Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Rod Stewart Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

A Night on the Town (1976, Warner Bros.)

A –

Arguably Rod’s strongest album since Never a Dull Moment, if not nearly quite as good as that disc, A Night on the Town finds Rod duplicating the formula of Atlantic Crossing almost to a tee, even repeating the “Fast Side” and “Slow Side” gimmick. But Rod’s own songwriting is vastly better this time out than it was on Atlantic Crossing, which was largely salvaged by its cover material, and he’s also brought back a hint – albeit a slight one – of his old, folk-tinged sound from his years on Mercury that greatly helps to make the album’s slow half an appealing one. Just as was the case with Atlantic Crossing, it’s the slow half that ends up being the more memorable of the two sides, containing the fine R&B grooves of “Fool for You” and three Top 40 hits (his first since his cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” back in 1972): Rod’s second-ever chart-topper, the lustful-but-lush ballad “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright),” which sat at Number One for eight weeks; a first-rate cover of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut Is the Deepest”; and the epic story-song “The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II),” a tribute to a fallen friend. The faster half isn’t as strong, but it’s entertaining and contains some solid – and considerably rocked-up – covers of Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo,” Swampwater’s “Big Bayou,” and Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life.”  The delightful 2009 double-disc reissue adds, among other rarities, the mandolin-drenched B-side “Rosie,” which hearkens back to the sound of his earliest albums, and the previously-unreleased studio outtake “Share,” a gorgeous ballad that really should have been included on the original album.  

Foot Loose and Fancy Free (1977, Warner Bros.)

A –      

Assuming you don’t hold Rod’s commercial aspirations against him, as so, so many critics do, you could make a very valid argument that this disc is the equal of – though certainly not better than – A Night on the Town, even if this is a much less self-serious affair than that album and not nearly so grandiose in its artistic ambitions. (It is okay for rock to just be simply fun, right?) Rod dispenses here with the “fast side” and “slow side” gimmick of the previous two albums, instead mixing up tempos over the course of the disc. It is true that there’s perhaps a tad too much filler here for an eight-song album, but Rod compensates for that by making this the hardest-rocking, most muscular-sounding disc he’s made since Never a Dull Moment, Rod and his new band (featuring former Vanilla Fudge member Carmen Appice on drums) sounding downright heavy in places, to the extent that they even do a cover of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” that’s modeled after Vanilla Fudge’s sludgy, slowed-down version. New bassist Phil Chen gets to show off his chops to great effect on “You’re Insane,” as funky a side as Rod has ever cut, while the whole band effectively captures the sound of the Rolling Stones circa Sticky Fingers on “Born Loose” and the Top 40 hit “Hot Legs,” one of the most gloriously trashy songs in all of Rod’s catalog (it’s rather amazing, actually, that Rod thought up this song before Mick Jagger had a chance to), and arguably his greatest up-tempo song since “True Blue.” The album also boasts a pair of Top 40 ballads in the wistful, nostalgic folk of “I Was Only Joking” and the gently swaying Top Ten hit and enduring radio favorite “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim).”

Blondes Have More Fun (1978, Warner Bros.)

B

More hit-and-miss than either A Night on the Town or Foot Loose and Fancy Free but arguably a more fun affair than Atlantic Crossing, some critics were quick to blast Rod for dabbling in disco sounds on a few cuts here, but, hey, if the Stones can get a pass for doing it on “Miss You” and “Emotional Rescue,” why not Rod, too? Sure, the song might be cocky, but very rare is the rock-disco excursion from a classic rocker that’s quite as catchy or as much of a guilty pleasure as “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” – fun debate topic: would this song have been subjected to nearly as much scorn from critics if it had been Jagger doing it rather than the man behind the folk-rock of Every Picture Tells a Story? – and the song has actually aged much better than most other disco 45s from the same period. Nothing else on the album is quite as famous as that song, but there are a fair number of other highlights here, including the fun “Attractive Female Wanted,” the Stones-like rocker “Dirty Weekend,” a surprisingly great slightly-discofied muscular cover of the Four Tops’ “Standing in the Shadows of Love” that ranks as one of Rod’s best Motown remakes, and best of all, the wistful “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” which is easily one of the most underrated of all his Top 40 hits. [The hook-packed song stopped shy of the Top Twenty, peaking at #22, and is rarely heard on the radio these days, but it’s as effective a cross between his folk beginnings and his later adult-contemporary-pop direction as he would make during the late ‘70s or early ‘80s and comes highly recommended.]

Foolish Behaviour (1980, Warner Bros.)

C –

Rod’s first album of the ‘80s finds him jettisoning longtime producer Tom Dowd for all but one cut and producing himself once again. Unfortunately, this is his least appealing batch of material yet (the album’s title cut in particular is arguably Rod’s most dreadful original song yet), and even the lone hit single here – the Top Five hit “Passion” – is easily his most forgettable single to date (and still, decades later, arguably the least memorable of all his Top Ten hits), riding more on groove and atmosphere than actual hooks and coming across as an inferior version of the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” But, though there is easily more filler here than on any previous Rod album, it’s not a complete waste, either, and the album is redeemed by a small handful of pleasant non-hits, most notably the pretty and lushly-orchestrated lite-disco ballad “Somebody Special” (co-written with Steve Harley), the gently-swaying R&B of “My Girl” (an original, not a cover of the Temptations classic), and the Mercury-era-evoking folk-rock of “Oh, God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight,” which is undeniably the best song here.

Tonight I’m Yours (1981, Warner Bros.)

A –

A dramatic improvement on its predecessor and arguably Rod’s best album from start to finish since Foot Loose and Fancy Free, Tonight I’m Yours (co-produced with longtime guitarist Jim Cregan) finds Stewart back in fine form. The covers are a bit hit-and-miss – his rendition of Ace’s “How Long” isn’t nearly as good as the Paul Carrack-sung original, but the cover of Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” is fabulous – but Rod’s own songwriting here is his best in years, highlighted by the dance-rock of the harmonica-laden “Jealous,” the rave-up “Tora, Tora, Tora (Out with the Boys),” the Gasoline Alley­-recalling rocker “Only a Boy,” and, best of all, two heavily new-wave-flavored songs that each reached the Top 40: the Top Five hit and enduring radio favorite “Young Turks” (which clearly had to be at least partially inspired by Robert Palmer’s “Johnny & Mary” but is still a brilliant song in its own right and is easily one of Rod’s catchiest singles of the ‘80s) and the criminally underrated tubular-bell-laden dance-pop of “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me),” unquestionably one of the greatest of all of Rod’s post-Mercury singles and one of his hardest songs to resist dancing to.

Body Wishes (1983, Warner Bros.)

B –

Though its Elvis-inspired album cover drew a lot of derision from critics and the music didn’t fare much better, this disc (produced by a returning Tom Dowd, who last worked with Rod on Blondes Have More Fun) is actually much more appealing than most reviewers would have you believe. Mind you, there is nothing here whatsoever for people who exclusively like Rod’s more folk-oriented early albums, so avoid this disc if you generally despise Rod’s post-Smiler work, but for less-discriminating listeners who don’t mind Rod’s more pop-oriented excursions, there’s actually a lot here to like. The opener “Dancin’ Alone” is a fun Stones-like rocker, while the title cut is one of Rod’s more unusually catchy post-‘70s non-singles and the country-tinged “Sweet Surrender” is just as appealing. Best of all, though, are the album’s two Top 40 hits, the muscular synth-rock of “Baby Jane” and the effervescent second-side-opener “What Am I Gonna Do (I’m So in Love with You).” The album quickly falls apart after the latter song, but for its first six songs, Body Wishes is a reasonably good pop affair, if not nearly quite on the same level as Tonight I’m Yours. It’s certainly not a first-rate album – and it stops shy of even equaling Blondes Have More Fun – but this is actually a much better album than it gets credit for being (it’s certainly a great deal better than Foolish Behaviour, at least) and is one of Rod’s more underrated post-Mercury albums.