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There already exist quite a few Rod Stewart Best Of albums, Rod seems to keep churning them out alongside his Songbook albums. This is a worthy addition to the catalogue, comprising two discs and a staggering thirty six songs. The album is a fine place to explore some of Rod's well known tracks and also some of his lesser known moments. Rod enthusiasts will delight in the knowledge that it contains tracks by Stewart and The Faces, as well as his solo efforts.
'Maggie May' has to be included for obvious reasons and remains a tender and provoking love song in which Rod's lyrics are spot on and finely atuned to the wills of romance.
'Stay With Me' exudes a delicious raw edge and a pacey rhythm which will ignite any seventies dance floor. Some neat little changes in tempo in here keep the energy fresh and exciting. If you want something calmer, 'You Wear It Well' throws up some emotive guitar work and a thoughtful vocal turn from Stewart. Makes me think of lazy summer days with the laidback melody.
Hitting 'In A Broken Dream,' we are greeted by a subdued and pensive melody which seems to teeter on the brink of explosion without fully culminating. Electrifying guitars inject some spirit into the song, while Rod's vocals are tempered and lusty.
'Twistin' The Night Away' soars in with a sterling drum build before unleashing a vibrant vocal. The song would make for a great warm up dance at a high school disco. Though the rhythm could belong to Status Quo, Stewart's vocals keep it lively and some uplifting female backing vocals also brighten the mood.
I have never liked 'Handbags and Gladrags' which is just too dismal and depressing to want to play more than twice. The overexposure of the Stereophonics version also has taken the oomph out of Rod's version. We then slide back into another Faces track on the second disc, 'Cindy' is a powerful enough piece of rock music with stirring guitars to start and a grinding rhythm. It sounds more dated than a lot of the other stuff, but is a welcome break from some of the slower moments.
'Lost Paraguayos' takes things into a vaguely flamenco direction, with Spanglish guitars and an acoustic vibe working to good effect. Rod's vocal is on par and there are some whoops tucked in, suggesting he is enjoying the change in tune.
There is enough on here to amuse a casual fan, though the album lacks a lot of newer material. For an exploration into his early work, this is a good starting point though.
Rod Stewart might have been one of the most consistently successful British vocalists of the last four decades or so, but few people would argue against the opinion that he was at his best in the early 70s. For a few years he could hardly do anything wrong. One moment he was pursuing a solo career which alternated brilliantly-arranged folk ballads with good old rocknroll, then turn your back and hed be front man with the Faces, who were briefly the greatest good-time pub band in the land.
Changing Faces is a 36-track anthology containing the pick (well, with one exception Ill come to that later) of that era. Six are Faces tracks, one was a one-off single featuring Rod but credited to Python Lee Jackson, and the other 29 are all credited to Rod as a soloist. In fact, just to add to the confusion, most of them feature some of the Faces as well, in addition to various session musicians but lets not confuse the issue. All things considered, this is Ol Pineapple Barnet at his finest.
The tracks arent arranged chronologically in order of original release, not that it matters. Coming first on disc one are four of the greatest hits. If youve ever been a fan, youll probably know the 1971 No. 1 single Maggie May inside out, with that wonderful organ reminiscent of mid-60s Bob Dylan, and that lovely mandolin passage at the end. (Does anyone still believe it was John Peel, who used to sit uncomfortably with the instrument on their Top Of The Pops appearances? it was actually played by Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne). Chances are youll also know and love the devil-may-care Faces track Stay With Me, which follows.
Track three, Reason to Believe is a haunting song, written by Tim Hardin, and much as I love Rods voice, its the violin solo that really makes the record something special. I could say the same about the next track, You Wear It Well, another No. 1. Both this and Maggie May were co-written by Rod and classical guitarist Martin Quittenton, who played acoustic guitar on them; much of his success was due to interesting collaborations with other writers and musicians, as well as inspired cover versions. In a Broken Dream was the Python Lee Jackson project on which he sang, a one-off studio project resuscitated and reissued in 1972 to cash in on his success, a chillingly moody blues song with atmospheric guitar and organ.
After those five tracks, its a lucky dip assortment of singles and album cuts. Ill spare you a full track-by-track, and just cover the highlights. The other five Faces songs include their three subsequent hits, Cindy Incidentally, the wonderfully raucous Pool Hall Richard (undoubtedly my favourite), and the more soul-like You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything. The group never made a really good album, mainly as Rod was concentrating too much on his more profitable solo career. They often complained that he was saving his best songs for his own albums and giving them the also-rans but they knew how to whack out fine singles.
Hardly any of the solo numbers are fillers, whatever their mood. Rod was one of the first artists to record Handbags and Gladrags, written by Michael dAbo (who coincidentally joined Manfred Mann in 1966 when Paul Jones left Rod was on the shortlist for the vacancy), and its easy to see why the Stereophonics copied his style for their version more recently. He also does a couple of songs associated with the Stones, Street Fighting Man and Its All Over Now. There are a few rocknroll classics, like Thats All Right (the first single ever released by Elvis), Sam Cookes Twistin The Night Away, and Chuck Berrys Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller, folksy standards like Man Of Constant Sorrow, and the country weepie What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me).
Alongside cover versions a-plenty are several of his own songs, like True Blue, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down, Lost Paraguayos, and Every Picture Tells A Story. Theyre all excellent he had that knack of slipping in a fiddle or some other unusual instrument, or interesting little tempo change, when it was least expected.
Possibly the best number of the lot, though, is the spellbinding Mandolin Wind. Rod rarely if ever did a better vocal performance than on this one, and the combination of mandolin and slide guitar is almost out of this world. I was mesmerised by it the first time I ever heard it, over thirty years ago, and its never lost its magic for me.
Totally different, but not far behind it in terms of quality, is Let Me Be Your Car. Written and recorded by Elton John with longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin, though he didnt release his version until years later, this is straight-ahead no-nonsense rocknroll, with Elton sharing lead vocals and hammering the ivories as if the world was going to end tomorrow.
Its tempting to say something about every track, but Id end up repeating myself. But the foregoing should give you a reasonable picture of how it is. Currently £8.97 on Amazon, or £16.99 in HMV, so as usual shop around.
So why only four stars? Because the idiot compiler left out another utterly amazing song in fact, Rods last hit single before he became a tax exile-cum-easy listening crooner with the nice but bland and over-familiar Sailing. (Has that lost me any friends?) Where oh where is the stunning Farewell, the oft-overlooked 1974 Top 10 single from the much-maligned album Smiler, currently priced at a giveaway £3.33 on Amazon? That apart, no complaints. There are various other compilations available, but this is one of the best.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Maggie May
2 Stay With Me - The Faces
3 Reason To Believe
4 You Wear It Well
5 In A Broken Dream - Rod Stewart, Python Lee Jackson
6 Cut Across Shorty
7 Had Me A Real Good Time - The Faces
8 Miss Judy's Farm - The Faces
10 Oh! No Not My Baby
11 What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me)
12 (I Know) I'm Losing You
13 Mandolin Wind
14 Every Picture Tells A Story
15 I'd Rather Go Blind
16 Twistin' The Night Away
17 Sweet Little Rock 'N' Roller
18 Bring It On Home To Me / You Send Me
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Handbags & Gladrags
2 It's All Over Now
3 Cindy Incidentally - The Faces
4 Pool Hall Richard - The Faces
5 Street Fighting Man
6 Gasoline Alley
7 Let Me Be Your Car
8 That's All Right
9 My Way Of Giving
10 Italian Girls
11 Lost Paraguayos
12 True Blue
13 Hard Road
14 (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man
15 An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down
16 Jodie - Rod Stewart, The Faces
17 Man Of Constant Sorrow
18 You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything - The Faces