(Pictured: L to R, Ian McLagen, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, and Kenney Jones onstage, circa 1971.)
On October 2, 1971, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” hit #1 on the Hot 100, and Every Picture Tells a Story reached the top of the Billboard 200 album chart, nudging Carole King’s Tapestry to #2 after 15 weeks. It was the cream of a remarkable crop of albums. Also in the Top 10 during October 1971: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by the Moody Blues, the Shaft soundtrack, Paul and Linda’s Ram, Who’s Next, The Carpenters, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, Sound Magazine by the Partridge Family (the latter three back-to back-to-back for the week of October 2 and damn, do I love the 70s), Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens, Santana III, and John Lennon’s Imagine, which would take over the #1 slot on October 30.
On a gray and rainy morning not long ago, Every Picture Tells a Story was a very good companion on a long car trip. You can listen to it yourself while I’m ranking the tracks.
8. “That’s All Right”/”Amazing Grace.” Elvis owns “That’s All Right” and nobody else should mess with it. Rod’s “Amazing Grace,” which is not listed on the album jacket, is lovely, though.
7. “I Know I’m Losing You.” This thing rocks like crazy and you can hear how much Rod is into it, whooping and yelling as the band burns the joint down. I’m ranking it here because it doesn’t fit the intimate, unplugged vibe of the rest of the album.
6. “Seems Like a Long Time.” This is a beautiful song that ranks here because other stuff has to rank higher.
5. “Every Picture Tells a Story.” The hilariously rockin’ tale of a young world traveler who’s seen some wild shit, man: “I was arrested for inciting a peaceful riot / When all I wanted was a cup of tea.”
4. “Reason to Believe.” There was never anything else that sounded like this, with its piano chords tolling out the years like church bells; the violin, credited to London jazz musician Dick Powell, gives it a seriousness that few other AM radio hits could match.
3. “Maggie May.” Here’s how much this song means in my life: I have no children, but any daughter of mine would have been named Maggie May.
2 “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” Elvis put this Bob Dylan song on the Spinout soundtrack in 1966 (although it’s not in the movie); Dylan
himself didn’t release a version of it until 2010, and that was released a live performance of it from 1963 in 1971. (Corrected thanks to commenter David; I misread a source.) Rod’s version is breathtaking; Powell’s violin is magnificent.
1. “Mandolin Wind.” This song has everything that’s great about Rod Stewart’s first four albums in five-and-a-half minutes. The best of those albums were an English take on what the Band was doing at about the same time, which was Americana before the term existed. On “Mandolin Wind,” Rod’s singing is sensitive and heartfelt and even funny. (“I ain’t got much but what I’ve got is yours / Except of course my steel guitar.”) The band is similarly sensitive, but they rock the hell out of it at the end. Oddly, the identity of the mandolin player on “Mandolin Wind” is unclear. Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne claimed to be the guy; he played on “Maggie May” too, but Rod, having forgotten his name, credited him only as “the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”
Several years ago, I put together a mix tape to help a young friend appreciate the genius of the early Rod. (She knew him only as a People magazine bon vivant, Great American Songbook plunderer, and impregnator of supermodels.) The tape wasn’t necessary, though. All she really needed to hear was Every Picture Tells a Story.