The Talented Rod Stewart Part Four
1975–88: Height of fame and critical reaction
On stage in Dublin, 1981
In 1975, Stewart moved to Los Angeles. He released the Atlantic Crossing album for his new record company, using producer Tom Dowd and a different sound based on the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Atlantic Crossing marked both a return to form and a return to the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts. The first single, a cover of the Sutherland Brothers song “Sailing”, was a number-one hit in the UK, but it only reached the Top 60 of the US charts. The single returned to the UK Top 10 a year later when used as the theme music for a BBC documentary series about HMS Ark Royal. Having been a hit twice over, “Sailing” became, and remains, Stewart’s biggest-selling single in the UK. His Holland-Dozier-Holland cover “This Old Heart of Mine” was also a Top 100 hit in 1976. In 1976 Stewart covered The Beatles’ song “Get Back” for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
Later in 1976, Stewart topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks and the Australian ARIA chart with the ballad “Tonight’s the Night”, with an accompanying music video featuring actress Britt Ekland. It came from the A Night on the Town album, which went to number two on the Billboard album charts and was Stewart’s first album to go platinum. By explicitly marking the album as having a “fast side” and a “slow side”, Stewart continued the trend started by Atlantic Crossing, “The First Cut Is the Deepest”, a cover of a Cat Stevens song, went number one in the UK in 1977, and top 30 in the US. “The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and 2)”, about the murder of a gay man, was also a Top 40 hit for Stewart during 1977.
Foot Loose & Fancy Free (1977) featured Stewart’s own band, the original Rod Stewart Group that featured Carmine Appice, Phil Chen, Jim Cregan, Billy Peek, Gary Grainger and John Jarvis. It continued Stewart’s run of chart success, reaching number two. “You’re in my Heart” was the hit single, reaching number four in the US.
“Hot Legs” achieved a lot of radio airplay as did the confessional “I Was Only Joking”. In appearance, Stewart’s look had evolved to include a glam element, including make-up and spandex clothes. Stewart scored another UK number one and US number one single with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, which was a crossover hit reaching number five on the Billboard black charts due to its disco sound. This was the lead single from 1978’s Blondes Have More Fun…or do they?, which went to number one on the Billboard album charts and sold 4 million albums.
A focal point of criticisms about this period was his biggest-selling 1978 disco hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, which was atypical of his earlier output, and disparaged by critics. In interviews, Stewart, while admitting his accompanying look had become “tarty”, has defended the lyrics by pointing out that the song is a third-person narrative slice-of-life portrayal, not unlike those in his earlier work, and that it is not about him. The song’s refrain was identical to Brazilian Jorge Ben Jor’s earlier “Taj Mahal” and a lawsuit ensued. Stewart donated his royalties from “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” to UNICEF, and he performed it with his band at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in 1979.
Stewart moved to a more new wave direction in 1980 by releasing the album Foolish Behaviour. The album produced one hit single, “Passion”, which proved particularly popular in South Africa (reaching no. 1 on the Springbok Top 20 Charts and Radio 5 Charts in early 1981). It also reached No. 5 on the US Billboard Charts. In August 1981, MTV was launched in the US with several of Stewart’s videos in heavy rotation. Later in 1981, Stewart added further elements of new wave and synthpop to his sound for the Tonight I’m Yours album. The title song reached No. 20 in the US, while “Young Turks” reached the Top 5 with the album going platinum. On 18 December 1981, Stewart played the Los Angeles Forum, along with Kim Carnes and Tina Turner, in a concert broadcast worldwide via satellite.
Stewart performing in Paris, 1986
Stewart was criticised for breaking the widely observed cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa by performing at the Sun City resort complex in Bophuthatswana as part of his Body Wishes (1983) and Camouflage (1984) tours.
Stewart had four US Top 10 singles between 1982 and 1988, “Young Turks” (No. 5, carrying over from 1981 into 1982), “Some Guys Have All the Luck” (No. 10, 1984), “Infatuation” (No. 6, 1984) and “Love Touch” (No. 6, 1986, a Holly Knight/Mike Chapman collaboration), although “Baby Jane” became his sixth and final UK number one in 1983. It reached No. 14 in the US. The corresponding Camouflage album went gold in the UK, and the single “Infatuation” (which featured his old friend Jeff Beck on the guitar) received considerable play on MTV. The second single “Some Guys Have All The Luck” reached No. 15 in the UK and No. 10 in the US.
A reunion with Jeff Beck produced a successful take on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”, but an attempt to tour together fell apart after a few dates. In the UK, “Every Beat of My Heart” reached number two in 1986. In January 1985, Stewart performed to a large audience at the Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janeiro.
1988–94: Out of Order Tour, Vagabond Heart and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1988, he returned with Out of Order, produced by Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor and by Bernard Edwards of Chic. “Lost in You”, “Forever Young”, “Crazy About Her”, and “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” from that album were all top 15 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and mainstream rock charts, with the latter even reaching the Top Five. “Forever Young” was an unconscious revision of Bob Dylan’s song of the same name; the artists reached an agreement about sharing royalties. The song reached No. 12 in the US. In September 1988, Stewart performed “Forever Young” at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, and in 1989 he received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for the song.
In January 1989, Stewart set out on the South American leg of the Out of Order Tour playing to sell-out audiences throughout Americas. There were 80,000 people at his show at Corregidora Stadium, Querétaro, México (9 April), and 50,000 at Jalisco Stadium, Guadalajara, Jalisco (12 April). In Buenos Aires, the audience at the River Plate Stadium, which seats 70,000+, was at over 90,000, with several thousand outside the stadium. Firehoses were sprayed on the crowd to avoid heat prostration.
Stewart’s version of the Tom Waits song “Downtown Train” went to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990. This song was taken from a four-CD compilation set called Storyteller – The Complete Anthology: 1964–1990.
Released in 1991, the Vagabond Heart album continued Stewart’s renewal and inspiration. The lead single “It Takes Two” with Tina Turner, was released in 1990 in advance of the full album’s release, and reached number five on the UK charts, but did not chart in the US. The follow-up songs from Vagabond Heart both reached the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991, with “Rhythm of My Heart” peaking at No. 5 and “The Motown Song” peaking at No. 10. In 1991, Stewart also contributed guest lead vocals to the song “My Town” by the Canadian band Glass Tiger.
Concert ticket, 1993
At the 1993 Brit Awards in London, Stewart picked up the prize for Outstanding Contribution to Music. Stewart brought back the Faces on stage for an impromptu reunion. In 1993, Stewart recorded “All For Love” with Sting and Bryan Adams for the soundtrack to the movie The Three Musketeers; the single reached number one in the US and number two in the UK. Also in 1993, he reunited with Ronnie Wood to record an MTV Unplugged special that included “Handbags and Gladrags”, “Cut Across Shorty”, and four selections from Every Picture Tells a Story. The show featured an acoustic version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately”, which topped the Billboard adult contemporary chart and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. A rendition of “Reason to Believe” also garnered considerable airplay. The resulting Unplugged…and Seated album reached number two on the Billboard 200 album charts.
Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, presented by Jeff Beck. On 31 December 1994, Stewart played in front of 3.5 million people on Copacabana beach in Rio, and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for staging the largest free rock concert attendance in history.