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Every Picture Tells a Story
Rod Stewart

Mercury 609
Released: May 1971
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 52
Certified Gold: 8/2/71

Rod StewartHe has it in him, has Rod Stewart, to save a lot of souls, to rescue those of us who are too old for Grand Funk but not old enough for those adorable McCartneys from being nearly consumately bored with the current rock scene.

It's not inconceivable that he could do it without even opening his mouth: He's physically sensational, the idol of perhaps three continents' heavy trendies, the most profound influence on rock and roll fashion since the Stones' Tour. He's the single most glamorous rock figure rolling.

When he does open his mouth to sing, out comes the most unique male voice in rock, a voice anyone could recognize instantly at five hundred paces through a Dixie cup. He's suggested to interviewers that he sounds too much like Arthur Conley or occasional other R&B luminaries, but 'tain't so -- he sounds only like a white kid with strep throat fighting valiantly but in vain to reproduce Arthur Conley's or some other occasional R&B luminary's vocal tone. Consequently, he's got soul to spare.

Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
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His are just about the finest lyrics currently being written, lyrics constructed solidly of strong, straightforward images that convey intense emotions, images that far more often reflect the music that their creator has loved than anyone's notion of rock-lyrics-as-poetry: "I think I'll go back home and start all over again/Where the gulf-stream waters tend to ease my pain." He's eloquent, literate, and moving -- a superb writer.

Moreover, his tastes in co-writers and accompanists is impeccable.

All of which combines to imply that only deficiencies of taste in the areas of material and occasionally production may be held responsible for Every Picture Tells A Story being the third Rod Stewart album in succession that only occasionally sounds like the work of a man who's got it in him to save a lot of souls, a bashful step in the right direction though it may be in that it's equal parts magnificent splendor and pleasant inconsequence rather than, as were The Rod Stewart Album and Gasoline Alley, equal parts magnificent splendor and scarcely listenable heavy-handedness.

There is no better backing band in the biz at the moment than the one Stewart assembles for his solo sessions -- Ron Wood seems to save all his most exquisite chops for these occasions, Martin Quittenton's acoustic guitar, both when sharing the lead with Wood's bottleneck or working as a rhythmic embellishment to Mick Waller's ride cymbal and high-hat, is always stunning, Pete Sears plays a quite pretty piano, Dick Powell's fiddle is unremittingly delightful, and together these gentlemen interact ingeniously, producing accompaniments as rich in texture as those of the Highway 61 and Blonde On Blonde bands.

Sad to say, though, no amount of excellent, even occasionally breathtaking playing by his band behind quite satisfactory singing by Stewart himself can transform such massively inconsequential, nay, dowright trivial, fare as "Seems Like A Long Time" or "Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time," an understandably obscure bit of early Dylan schlock, into anything very memborable. What on earth is Rod Stewart doing listening to old Brewer & Shipley and Hamilton Camp albums (where from these two tidbits were procured) when he could be writing his own stuff, his own stuff always being his best stuff? And why also, as with "That's All Right, Mama" and "Reason To Believe," should he or we settle for his paying pleasant but hardly captivating homage to early inspirations when he's capable of saving souls?

Simply, on about half the album he started with nothing much and, to no one's surprise, came up with something that can be respected or even slightly enjoyed but scarcely gotten passionate about.

Moreover, one at least one occasion he starts with something quite splendid of his own and produces it in such a way that, for one's first week or so with the album, he can listen to only a portion of the song at a time. So prominent in the mix of the title track, in which Stewart attempts to reproduce the tightly sloppy, all-hell-has-broken-loose sound of "It's All Over Now" and "Cut Across Shorty" from his previous album, are Waller's drums, that the track originally comes off as obnoxious and heavy-handed. Which is not to mention that one really has to struggle to pick out all the words.

And will he never tire of endless endings?

But enough of sad matters, and on to the joyous task of examining the man's work at its incomparable best...

Even while it originally almost drives you from the room trying to convince you of the fact, "Every Picture" does rock with ferocity via a simple but effective seven -- not ascension/five note descension riff that Waller cleverly punctuates with a halved-time bass-drum-against-snare lick. In the grand manner of "Gasoline Alley" and "Bad'N'Ruin," it kicks things off powerfully with the usual Stewart picaresque autobiographical tale with the familiar theme of the down-and-out wanderer confronting some basic moral truths during his wanderings and returning home a wiser man. Where he's momentarily intent on rhyme things get a trifle forced here and there (as when he mates Rome and none), but such objections evaporate instantly in the face of such delightful lines as: "Shanghai Lil never used the pill/She said, 'It just ain't natural!'."

A careful listening or two will reveal that Stewart is sublty brilliant on "I'm Losing You," which enjoys splendid hard-'n'-heavy backing from the Faces, as when he swoops almost imperceptibly into and out of falsetto during the title line. Note with pleasure how, towards the end of his colossal (and excellently produced) drum solo, Kenny Jones, surely among the very best rock and roll drummers drumming, refers back to the song's basic bass rhythm as a lead instrumentalist will refer back to melody.

"Maggie May," purportedly about a schoolboy's ill-fated romance with a floozy, is debatably the album's most wonderful selection, with an irresistible tune and an overall sound that somehow evokes a warm late-summer afternoon. It's got charming words and is beautifully played by all present, with a celeste chiming in ever so charmingly here and there. Exhilarating is the only way to describe the mandolin break at the end.

"Mandolin Wind" (what a beautiful title!) is nearly as good, with a beautiful Western instrumental texture and Rod delivering some gorgeous cowboy images. At the end, when, after a moment's silence, everyone's come back rocking like mad, he even gets off one of his soul-stirring whoops. A knock-out.

Boring as half of it may be, there's enough that is unqualifiedly magnificent on the other half of Every Picture Tells A Story to make it clearer than ever before that if Rod Stewart ever allows himself the time to write himself a whole album, it will be among the best albums any of us has ever heard. Until such time, a lot of souls will have no choice but to truck about half-saved.

- John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stone, 7/8/71.

Bonus Reviews!

The story is that of Rod Stewart and his fantastic ability to interpret tunes and to wail. Backed by members of the Faces and other friends, Stewart once again weaves a musical web of knowing. His best here is every tune. "Every Picture Tells A Story" and "Mandolin Wind" are excellent Stewart compositions. His versions of "(I Know) I'm Losing You" and "Reason To Believe" have to be considered truly great.

- Billboard, 1971.

Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story is the greatest rock & roll recording of the last ten years. It is a mature tale of adolescence, full of revelatory detail (Rod combing his hair a thousand different ways in front of the mirror), and it contains the only reference to the Dreyfus case in the history of rock. It is also hilarious, and one of the friendliest pieces of music ever recorded. It is rock & roll of utterly unbelievable power, and for most of its five minutes and fifty-eight seconds that power is supplied by nothing more than drums, bass, acoustic guitar and Rod's voice. Mick Waller should have received the Nobel Prize -- in physics, of course -- for his demolition work at the end of the first verse; Martin Quittenton's acoustic guitar playing is well beyond any human award -- for that matter, it is beyond human ken. John Lennon once said he wanted to make a record as good as "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On"; Rod Stewart did it.

- Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.

Arguably rock & roll's finest singer, Stewart somehow manages to embody both the extrovert, one-of-the-boys high jinks of the macho carouser and the introvert, aw-she'd-probably-never-notice-me-anyway self-consciousness of the shyest kid on the block. Tremendous interpreter; underrated songwriter.

- Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.

For Mick Waller's drumming, because I've worn out two copies and because hardly anyone makes music like that anymore.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.

Because he's tawdry enough to revel in stellar pop-and-flash, Stewart can refine the rock sensibility without processing the life out of it. His gimmick is nuance. Rod the Wordslinger is a lot more literate than the typical English bloozeman, Rod the Singer can make words flesh, and though Rod the Bandleader's music is literally electric it's the mandolin and pedal steel that come through sharpest. A smash as huge as "Maggie May" must satisfy Rod the Mod the way a classic as undeniable as "Maggie May" does Rod the Artist. But it's "Mandolin Wind" leading into Motown leading into Tim Hardin that does justice to everything he is. A+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Frankly, the packaging of this disc is a mess. There are eight tracks listed on the sleeve, 10 tracks cut on the CD (though two are instrumental intros) -- track 4: a steel guitar and steely vocal rendition of "Amazing Grace," track 6: a superbly recorded 30-second acoustic guitar intro to "Mandolin Wind." There is no indication of the original recording date, merely the appending of a 1984 copyright date.

A surprisingly powerful collection of classic songs, including a superb cover of the Presley hit "That's All Right," with marvellously sleazy backing organ, mandolin, acoustic and slide guitar.

There is nothing in the sound to date this recording, which has a marvelous solidity and life -- every plucked guitar string cracks out of the loudspeakers.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

One of the truly great rock & roll albums; in part, because here is where it all came together for Stewart, and, in part, because of Mickey Waller's stupendous drumming. This is the essence of what once made Rod Stewart great. His compositions, (the title cut, "Maggie May" and "Mandolin Wind") are the highlights; his singing is sublime, and his production, utilizing both pedal steel and mandolin to augment a basic rock & roll lineup created an English country rock classic that easily withstands the test of time. It never was this good again for Rod, but then there are very, very few who achieve a creative pinnacle equal to Every Picture Tells a Story. (But, oh, how the mighty have fallen). Thankfully, the sound on CD maintains the same high standards as the material: clean, crisp, dynamic with decent separation, it does exhibit some compression (particularly on the drums) but it isn't that bad, and what distortion there is is minimal. This one is a must. A

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

One of the cardinal myths of rock and roll is that it's nothing more than black music played by white people. Such an assertion is usually an attempt to cast apersions on either the source (as played by a black, the stuff was too rough to deserve a hearing) or the recipient (the whites just stole it). The truth is that white boys learned about the blues and loved it so much that they sought to make sense of it in their own language. This may be counterintuitive but it is also indisputable. Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis in Memphis, Buddy Holly in Clovis: These hillbilly cats knew that they didn't belong in existing structures, that they had to create a new world built on the music they heard on the wrong sides of the tracks in their respective hometowns.

This all got started in July 1954, when Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black tore through an Arthur Crudup blues tune, "That's All Right," under the supervision of Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. "That's different," Phillips said while they played it back. "That's a pop song now." Not quite: It resembled nothing on the pop radio stations of the day. What Phillips meant by "pop song" was that this new version wasn't quite country, wasn't quite blues. It was... different, but it was something that Phillips immediately sensed would move both blues and country folk. That's why it was a "pop song."

One of the most vivid tracks on Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story is a hard-edged "That's All Right," based on the Elvis, Scotty, and Bill version. It rocks harder, thanks to the Cro-Magnon drumming of Mick Waller, the leviathan guitars of Stewart, Ron Wood, and Martin Quittenton, and Stewart's distinctive rasp cajoling, charming, testifying, and dancing. The elemental backup, tight and unstudied, gladly cedes room to Stewart, unlike most of the electric British hard rock of the time. Singer and band travel up and down together, through inside jokes (such as a quote from an older Stewart composition) and perilous key changes. This is a song he's known for fifteen years and Elvis's version is on a record that Rod has sung along with for all that time. Conscious of it or not, Stewart understands the breakthrough that Elvis pulled off in the Memphis Recording Service. He knows the extent and ramifications of what Elvis invented. He wants to be Elvis, an icon so overwhelming that even a British kid like Rod can identify with.

Every Picture Tells a Story is Stewart's bid for rock-and-roll immortality, an ambitious record in a variety of senses (he wants Elvis's wallet as well as his gifts) and dwarfs other such attempts, even successful ones like Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. Stewart's third solo album is an all-encompassing work: Stewart demands attention from everyone on every level. His imaginative songwriting is rife with telling detail: The hair-combing scene in "Every Picture Tells a Story," the morning-after madness in "Maggie May," and the weather report in "Mandolin Wind" are all the products of a man in love with the world and his ability to describe that world and reassure himself.

The performances exceed the writing, especially on the outside tunes, which thrive on Stewart's devotion to them. "(I Know) I'm Losing You" is a hard-rock version of the Temptations hit that Stewart recorded with his sometime band the Faces. Stewart knows not to mimic the Motown original: He accepts the Sun dictum that personal expression far outlasts attempts to copy, that copying is in itself not merely fruitless but intolerable. Stewart puts across Tim Hardin's "(Find a) Reason to Believe" as an organ-driven call for moxie in the face of resignation, and on the mostly acoustic take on Bob Dylan's aching "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," Stewart is even more determined. Most of the time, the characters in Every Picture Tells a Story find themselves in desperate condition, and what upraises them is the confidence of the narrator.

Such endurace is most apparent on "Every Picture Tells a Story" and "Maggie May," a pair of shattering acoustic hard-rock numbers about young men (or old boys, your call) gaining experience in ways they never expected or intended. These two songs, among the most durable pop music offerings of the century, are so bold, so honest about their doubts, so willing and able to transcend their immediate difficulties, that they fulfill the dreams Woody Guthrie gave life to in "Bound for Glory." On Every Picture Tells a Story, Rod Stewart is as undeniable, as welcome, as any singer will ever be. It's no wonder that this record made Stewart's dreams come true (not to mention the aspirations of his fans). Stewart is phenomenally rich now, but his records stink (also, he has recently ruined "Every Picture Tells a Story" for many by selling it to a beer company). As Every Picture Tells a Story reminds you at every turn, he once had it all. And that's no fairy tale.

- Jimmy Guterman, The Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, 1992.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
The Rod Stewart Album

Album Review:
Gasoline Alley

Album Review:
Never A Dull Moment

Album Review: Smiler

Album Review:
Atlantic Crossing

Album Review:
A Night On The Town

Album Review:
Foot Loose & Fancy Free

Album Review:
Blondes Have More Fun

Album Review:
Another Country

Album Review:
Blood Red Roses

Album Review:
The Faces - Long Player

Album Review:
The Faces - A Nod Is
As Good As A Wink...
To A Blind Horse

Single Review:
"Maggie May"

Single Review:
"Tonight's The Night"

Single Review:
"Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

Single Review:
The Faces - "Stay With Me"

Rod Stewart:
In His Own Words

Article: 'Q & A with
Rod Stewart'

Article: 'What I've Learned'
by Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart Lyrics

Rod Stewart Videos

Rod Stewart Mugshots

Achieving the same variety as the debut, Stewart's title cut and "Maggie May," plus his covers of vintage Temptations, Aruther Crudup, and Tim Hardin material, flaunt the versatility and savvy of his vision. A grand statement by a major player. * * * * *

- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Every Picture Tells a Story and its follow-up, Never a Dull Moment, make up one of the most overwhelming one-two punches in rock history. Acoustic guitars, mandolins, organs and drums collide with Stewart's potent, scruffy, pipes. Gloriously reckless but never sloppy. * * * * *

- David Okamoto, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

After years spent grafting on the blues circuit with little success, Rod Stewart achieved superstardom twice in 1971. His solo career to date had seen two excellent and largely ignored albums, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down and Gasoline Alley, while his parallel career with The Faces was similarly in the shadows. In July 1971, "Maggie May" slipped out as the lesser-played half of a double A-sided single, with Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe." When BBC Radio 1 flipped the disc, it crashed to No. 1 in the U.K., carring the album with it. The title track written by Stewart and Ronnie Wood, could have just as easily been a Faces single, and indeed it nearly was. The intriguing hotch potch that followed still sounds considerably fresher than any of Stewart's latterday recordings, including a sultry rendition of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," Arthur Crudup's blues gem "That's All Right (Mama)" and, somewhat unexpectedly, the Motown classic, "I'm Losing You." Every Picture was pulled together quickly as The Faces were demanding Rod's return but in selecting such disparate songs, he had stumbled across his true genius -- to take a song and turn it into a Rod number. There is an optimism to Every Picture which translated easily into The Faces format and helped make it a classic of its kind.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

"Every Picture Tells a Story," the title track of Rod Stewart's solo masterpiece, must be the most bizarre triumph in rock history. It's as heedless and cavalier as the persona of the stony-throated singer at its center; every element goes gloriously astray. You can check off everything wrong with the song: the stop-start rhythm that breaks verses up like a chain gang smashing rocks; Stewart's shlightly shilibant Scottish esses; the way the bass seems to be pulling the melody away from itself; the what-the-hell miniature guitar solo; the cameo appearance by crystalline backup singers far too late in the song to make any sense; the R&B rave-up of an outro that finds Stewart, at a loss for specifics, chuckling over the youthful decadence he's just spent four minutes outlining at the speed of sound. And as for the drums, Mick Waller's playing, bashing every beat last-second and loose-wristed, is symptomatic of the whole album's reason for being -- it articulates the chaos, the power, the glee of youth.

Stewart had an investment in sounding like a mess -- that's the white Britisher's version of blues grit, or was in 1971 -- but Every Picture is tautly controlled, not just from song to song but note to note. Members of the Faces are still playing behind him, even if it's Stewart's name on the cover, and they blast through courtly R&B, making a sizzling pile of ashes out of the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You" -- that dangerous four-note bass riff and foreboding piano do more to intimate the song's anger and melancholy than the furious drum break. Stewart's much-discussed, signature rasp belies how flexible his midrange vocals can be; listen to how his own bluegrassy "Mandolin Wind" expands and contracts like like a breath. Every Picture can easily be called a seminal album, but the evidence is literal. Go no futher than the rueful, passionate, restlessly linking verses of "Maggie May," which string together folk and pop and sex and sorrow, to hear the moment that invented Rod Stewart. * * * * *

- Arion Berger, Rolling Stone, 2/14/02.

Back when he didn't need to ask if we thought he was sexy, Rod the Mod used to matter and his first No. 1 album is historical proof. On this sparsely produced, brilliant breakthrough, the gravel-voiced Brit struts his stuff, bringing character to the chart-topping B side, "Maggie May," the title track, a miracle, and sandpaper soulful covers of Tim Hardin and the Temptations. Ron Wood adds his inimitable guitar licks and songwriting. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

"We had no preconceived ideas of what we were going to do," Stewart said. "We would have a few drinks and strum away and play." With a first-class band of drinking buddies (including guitarist Ron Wood and Mickey Waller), Stewart made a loose, warm, compassionate album, rocking hard with mostly acoustic instruments. "Mandolin Wind" was his moving ballad of a country couple toughing out a long winter on the farm; the title tune was a hilarious goof. But Stewart scored his first Number One hit with "Maggie May," his autobiographical tale of a young stud getting kicked in the head by an older lady.

Every Picture Tells a Story was chosen as the 172nd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

The Faces were a quintessential rock 'n roll band; the brotherly, empathetic flipside to The Rolling Stones' satanic majesty. In husky Rod Stewart they had one of the all-time great British voices, capable of investing myriad song styles -- folk, blues, country, soul -- with an intuitive warmth. For a few glorious years, Stewart's rootsy solo career coexisted with the group's laddish bonhomie, his bandmates making appearances on An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down (1969) and Gasoline Alley (1970). Every Picture Tells A Story was the zenith of this fertile period, topping the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

The opening title track ingeniously applies acoustic instrumentation to hard rock form, its amusingly crude tale of round-the-world sex whipped to a breathless climax by Mick Waller's caveman drumming. In contrast, "Mandolin Wind" is a breathtakingly tender ballad soaked in pedal steel and pathos, while the similarly furnished "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" places Stewart at the top table of Dylan interpreters.

The gorgeous, organ-driven reading of Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe" was released as a single, but the big hit -- No. 1 in both the U.S. and the UK -- proved to be its original B-side, the immortal "Maggie May." Gilded with mandolin and acoustic guitars, this bittersweet coming-of-age saga is swinging yet layered, while Rod's off-the-cuff performance defines him as an artist.

- Manish Agarwal, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

Yes, he's foisted plenty of stinky music on the world -- the disco-era lowlight "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" or the four (!) tortured volumes of standards that make up much of his output in the '90s and beyond. But in 1971, Rod Stewart could do no wrong. He was an exotic kind of belter, with a bourbon-blessed voice that sounded totally torn up at the beginning of the night, and got better from there. His band the Faces had honed a swaggering, almost bawdy brand of blues-rock that was drawing well on both sides of the Atlantic, and would reach its recorded peak with A Nod Is as Good as a a Blind Horse later in the year.

Overshadowing the solid Faces stuff is Stewart's third solo album -- a jaw-dropper that is unlike anything rowdy Rod the Mod had done before. Though backed by the Faces, he isn't leaving everything on the stage as he did with the band -- these performances are closer to confessional soul, wistful and uncharacteristically reflective. The material ranges from an early-rock classic ("That's All Right," which Stewart interpolates with "Amazing Grace") to a totally reinvented Temptations hit ("I'm Losing You") to a Dylan song ("Tomorrow Is a Long Time") to the great seduction tale "Maggie May," which was the B side of the first single and became a radio hit after DJs, unprompted, started playing it.

That first single, Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe," ranks among rock's all-time great covers. It closes the album, a pensive wee-hours nightcap. Though he's strutted around elsewhere, here Stewart plays the sad rogue, puzzling over clues left by a lover who's suddenly vacated the premises. Sounding alternately resigned and defiant, Stewart broods and bawls through Hardin's melody like he really wants to understand what went wrong. His sincerity is audible, and touching; it makes the song, and really the entire album. Stewart had plenty of hits after this, but he never sounded as genuine again.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

With an elite band of drinking buddies (including guitarist Ron Wood), Rod Stewart made a loose, warm LP, rocking hard with mostly acoustic instruments. "Maggie May," his tale of a young stud getting stomped by an older lady, went to Number One.

Every Picture Tells a Story was chosen as the 177th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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