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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rod Stewart still gives us a ‘reason to believe’

Paul Collins

If you’re at all like me, there has always been that one very special song that seems to stay with you forever, while never losing its luster and freshness. It’s that one special song you hold on to, and regardless of how many times you hear it across the years, it still gets to you. It still makes you feel so good inside. It‘s the one that has you involuntarily singing along each and every time, as it magically lifts you out of the present, and transports you back to a wonderful time in your life; a time that now belongs to the past.

For me, that one special song has always been Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Even today, so many years after it launched his career, to me, right from the opening line – “Wake up, Maggie, I think I think I got something to say to you” – it still sounds as great as it did the first time I heard it way back when. It still wraps itself around me and, just for a minute, makes me feel like that carefree kid I once was. ...

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If you’re at all like me, there has always been that one very special song that seems to stay with you forever, while never losing its luster and freshness. It’s that one special song you hold on to, and regardless of how many times you hear it across the years, it still gets to you. It still makes you feel so good inside. It‘s the one that has you involuntarily singing along each and every time, as it magically lifts you out of the present, and transports you back to a wonderful time in your life; a time that now belongs to the past.

For me, that one special song has always been Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Even today, so many years after it launched his career, to me, right from the opening line – “Wake up, Maggie, I think I think I got something to say to you” – it still sounds as great as it did the first time I heard it way back when. It still wraps itself around me and, just for a minute, makes me feel like that carefree kid I once was.

“Every Picture Tells a Story,” the album from which the song comes from, is a treasure trove of Rod Stewart’s best efforts. Quite possibly, this album may be the best piece of work the gravelly voiced, spiky-haired, bleached blond British rocker has ever done in his long and illustrious career. For there is indeed a timeless feel to its more memorable tracks, such as “Reason to Believe,” “Mandolin Wind,” the title song, and of course the legendary “Maggie May.”

He was born Roderick David Stewart in Highgate, London, in 1945, once working as a grave digger to earn his keep as a young man. Stewart caught some breaks early in his career when, in the waning days of the 1960s, he was the singer in the band fronted by legendary British guitarist Jeff Beck, where a lifelong friendship with Beck’s bass player, Ron Wood, laid foundation for Stewart and Wood to ultimately become part of the band Faces. They enjoyed popularity in the UK, but never clicked with American audiences. Faces was the vehicle that allowed Stewart to eventually break out as a solo artist and explode onto the music scene with a force that catapulted him into being a rock music superstar of the 1970s, and well into the ’80s and ’90s. His early hits like “Maggie May,” “You Wear it Well,” and a terrific cover of Cat Stevens’ “First Cut is the Deepest,” made Stewart the ultimate crossover artist, as his songs topped both the rock and adult contemporary charts simultaneously.

In my mind, the sign of a memorable performer is found in their ability to continually reinvent themselves while never straying too far from the building blocks that made up their signature style. This has been especially true of Rod Stewart, as he has constantly adapted his style and has been able to stay current with the public’s constantly changing musical tastes for almost five decades. Through the years, this glitzy rocker – whose raspy voice sometimes sounds as though he’s gargled with razor blades – became the king of the Disco culture with monster hits like “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and “Hot Legs,” to next-decade hits like “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” and “Passion.” Then he seamlessly transformed himself yet again into a big band crooner in the tradition of Frank Sinatra. The next time you’re at a wedding reception and the band plays his cover of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” (a far bigger hit for Stewart than the original was for Morrison), watch how many people immediately head up to the dance floor.

At 69 years old, the man’s music and appeal are still very much intact, and Stewart remains a timeless figure on the international music scene. He’s still on tour and continues to display the energy of a teenager once the lights go up. Astounding! Last year in May, he released “Time,” his first album of all new songs in 20 years, and it shot up to No. 1 on the UK charts one week after its release. Again, for a man of this age to be leading the competitive pack of 20-something artists who weren’t even born when “Maggie May” was a hit song, speaks volumes to the longevity of his artist appeal.

The key to Stewart being able to maintain his credibility may be that he’s still astoundingly effective in his singing of love songs. His interpretation still connects deeply with fans across multiple generations. He’s that performer whose passion and depth of feeling comes through so clearly in his delivery. This has kept him at the top of the musical mountain for so long a time now.

As for me, I know each and every time I hear “Maggie May,” it will still sound as fresh and new to me as it did all those years ago. It will still find me turning the volume up, singing along into my air mic, and again feeling like that young kid who I once was. Thanks for that, Rod.

Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough, Mass.