Rod Stewart was Britain’s best blues singer before he became a pop superstar, especially on his first solo album in 1969. Just a shame about the lyric.
It’s easy to mock Rod Stewart and judge him by the ludicrous caricature he has become, with his blonde birds and his big country houses, his tartan suits and Scottish football and his knighthood.
But before all that he was as fine a blues singer as Britain has ever produced, with that sandpaper rasp of a voice and a gift for projecting passion in his singing unmatched for a white boy from north London.
In barely three years between 1970 and early 1973 he put out an astounding EIGHT albums – four solo efforts and, simultaneously, four rougher-shod efforts with The Faces – and enjoyed success with both of them. No wonder he became one of the biggest individual stars of the era, alongside Marc Bolan and David Bowie.
I don’t know all those early albums so I’ve been going back through some of them. This tune, one of only four self-penned songs from his first solo album, is as good as anything I’ve ever heard him sing. It was recorded in the summer of 1969, just before he replaced Steve Marriott in The Small Faces and, they changed their name to The Faces.
It does, inevitably, have its regrettable side in a lyric that tells of Rod’s passion for an underage girl, emphasised by the appalling album cover with its shot of Rod as a “dirty old man” chasing a virginal child:
“I wandered way up north found a girl that loved like a woman
Sixteen years old and felt like a woman
But, but, but, but, but what I’m trying to say is
God please don’t take her away from me”
An Old Raincoat was released in America first, as ‘The Rod Stewart Album’ – and three months later in the UK as An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. And it demonstrates all Rod’s credentials as an authentic bluesman, learned during a long apprenticeship with Long John Baldry and the Jeff Beck Group.
This tune, with a narrative lyric in the blues tradition, is built around Ian MacLagan’s shimmering piano, with fellow Faces new boy Ron Wood playing the trademark slide guitar (and bass). I don’t remember ever hearing it before this but it’s fantastic. Apart from that paedo undertone.