We didn’t ask to be born when we were, nor are we responsible for Rod Stewart becoming increasingly silly over the course of the ‘70s. For some time we wrote off “Maggie May” as simply a too-long song that stole a title and nothing else from a copyrighted snippet on Let It Be. Therefore we can’t say exactly when we realized what a fine album Every Picture Tells A Story is, but it was likely after his MTV Unplugged appearance and album that tried to suggest that he invented that particular trend. (He didn’t.)
Yet the title track absolutely rocks, driven by a determined 12-string acoustic (Ron Wood, of course) and positively pounding drums from good old Micky Waller. Woody adds a few electric leads, but it still takes a long time for the title to be sung, by which time we’ve already been seduced by the occasional harmonies from Miss Maggie Bell. It’s a great start to a solid album side, the rest of which is devoted to covers. “Seems Like A Long Time” was first heard on the same Brewer & Shipley album that gave us “One Toke Over The Line”; it fits him better than them, but sounds very close to Van Morrison’s “Brand New Day” from the same year. A furious dobro kicks off “That’s All Right”, the Elvis song everybody knows, shoehorned for some reason into an Appalachian arrangement of “Amazing Grace”. And despite the similar title two cuts before, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” is yet another relatively obscure Dylan tune done very nicely.
Before we get to “Maggie May” proper, there’s a brief classical guitar piece called “Henry” that occasionally gets indexed separately depending on which version of the album you have. Frankly, the best part of the song is the trilling mandolins, which get their own moment to shine before sending the song out to the fade, in the days when a five-minute hit single was still a rarity. It’s a good transition to the next track. “Mandolin Wind” doesn’t feature the instrument as prominently until about halfway through, but yet again a track explodes with drums to inspire severe foot-stomping. While not credited as such, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” is a full-fledged Faces performance, and a killer rendition of the Temptations song. (That would be Ronnie Lane helping with the low parts, and Kenney Jones never sounded this good in The Who.) And while he wasn’t the first guy to cover Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe”, it’s likely Rod’s is the version everybody knows, and it’s affecting to hear this stud sing about his broken heart.
What is so fascinating about this album is, again, that most of the electric touches, whether guitar or organ, seem to be afterthoughts once the acoustic backing tracks were laid down. We’ve been tough on the guy, but Ron Wood deserves dual credit for everything he contributes to this album. Outside of the multitude of guitars, he also plays most of the bass, mixed unobtrusively. But Every Picture Tells A Story depicts just one man and name on the cover, and he set a bar that, frankly, he’d never hit again.
Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)—4