Friday, May 15, 2020

Rod Stewart 8: A Night On The Town

Even though he wasn’t doing double time with a band, Rod Stewart gamely threw himself into the demands dictated by his new record label. Much like Atlantic Crossing, A Night On The Town was divided between slow and fast sides, and we still see a call-back to Never A Dull Moment in the cover art.

At this point Rod had certainly become a mainstream success, a hit on AM radio as well as FM, and for those of us of a certain age, this is why we couldn’t take him seriously for so long. Granted, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” was a few years away, but the guy in the leopard print top and the spandex slacks is in full effect. This is the album that opens with “Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)”. Whereas Neil Young’s song of similar title was an elegy for dead junkies, here Rod is doing his best to talk a virgin into bed, complete with then-girlfriend Britt Ekland cooing in French over the fade. The bravado fades immediately, however, with the faithful cover of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, probably the version Sheryl Crow knew best. “Fool For You” is similarly a hurt kiss-off to a jet-setting paramour, somewhat ironic given his growing reputation.

The fast side gets his own back right away with “The Balltrap”, a noisy and nasty putdown that really has us missing the Faces. The covers pile up from here; Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo” from over a decade before is yelled through, followed by the country rock nugget “Big Bayou”, which Ron Wood had just put on his most recent solo album, and “The Wild Side Of Life”, another country song covered by everyone back then; those tunes sound like Chuck Berry hijacked the sessions. The social commentary of “Trade Winds” goes completely against the concept of fast and slow sides, but echoes the effect of “Sailing” from the last album somewhat.

The fans Rod would have in this period of history would certainly count A Night On The Town among his best, and would likely welcome the expanded edition, which tacks a B-side onto the main program, and includes an alternate working version of the album on a second disc with some other extras. But as we’ve said too many times, this isn’t the guy we came to appreciate.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that we have yet to discuss a particular track, the one that closes side one. We’ve been saving it for its own paragraph, because even after all these years, there are few songs as unexpected and wholly moving as “The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II)”. This is an incredibly simple song musically, while the lyrics consist of the barest biography of a friend who happened to be gay, and was murdered on a New York City street, possibly because of this fact. With the economy of Bob Dylan and absolutely no histrionics, the story is told straightforward with no false emotion. Even the seemingly tossed-off “doo-doot doo” that passes as a chorus can’t deflate this. (“Part II” of the song is a slower lament sung like a chant, to the tune of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”. That’s probably why the complete track, over six minutes, was released as a single.)

Rod would have plenty more chances to be silly over the following decades, and take his brand all the way to the bank. He wouldn’t always be worth the effort, but an out-of-the-blue instance like “The Killing Of Georgie” is enough to remind us that, good lord, was he really good when he really wanted to be.

Rod Stewart A Night On The Town (1976)—3
2009 Deluxe Edition: same as 1976, plus 15 extra tracks


  1. Definitely "Da Ya ..." NOT "Do Ya ..." I checked with his manager years ago, and there was some justification that made sense at the time.