BIOGRAPHY - The Nineties



Ironically, the nineties started the same way as the eighties, with a Rod Stewart greatest hits package riding high on the album charts. Despite the fact that The Best Of Rod Stewart included several of the tracks featured on the decade old Greatest Hits, it went on to become Rod's biggest selling British album of all time. The album was an off-shoot of the more ambitious Storyteller, a boxed set featuring the best moments from Rod's entire career. The six album/four CD set included tracks from Rod's Mod days, the Beck and Faces years and all the solo albums. It climaxed with three specially recorded songs. Two of them, I Don't Want To Talk About It and This Old Heart Of Mine were re-recordings of songs from Atlantic Crossing. The third was the Tom Waits composition Downtown Train.

This Old Heart Of Mine featured the vocal talents of original Isley Brother Ronald and was the first single to be issued from the album in the UK. Yet again, poor promotion took its toll and it was quick to peter out at No. 51. The follow up, Downtown Train, was released in the UK during the first week of January 1990. Early indications suggested it would suffer the same fate as its predecessor, after starting a premature slide down the listings late in January. In stark contrast, the record was in the American Top 10 and tipped for No.1, eventually settling for No. 3 in the Billboard Hot 100, although it did make No. 1 in the rival Cashbox chart. Back in the UK, the record was getting little publicity and the fact The Best Of Rod Stewart had shifted some 500,000 copies in the first few months couldn't have helped sales. Rod acted fast and played not one, but two master strokes! In an unprecedented move, he flew to London for one purpose - to make an appearance on the Michael Aspel Show. The journey paid off handsomely! The following week, the record entered the Top 30 and when Rod made a surprise appearance on the Brit Awards a few weeks later, it made the all important Top 10. It was his first appearance there in almost four years, but even more incredible, was the fact that it was the first Rod Stewart transatlantic top-tenner since Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?. Downtown Train marked a major turning point and from then on the hit singles came fast and furious!

During the spring of 1990, a single compilation album from Storyteller was issued in the States. Titled after the hit Downtown Train, it quickly turned platinum and went on to spawn a further top ten hit by way of This Old Heart Of Mine. Later in the year, Rod teamed up with another soul legend, this time Tina Turner! Their version of the Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston classic It Takes Two quickly made No. 5 in the UK singles charts during December and was accompanied by a sizzling promotional video. By the time the next studio album was ready for release, Rod was back in vogue. Coming almost three years after Out Of Order, the lengthy gap, didn't present any problems. In the States, Out Of Order and Storyteller had ensured Rod was supplied with Top 20 singles until mid-1990. In Britain, Downtown Train and It Takes Two had given him the hit singles he so desperately needed and paved the way for the next album perfectly. A single, Rhythm Of My Heart, was released in advance of the new album and another appearance on Aspel ensured a strong entry position. When Vagabond Heart was released during March 1991, the single stood at No. 3. Warner Brothers had also included Downtown Train on the British pressing of the album, as well as It Takes Two. The net effect was that the album instantly boasted three Top 10 singles! The album couldn't fail and crashed into the UK charts at No. 2!

Musically, the album didn't follow in the footsteps of Out Of Order. It didn't hit as hard or contain as many original songs. Instead, it concentrated on capturing past successes as was evident on the opening track Rhythm Of My Heart, a typical crowd-pleasing sing-along-a-Rod. Other tracks included brilliant interpretations of You Are Everything, Broken Arrow and Have I Told You Lately; a 'Forever Young' sound-a-like When A Man's In Love; a handful of average rockers; and a nod to Motown in The Motown Song. Rod appeared to be taking more care over the songs he selected to cover and the ballads were on a par with the very best of his seventies post-Faces classics. The album went on to hold the record in the UK for hit singles, featuring no fewer than five Top Ten hits. In addition, Broken Arrow, aTop 20 hit in the States, charted in the lower regions of the UK charts twice.

Vagabond Heart marked the start of Rod's UK stadium years. As a live attraction his pulling power had grown to incredible levels. This is borne out by the fact that during the eighties, Rod played only two UK stadium shows. The 'Vagabond Heart' tour, which opened indoors on 30 March 1991 at the Aberdeen Exhibition Centre, included no fewer than eight stadium dates in the UK and Ireland and criss-crossed Europe for four months. By the time of the last UK date in Manchester at the end of July, Rod had played to over half a million fans in Britain alone. In Europe, as in Britain, the concerts sold out and attracted surprisingly young crowds. The tour reached North America in August and whilst in Canada, Rod recorded Elton John's classic Your Song for the tribute album Two Rooms. Meanwhile, in the USA, Vagabond Heart had made the Top 10, had produced two Top 10 singles and looked set to emulate the huge sales of Out Of Order.

The Vagabond Heart tour ground to a halt during April 1992, all the more remarkable as Rod had been struck down by constant throat infections. Friends say he was exhausted and badly in need of a rest. However, Warner Brothers had other ideas and were keen to keep the momentum going and desperately wanted Rod to record a new album. However, first there would be a new single release. Freddie Mercury, Queen's legendary lead singer and Rod's friend had been killed by AIDS at the end of 1991 and Rod was keen to show his respect. Broken Arrow had been a hit in the States, but hadn't reached it's full potential in the UK where it made only No. 54. Your Song was the best track on the Two Rooms tribute album and Rod's version was undeniably superb. The two songs were coupled together and released as a double A-sided single in April 1992, with all royalties pledged to AIDS charities in memory of Freddie Mercury. It was an idea with great potential, the haunting promotional video for Broken Arrow was one of Rod's all time best and Your Song received generous air play, particularly from London's Capital Radio who tipped it for No. 1. The release had all the hallmarks of a major hit, yet once again, promotion was non-existent and a major opportunity for a huge hit single thrown away. It appeared that Rod, his management and record company combined forces to ensure the single was doomed from the start! When a massive tribute concert was arranged in memory of Mercury at London's Wembley Stadium, it was like Live Aid all over again. Everyone was there bar Rod, who according to the press had decided to stay in America with 'the wife.' Had he made an appearance at the show and performed the song, he would have given the single a valuable kick start. Fans were disappointed and dismayed. How could such a fine record be allowed to disappear into obscurity? The single peaked at No. 41 in its second week on the charts and was never heard of again.

During the summer of 1992, Rod started work on an album of cover versions with the help of producer Trevor Horn who had been responsible for Downtown Train. Scheduled release was for December and in November Tom Traubert's Blues, another Tom Waits song, was released as a single. Following a live via satellite performance on Top Of The Pops, it crashed into the charts at No. 8, eventually peaking at No. 6. It was Rod at his all-time best and only made fans look forward to the promised new album all the more. The albums title was announced as 'Once In A Blue Moon' and it appeared on several projected release sheets, but by mid-January there were still no firm details. Then, it was announced that Rod would receive the prestigious Life Time Achievement Award at the Brit Awards. Pressure was on him to complete the album and a further single was issued, this time an excellent cover of the Stones' Ruby Tuesday. Then, for reasons that have never fully been dis-closed, the album was suddenly aborted. Warner Brothers were delivered five completed tracks, whilst at least three others were held back.

When the track listing for the 'new' album was finally announced, it consisted of seven old tracks, coupled with the five new tracks, of which two had already been released as singles! The album, un-imaginatively titled Lead Vocalist, was advertised as a 'celebration of Rod's glittering career'. In truth, it was a cheap cash-in on the Brit Awards. Rod was to be the main attraction on the show which was broadcast on the ITV network at peak time. He needed new product to promote and Warner Brothers were not going to let an opportunity of selling 200,000 or so albums slip by. In an extraordinary move, they released what was in effect half an album! The five new tracks were superb - Rod's vocals were in fine form, the choice of material was impeccable and the Trevor Horn arrangements spectacular. This made it all the sadder that the set was given up on and padded out with such a predictable selection of oldies. Fans felt cheated, but despite its failings, still sent Lead Vocalist to No. 3 on the charts, although it quickly disappeared into oblivion and for some reason wasn't even released in the United States!

The Brits made good viewing, but was another lost opportunity for Rod to prove what he was made of. Critics were quick to point out he was the only artist on the show to lip-sync when he performed Ruby Tuesday. A Faces re-union in which Rod did sing live, followed, but its full potential was lost when the television version cut a rollicking version of Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller. It appeared that Rod sensed dissatisfaction and he was quick to move on. Earlier in the month, he had performed on MTV's prestigious Unplugged series. Out of the cupboard came long lost favourites like Handbags and Gladrags, Cut Across Shorty and Mandolin Wind. More significant was that he was re-united with Ron Wood for the first time in 18 years. Unplugged and seated as the subsequent album was titled, featured fifteen tracks and a trio of singles which contained no fewer than seven non-album tracks between them. If Rod had short changed his fans with Lead Vocalist he more than made up for it, although why the studio tracks could not have been featured on Lead Vocalist in the first place is anyone's guess.

The whole Unplugged episode pushed Rod's career to new heights. In America the album made it's debut on the Billboard Top 200 at No. 2. It was Rod's highest ever entry and for the best part of six months Unplugged and seated was the biggest selling UK album in America. In Britain, it peaked at No. 2 and stayed on the charts for nearly seven months. Have I Told You Lately, a live version of the track originally featured on Vagabond Heart was released as the first single from the album and made the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic. It seemed that Rod was bigger and better than ever.

Yet another North American tour started in May which took in Japan and the Far East and stretched well into 1994. Rod was now enjoying the most lucrative period of his career ever. Never had his concerts sold out as fast and never had he experienced the kind of album sales of Unplugged and seated. During the tour, he recorded the song for the soundtrack of the movie 'The Three Musketeers' with Bryan Adams and Sting. All For Love was the result and was released as a single making No. 1 in America and No 2 in Britain early in 1994. And to top it all, Rod set a new world record at the end of 1994, when he played a massive one-off New Years Eve concert on Copacabana Beach in Brazil, which attracted a crowd of 3.6 million! This massive concert aside, the final months of 1994 were deliberately quiet and Rod kept out of the public eye whilst he set about writing and selecting songs for a new album planned for mid 1995 release. It seemed nothing could stop him surpassing his seventies success. If an album mostly made up of old songs could sell so well (Unplugged and seated), just think what the next album of new material would do! It was surely guaranteed monster sales!

The result of spending the best part of a year in the studio, was Rod's most ambitious album in years. A Spanner In The Works was probably the closest he'd ever got to the classic Mercury albums, albeit more polished. It offered a varied selection of classy songs, superb arrangements and strong lyrics, representing everything Rod and his fans held dear. It gelded together in a way that Vagabond Heart didn't manage and the carefully selected cover versions were amongst the best he'd ever attempted. Once again, he drew from Tom Waits, revisited Bob Dylan for the first time in 14 years and Sam Cooke for the first time in 21 years. There were obscure songs from Tom Petty, the Blue Nile and Chris Rea, plus a traditional arrangement of 'Wild Mountain Thyme' re-named Purple Heather. In addition, there were three excellent self-penned songs all of which proved he was still a strong writer. The album was a triumph, and on the whole, received favourable press reviews. It appeared everyone loved Rod again. Even the fiery rock paper New Musical Express saw fit to feature Rod on their cover, the first time he'd been there in 19 years! Fans certainly loved A Spanner In The Works and expected the album to repeat the success of Unplugged and seated and crash into the Billboard Top 10 during its first week. But something odd happened.

Despite it's undeniable strengths, A Spanner In The Works didn't take off in the way it deserved. In Britain, as always, sales were respectable and it easily made No. 4 and produced two Top 20 singles. This was all the more remarkable, as by this time, Rod had to contend with the fact that Radio One had decided he was no longer worthy of air play and had been relegated to the play lists of Radio Two. This, not insignificant set-back, was even more reason why Rod should have worked at promoting the record via other methods. There were a number of television programmes open to him, but bizarrely he chose to keep a low profile and didn't make any personal television appearances in the UK at all. Instead, he kick-started the album in the USA on Saturday Night Live, with a fine performance of Leave Virginia Alone (the first American single). Rod was surrounded by acoustic guitars, mandolins, and the entire band were plugged in and playing. Rod's tonsils were in fine form and the appearance harked back to the early seventies. Rod looked like a musician again, not a sex symbol. As if to prove the point, he also performed Maggie May and such was his enthusiasm, somehow managed to make it sound as if he was performing the song for the first time! The performance still rates as one of his very best, which makes the disappointing American sales of A Spanner In The Works even harder to understand.

A Spanner In The Works peaked at No. 35 during its second week on the Billboard charts and although it managed to sell in excess of 500,000 copies, disappeared very quickly. The single Leave Virginia Alone hovered around just outside of the top 40, but didn't manage to break into it. This was released as the second and final single in America and didn't even crack the Top 100. Meanwhile, Rod was on tour in Europe and once again, huge stadiums were the order of the day. The tour included a record breaking date at Wembley Stadium at which Rod attracted a crowd of over 80,000 - more punters than Live Aid! This record for concert attendance was achieved due to the fact that the concert was performed in the round and the stadiums usual 72,000 capacity was increased. This record still stands today and looks set to remain as the stadium is shortly due to be demolished. Other stadiums visited included Villa Park in Birmingham, Gateshead in Newcastle, Pittodrie in Aberdeen, Ibrox in Glasgow and Maine Road in Manchester. Like the Rolling Stones, Rod was now selling far more concert tickets than albums and the show was built heavily around the greatest hits. At the end of the year, Rod returned to the UK to play indoor arenas, the tour included a string of five Wembley Arena dates, the fifth date which was added just eight days before the concert! Absolute proof of Rod's un-matched pulling power.

There was talk that Rod would scrap the American leg of the 'Spanner In The Works' tour and return to the recording studio. In the event, the tour went ahead opening in Phoenix, Arizona on 27 January. Prior to the tour, Rod appeared on the Jay Leno Show pushing the album for what it was worth, to no avail. One of Rod's best ever albums was a goner and no amount of promotion or touring was going to prompt it back into the charts. The USA tour trecked around for six months playing to mostly sold out crowds and was later announced as the biggest grossing American tour by a British act in the first half of 1996. When Rod played at the legendary Madison Square Garden in May, he put in one of the best performances of his life. Performing in the round seemed to give him a new lease of life and the energy seemed to jump to the crowd who were more enthusiastic than ever. Meanwhile, in the UK, a re-mix of Purple Heather from A Spanner In The Works had been released as the official Scottish Euro '96 song and made No. 16 in the charts without any promotion whatsoever. Bizarrely Rod was in the UK at the time the record was released and once again turned up the chance to personally push a potential massive hit.

Following a well earned break, it was time to reflect on the mixed blessings of the past year. Rod rightly pin-pointed the albums lack of American success on the failure to secure a hit single. However, he was happy in the knowledge that whatever the sales of his album, the masses were still keen to see him on stage. Rod's next plan was for a compilation album of ballads featuring a handful of newly recorded songs with hopes pinned on a big hit single. The resulting album If We Fall In Love Tonight sold well, reaching platinum status on both sides of the Atlantic. But it landed Rod directly into the hands of a middle-of-the-road audience. Rod The Mod, Rod The Ace Face, Rod The Rocker were gone. As if to push the point home, Rod made what has to be the most embarrassing television appearance of his career on the Ophra Winfrey Show. Although the show boosted sales of the album considerably, just like Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?, it eroded Rod's male audience. The audience on Ophra consisted of predominately 40-plus hysterical women, some in tears at the sight of Rod in the flesh. It was very sad and the last thing Rod needed if he was to regain lost ground and return to the heights of Unplugged and seated. Rod, accompanied by Kevin Savigar on keyboards and his back-up singers, held court with Ophra around the piano, murdering the likes of You're In My Heart and Forever Young. It did not make for pleasant viewing. More importantly though, Rod's song selecting had reached rock bottom. The man with the best musical taste in the business was digging into the banal song books of Carole Bayer Sager and Dan Hill, singing material best left to Celine Dion and Boyzone. One song, When I Need You was recorded by Shirley Bassey and Barry Manilow at the same time and released during the same month! It was a fact that spoke volumes. If We Fall In Love Tonight shifted some six million copies worldwide, but if its main purpose had been to produce a hit single, it failed dismally. The likes of When I Need You had some critics positively laughing - and quite rightly too.

With the exception of a few one-off live appearances, most notably the excellent Sounds And Visions concert at Wembley Stadium, 1997 was a relatively quiet year and a year in which it was back to the drawing board. How could Rod turn things around? He went to his old mate Rob Dickens, a fan from the days of the Faces, who came up with the idea to record an album of songs by new and upcoming British bands and writers. It was a million miles away from the ballads album. The basic concept was that Oasis were ripping-off the Beatles, the Black Crowes were copying the Faces and Primal Scream were trying to be the Stones. Dickens wondered what the Beatles would have sounded like had they recorded 'Wonderwall' or what the Faces would have made of Cigarettes and Alcohol or the Stones of Rocks. Rod loved the idea and the album became a mission. It was a concept album of sorts.

When We Were The New Boys was regarded as Rod's finest effort in years. Reviews were incredible, with even the likes of New Musical Express and Vox hailing it as a great piece of work. At the outset, it appeared that promotion for the album was on the ball. A handful of the songs made their debut at the April recording of Storytellers the popular VH1 answer to MTV Unplugged. Although Rod had taken chances with the selection of new songs he had recorded, he took no such chances with the set for this show. It would have made better viewing had he avoided songs performed on 'Unplugged', but he played it safe. Coupled with a phoney audience more interested in seeing their white teeth and sequins on television, than what was happening on stage, the show didn't rate as the best television performance Rod had ever given. Closing with Having A Party the front row stayed firmly seated, looked un-easy and helped kill the atmosphere of a show with great potential. The bottom line was that the audience was not made up of fans - they were there to look young and pretty, or there because they knew someone at the record company. It helped kill the atmosphere stone dead.

However, management did play an ace card by persuading Rod to play two small club dates in Los Angeles just prior to the release of the album. The shows were a major success and attracted much press attention. It was a fine way to launch the new album and also pushed Rod's prestigious new web site - www.rodstewartlive.com. With promotion like that, plus appearances on key chat shows, you'd think Rod was onto his biggest album in years. Wrong! The album entered the Billboard Top 200 at No. 44 and proceeded to tumble down the charts week after week. It was the first time since 1969 that a Rod Stewart album had failed to make the Top 40. Meanwhile, the single Ooh La La fared slightly better, peaking at No. 39 - an improvement over anything from A Spanner In The Works or If We Fall In Love Tonight but well short of any of the early nineties hits.

Back in Britain, three key promotional dates had been set, as well as numerous press interviews. The first of these was an appearance on TFI Friday, the popular early evening youth show hosted by Chris Evans. Rod was given a warm welcome by the audience which consisted of mostly under thirties. Yet once again, poor planning had turned a massive opportunity to sell albums into a farce. Rod, as always gave an amusing interview, but when Chris Evans asked him why he was not performing live, Rod could not answer. He mentioned something along the lines of 'record company cock-up' and changed the subject, hinting that he was willing to go back at Christmas to play. Evans quickly offered him the complete show. The joke was that Rod and his band could have slaughtered the place and added thousands of youngsters to their fan base. Instead though, he left a new generation of potential fans no wiser as to what he was all about. To them he was still Rod Stewart the celebrity, known to them more for his appearances in the tabloids than his musical genius. The potential to tap into a new generation was lost and it is anyone's guess just how much better the album could have sold had he performed live. If such a performance had attracted just 6,000 extra album sales in the first week, When We Were The New Boys would have gone to No. 1 in its first week! Next stop on the promotional tour was a show for ITV's An Audience With... series. Planned to be broadcast two days before the release of the album, it was the best move Rod could make. Yet anyone who was at the recording, will know how unenthusiastic Rod was and how it seemed he wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Things were not helped by an audience who seemed to have difficulty in coming up with any witty or intelligent questions. Later in the year, Rod admitted he didn't enjoy the show. When We Were The New Boys entered the UK charts at a very respectable No. 2, missing No. 1 by just 6,000 copies. If only he'd used the TFI Friday slot to full potential.

Shortly after the release of the album, Rod announced a UK tour taking in an incredible five nights at the huge Earls Court and dates in Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham. The concerts were some of the best Rod had ever performed in the UK and it was a shame the tour was not more extensive. Once again, the shows were well received and tickets snapped up faster than ever. There was definitely a bias towards the heavier rock numbers and up-tempo chart hits of the eighties and nineties. The band played loud and some of the shows were clocking in at 150 minutes-plus!

A third single was planned to co-inside with the tour and promotional copies were released to the press and radio. Superstar was the most haunting song on the album, Music Week tipped it for No. 1 and it attained single of the week status on Radio Two. Just as it appeared Rod was heading for his first Top 10 single for 5 years, it was withdrawn without any reason. Theories vary as to the reason, but it is thought that Rod's marriage problems may have made the poignant lyrics just too painful for him to sing. Another chance of a smash hit was lost. Just a few weeks after the tour, it was announced that Rod would feature on the soundtrack to the new Robin Williams movie, 'Patch Adams'. It was breaking box office records around the States and the specially recorded song, a Diane Warren composition called Faith Of The Heart would be released as a single. Could this have been the reason Superstar was dropped? It was not Rod's best recording, and once again was not promoted, consequently missing the US Top 100 and making only No. 60 in the UK. It appeared that Rod didn't care.

The tour moved back to the USA in January visiting many smaller venues Rod hadn't played in years. Reviews were always on the enthusiastic side and by this time Rod had augmented the band line-up with its first ever female member - J'Anna Jacoby. Finishing off the tour in style, Rod played a one-off date at Hampden Park in Scotland to celebrate the stadiums refurbishment. Normally tickets for such a show would have been put on sale at least six months in advance and backed by a fierce publicity campaign. In this case, tickets were put on sale just four weeks in advance. It was a factor which denied Rod a sell-out. The concert was however probably the most successful of the tour. Despite rainy weather, fans gathered on the pitch and gave Rod a welcome he will never forget. When it came to sing-a-long favourites like Maggie May and Sailing Rod was clearly moved at the way the audience roared back the lyrics. It was a prime example of how Rod's concerts once were, in the days before heavy-handed security and in the days he was willing to give the fans standing room rather than enforced seating.



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