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The vinyl box set of Rod Stewart's first five albums is a must-have for all of Stewart's many fans.

Music Review: Rod Stewart – Box Set of First Five Albums (1969-1974)

Rod Stewart has sold over 100 million records worldwide and has had 31 Top 10 hit songs in the U.K. with six consecutive bestselling albums. In the U.S., he has been equally loved for many years. In the early days he mixed folk, rock, and even country to create a sound that was absolutely unlike anyone else. His raspy voice stood out on the radio dials and his ability to convey emotion was unequaled by any other performer in the opinion of his countless fans.

Now his early LPs from 1969 until 1974 are available on 180 gram heavyweight audiophile vinyl, encased in a very attractive plaid slipcover.

The set contains the following albums:

An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1969)
Gasoline Alley (1970)
Every Picture Tells a Story (1971)
Never a Dull Moment (1972)
Smiler (1974)

I received CD copies of these albums to review to refresh my memory of just what treasures the box set offers.

An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down was Stewart’s first solo effort, released in 1969 in America as The Rod Stewart Album. Stewart was a member of The Faces at the time. Some of the musicians who play on this album are Keith Emerson, Jeff Beck Group drummer Mick Waller, and Ron Wood, who was also a member of The Faces then. They continued to be featured on the other albums as well. The standout numbers here are Stewart’s version of The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and “Handbags and Gladrags” (Mike D’Abo), which became a permanent part of his repertoire and which stills stands the test of time as a stirring, emotional number.

Gasoline Alley was the first album to get real critical attention in the States. It also features Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan of The Faces. Once again, one of the standouts is a song that was also covered by The Rolling Stones, “It’s All Over Now” (originally written by Bobby and Shirley Womack). He proves that he can handle country with “Country Comfort” (Elton John/Bernie Taupin) and “Cut Across Shorty” (Walker/Wilkin) as well as folk music with the tender rendering of “Only a Hobo.”

Courtesy Mercury Records
Courtesy Mercury Records

Every Picture Tells a Story brought Stewart his first American hit with “Maggie May,” which was everywhere in 1971. This is the album that established Stewart as a storyteller and the first album where everything fit together perfectly. Every song here is a highlight, but the version of “Reason to Believe” (Tim Hardin) is on this reviewer’s list of Top 10 songs ever.

Never a Dull Moment was a strong follow-up with two hits, “You Wear It Well” and “Twistin’ the Night Away” (Sam Cooke). Aside from those wonderful songs, the strongest numbers are “True Blue,” the Bob Dylan cover “Mama You Been on My Mind,” the amazing version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Foster/Jordan) and the deeply touching “Angel,” a tribute to its author, Jimi Hendrix.

The last album in the set, Smiler, was panned by critics, although it still sold one million copies. The critics said that this had all been done by Stewart before, with covers of Chuck Berry, Dylan and Cooke tunes. They absolutely hated his remake of Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” with the gender turned to “Man.” Admittedly nobody could touch Aretha Franklin’s version of that song and it does not really work with the gender switch, although Stewart sings it remarkably well. But as a whole, listening to this album now, it sounds great. Who cares if he had done covers like these before when he does them so well? “Sweet Little Rock ‘n Roller,” and “Bring It on Home to Me”/”You Send Me” are brilliant. The solo with Elton John on John’s “Let Me Be Your Car” just tears from the speakers. “Dixie Toot” has fantastic horns and a great New Orleans vibe. Stewart and his band sound like they are having a great time, not only here but throughout the album.

The arrangement of the music for Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” is strange and somewhat discordant but the vocal is so good it almost makes up for that. The song is perfectly suited to Stewart’s rasp. And the almost unknown “Mine for Me,” written by Paul and Linda McCartney, makes a sweet ending for the whole project.

Together, these five albums will remind all of Stewart’s many decades-long fans why they love him so much, and for those who do not know the material, they should be a revelation. The box set is a must-have for any admirer of the singer.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Bluesand Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.

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