The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we’ll once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we will peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This time we look at Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story.
Roderick David “Rod” Stewart, CBE , born 10 January 1945, is a UK singer-songwriter and musician with a distinctive raspy singing voice. Considered by some critics to be one of the great rock singers of the 1970s, Stewart truly began his career performing with different small-time bands before joining The Jeff Beck group in 1969. It was here he came to prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s first with The Jeff Beck Group and then Faces.
Stewart’s performances with The Jeff Beck Group and Faces are thought by some to have been “influential on the formation of the heavy metal and punk rock genres, respectively.” In fact, Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols regarded The Faces very highly and named them as a major influence on the British punk rock movement. In 1969 he launched his solo career with his debut disc An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (or in America The Rod Stewart Album). This record and its follow-up Gasoline Alley (1971) revealed perhaps more of his folk roots than he would ever show again.
It would not be until his next album, however, that the world would see him realizing his full promise. Every Picture Tells a Story is the third album by Rod Stewart, released in 1971. The album was a diverse collection of vocal work and would become Stewart’s most critically-acclaimed platter and would also become the standard by which all of his future releases would be judged.
The project is a mix of rock, blues, country, soul and folk and includes Stewart’s breakthrough hit, “Maggie May”, co-written by classical guitarist Martin Quittenton. The song is a loss of innocence tale set off by a striking mandolin part by Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne. “Maggie May” was also named in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, which is one of three songs by him to appear on that list.
The record also includes the folk-rock number “Reason To Believe” from Tim Hardin’s 1966 premiere platter. “Reason To Believe” had originally been the A-side of his first hit single and poignant ballad “Maggie May” the B-side until public reaction resulted in their reversal. Additionally, it features the flat-out rock title track, “Every Picture Tells a Story” which is a headlong romp relating the picaresque adventures of the singer. It’s as imaginatively lyrical as the best of such greats as Jerry Lee Lewis and—thanks to Mickey Waller’s drumming—at least as powerful.
The album also included a cover of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” (the first single for Elvis Presley) and Stewart’s own rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” which was actually an outtake from Dylan’s 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. (Dylan’s original version would be shelved and later included on his 1971 compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II). Stewart also toyed with soul music. He recorded The Temptations’ “Losing You” in a style influenced by both The Temptations’ David Ruffin and soul master Sam Cooke.
The rest of the record is perhaps just as strong, with “Mandolin Wind” again showcasing the mandolin. Also included is the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace” which is not listed on most releases and on the CD versions is simply part of “That’s All Right (Mama)”. There was even an obvious literary reference on the track “O. Henry”. This is an obvious, apparent reference to the American writer O. Henry.
“O. Henry” was only printed on the center label of the original vinyl LP release. It’s also not shown in the track listing of the CD versions because in some pressings of the album and most compilations the “O. Henry” intro is incorporated into the full “Maggie May” cut. It’s interesting to note that during the period while Stewart was still in the Faces and doing solo work that there was a definite dichotomy in his performances. While with the band he was “boozy and sloppy” and yet while recording his solo works he was meticulous and responsible.
All the Faces (with whom Stewart was lead vocalist) appeared on the album with Ronnie Wood on guitar and bass and Ian McLagan on Hammond B3 organ being the most prominent. Because of contractual restrictions the album credits were sometimes intentionally vague in order to mask the fact that the full Faces line-up recorded the version of the Motown hit “(I Know) I’m Losing You”. Other musicians on the recording include Maggie Bell on backing vocals/”vocal abrasives” and Madeline Bell sang backup on “Seems Like A Long Time”.
Pete Sears played piano on the entire album except for one track, “I’m Losing You” which featured Ian McLagan on piano. Other artists on that track include Kenney Jones on drums and Ronnie Lane on bass. Other artists appearing on the album include Sam Mitchell on slide guitar, Danny Thompson and Andy Pyle on bass and Dick Powell on the violin.
The recording reached the number-one position in both America (one month) and the UK (for a month and a half) at the same time that “Maggie May” was topping the singles charts in both places. This made Stewart the first artist to achieve such a feat. The album has also often been voted among the best Brit platters of all time. (It also reached number one on a separate chart system in Australia.)
The original ten track album was awarded the number-one spot in Jimmy Guterman’s book The Best Rock ‘N’ Roll Records of All Time: A Fan’s Guide to the Stuff You Love in 1992. There were other awards as well. In 2003 the platter was ranked number 172 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. N 2005 it was also ranked 99th in a survey held by British TV’s Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time.
More recently, just last year (2009) the tune “Every Picture Tells a Story” was used for the soundtrack of Rockstar Game’s “Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned”. The album itself, like much of his later solo efforts, contains a redemptive warmth and a liberating modesty. Stewart has either chosen or stumbled into the role of everyman and has lived up to it.
With his career presently in its fifth decade, Stewart has sold well over 100 million records world-over to date which makes him one of the best selling artists of all time. In his own country he has racked up six consecutive number one albums and a total of 62 hit singles including 31 that reached the top 10 (six of which reached number one). He has recorded 6 top ten singles here in the United States with four of them hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Q magazine ranked him as number 33 on their list of the top 100 Greatest Singers of all time. Having also recently been listed as number 17 on Billboard magazine’s “The Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists” at age 66, one can easily understand why Every Picture Tells a Story/Mer.SRM-1-609 was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as a five-star album and to this day remains a required inclusion to any truly comprehensive collection.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.