Rod Stewart, Decade by Decade #2 – “Maggie May”

Well, the Scarlet Pimpernel he is not – Since last Friday, just about every time I switch on the telly or tune into the radio, up pops Rod Stewart. This new album of his is getting a serious amount of promotion but considering he is back living in this country with his young family, and considering he seems to be really enjoying making new music at the moment, why not?

This is the second post in the series and this time I’m going to be concentrating on his 1970s career, which was definitely his most successful decade, if you judge success in terms of record sales and No. 1 hits that is. For most fans however the decade was a game of two halves (Rod would no doubt appreciate the football analogy) as in 1975 he left Old Blighty behind and made his way across the Atlantic to the place we used to call, America.

everyBut before that momentous journey across the pond, Mr Stewart had already carved out a very successful career for himself here in Britain. Right at the start of the ’70s he was simultaneously acting as lead singer for the Faces but also releasing critically acclaimed albums as a solo artist. His third solo album “Every Picture Tells a Story” contained the wonderful Tim Hardin song Reason To Believe, which was subsequently released as a single. It wasn’t long however before the single’s B-side was receiving more airplay, and the rest as they say, is history. Maggie May has since been named as one of the “500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll”, and watching this clip below brings back so many memories.

Maggie May by Rod Stewart:

First of all, I know for a fact I would have watched this episode of TOTP with my parents, because that’s just what families did back then on a Thursday night at 7.30pm. They would have called him “Rod the Mod”, a little play on words for my amusement I always thought, not realising he had been a part of the whole Mod phenomenon during the previous decade.

Secondly, although this is ostensibly a Rod Stewart solo effort, it seems the Faces still acted as his backing band, and what a rollicking good time they seem to be having here. As we all know there was very little actual live singing done on the set of TOTP in those days, the artists always being asked to mime. For these guys that just meant there was more time for “havin’ a larf” which they always did in bucketloads. A bit of a kickabout with a football (became a bit of a trademark for Rod), a few circus tricks with the mike-stand, Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane showboating with their guitars, and last but not least, a bit of John Peel on mandolin (what?). Yes, they certainly knew how to have a good time those boys and many a trashed hotel room was testament to that fact.

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The Faces (Ronnie Lane here looking awfully like a Hobbit!)

My third observation is this. When you watch old episodes of telly shows and pop performances, especially from over 40 years ago like this one, you really notice how people have changed, physically, during that time. These were guys who grew up with rationing for goodness sake so the protein rich diets available to young men today were just a pipe dream. The result of course, was that they always had snake hips, spindly legs and not a six pack in sight. (Think early Bowie, and the Beatles in their mohair suits and cuban heels.) Also, the hair was always darkish and the skin very, very pale. Back in those days Rod himself had classic Anglo-Saxon dirty blonde hair and fair skin. Over the years, his glamorous life-stye and the advent of hair colouring techniques led to the hair becoming lighter and the skin becoming perma-tanned, as it still is today. Not criticising, as to be honest, we females born with the same colouring have gone down the same route. My dirty blonde hair has not seen the light of day for a good thirty plus years (and probably never will again).

Finally, although I remember this particular performance well and still love the song Maggie May, for me at that time Rod Stewart was not someone who would have appeared in pin-up form on my bedroom wall. No, even at age 11, I understood that bands like these had a certain aura about them (they actually sang about sex), which meant they were not really aimed at the pre-teen market. Rod would have to wait another few years for that to happen.

Rod made another couple of albums after “Every Picture…” for Mercury Records, “Never A Dull Moment” and then “Smiler” but in 1975 a few massive changes took place – He switched to Warner Bros Records, the Faces broke up (Ronnie Wood had already joined the Rolling Stones on tour) and he made the move to LA.

Too much Rod Stewart 1970s goodness for one post I’ve decided, so I’m going to leave the second half of the decade for the next post in this series. Also I have a fair few anecdotes to get through that will have to be sensitively dealt with, so whilst I ponder on how I’m going to do that, I shall leave you with the lyrics to Maggie May. Inspired by a real life encounter experienced by the 16-year-old Rod, the song expressed the contradictory emotions felt by a young lad after getting into a relationship with an older woman.

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There aren’t that many songs out there where just about everyone can sing along, seemingly word perfect. That happened when we went to see Rod at our local stadium – He didn’t have to do much at all when it was time for this song to make an appearance on the bill as we pretty much sang it for him, albeit a nano-second behind in timing, which is all it seems to take to prompt the next line from the memory banks. The stage overlooked the Moray Firth, the sun was setting and it was a warm summer night – Most definitely, a “pinch me” moment.

Until next time….

Maggie May Lyrics
(Song by Rod Stewart/Martin Quittenton)

Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you
It’s late September and I really should be back at school
I know I keep you amused but I feel I’m being used
Oh Maggie I couldn’t have tried any more
You lured me away from home just to save you from being alone
You stole my heart and that’s what really hurt

The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age
But that don’t worry me none in my eyes you’re everything
I laughed at all of your jokes my love you didn’t need to coax
Oh, Maggie I couldn’t have tried any more
You lured me away from home, just to save you from being alone
You stole my soul and that’s a pain I can do without

All I needed was a friend to lend a guiding hand
But you turned into a lover and
mother what a lover, you wore me out
All you did was wreck my bed
and in the morning kick me in the head
Oh Maggie I couldn’t have tried anymore
You lured me away from home ’cause you didn’t want to be alone
You stole my heart I couldn’t leave you if I tried

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school
Or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool
Or find myself a rock and roll band that needs a helpin’ hand
Oh Maggie I wish I’d never seen your face
You made a first-class fool out of me
But I’m as blind as a fool can be
You stole my heart but I love you anyway

Maggie I wish I’d never seen your face
I’ll get on back home one of these days

Rod Stewart, Decade by Decade #1 – “Handbags and Gladrags”

I find it hard to believe I have been bashing out my musical memories in this blog for nearly three years now, yet haven’t really included much at all by Mr, or Sir as he is now, Rod Stewart. Today sees the release of his 30th studio album called “Blood Red Roses”, so inevitably he was on the radio this morning performing songs from it. Fair play to him, he still has the voice, and has really enjoyed his song-writing of late, delving deep into his past coming up with autobiographical tales about the people and places encountered on the way. Always a bit of a dandy, he still seems to be in great shape and still always looks dapper, with the trademark spiky “Rod the Mod” hairstyle laboriously coiffed into shape.

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Rod Stewart is another of these artists who has had such longevity that I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t around. He was born towards the tail end of the war, in Highgate, North London, the last son to a Scottish father and English mother. The baby of the family by eight years, he admits to having been thoroughly spoiled and had a wonderful childhood. Not being particularly academic, he left school aged 15 planning to pursue one of his two great loves, football or music. Despite trials with a few clubs the football didn’t work out, so thankfully for us, the world of music beckoned.

I remember trying to find out a bit more about early Rod Stewart a few years ago, ahead of going to see him perform at our local stadium, and found he’d first joined a band in 1959. This makes him one of the few artists still performing today, to have had a career that at a push, spans seven decades. I can’t seem to find where I got that info now but whatever, he certainly has had a long and colourful career. A few changes in direction along the way means he probably lost a few original fans, but then gained a whole set of new fans. I think it would be churlish for any of us now however, to look back at his career with anything other than awe. In his back catalogue, there is most definitely something for everyone.

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Steampacket

I’m going to keep this post relatively short as it’s going to be the first in a Rod Stewart series covering each decade of his recording career. The 1960s saw Rod masquerading first as a Beatnik, then a Mod, singing with bands such as Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men, and then Steampacket. Towards the end of the decade he had joined the Jeff Beck Group which was when he first played with long-term friend Ronnie Wood. At the same time however he was pursuing a solo career, and in 1969 released his first album, “An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down”. I’m afraid I don’t remember Rod from this era at all, as he just didn’t fall into the category of artist a pre-teen would have been aware of (basically he wasn’t an Osmond or a Jackson), but in later years the song Handbags and Gladrags, written by Mike D’Abo of Manfred Mann, has become one of my favourites. This song was covered by Rod on his debut album and it still sends shivers down my spine when I hear it.

Handbags and Gladrags (Live version) by Rod Stewart:

The song was apparently about the futility of fashion and the irrelevance of outward appearances, which is a bit ironic considering how much of a dandy Rod has been over the years. For me though, it still kind of smarts when I listen to it, as the memories come back of the times I was probably less than grateful as a youngster. My granny was a fantastically talented knitter, and loved making me jumpers and “tank tops” (remember them?). Sadly, these home-knitted affairs were just not appreciated, and never worn, as by the time you reach your teenage years the only “duds” you want to wear are those identical to your peers. Acrylic V-necks from Chelsea Girl I seem to remember, rather than those lovingly crafted Aran sweaters. Likewise, the annual trek to buy new school shoes and winter boots usually ended in tears. Who wanted fur-lined leather boots from Clarks, when True Form and Dolcis had all those lovely synthetic boots with platform soles? A familiar tale back then, and probably now, but this song always reminds me of those battles. All these years later and I still feel bad about those gorgeous Aran sweaters that mouldered at the back of the wardrobe.

So, my first Rod Stewart post is at an end, but I already have a good idea of which songs I’m going to cover in this series. It was lovely hearing him chat and sing on the radio this morning. Long may he continue.

Until next time….

Handbags and Gladrags Lyrics
(Song by Mike D’Abo)

Ever seen a blind man cross the road
Trying to make the other side?
Ever seen a young girl growing old
Trying to make herself a bride?

So what becomes of you my love
When they have finally stripped you of
The handbags and the gladrags
That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you

Once I was a young man
And all I thought I had to do was smile
Well you are still a young girl
And you’ve bought everything in style

So once you think you’re in you’re out
‘Cause you don’t mean a single thing without
The handbags and the gladrags
That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you

Sing a song of six-pence for your sake
And drink a bottle full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds in a cake
And bake ’em all in a pie

They told me you missed school today
So what I suggest you just throw them all away
The handbags and the gladrags
That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy

They told me you missed school today
So what I suggest you just throw them all away
The handbags and the gladrags
That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you

An American Odyssey in Song: New York – Boroughs, Bridges and “Feelin’ Groovy”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

It’s quite some time since I continued on my American Odyssey in Song and that would be because I developed a severe case of Odyssey block! After struggling somewhat to identify any songs at all for the New England states, once I hit New York there were just too many. I have started this post on numerous occasions but always gave up half way through. This time however I’m going to buckle down and get on with it.

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No time for lengthy paragraphs about the state itself this time though as loads of songs to get through. Suffice to say it must be one of the most diverse states in the whole of the US as not only does it have Long Island, whose “Hamptons” are where rich New Yorkers go to spend their summers, but it also has the wilderness areas to the north where hunting and fishing are the pastimes of choice. The state borders Canada and two of the Great Lakes but at the foot of the triangle there is one of the most iconic and culturally rich cities in the world, New York.

Time to get this party started then and it’s not going to be pretty – Via “a stream of consciousness” is how I’m going to tackle this one. Everyone will have different songs that they associate with New York but these are the ones that have come to mind over the last few weeks. Ready, steady, go….

There can’t be many people who are not familiar with the sights of New York City but just in case, here’s a whistle stop tour courtesy of MGM and those three sailors who had a whirlwind 24-hour leave back in 1949. Ok, ok guys, we’ve got it – “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground”.

You can’t have failed to notice that Mr Francis Albert Sinatra plays one of the sailors in that clip and I’m sure it’s expected that his version of the song New York, New York will feature here, but that would just be too obvious, so unusually for me I’ll enter the 21st century and share Empire State of Mind by Mr Shawn Corey Carter (otherwise known as Jay-Z). 

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Jay-Z, Rapper and Businessman

Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys:

Lord knows I’m not usually a fan of rap but I was truly blown away by this “song” (if that’s what it’s called) when it came out in 2009. Some fantastic lines in there referencing Sinatra’s New York, New York but also Afrika Bambaataa, the Bronx DJ who became known as the Godfather of hip-hop. The rap part on it’s own I probably wouldn’t have warmed to that much (although I don’t know), but with the inclusion of Alicia Keys vocals it became something really special. The pair are both from NYC and the song’s main writer, Angela Hunte, grew up in the same building as Jay-Z – 560 State Street, Brooklyn, an address mentioned in the song.

Something that comes across loud and clear from the lyrics of Empire State of Mind is that NYC is not just the island Manhattan as I had often thought as youngster. Oh no, NYC is made up of five boroughs – Brooklyn and Queens on the western end of Long Island, Staten Island which nestles up against New Jersey and The Bronx, north of Manhattan. Manhattan itself only becomes an island because of that tiny sliver of water linking up the East River with the Hudson.

5 boroughs

New York City, despite being made up of these five boroughs is very much centred on Manhattan, so how is it all linked up? Why by ferries and bridges of course. I am reminded of the scene in Saturday Night Fever where John Travolta’s character tries to impress his potential love interest with his knowledge of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, that double-decked suspension bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Another iconic bridge is the one that featured in the opening sequence to one of my favourite TV shows from the early ’80s – Taxi starring Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch. Whenever I hear this theme song I am right back in my student room, my little white portable telly perched precariously on the edge of my desk, just in the right place for the aerial (coat hanger?) to pick up a signal. It would have been mid-week and I was probably having a break from all those laborious hours spent writing everything out in longhand (no computers in those days). A flatmate might have popped in for a coffee whilst we watched the show. Sometimes those memories are the best, ones where nothing in particular was happening, just normal everyday life but hearing that theme reminds me of the scene. A beautiful piece of music called Angela by Bob James.

Angela (Theme from Taxi) by Bob James:

Of course I had to do some research after rewatching that clip to find out which bridge it actually was that came up every week in the titles – Joy, oh joy, it was none other than the Queensboro Bridge – So what I hear you ask? The alternative name for that bridge is The 59th Street Bridge and considering this whole series was inspired by the Paul Simon song America, it is fitting that his song about the bridge be included in this post.

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The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon and Garfunkel:

Paul Simon said that he’d spent most of 1965 in England but after coming back to the US, and having success with The Sound of Silence, life became really hectic for a while and he found it difficult to adjust. One day, going home to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, he kind of started to snap out of it as the day had been a really good one, a “groovy one” – Once home he started to write the song subtitled Feelin’ Groovy that went on to appear on the 1966 album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” recorded with musical partner Art Garfunkel.

But enough about bridges, in the New York of 1977 the phenomenon that was disco had started to really make its mark. Manhattan had Studio 54 where Liza, Michael, Mick and Bianca were regulars but across the Brooklyn Bridge (oops, more bridges), they had a local disco called 2001 Odyssey and every Saturday night, aforementioned John Travolta (playing the character Tony Manero), temporarily left his monotonous life behind and became “king of the dance floor”. Watching him now, the dancing doesn’t look quite as impressive as it did when we first experienced Saturday Night “Fever” and the parodies have been ruthless, but I still have fond memories of going to see that movie when it first came out in the UK in 1978. As someone who has been known to “do a John” over the years and clear the dancefloor, it can be an exhilarating feeling (and not showy-off at all of course!).

You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees:

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. How Deep Is Your Love is the song that appears in the closing scenes of the movie as we watch a desolate Tony ride the New York subway late at night. It is one of my all-time favourite love songs (which is probably why it became the choice for my Valentine’s Day post).

So far we’ve checked out the geography of New York and talked about the bridges and the nightlife. What about the people? I read an article recently about the flamboyant octogenarian fashionistas, who cut a dash on 5th Avenue – Way to go ladies!

Of course New York has long been known for its flamboyant characters and Sting sang about one of them, eccentric gay icon Quentin Crisp, in his 1988 song Englishman In New York. Another “character” committed to song was when Rod Stewart wrote and recorded  The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II) in 1976. This story song tells the tale of a young gay man who became successful and popular amongst Manhattan’s upper class – He was “the toast of the Great White Way”, which is the nickname given to the Theatre District of Midtown Manhattan. Georgie attends the opening night of a Broadway musical, but leaves “before the final curtain call” and heads across town. He is attacked near East 53rd Street by a gang of thieves and one inadvertently kills him. The song was apparently based on a true story about a friend of Rod’s old band The Faces.

I have waited a fair amount of time to feature Rod Stewart in this blog as it seems to be universally accepted that by the late ’70s he had sold out and his albums just weren’t up to the calibre of his earlier ones but hey, I was a mere 16-year-old schoolgirl at this time and was a big fan. This song especially, combining the melancholy and sombre Part II with the more popular Part I has long been a favourite of mine.

The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II) by Rod Stewart:

We’ve spent an awful lot of time in New York City so far in this post but what about the rest of the state? Back in the early sixties before kids started heading off to Europe on holiday they used to go with their parents to resorts such as Kellermans in the Catskill Mountains. This is where “Baby” Houseman spent the summer of 1963, and fell for dashing dance instructor Johnny Castle. Dirty Dancing was a low-budget film that had no major stars but became a massive box office hit and was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video. It has some great dance scenes and the soundtrack is full of classic songs from that early ’60s era such as Be My Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Love Is Strange and this one, Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs.

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Kellermans in the Catskills, the setting for Dirty Dancing

Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs:

There are some great scenes in the movie where the landscape of the Catskills is kind of the star. I must admit to having become a bit of a fan of this movie in my later years although didn’t really take much heed of it when it first came out – I think it’s down to the nostalgia element, the music choices and the sadness that comes from the realisation that my days of dalliances with a young Johnny Castle are well behind me. Whatever, I’ve ended up writing about songs from it three times now (Be My Baby, Doomed Romances and Summer’s End) and they take the prize for being my least viewed posts – Sacre bleu!

Another song that makes me think of Upstate New York is Woodstock, written by Joni Mitchell but made famous in 1970 by Matthews Southern Comfort. The irony of course is that Joni Mitchell hadn’t even made it to the infamous festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, but wrote about it after having watched it from her hotel room in New York. The lyrics tell the story of a spiritual journey and make prominent use of sacred imagery, comparing the festival site with the Garden of Eden. The saga commences with the narrator’s encounter of a fellow traveller, a “child of God”,  and concludes at their ultimate destination where “we were half a million strong”.

Iain Matthews of Matthews Southern Comfort was actually from Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire but he had previously been with the band Fairport Convention who were at the time heavily influenced by American folk rock.

Well I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted – This post has been a long time coming and I’m sorry it’s so wordy, but I for one am now just pleased that it’s “in the can” so that the journey can continue. Next time we’ll be passing through the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey so as ever, suggestions for that state are more than welcome. Unlike with the New England states I have a feeling that it’s now going to get a whole lot easier.

A final clip before I go however – One of my favourite movies used to be Manhattan directed by Woody Allen (it now sadly troubles me). I was given the soundtrack album by the boyfriend of the day after going to see it, as I was just so bowled over by George Gershwin’s compositions. They were all performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and somehow I now always think of Rhapsody In Blue when I see the New York skyline.

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Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin:

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) Lyrics
(Song by Paul Simon)

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

Hello, lamppost, what’cha knowin’?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
Ain’t’cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in doo-doo, feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy