Jun 242008

Here’s where I expect sparks to fly. The Stones opened Round 1 with a furious set of haymakers. Rod Stewart had his best work stripped from him and added to its proper place in 1970, leaving him nearly defenseless against my favorite post-Brian Jones-era Stones album. However, despite chronological inaccuracies, my writing on Stewart’s early strengths was so strong that I managed to keep him standing and alert when the first round ended. In Round 2, Rod Stewart established his footing and skillfully accumulated points from the judges compared with the Stones’ party-hearty, contractually obligated “live” album. Now, as we enter Round 3, covering the artists’ 1971 releases, both contestants answer the bell looking to score an early knockout!

The Stones release of Sticky Fingers is loaded with radio-ready rockers and the richest ballads they’d displayed to date. There’s “Brown Sugar”, “Wild Horses”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, and “Bitch” for starters. There’s also the overrated “Moonlight Mile” among other highly regarded deep cuts. That’s cool: we’re all entitled to overrate a deep cut or two per great album.

Despite my never loving the album or feeling the need to own it, Sticky Fingers is a powerfully crafted album – and we’ll want to consider issues of craft in 1971’s tightly fought Round 3 – and the first Stones studio album to prominently feature the fretwork of Mick Taylor – and not an album too soon! As the times demanded extended jams and more stringent blues credibility, Taylor brought chops to the band that were already in place in upstart hard rock bands like Humble Pie and Faces. As great as his work in this period was, Keef wasn’t going to cut it as a lead guitar hero in the post-Altamont landscape.

In setting up this Battle Royale, I pledged to center the examination around the music, at least in the early rounds, but before we move on I’ve gotta give Mad Props to the album cover. Here’s a definite, early advantage for the Stones in comparison with the typically blah album covers associated with most of Stewart’s work during this period.



Rod Stewart, “Every Picture Tells a Story”

Faces, “Bad ‘n Ruin”

Rod Stewart, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”



  32 Responses to “Battle Royale, Round 3: Rod Stewart vs The Stones, 1971”

  1. mockcarr

    Jesus, that Sweet Lady Mary is annoying. Is it improvised? Sounds like Lane, or whoever is playing bass, is hearing the song for the first time. The mandolin song takes WAY too long for the payoff. If you’re going to complain about Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, the same sort of meandering dilution applies here.

    Hey, if you’re anticipating the effects of band partying, there’s already Sister Morphine onon the Stones album, so where’s Rod’s insight into where the 70’s are headed? The way the snare hits in that song tells me at least Charlie still had a role to play in the debauchery.
    And how much of the “sound” of these solo/Faces albums can you attribute to Rod personally? I find his frontman persona somehow more offputting than Mick, even if you feel like Mick hams it up too much and adopts a bunch of poses, at least he tries to adapt and vary things into a performance for good or ill. You get raspy randy Rod every time.

    You also give Bitch short shrift, I believe. A riff like that has legs of it’s own.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, Mockcarr. I ask you to put aside your Stones worship and Stewart hatred for the duration of this examination, if at all possible. The Stones made a solid rock album in 1971; Stewart perfected what the Stones first attempted to do on Beggars Banquet and was part of two other albums that have their share of cool album tracks. “Bad ‘n Ruin” has a cooler groove than almost anything Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman playing at that time. Cut Lane a break for his improvised tuba bass on “Sweet Lady Mary”! There’s a learning process at work. 1971 was Rod’s year of self-realization. Don’t hate the man for becoming all that he could be.

    I’m fairly certain that The People are taking notice of Stewart’s 1971 showing and wondering what 1972 will bring.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    By the way, as you open your minds and put aside the spectre of rolly-poly, hunchbacked, pastel-clad, bleached shag rug Rod of the last 2 dozen years, keep in mind the question at the heart of this Battle Royale:

    From 1969 through 1976, Rod Stewart, including his work with Faces, released music on par with or better than the Rolling Stones, during that same period.

    I’m sure a lot of you already have this question pinned up on your cubicle’s corkboard.

  4. alexmagic

    I’m not making any judgments yet, and I want to hear some of these songs under better listening conditions than I can at the moment, but this is probably Rod at his best. I think, if anything, you’re underplaying where “Stay With Me” fits into his arsenal. This is the kind of haymaker he could throw today – the blunt force trauma hurtin’ bombs from Rocky Balboa – without losing any of its effectiveness, unlike “Maggie May”, which betrays one of his long-term weaknesses, the way he comes back to mandolins and rustic fiddles and other sea shanty, old guy in a pub wearing a jeff cap shit.

    These kinds of flaws are like dropping his gloves, they’re going to cost him the fight. His other weakness, as mockcarr mentions, is a lack of variety in his delivery, not a problem for the Mick Jagger of this era. Rod may breathing through his mouth as the fight goes on.

    I remain unconvinced that Rod ever made it out of that first round – Let It Bleed was one of those brain damage-causing shots to the head with Rod not even defending himself, and these later rounds could be Ambrose Bierce-like hallucinations as Rod dies on the mat. But, that said, Round 3 is impressive, and “Stay With Me” and “Every Picture Tells A Story” are formidable shots. Seeing them again could very well help us look past the Rod of today, in his Gerry Cooney years as a celebrity greeter at the front door of Caesar’s Palace.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Alexmagic, The Investigation appreciates your open-mindedness. I hope it’s clear to all that I’m as open-minded about my hypothesis as well. Some of you probably think that the outcome of this examination is predetermined, but that’s not the case. To be fair, I have not allowed myself to think ahead. 1972 should be interesting.

  6. is anybody else having real trouble giving a shit about any of this?

  7. Not me, 48. I’m enjoying these posts a lot more than many other posts here, frankly. Still considering Mod’s comments about 1971, although I remain concerned that he is downplaying the power of rock and roll’s most awesome rhythm section.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Mwall, I like Bill Wyman a lot (and Keith Richards, when he’s playing bass during this period), but I don’t think Charlie Watts is all that when it’s not Bernard Purdie or Jimmy Miller who’s actually behind the skins. We can agree to disagree on this point. To me, the real rhythm keeper in the Stones – and maybe this is what you’re getting at – is Richards. He’s an excellent rhythm guitarist.

  9. What I’m getting at is the degree to which the rhythm section of the Stones puts them on another level entirely than Stewart ever achieved, with The Faces or otherwise. I’m thinking about the kind of moment when the rhythm section seems to take a song right up out of the grooves of the record and put it in your living room or wherever you happen to be. Call it “catching fire” or whatever you want. Interestingly, Fleetwood Mac can sometimes do this too. But the Faces never. They’re always a little too sluggish and mired in something. They never really break free, even on their best songs, which I really do love.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    The Great 48 wrote:

    is anybody else having real trouble giving a shit about any of this?

    Fair question! May I suggest an answer? This is your Rock Town Hall. Use your Back Office privileges, insight, brain power, and good humor to craft a new thread that may fill a void in our current rock discussions! I’m not picking on you, just using this opportunity to get one of our constant messsages out there for consideration by all Townspeople.

    As for this thread, I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by 1972’s Round 4. I know I will be!

  11. BigSteve

    I’m tempted to say that if you don’t like Sticky Fingers we have nothing to discuss.

    To me it seems like an almost perfect album. The only slow spot is the rather pointless You Got To Move. The high points are very high. To me only Every Picture is in the same ballpark as Brown Sugar (great drumming!). Stay With Me rocks, but the lyric tips it over into self-parody.

    Weighing three albums against one is bound to be problematical, but if Rod and the Faces had cut out all the covers and released only their best self-written material we’d have one album we could compare to Sticky Fingers. In this case the extra stuff weighs down the Faces side rather than adding weightiness.

    And don’t make me laugh suggesting the the Faces influenced Dylan. Rod wouldn’t even have any mandolins on his albums without The Band.

    And then there’s the problem that Rod/the Faces have two modes — folksy and Stonesy. Not much in between, and they don’t mix them up. I don’t see how the Faces can be said to rival the Stones by playing Stonesy rockers. The Stones have much more range.

    And if the best song on one side if Maggie May and the best song on the other is Brown Sugar, which one would you rather hear? Even making the argument for the other side Mr Mod admits we’re all sick of Maggie May. But if Brown Sugar were to come on the radio right now I’d turn it up not off.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    Hey, BigSteve, first of all I think Sticky Fingers is a very good, extremely well-crafted album. Beside “Brown Sugar” and the best parts of the other songs, however, the album doesn’t resonate with me. Every other song I like has a part that loses me.

    Second, you can’t cut out covers. Since when did you become the guy who thinks covers show a lack of credibility or something like that? You know you’re not that kind of guy. The Stewart-related covers stand. You wouldn’t toss out the covers that soul artists or pre-Beatles artists regularly did, would you?

    Third, why can’t I make you laugh with my Dylan comparison? You think I’m not aware of the humor in that statement? That said, I sincerely think Blood on the Tracks bears an unlikely ’til that point sense of craftsmanship by Dylan that is within the parameters set by Every Picture…. The Band, who you know I love dearly, were very funky and full of nooks and crannies. Same goes for ’60s Dylan. Stewart synthesized – and yes, cheesed up – a lot of those characteristics and characteristics heard in other late-60s albums, and what I was saying beyond trying to make a bit of a joke was that Dylan, in the mid-70s, crafted a couple of albums that similarly smoothed out the nooks and crannies usually found in his music. I stand by my claim that Blood… has more in common with Every Picture… than any of the classic Band or ’60s Dylan albums. What you might realize, if you can accept this premise, is that there was some benefit – if not the most desired benefit – to Stewart’s best work. Without the sense of consciously crafted Classic Rock that both Stewart and the Stones trafficked in during 1971, Dylan might still have been extending his epic run of contractual obligation albums that we detailed just about a week ago.

    To get back to the humor of my statement and maybe some others that have appeared and will follow, why should this exercise be deadly serious? The question is did Stewart produce music as good as or better than the Stones during this period. We’ve been through 3 years, and if you’re honest, which I know you are, you’d admit that Stewart is holding up better than you might have expected when this exercise began. I’m getting the sense that 1972 is going to be a tough year for Rod, but don’t count the man out when you consider what follows the Stones’ 1972 classic.

    I’m not going to get into questions of range. Personally, I don’t buy the extent of the Stones’ range in the ’70s. I think they’d be better sticking to chocolate and vanilla as well.

    The best song from eithe artist in 1971 is “Every Picture Tells a Story”. Sorry I didn’t highlight that more. I focused on “Maggie May” because it’s the song that defines Stewart, for better and for worse, yet the better has been denied because we all think we’re too cool to love that song the way we probably did when we first heard it on the radio as younger people.

    I also tried to bring out the coming of age angle for Stewart in ’71 because I think that counts for something. The Stones, in some ways, have a tougher row to hoe in ’71 because they were already deep into trying to reshape themselves and/or keep that second life post-Brian alive. They’d burnt through their initial spark and may have been running through the final inspiration from what was best about the Beggars Banquet/Let It Bleed period. I think they were painting by numbers on Sticky Fingers more than they had on the previous albums and definitely more than they would on their next album (as much as I half-jokingly deride it). I think they had to hold Mick Taylor’s hand through Sticky Fingers. Maybe some other hands as well. To me, they sound more pedestrian than I’m used to the Stones sounding. Rod Stewart matching a merely very good, competent Stones album is a great achievement for him. The Stones turning out a very good, competent rock album like Sticky Fingers is no great shakes for them.

  13. BigSteve

    I wasn’t saying that covers were always bad, but more that the excessive reliance on covers makes the output of the two bands in this year nor comparable. Also the Faces don’t usually bring much to their covers. Memphis sounds pretty much like That’s All Right. At least they do something with Losing You.

    I don’t think there’s a whole lot of craft in Blood on the Tracks. The musicians just got 2 maybe 3 takes on the released version, instead of the single takes Dylan originally wanted to release. I’m not saying Dylan is immune to all influences, but Blood didn’t come out till 1975, and the landscape was different by then. I don’t think your idea of classic rock verities was in play in his mind.

    The coming of age issue is interesting, because a lot of Stewart’s best material is nostalgic. But he doesn’t seem to have ever resolved the conflict between the worldview of Maggie May and Gasoline Alley with the persona of Stay With Me.

  14. Mr. Moderator

    As far as I’m concerned, that A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… album pretty much blows, BigSteve. And you’re right about those covers. I’m not that interested in taking points off for stinkers, however, as much as I am in assessing what’s really worthwhile in each artist’s catalog during this stretch. On Ya-Yas, for instance, I can’t be bothered with the Stones’ coverd of “Carol” and “Little Queenie”. Most of their versions of their own songs aren’t that hot either. I like “Midnight Rambler” a lot from that album, so that song carried most of the band’s points in 1970.

    Both artists fail as often as they succeed in covers. What Stewart and company could do better than the Stones at this point, I think, is cover Motown and soul songs. We could save this for another day, but it’s been nagging at me for some time: Charlie Watts is hanging on for dear life during much of this stretch. If Keef’s not laying down the beat on rhythm guitar, Charlie’s not adding a lot of juice. Pretty Purdie must have been tied up with those Aretha sessions;)

  15. I think the extent to which Rod is still doing Stones-like music is an issue here. He’s past stage one of the anxiety of influence, wanting to be like the Stones, and on to stage two, wanting to kick their asses in some kind of head to head way, but he’s still playing the Stones’ game. That he’s sometimes making better Stones-style music than the Stones is indeed remarkable, but it’s not going to make anyone look past the comparison with the Stones.

    Driving home from work the other day, playing the first Rod stewart record, I had the terrible realization that it was only Lite-Rock Lover Man Rod who succeeded in creating music that would no longer be compared to his self-chosen master. For those next few years, he was world famous, loved and reviled by large numbers, but no one ever said “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” was derivative. It’s a devastating musical thought, actually, that he became unique only by sucking in a way that no one had ever sucked before.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    Mwall wrote:

    That he’s sometimes making better Stones-style music than the Stones is indeed remarkable, but it’s not going to make anyone look past the comparison with the Stones.

    You’re correct using your powers of looking back through time, but let’s put ourselves in 1971: Rod had the #1 album and another top 10 album – on merit – playing, half the time, the Stones’ game. The People chose Rod’s take on the Stones. The People wanted the best rock ‘n roll possible, and Rod provided it – by a nose.

    no one ever said “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” was derivative

    The Brazillian, I believe, artist said that the main hook was not only derivative but an instance of plagarism – and he won a lawsuit to that effect! But I know what you mean. I just wanted to beat some otherwise disinterested Townsperson like The Great 48 to the punch.

    WHERE’S BERLYANT WHEN WE NEED HIM ON THIS SUBJECT, by the way? For that matter, where are CDM, HVB, Saturnismine, and especially two dudes I trust will support the judges decisions to date: Al and Andyr. I’m certain 2K and General Slocum are carefully weighing the evidence and will come through with HONEST appraisals of the examination at the appropriate time.

    1972 is going to be interesting.

  17. I appreciate the pince-nezing. Clearly I need to do more in-depth studies of rock trivia, and I am suitably chastened.

    Of course as you know I was really trying to establish that only then was Rod creating his own Stones-free Music and Image. Ripping off music from people who are much less remembered might be a classic Step 3 move, and can be seen for instance in the way some guys still get angry that the Stones “ripped off the blues.”

  18. BigSteve

    I have a problem with the “let’s ignore the bad stuff and focus on the good” approach. But let’s follow through.

    Let’s create a single album containing only the best from 1971. Basing it on what I know and the tracks you’ve selected, and even allowing a couple of the better covers, I’m suggesting the following tracklisting:

    Side 1–

    1. Maggie May
    2. Losing You
    3. Sweet Lady Mary
    4. You’re So Rude
    5. Mandolin Wind

    Side 2–

    1. Stay With Me
    2. Bad ‘n’ Ruin
    3. Richmond
    4. Maybe I’m Amazed
    5. Every Picture Tells a Story

    A fine album, and one that most bands would give a gonad to record, but as good as Sticky Fingers? Really? “On a par with” was the language you originally used. I’m willing to allow that Rod and Woody could make up a foursome with Mick and Keith and not totally embarrass themselves, but the Stones would finesse the match.

  19. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve, I admire your tenacity and dedication. We might quibble about a song or two that you’ve selected for me – and out of fairness I’d have to knock off the Lane-sung “Richmond” – but you’ve prepared a decent collection. If you then knock off the songs that I never need to hear on Sticky Fingers, my Stewart mix holds up well. I choose not to fret over the bad stuff, though. That’s not the nature of this exercise. I ENJOY listening to the Stewart stuff from 1971 more than I enjoy listening to Sticky Fingers in its entirety AND – AND – “Every Picture…”, “Maggie May”, and “Bad ‘n’ Ruin” make up two fully constructed classics and one simply “cool” riff-based song that top “Brown Sugar”, “Wild Horses”, and whatever riff-based song you want to pick from Sticky Fingers.

    The Stones have plenty of time to catch up. Be cool, people.

  20. sammymaudlin

    I have a fundamental issue with the argument here. You are pitting any song sung by Stewart against everything by The Stones.

    However, most everything by The Stones was written by The Stones when in fact Stewart wrote very little himself.

    I’m not saying that writing is everything but I do think that this gives Stewart an advantage as he is singing tunes written by some of the greatest songwriters, including The Stones.

    True he has to pull it off, but its not like he’s pulling it off by himself.

    This seems to be a fundamental miscalculation that renders your argument meaningless.

    I think it speaks volumes that The Stones hold their own, even in your estimation, with this blatantly unfair, and quite possibly illegal, criteria that you have invented.

    If you care to change your argument to The Stones vs. Any Song that happened to be sung by Rod Stewart During this obviously stacked to feed Mr. Mod’s argument Time Period, I’ll be happy to consider it.

    Also, what Faces is better than Nod? Seriously. That’s the only one I have, and I love it.

  21. “Also, what Faces is better than Nod? Seriously. That’s the only one I have, and I love it.”

    Ooh La La It’s great.

  22. Mr. Moderator

    At the risk of giving away some upcoming tactics, I cannot answer your question right now, Sammy, but I can assure you there are better Faces albums than Nod.

  23. 2000 Man

    I got busy today and couldn’t get online, or I’d have come to Big Steve’s aid. Here I thought that I’d be tasting the mat, but I don’t think so. I think Rod’s secret weapon is future Stone Ron Wood. “Stay With Me” is far and away my favorite song of this era (on the Rod/Faces side of the coin), and Ronnie wrote it. I listened to all three of those albums today, and it made for a good day of driving around, lemme tell ya.

    “Every Picture Tells a Story” is a really good song, but it has always been one of those songs with diminishing returns for me. If I hear it fairly often, I get pretty tired of it. I bet I’ve literally listened to “Brown Sugar” over 1000 times since it’s on so many bootlegs, and that studio cut – man! Jagger’s riff is just a monster. Charlie’s drumming is super terrific, too.

    As a whole, Sticky Fingers isn’t as high on my list as some Stones fans, but considering that they had no room for failure after Allen Klein they pulled it together and integrated Mick Taylor into the sound (“Sway” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'”), hinted at the greatness that is Exile on “Bitch” and squeeze in some really tasty strings. That helps add up to one of the most focused and perfectly executed albums ever.

    Rod is running into a problem of sameness. “Reason to Believe” sounds just like “Maggie May” in spots, BigSteve already pointed out “That’s All Right” and “Memphis.” They’re as lost on “Memphis” as The Kinks got on “Louie, Louie,” and that’s saying something. I think Rod’s got less ideas than he really thinks, and he needs to wait for The Stones to show him what to do next.

    I haven’t read the critique of Charlie’s drumming in this period, but Mr. Mod has got to be outnumbered like a billion to one on that opinion. The 72 and 73 tours are coming up here. Most of us that bleed Exile say that’s as good as live rock n roll ever got. I also can’t discount the bad in Rod’s output. “Amazing Grace” is pure filler and “Seems Like a Long Song” is like waiting for a freight train to pass that seems like it’s about to stop, but manages to creep along for another two miles while the old Torino slowly overheats. The Stones just aren’t missing here. They have the room to experiment a little and experience and talent to pull it off.

  24. Mr. Moderator

    Before we move on, let’s review the score so far: Rod, 2 rounds to 1 for the Stones. We could also total the “good to great” performances on the releases discussed so far, and the results would probably be about *+3 for the Stones. Rod’s doing better than expected, isn’t he? I sense a lot of fear among Stones loyalists. If you’re afraid, there’s still time to buy a dog. Round 4, examining the artists’ releases in 1972, will appear in about 6 hours. Stay tuned!

  25. BigSteve

    The manager of one of the boxers is also scoring the match? That’s fair.

  26. Mr. Moderator

    Who ever said I have a rooting interest? I have posed a hypothesis and I’m seeing it through. The results are fairly objective. Has anyone had a major objection to the results of any round yet? I don’t recall one. The gist of comments from threatened Stones fans is, “Well, there’s no way Rod Stewart could have put out records as good as or better than the Stones in any year! I mean, he’s Rod Stewart and they’re the fucking Stones!” 2K himself has conceded that Sticky Fingers is only a good Stones album. Is there anyone out there who disagrees strongly with the results of any of the first three rounds? OK, I think 2K went to the mats for Ya-Yas, but there was no support for that position. 2-1, Stewart. Fairly objective results.

  27. 2000 Man

    I score it 3-0 Stones. Where Sticky Fingers isn’t as high on my personal list as most die hard Stones fans, that’s just because I like Some Girls better. Alexmagic agrees with my hypothesis that Stewart never made it out of the first round. He was disintegrated right about the time Merry Clayton pushed her voice to the limits on “Gimme Shelter.”

    Quantity does not beat quality.

  28. general slocum

    Mod, I don’t think you’re fixing the event, here. I do think you’re willfully propping up Rod Stewart’s case in an effort not to have yet another wank fest over the Stones genius. And I applaud you heartily. I do think Sticky Fingers is a stunning rock record. I hate the Stones about as much as I like their records in this period, but I have to admit they were almost untouchable by anybody in this era. Maybe Neil Young?

    Anyhow, someone pointed out that Rod’s stuff tires after a few listens, and I agree. Maybe it’s that raspy sound, that gets too worn out as an effect or something. I also freely admit I think Maggie May is a fantastic song, which still doesn’t bug me much when it comes on. The other songs you’ve held up don’t have that sense to them.

    Maybe that’s its own basis for critique, but I’ve always noticed that when I’m sitting in a bar, I never ever mind when Aretha’s “Respect” comes on, or “Walking After Midnight”, or one or two others. After bazillions of listenings, they still fire up for me. The Stones have a couple of those, that get near that status for me. Rod just doesn’t cut it. And in light of what he later became, maybe he was running on fumes in this “golden age.” I like it, but it doesn’t have that kind of conviction.

    That, said, keep on, Mod! I’m liking the healing amidst the fray.

  29. Mr. Moderator

    General Slocum wrote:

    I have to admit they were almost untouchable by anybody in this era. Maybe Neil Young?

    Really? Admittedly, I lean so heavily toward the greatness of the Brian Jones-era Stones that I’m almost always disappointed by the Stones’ ’70s output. I was encouraged by the poll the other day, in which Townspeople suggested other bands whose work might stack up favorably to the Stones’ from ’69-’76: Zeppelin, Roxy Music, and others, including Young. To me the Stones still have enough left in the tank to make it to the playoffs with most of their early ’70s releases, but they’re looking old and often getting eliminated in the first round. Exile excluded, of course. I know that’s the greatest album ever made while holding a bottle of hootch around a single mic and all that jazz… Seriously, although I lift the needle over 2/3 of Exile, I am aware that it’s a more ambitious, more powerful album than any full album by Rod Stewart, although I do favor one of the Faces albums from another year over it. I shouldn’t say anything more in case I sway the line on this Battle Royale.

  30. BigSteve

    I might be willing to concede 1970. That was not a good year for the Stones. If you’d seen someone get killed at one of your concerts, and everyone thought that you were at least partly to blame, you might want to take a year off, issue a contractual obligation live album, and do heroin too.

    But as long as I am assured the Mod is being objective, I can go forward.

  31. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve, as this Battle Royale continues into the late rounds, I trust that you will come to admire my objectivity.

  32. BigSteve

    Ok but I’m going to continue to refer to you as ‘the Mod’ for the duration.

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