BIOGRAPHY - The Seventies

DURING 1999, Channel Four (UK television) screened a celebration of seventies glam rock in which a Top Ten of the most successful artists was compiled. Credit went to Marc Bolan for pioneering the fashion and whilst mention was made of David Bowie and Roxy Music, Rod, along with his friend Elton John, was snubbed. It's strange how time distorts the truth and has ways of playing around with your sensibilities. Although Rod and Elton were hardly in the same bag as Sweet or Alvin Stardust, both were key characters in the development of glam rock. Why they were so blatantly left out is a mystery. Maybe it was due to their ability to sell vast quantities of albums and write much of their own material - in sharp contrast to the aforementioned artists who didn't sell albums in great numbers and had songwriters such as Nicky Chin and Mike Chapman, pulling the strings in the background. Or perhaps it was due to their staying power - both Rod and Elton lived through glam rock and emerged at the other end as something so much more superior. Indeed, whilst T. Rex, Slade and Gary Glitter faded to make way for punk and disco to dominate, Rod and Elton continued to enjoy sizeable hit singles whilst continuing to sell more albums than ever. In addition, they made it big in America in sharp contrast to just about everyone else featured in Channel Four's Glam Top Ten.

Bolan and Bowie may have been credited with initialising glam rock, but Rod was almost certainly there first. Look at the 1970 picture of Rod in his pink satins on the cover of Richard Cromelin's book 'Rod Stewart' or check out the tartan scarf on the sleeve of Gasoline Alley (long before the BCR's adopted the cloth) or the shots of the Faces at their 1971 Oval gig when Rod debuted his legendary leopard skin suit. Rod was glam before the phase was even coined and remains so to this day!

By the close of the seventies, virtually every glam rocker had disappeared from the charts and many had been reduced to cabaret shows at Butlins and on the end of seaside piers. Yet Rod continued to ride high on the charts, infuriating critics in his leopard skin outfits and going against every trend and fashion imaginable! And it is no coincidence. As the sixties drew to a close, British rock music was starting to take itself very seriously. As for Rod and the Faces, they were considered losers from the start - three lesser members of the Small Faces coupled with Rod Stewart who had been trying to break for years, and Ronnie Wood who had been sacked from the Jeff Beck Group. Hardly an encouraging line up. For the first 18 months of the decade, everything Rod and the Faces were involved in ran utterly and irrevocably against the trends of the time. Rod was strutting around the stage in brightly coloured satin suits, silk scarfs and leopard skin print when virtually everyone else among his contemporaries were avidly out-fading each other's jeans! Rock was serious business and the trend was towards longer and longer album tracks, introverted guitar solos and jeans and t-shirts. In contrast, Rod and the Faces enjoyed excessive drinking, indulged in foolish behaviour on stage and basically brought the fun back. It wasn't long before other lesser artists jumped on the bandwagon and christened themselves with the glam rock tag.

The Faces started work on their first album during December 1969, but shortly before, Rod had recorded his first solo album. Titled The Rod Stewart Album, it was released in the States at the tail end of 1969 with British release as An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down following in February 1970. To this day, the album is a classic and features all the signs of a major artist in incubation. With four self-penned songs, an interesting re-working of the Stones Street Fighting Man, a couple of folk standards and Mike D'Abo's Handbags And Gladrags, the album did modestly well in the United States, selling an initial 100,000 copies. It was proof that Rod had built himself up quite a reputation with the Jeff Beck Group and it easily established him as a well respected, serious albums artist. The Faces debut album First Step was somewhat less successful, a loose mixture with only Three Button Hand Me Down giving any clues as to the direction the band would take. The track was typical of their raucous alcoholic-induced live shows which were an immediate success in the States, but didn't go down very well in the UK. During 1970 the Faces, with Rod on lead vocals, were in the unusual position of playing pub gigs in England, whilst playing 10,000 seater arenas in the States, where thanks to Rod's reputation in the Beck Group and the Small Faces No. 1 album 'Odgens Nut Gone Flake' there was huge interest. The Faces soon became firm favourites amongst American audiences and a very tough act to follow.

In March 1970 the Faces made their first appearance on Top Of The Pops performing Flying. Rod, dressed in black satin and sporting dark glasses recalls the appearance with affection. Despite this prime appearance and a further performance on BBC2's trendy Disco 2, the single didn't chart, although the album did manage to achieve No. 45 in the UK, something Rod's debut album couldn't boast. Two more singles followed in 1970, both of them clearly illustrating the direction Rod and the band were heading. The first was Rod's cover of the Stones hit It's All Over Now - a more energetic version of the song on Gasoline Alley - and the second was the Faces Had Me A Real Good Time. Neither made any impact on the charts.

By mid 1970 Rod and the Faces were building up a considerable following in the United States, borne out by the fact that Rod's second solo album Gasoline Alley reached the Top 30 and stayed in the listings for over a year. Back in Britain during the Spring, the Faces had played several gigs without achieving very much, and in the Autumn returned to the States for their first headlining tour. The Faces second album Long Player was released in March 1971 and also made the American Top 30 proving their audience was steadily growing. Even at home they were beginning to cause a stir and the album climbed to No. 31 on the charts, out-performing Rod's second solo effort Gasoline Alley which had only managed No. 62. Fans and critics were beginning to sit up and take notice as a result of their standing in America and the British music press were becoming increasingly interested, regularly featuring interviews with all members of the band. Momentum was growing fast. When Long Player was released, Record Mirror's Bill McAllister declared "The Faces are the best rock 'n' roll band in the world today." However, no one could have possibly predicted what was just around the corner!

When Rod went into the studio to record his third album - the self produced Every Picture Tells A Story - history was in the making! The basic format of the album followed in the footsteps of its two predecessors, but it was clear the standard of the original songs far surpassed anything that had gone before them. The three originals, one by the emerging Stewart/Wood partnership, one written with classical guitarist Martin Quittenton and one in which Rod took full writing credit, were undoubtedly the best tracks on the album. Added to this were choice cover versions including: The Temptations (I Know) I'm Losing You (a song Rod first performed live with the Jeff Beck Group), Dylan's gorgeous Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time and Tim Hardin's poignant Reason To Believe. The rule about covering other peoples songs has always been don't bother unless you can improve on the original or bring fresh meaning. On these three songs, Rod achieved both, just as he would go on to do on countless occasions in the years ahead. This was Rod Stewart coming into his own: a brilliant interpretive singer, a prolific songwriter and a notable producer. His guitar work on Mandolin Wind also demonstrated that he was more than a competent guitarist. Not least, he oozed personality and had established a stage presence and showmanship matched only by Mick Jagger.

It was, however, thanks to just one track on the album that Rod was catapulted from cult singer in the Faces to a household name and world superstar. The song turned him into a rock legend elevating him well beyond the level of many of his own musical heroes. Maggie May was initially the B-side to Reason To Believe which immediately became Rod's first single to chart. It was something he had waited patiently for since his debut in 1964. However, something strange and quite unique happened in America. As Rod Mania swept the country and the Faces were busy criss-crossing the country touring, a DJ in Cleveland decided to flip the single and play the B-side Maggie May. It was a simple twist of fate and all the more bizarre as Rod had seriously considered cutting the song from the album. Maggie May was far from routine hit single material. It was over five minutes long, had no chorus or hook line and was not immediately catchy. Despite this, it took off and very soon radio stations all over the States were playing Maggie May. As a result, the record started to be listed as a double A-side in the chart magazines and it wasn't long before the idea caught on in Britain. During October, Rod watched in amazement as the single leapt up the higher regions of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Remember, this was in the days before promotional videos and multi million pound advertising campaigns and also long before rock was an acceptable form of prime-time television entertainment.

Rod achieved the impossible - a feat that had evaded both the Beatles and Elvis Presley at their peak! Maggie May hit No. 1 in Britain and America at the same time as the album Every Picture Tells A Story hit No. 1. Rod was at No.1 in the four most important charts in the world and it was the first time anyone had achieved such a feat. Over the next eighteen months, back catalogue album titles solo, with the Faces and the Jeff Beck Group, started to pick up steady sales. Record companies cashed in by releasing long forgotten tracks as singles: Handbags And Gladrags made the US chart, whilst sixties tracks In A Broken Dream and I've Been Drinking hit the charts in the UK.

Most of the fans that Rod had drawn on the back of Maggie May were unaware of his dual role in the Faces, despite the fact he was backed by them on Top Of The Pops during the singles five week run at No. 1. This soon changed. Just three months after Rod's transatlantic the double whammy, the Faces released their third album A Nod's As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse, generally regarded as their finest hour. They couldn't lose and the album shot to the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic whilst the single Stay With Me made No. 6 in the UK and No. 16 in the States! When the Faces performed the song on Top Of The Pops early in 1972, millions of rock fans must have realised that Rod, singer of Maggie May was also lead singer with the Faces. At the beginning of 1972 Rod and the Faces were riding the waves of a popularity explosion. They couldn't do a thing wrong, although they became less active at the beginning of the year, playing only a few small US stadium tours and several one-off UK dates. Included in these were two dates at The Rainbow in London's Finsbury Park a segment of which was apparently broadcast on the Old Grey Whistle Test and a high-profile date at London's Chalk Farm during May which was filmed in it's entirety, but didn't see the light of day in the UK until it appeared on the 1988 Faces Video Biography.

Rod and the Faces were in a truly unique position at this time. Unlike those they were rubbing shoulders with in the UK singles charts - T Rex, Slade and other emerging bubblegum glam rockers, they were established in America and their albums treated seriously by the music papers. Over in the album charts they were light years away from progressive acts like Genesis and Yes. Despite this, they were readily embraced by both audiences and a typical Faces fan was just as likely to own a Slade record they were to own one by Genesis. Few acts at this time could boast such an appeal. The year started with both Every Picture Tells A Story and A Nod's As Good As A Wink in the UK Top 10. During April the Faces appeared on BBC2's 'Sounds For Saturday' performing a classic set which had been recorded just prior to the massive success of Maggie May. Rod and the Faces had arrived and were the talk of the rock 'n' roll world!

Pressure was now on Rod to deliver a follow up album to Every Picture Tells A Story and in April he went into Morgan Studios in West London to start recording what would become Never A Dull Moment. The summer of 1972 was a classic time for Rod's newly found army of fans. It seemed he was on the cover of just about every music weekly possible and that the whole world loved him. Never A Dull Moment almost repeated the success of it's predecessor making No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 in the US. The single You Wear It Well topped the UK charts late summer and just missed the US Top 10. It was confirmation that Rod was no one hit wonder. A second single from the album Angel made the UK Top 5 and US Top 40. However, all was not well behind the scenes and one Ronnie Lane was getting more than a little fed up with Rod's escalating career and what he saw as the Faces evolving into Rod's backing band. In December the Faces played their first real UK tour, but they had no new album to promote. Instead, they toured on the back of Never A Dull Moment which of all Rod's solo albums was the one most influenced by the Faces. It featured three Stewart/Wood songs, Wood appeared on every track and the albums opening cut True Blue was recorded at the same sessions which went on to produce the Faces fourth album Ooh La La.

The next single release was the Faces Cindy Incidentally. It appeared in February 1973 and quickly entered the UK charts at No. 17 thanks to a pre-release appearance on Top Of The Pops. It went on to peak at No. 2, but only No. 48 in the States where it proved to be the bands final single release. The album Ooh La La was released in April and made No. 1 in the UK but only No. 21 in the States with just a short stay on the Top 200. Rod, of course, famously disowned the album. Was the magic fading? Or was it a case of fans preferring Rod's solo efforts? Indeed, later in the year, the compilation Sing It Again Rod featuring a selection of tracks from Rod's first four solo albums, easily outsold Ooh La La on both sides of the Atlantic. These facts didn't escape the attention of Ronnie Lane and he eventually quit in protest. He was replaced by ex-Free bassist Tetsu Yamauchi who gave the band a much tighter feel. More importantly, he could down a bottle of whisky in one - the band were impressed! Tetsu debuted at the Reading Festival where they played a boozy, off-key rendition of the new solo Rod Stewart hit Oh No Not My Baby. The festival appearance was a massive success, but the bands playing had deteriorated. During the final number Twistin' The Night Away Rod somehow managed to sing the entire song in a different key to the rest of the band! It sounded dire. When it came to selecting a track for the traditional Reading Festival album, it was an on-off affair. Eventually the Faces offered (I Know) I'm Losing You. But anyone who has the bootleg of the Reading Show will know the track on the official album is not from Reading, but the extra track featured on the cassette of the Faces live album Coast To Coast which was recorded in America!

Before the year was out the energy-fulled Pool Hall Richard was released as the new Faces single and made the UK Top 10 but wasn't even released in the States. It was infact the last material the Faces released, as all future material would appear under the banner Rod Stewart/Faces. But already speculation was that the Faces were not a happy bunch and felt overshadowed by Rod's solo success. It was also suggested that Rod had been keeping the best material for himself (I Know) I'm Losing You and True Blue were cited as examples.

On the day of Rod's 29th birthday, the live album Coast To Coast was released, and, to add fuel to the fire, appeared on the Mercury label credited to Rod Stewart/Faces. The album was universally panned by critics who slammed the Faces sloppy playing. Once again, the album did well in the UK making No. 3 but not so well in the States managing to climb only to No. 63.

Rumours of a split were rife. The NME suggested that Rod was about to quit and take Ron Wood with him. Then came another crack: fed up with the Faces non-commitment to recording an album, Ron Wood started work on a solo album and played two solo concerts at the Kilburn State Theatre in London. In the Autumn of 1974 three fifths of the Faces had solo records out! Rod released Smiler, Ron, 'I've Got My Own Album To Do' and Kenny Jones the single 'Ready Or Not'. Out of the three, only Rod made any impact on the charts, despite Kenny's single being accompanied by a promotional video and despite the impressive line-up of musicians on Ron Wood's album, including Rod and Mick Jagger. However, the band were determined to present a united front and announced a European tour which included some 30 UK dates. They also went off to record a new single and the resulting You Can Make Me Dance Sing Or Anything was arguably the Faces at their finest.

However, like Coast To Coast it was presented as a joint Rod/Faces effort and like the previous single, was not released in the US. Rod suggested that he was about to stop recording solo and from then on everything would be joint Rod/Faces recordings. He also suggested that the Faces should just concentrate on recording singles. Neither ideas ever materialised.

At the start of 1975 the Faces UK tour was announced as the highest grossing of the year. The band went to the States for the first of two tours and everything seemed hunky dory. It was during the tour that Rod met actress Britt Ekland and entered a new phase in his career. Following a legal battle fought over the rights to the Smiler album, Rod had signed to Warner Brothers and announced his intention to record without any of the Faces or the musicians he'd used on the five Mercury albums. In addition, on the advice of his manager Billy Gaff, he'd left Britain and was officially a tax exile. It was all change and to top it all, Rod's self-imposed exile meant there would be no live appearances in the UK for at least a year! Faces fans were disillusioned and when Rod released the single Sailing in August, he started to attract a much wider and more mature audience. Meanwhile, unbeknown to him, disillusioned fans were starting to make their own music and bands consisting of Faces fans like the Sex Pistols and the Clash were waiting in the wings. Atlantic Crossing was a huge success, made No 1 for seven weeks in the UK and was the first album to outsell Every Picture Tells A Story in the UK. It initially spawned two hit singles - both ballads - a belated third hit came some 18 months later, another ballad I Don't Want To Talk About It. Atlantic Crossing was divided into slow and fast sides, but the high profile single tracks were all ballads. It came as no surprise when at the end of 1975, Rod quit the Faces and Ron Wood went off to join the worlds greatest rock 'n' roll band. The Faces were no more and Rod, for the first time, was on his own with the prospect of forming his own band.

Before thinking about touring, Rod was keen to record again and in just a few months had delivered his second album to Warner Brothers A Night On The Town. It was another breakthrough as far as songwriting was concerned, containing four of his best ever self-penned songs. A Night On The Town did not sell quite as well as Atlantic Crossing in the UK, but in the USA it went through the ceiling. Helped by the single Tonight The Night which hit No. 1 for 7 weeks, it easily outsold all of his previous albums.

At the same time as promoting A Night On The Town, Rod set about forming a new permanent touring band and was keen to point out it would be a hard-rocking outfit! A further hit followed in the UK, and some fans were beginning to observe that The Killing Of Georgie was the fourth ballad hit in 12 months. To counteract this, Rod released his version of the Beatles classic Get Back to coincide with an extensive UK tour, the highlight of which were six sold out nights at London's Olympia. By the time tickets went on sale, The Sex Pistols were already declaring 'Anarchy In The UK'! The world of rock 'n' roll was about to change forever.

The debut UK tour was a triumph. Both Atlantic Crossing and A Night On The Town remained on the album charts and Get Back reached a respectable No. 11. However, Rod had missed out on musical developments in the UK thanks to his relocation to Los Angeles and the music papers, although not hostile, were undoubtedly on the turn. They were excited by the underground punk rock scene which had exploded and was about to go mainstream. They were fast losing interest in Rod whom at 31, the punks had labelled a "boring old fart." Little did he know it, but by moving to America and constantly releasing ballads as singles, he had alienated himself from a whole generation of rock fans and lost a considerable number of old Faces fans. What 15 year old would be interested in Rod crooning through I Don't Want To Talk About It, his next single, when the Sex Pistols were hollering 'God Save The Queen', causing genuine rock 'n' roll chaos, enraging the tabloids and upsetting parents throughout the land wherever they ventured? Ironically it was I Don't Want To Talk About It coupled with First Cut Is The Deepest which kept 'God Save The Queen' from No. 1. And from his mansion in Los Angeles, that is all Rod could see.

Despite the most successful tour in his career which prompted riotous responses from audiences wherever he played, a four-week stay at No. 1 in the singles charts and two platinum albums, attitudes were fast changing. Within a matter of months it seemed the music press had changed hands. They considered Rod to have "sold out" they endorsed the "boring old fart" tag and labelled him "music for mums and dads." They were becoming increasingly cruel in a piss-taking kind of way. Both the Sex Pistols and the Clash regularly lashed out at Rod, despite the fact that they had once been fans. Ironically, the Clash were one of the few artists published by Riva, Rod's record company! Instead of embracing the new music, Rod went on the defensive via the music press and then cut himself off completely, refusing to speak to the NME or any other British music paper for some five years. It was a mistake for which he would pay a heavy price throughout the eighties. The success of punk had made Rod unfashionable and at the end of the seventies, if you liked Rod Stewart (and millions obviously did) you kept quiet about it! In 1977 Rod released Footloose and Fancy Free and at the height of new wave, another ballad as a single. In the same week the Stranglers entered the Top 10 with 'No More Heroes', Rod - a hero if ever there was one - defiantly entered one place ahead at No. 7 with You're In My Heart - his highest new entry ever! The punks and the music press were dismayed, but Rod must have been laughing! And it was proof that despite the constant barrage of negative press, most of the fans had stuck by him.

From 1972 until the end of the decade, attending a Rod Stewart concert was quite literally a riot and punk didn't alter things. The rowdiness reached a climax on the 1978 Blondes Have More Fun tour with enthusiasm running higher than ever. Every night there was a determination by a huge number of fans to get as close to the stage as possible and nothing was going to stop them. The procedure was simple and a good example was displayed at the string of concerts at London's Olympia. Approximately an hour before Rod hit the stage, fans would aimlessly wander the aisles until eventually their numbers were such that they were confident enough to charge to the front en mass. Security would routinely line-up, linking arms in an attempt to protect the front block, but with one bouncer to every 50 or so determined fans, they didn't stand a chance. They would hold the crowd back as long as they could, but as the pressure from the excited and determined crowd increased, they would always submit. The rush would normally come about 20 minutes before Rod hit the stage - a baying crowd in tartan - the tartan horde as Rod had christened them a few years earlier. Although I recall one particular night at Olympia when the crowd pushed through the bouncers a full hour before the show started and that is where they stayed. Anyone with a seat in the first few rows who arrived after the event were out of luck!

By 1978 the music press were at their most cynical and spiteful. Rod stayed quiet hoping things would change. They didn't. New wave and punk completely turned the music scene upside down. Yet despite being an anti-punk hero, 1978 was arguably the biggest year of his career. Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? became his biggest ever selling single whilst Blondes Have More Fun shifted some 15 million copies world wide. Rod justifiably stuck two fingers up at the punks and famously snarled "There's no fucking safety pins hanging off me."

The decades final year was the start of yet another period of incredible world-wide success for Rod. Ain't Love A Bitch gave Rod yet another Top 20 hit in the UK and sold in excess of 250,00 copies! A six month tour of the states included a record breaking six night stand at the famous Los Angeles Forum. After the tour Rod set about compiling a much overdue greatest hits set. However, in Britain the first cracks were showing. A third single released from Blondes Have More Fun only managed to reach No. 63, at one time it would have been guaranteed a place in the Top 20. However, the Greatest Hits album did manage to top the UK charts for five weeks keeping Abba's 'Greatest Hits' from enjoying the honour of last album to top the charts in the seventies and first to top the charts in the eighties.

The original plan was to include a couple of new tracks on Greatest Hits and release one as a single, but it didn't happen. In truth, Rod was exhausted and was at the most significant turning point of his career. During the seventies he'd done it all - been the working class hero, darling of the music press, hated by the punks, loved by the footy crowds, teenage idol and pin up, serious singer/songwriter. Most of all, he had recorded 15 albums in little over a decade and had been almost permanently on the road. When the decades biggest selling albums were announced, Rod had more entries in the Top 100 than any other artist and the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles declared that Rod was the decades most successful male singles artist. What was he to do now? In 1979, 34 years was a ripe old age for a rock 'n' roller and competition was fiercer than ever. Punk was dead, but younger new wave acts like the Police, Adam And The Ants and Blondie were breathing down his neck. The answer is that Rod would conquer the world exploring and invading new territories and markets. During the eighties Rod played bigger and bigger venues and continued to place singles and albums in the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

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