And a baker’s dozen at that. OK, I admit it, I’ve shamelessly click-baited this article as being his dozen “greatest” songs when in actual fact these are my dozen favourite Rod songs and I totally concede there’s a massive difference between “greatest” and “favourite”. But given I’m such an unabashed Rod fan, forgive me.
Forgive me for a top 13 too! Struggling to whittle my list down and determined to follow my heart and with zero too-cool-for-school bias, these are genuinely my favourite* Rod Stewart songs to mark his recent-ish knighthood. So for Sir Rod, here they are, my list of the “greatest / Roxborogh faves” of all the songs he ever recorded:
Scarred And Scared (1979)
Rod is underrated as a lyricist, including by the man himself. Written at the peak of Rod’s public image shifting from credible artist to jet-setting celebrity, songs like Scarred And Scared show the value in making yourself listen to every track on an album just in case you’ve missed a hidden gem like this.
On the same album that contains the nauseating Dirty Weekend, there’s this quietly devastating song about a man guilty of murder who knows he’s “let his daddy down” and made his “mama cry”. Scarred And Scared has lyrical echoes of the Bee Gees death-row tale (and UK #1 hit from 1968) I’ve Gotta’ Get A Message To You. Even at the height of his tabloid fame, when he wanted, Rod could still write with a very real, very direction emotion.
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy (1979)
During the idiotic punk vs disco, rock vs disco, any genre vs disco debate of the late 70s, otherwise knowledgable music critics had a hard time admitting this was anything more than a bit of pleasant ear candy. And that’s if they were being nice. But as George Michael would one day lament to such an extent he’d name an entire album after it, did they ever “listen without prejudice”?
For a start, Rod is the narrator in the song so he’s not talking about himself as the potentially sexy one. Secondly, listen to those drums, listen to that sax solo and listen to that walking Phil Chen-bass. Even Rod diehards pretend they don’t like this song which must be such hard work. Listen without prejudice and reacquaint yourself with a song that wasn’t a #1 hit in 11 countries by accident.
The Killing Of Georgie (1977)
Like Scarred And Scared, but quite remarkably, a hit song. Perhaps because it was paired with The First Cut Is The Deepest in the UK and as a double A-side the two songs rose to UK#2 on the charts, but regardless. The fact an unconventionally-structured pop song about the hate-crime murder of a gay man became so famous is worthy of more analysis than this little blurb can give.
“Georgie boy was gay I guess, nothing more, nothing less, the kindest guy I’ve ever knew,” is Rod at his economical, matter-of-fact best. The Killing Of Georgie would be brave and newsworthy if it came out now, imagine what a call it was releasing this in 1977.
Purple Heather (1995)
Based on the old Scottish folk song Wild Mountain Thyme, Rod’s 1995 interpretation is a musical companion to 1990’s Rhythm Of My Heart. Like the Christmas carol O Holy Night, this is a very old melody that somehow sounds not only timeless, but accessible to the point of being commercial. From one of his finest late-period albums, A Spanner In The Works.
Included because of Rod’s effortless harmony line, this Ronnie Laine beauty is amongst the saddest songs the Faces ever recorded. Some fans have speculated the lyrics are about Rod’s slow departure from the Faces, but Laine himself said they were inspired by his father: “Oh you was my hero, how you are my good friend.”
Missed You (1974)
Melodic, mournful and inexplicably left off what is usually regarded as Rod’s weakest early-mid 70s album, Smiler. Missed You isn’t just a love song, nor is it just a love song where there’s sadness at a relationship that’s ended. This is Rod in his arrestingly confessional, everyman mode and the lyrics come from a man confiding in a stranger at an airport.
What seems like a traditional tale of not knowing what you’ve got ’til it’s gone is ramped up when it’s revealed the protagonist has a son by his ex. Rod finishes sensitively by telling his new pal at the airport to treasure any woman who sincerely loves him, saying: “give her all your love, place her high above.”
Still Love You (1975)
A gorgeous, melancholy folk ballad with Rod’s charming self-deprecation in full flight. The lyrics are so direct and confessional they recall the best country music of the time with Rod singing about spilling cherry lime, first encounters that are “hardly the best” and a Chevy van that keeps breaking down.
Lost Paraguayos (1972)
A raucous Rod ‘n’ Ronnie romp that – like so much early Rod – is hard to define genre-wise. “Acoustic rock with folk, country, blues and Americana overtones” is possibly a fraction wordy, but you get the point. The humour comes naturally as Rod sings of throwing “another chair on the fire” to keep warm, while mentions of a winding up in a Mexican jail walk the tightrope of laddish humour and sleaze with just enough perceived twinkle in the eye.
Love Lives Here (1971)
From The Faces biggest album, 1971’s wondrously titled A Nod’s As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse, this is yet more proof that Britain’s most rowdy pub band were really softies at heart. And not only that, softies who knew how to craft sublime, devastating love songs. Love Lives Here was written by the trio of Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood and Rod and the combination of organ, lead guitar and Rod’s plaintive vocals make this a hugely underrated ballad.
I remember reading a critic’s take on this song as being something along the lines of, “It’s no mean feat writing a song called ‘Passion’ that possesses none”. It’s the sort of line you come up with as a jaundiced music writer that you may feel compelled to use due to its snappiness as opposed to its wisdom. The truth is, this is one of the bigger of the subsequently overlooked Rod hits. A US top 5, a UK top 20 and a top 10 in many countries the world over, Passion has a nifty guitar groove and suitably nimble Phil Chen bass line. Plenty of passion from Rod too.
If I’m On The Late Side (1973)
A sweet little ballad from a Faces album Rod himself allegedly declared as being “a stinking, rotten album”, time has been kind to Ooh La La. The title track has become something of a late career Rod institution and two of the other tracks are as beautiful as anything the band ever recorded. One of those songs was Glad And Sorry, If I’m On The Late Side is the other.
The Motown Song (1991)
The sort of song I suspect casual Rod fans are capable of loving while serious Rodofiles may worry they’ll lose credibility if anybody finds out, this almighty-chorused ode to the magic of Motown included none other than that label’s greatest male act of the 60s, the Temptations, on backgrounds. The vocal arrangement is outstanding and when Rod introduces the Temptations – “let the Temptations sing it one time!” – it makes you wish for a Tempts-only version just for the fun of it.
Windy Town (1995)
Sandwiched between his late 80s/early 90s commercial comeback and his early 2000’s re-emergence as an interpreter of the “Great American Songbook” in an endless, mega-selling and ultimately bland series, Rod released one of his best underbought albums. Amongst a handful of serious covers chosen for the A Spanner In The Works (1995) project was this sorrowful and nostalgic Chris Rea song.
*Favourite being the key word here. A list of Rod’s greatest ever songs without Maggie May?? What is this!