Rod Stewart, “Every Picture Tells a Story” (1971): One Track Mind

Share this:

Before he hooked up with Clive Davis to transform himself into a dubious version of Tony Bennett — many, many years before — Rod Stewart was a seriously good rock singer. I don’t mean to imply that his raspy pipes are now shot to hell, or anything like that. I mean the material he covered, the style of his music and his attitude made Rod Stewart a force to be reckoned with back then.

For proof, we head to the second of his holy trinity of classic albums, Every Picture Tells a Story, released in May 1971 after Gasoline Alley and before Never A Dull Moment. This is the record that contained his signature hit “Maggie Mae” and the fine English folk album cut “Mandolin Wind.” It also commences with one whale of a rocker with a song by the same name as the album.

Anyone only vaguely familiar with classic rock might think I’m only stating the painfully obvious up to this point, but I’m painfully reminded of that lost glory when my playlist touches on most any pre-1977 selection of Rod Stewart’s. He was on one helluva roll for a time, and the one selection that to me stands in the most direct contrast to what became of his music is “Every Picture Tells a Story.”

An original Rod co-write with his Faces cohort at the time, the brunette look-alike Ron Wood, this track epitomizes that period’s footloose outlook, as Stewart takes the role of a young man looking for cheap thrills around the globe — until, that is, he arrives in China and falls in love. There are some of-its-moment racism and sexism here, but you’re struck more often (with lines like “my body stunk but I kept my funk” and “she took me up on deck and bit my neck; oh people, I was glad I found her”) by Rod Stewart’s carefree humor.

“Every Picture Tells a Story” is a hard rocker, alright, but it rocks mostly acoustically. Ron Wood supplies electric bass and a few well-placed electric guitar lines, but the track is driven by a maddening persistent barbaric beat and hard strumming acoustic guitars. Rod Stewart is obviously having a ball, ad libbing “woo” between just about every other line. There’s no chorus, just a string of verses that take listeners around the world and wondering how the story will end. The song sprints along, until a more reflective verse temporarily brings down the intensity as Stewart is joined by Maggie Bell’s soulful harmonies. Then, “Every Picture Tells a Story” picks up again for a concluding climax, where the moral of the story is revealed.

The result is one of those tunes that makes you nod your head, thinking: “Now this is what rock and roll is about!” Quite the opposite of where Rod Stewart, sadly, was headed.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close