues of between 10,000 and 20,000. He still had pulling power as a live act, but it was notable that such venues as Madison Square Garden were missing from the itinerary. It was, in fact, the first time Rod had ever made a tour of the USA without visiting the prestigious New York venue.

The year ended on a mixed note however. The greatest hits album The Story So Far: The Very Best Of Rod Stewart sold well and peaked at No. 7 in the UK charts shifting over 500,000 copies by the end of 2001. Eleven dates in huge venues around the UK were announced for the summer of 2002 and virtually sold out immediately and with very little publicity. The bad news, however, was that it was confirmed that Rod had broken his ties with Warner Brothers Records. For the first time in his career, he was without a recording contract.

A planned album with Ronnie Wood and a forthcoming appearance at Glastonbury 2002 indicate that Rod is not yet out for the count. With good management and a new record company behind him that understand how today's charts work, he could still make a credible popular come back. If not, he can always rely on the support of the faithful thousands!

John Gray, January 2002
Introduction: Chris Habegger
Top of the mountain


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