Rod Stewart emerged in the late '60s as a gritty, soulful rock singer with one of the most powerful voices in popular music. He fronted the first incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group, tearing up his larynx on the albums Truth and Beck-ola. Ron Wood played bass in that group, then continued working with Stewart on his early solo albums and in the group Faces. As both a songwriter and interpreter of other artists' material, Stewart was an unparallelled artist in those early years. Then he ditched his Faces band mates and settled for being a mere star. His music softened, eventually devolving into some of the worst pap to dominate Top 40 radio.
His albums from that mid-70s period are sad representations of that transition, but they aren't totally devoid of choice moments. A Night On the Town was first released in 1976, and has now been made available as a two-disc deluxe edition. The entire running order of the album has been duplicated with alternate versions. The same treatment was given to the previous album in Stewart's discography, Atlantic Crossing, and the albums are very much companion pieces. Both are divided into a slow side and a fast side. Both were produced by Tom Dowd and feature the same collective of musicians, billed as The Garage Band (though the smooth results hardly sound like garage rock).
There are a few key tracks on the slow side, which begins the album. The biggest smash was the number one single, "Tonight's the Night." Stewart's classic reading of Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is the Deepest" remains an essential track in his catalog. "The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II)," which became a somewhat unlikely Top 40 hit, tells the heartfelt story of a gay friend who gets killed in a mugging. The best moments on the slow side are actually the highlights of the entire album. The more rocking songs found on the fast side blend together in a mush of relaxed, fluffy boogie. Calling it fast is a bit misleading, in fact, as clearly no one is breaking a sweat on this material. The first disc concludes with a fairly strong bonus track, the Stewart original "Rosie."
The early versions collected on the second disc won't be especially revelatory to anyone but Stewart fanatics. More often than not they are simply less-polished mixes, frequently without horn overdubs and such, rather than completely different takes. The fast side benefits marginally, as the songs come across a little rawer and looser. The slow side alternates include an interesting take on "Fool For You" that features different lyrics. "The Killing Of Georgie," missing the 'Part II' coda, is arguably better in its alternate form. Stripped of everything but simple acoustic guitar, the commercial gloss is missing, revealing an even more intimate vibe. Disc two concludes with an alternate version of Lennon/McCartney's "Get Back," curious because without consulting the liner notes it isn't clear why this is an alternative. Turns out the original version, not included on this release, was used in the film All This and World War II.
A Night On the Town sounds excellent in remastered form, and the true-blue fans will have plenty to absorb with all the bonus material. The liner notes are informative and detailed. But ultimately this deluxe reissue is not recommended for casual fans.