Even though Rod was making his name as a frontman, he was up against big personalities in the way of Ian McLagan and Ronnie Lane, who would still do his share of the singing. Therefore First Step shouldn’t be considered a Rod Stewart solo album with a loud band, but it’s certainly in keeping with the album he’d released only a few months before.
In fact, the first song is a nasty electrified arrangement of Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger”, an echo of how Rod’s album opened with “Street Fighting Man”. But the dirt is brushed away by the slow gospel in “Devotion”, taken to a higher level with Ronnie comes into sing with Rod. “Shake, Shudder, Shiver” sounds more like the band playing behind Rod, though Woody must not have known there was a vocal track. Ronnie’s “Stone” might be better known to Who freaks, seeing as an acoustic duet of it appeared on Pete Townshend’s Who Came First after already having been on a Meher Baba tribute album. It’s even more of a jugband piece here, not necessarily “better”. Along similar lines, “Around The Plynth” comes from the same lyrical source as “Plynth” from the second Beck album, and goes on too long.
“Flying” brings all the pieces back together, Woody’s guitar playing well off Mac’s Hammond, and there’s even a hushed mass vocal over the bridge. “Pineapple And The Monkey” might pass off as a Booker T. & The MG’s instrumental, except that these guys have zero Stax chops. Rod and Ronnie duet again on “Nobody Knows”, which really shouldn’t continue past its fake ending, but then we’d miss Mac’s piano solo. Kenney Jones somehow gets co-writing credit on “Looking Out The Window”, another instrumental; maybe because he was playing with the tempo whilst acting out the title? Finally, “Three Button Hand Me Down” demonstrates the band at their rockin’ best, even via a rewrite of “Some Kind Of Wonderful”. It even ends sloppily, something they could do like nobody else.
Some of the songs are too long, and others could have been skipped altogether, but it was, after all, their First Step. The good outweighs the not, and they would pack a lot of playing and drinking into the next few years, together and apart.
Faces First Step (1970)—3