523. ‘Baby Jane’, by Rod Stewart

Following on from The Police, another superstar act returns for a final bow atop the UK singles charts…

Baby Jane, by Rod Stewart (his 6th and final #1)

3 weeks, 26th June – 17th July 1983

And if we might continue the comparison for a few moments more… This record isn’t as ‘good’, or as well-regarded, as ‘Every Breath You Take’. But it’s a lot more fun to listen to…

Baby Jane, Don’t leave me hangin’ on the line… I knew you when you had no one to talk to… Lyrically, it’s a throwback to Rod’s earliest hits – ‘Maggie May’ and ‘You Wear It Well’ – in that he’s singing about an old flame. One who loved him and left him, and who now moves in ‘high society’. Musically, though, he’s slap-bang in 1983, with a synth riff and an outrageous saxophone solo (I’m often quite down on sax solos, but this one’s a belter.)

Actually, it’s not completely given over to the sounds of the day. The beat that drives this song along, and that makes it such a fun listen, is decidedly disco. (I miss disco…) Rod’s last #1 had come almost five years before – ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’ – and ‘Baby Jane’ was a bit of a comeback hit for him (he’d only had one Top 10 single between these two chart-toppers.) It was a wise decision to keep the disco guitars and drums, for me, and not to go completely electronic.

I mentioned it in an earlier post, but it’s interesting that the run of huge eighties hits we are on have largely been released by established stars, or those on the comeback trail: Michael Jackson, Bonnie Tyler, Bowie, now Rod Stewart. Bowie is perhaps the most obvious comparison for Rod, and his performance on ‘Let’s Dance’, while iconic nowadays, wasn’t typical of a dance record. I’m not sure he enjoyed making ‘Let’s Dance’, as much as Rod enjoyed ‘Baby Jane’. Just listen to the Yeah! before the final chorus.

Fans of Rod the Mod, who enjoyed his work with the Faces, and his earlier, acoustic, solo hits, are probably as down on ‘Baby Jane’ as they are on ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’. And I can understand, to an extent. Sir Rod hasn’t always exercised the greatest quality control over his work. But then again, I think most people could find it in themselves to enjoy this big, dumb puppy dog of a song; while recognising that it’s not among his very best.

This may be the end of Rod Stewart’s chart-topping career, but he’d go on scoring big hits well into the 1990s. Which is in itself very impressive: he was thirty-eight when ‘Baby Jane’ made #1, and has a twelve year span between his first and last number ones – a longevity that not many acts can boast of. His most recent album made #5 last Christmas, while he has also branched out into model railwaying, and drunken Scottish cup draws. Here’s to Sir Rod, then, a true legend, in more ways than one…

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Cover Versions of #1s – G4 and Paris Hilton

No, don’t run. Come back! I know that title is enough to scare off any right-minded person, but bear with me. Yes, good cover versions are all fine and dandy. But there’s also pleasure to be had from a bad cover version…

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by G4 (originally a #1 in 1975, for Queen)

If ever a song was ‘uncoverable’, then that song is probably ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Credit then to pop-opera (Popera?) group G4, for giving it a go, and for proving just how impossible a job it is. It’s not that it’s a shockingly bad record; it simply adds nothing to the original. The vocals reach nothing like the heights (quite literally) of Freddie Mercury, and the music is karaoke backing track at best. They should have gone somewhere different with it – full-on opera treatment, a capella, something… G4 were runners-up in the very first season of the X-Factor in 2004, finishing behind Steve Brookstein, who we will sadly have to deal with in our regular countdown… This was their only UK hit. I remembered it existing, but I had completely forgot that this version actually made #9 in the charts!

‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, by Paris Hilton (originally a #1 in 1978, for Rod Stewart)

The thought of Paris Hilton covering ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ is almost too obvious to be true. No comedy writer would dare be so unimaginative. But here we are. The final track on her thus far only album ‘Paris’ sees Hilton breathing her way through this pretty faithful cover of Rod Stewart’s polarising 5th #1 single. Since this album came out in 2006, she has drip fed us a string of singles, including 2019’s brilliantly titled ‘B.F.A. (Best Friend’s Ass)’. Of course she has never topped her first single, the… *whisper it very softly* … actually quite brilliant, reggae-tinged, ‘Stars Are Blind’.

The final two covers tomorrow!

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429. ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’, by Rod Stewart

And so we come to one of the most misunderstood chart-toppers. This record has been parodied, mocked, hated…

Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, by Rod Stewart (his 5th of six #1s)

1 week, from 26th November – 3rd December 1978

But more on that in a bit. For a moment, let’s just enjoy the disco drums, and that well-known synth riff. Let’s enjoy the bass line. Let’s enjoy the fact that Rod Stewart’s 5th number one single is not an acoustic ballad. She sits alone, Waiting for suggestions… He’s so nervous, Avoidin’ all the questions… It’s a song about two shy people hooking up in a bar. At least, wanting to hook up in a bar. What should they say to break the ice? Luckily, Rod has a not-so-subtle suggestion…

If you want my body, And you really need me, Come on sugar let me know… It works. She calls her mother, and they’re back off to his place for a night of passion. Problem is… nobody seems to realise that that’s what this song is about. People know the chorus, and think that Rod Stewart’s singing about himself. They think he’s full of it, he’s disappeared up himself, he’s ridiculous… And it would be ridiculous, to write a song like this, about yourself. But that’s not what’s happening.

I say this as someone who knew the chorus and little else before writing this post. I assumed that Rod had let himself be swept up in the hedonism of disco. I pictured him singing this to himself in a nightclub of mirrors, coked off his tits. But no. He’s telling a story, as he does in so many of his songs. The line about them waking up the next morning and being out of milk and coffee is an observation straight out of ‘Maggie May’. And the middle eight is glorious: Relax baby, Now we’re all alone…

Of course, it’s not hard to see why this is seen as something of a novelty. The title, for a start. Plus, Rod made the dubious decision to play the song’s male protagonist in the video, frolicking on a bed with a gorgeous blonde. (Well, why not?) Then there’s the album from which it’s the lead track: ‘Blondes Have More Fun’, and its cover featuring Rod in a clinch with a leopard-print wearing woman. And then there’s the B-side, ‘Dirty Weekend’ – a song I love but not one that could ever be described as ‘classy’…

There is one other reason why some don’t like this disc. It is, pretty unashamedly, disco. Rock stars shouldn’t do disco! Disco, as many would start to claim around the time this hit #1, sucks! (These people were idiots; but their opinions stuck. Disco is heading for one final, glorious swansong, before crashing and burning.) At least this song not boring, or earnest, or acoustic… It’s not perfect. The sax solo is extravagantly long. In fact, the whole song is extravagantly long, as the age of the disco 12” demanded.

In my mind, ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ exists first and foremost as a Eurodance remix, by N-Trance, which was a #7 hit when I was twelve or so (I had it on cassette…) And as a sketch by the late Kenny Everett, a good friend of Rod, in which he prances around as Rod to this song, with a ridiculously oversized arse. It has left a cultural legacy, this record, for better or worse. Which means it’s still a famous chart-topper and, underneath it all, a pretty darn good one!

405. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart

The most interesting thing about this next number one is the song which could, maybe should, have replaced it at #1. More on that later. First, Rod’s got some ballads to sing…

I Don’t Want to Talk About It / The First Cut Is the Deepest, by Rod Stewart (his 4th of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th May – 12th June 1977

Actually, another interesting thing is that ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ comes from the same album – ‘Atlantic Crossing’ – as Rod’s last chart-topper, ‘Sailing’, which reached the top almost two years ago! That’s a pretty rare feat, mining a LP for singles for that long.

Perhaps you can tell that I’m grasping for interesting things to write about this one, as I’m not finding the music all that gripping. It’s fine: Rod Stewart knows his way around an acoustic ballad like this in his sleep. And perhaps that’s the problem – it’s Rod on autopilot. It’s not got the novelty factor, or the drive, of ‘Maggie May’, or the ridiculous singalong chorus of ‘Sailing’. It’s simply pleasant.

I like the way the strings and guitars lift us to the chorus line: I don’t wanna, Talk about it… Which in itself is also a great line, sung with a lot of feeling. But it’s not enough to hang a whole, five-minute song on. (And that’s another thing – did nobody suggest a ‘single edit’ for this one?)

The guitars, fried and country, are cool, but especially towards the end the song does begin to meander. ‘I Don’t Want…’ was a cover of a 1971 song by Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s sometime band. Rod hasn’t strayed too far from the original, though his version is more polished… and that’s not a good thing. Anyway. What could we possibly need after that? Another heartfelt ballad, of course.

‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’ is another, probably more famous, cover, this time of a Cat Stevens original. It’s another acoustic, bittersweet love song. In fact, I’ll go further than that. It is a thoroughly miserable love song: If you want, I’ll try to love again… As declarations go, it’s certainly honest. He wants her by his side, but only to wipe the tears that he cries… Baby I know, The first cut is the deepest…

Hey, some people are into damaged goods. Again, this ticks all the classy ballad boxes, and Stewart’s voice is as smoky as ever. But, again, it washes over me. Maybe it’s not my thing. Or maybe it’s just dinner party background music. Plus, there’s always the earlier, superior version of ‘The First Cut…’, released by P.P Arnold a decade earlier.

The best double-‘A’ sides have a bit of yin and yang to them. Think of the most famous #2, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ / ‘Penny Lane’. Or Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ / ‘Cabaret’. Even our most recent double-‘A’ #1 from David Cassidy had two very different sounding songs on each side. Interestingly – here I go again – ‘The First Cut…’ was from a more recent album, ‘A Night on the Town’, making this potentially the only double-‘A’ to feature songs from different LPs by the same artist. (I say ‘potentially’, I have neither the time nor the inclination to check.)

So, we are two thirds through Rod Stewart’s chart-topping career, and it’s been wall to wall ballads so far. Luckily, his last two #1s up the tempo quite a bit. Wahey! It’s not that these are bad songs, far from it; they just don’t scream ‘four weeks at #1!’ to me. But, of course, there’s a good chance that, during the last of those four weeks, Rod Stewart didn’t really have the best-selling single in the land. Controversy ahead, then. More to come…

377. ‘Sailing’, by Rod Stewart

It’s been three years since we had Rod Stewart at the top of the singles chart. Back then, he was a folky troubadour, spinning yarns about older women and long-lost lovers. The songs were acoustic, and lyrically driven, lots of mandolins and fiddles…

Sailing, by Rod Stewart (his 3rd of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 31st August – 28th September 1975

‘Sailing’, while still unmistakably a Rod Stewart song (the voice is there, for a start), is a different proposition. The lyrics now are very simple, borderline nursery rhyme: I am sailing, I am sailing, Home again, ‘Cross the sea… He’s sailing, he’s flying, he’s on his way… To be with you, To be free… It builds, it grows, until organs and a full-blown choir have been added. It’s still got those little Celtic touches that litter classic Rod Stewart songs; but it’s overblown, and more than a little ridiculous.

It’s tempting to argue that in the past three years, as Rod has become possibly the biggest pop star on the planet, he may have disappeared, somewhat, up his own behind… I’d bet that drugs were present in the recording studio when they cut this disc. ‘Sailing’ had originally been written and recorded by The Sutherland Brothers, a Scottish folk duo, and their version is much more earthy.

What saves ‘Sailing’ is the moment when, after the guitar solo, it changes to We are sailing… Suddenly it isn’t a song for a self-indulgent rock star; it’s a football crowd singalong, a last song at karaoke night, a song to bellow out as you stumble home from the pub. It definitely moves something in you, deep down, and I am right this moment crowning it the ultimate drunk singalong tune, above even ‘Delilah’ and ‘My Way’. Change my mind!

The ending came as a bit of a surprise, I have to say. I thought it just continued with the We are sailings… ad infinitum. But no, for the last thirty seconds the vocals drop away, and the strings take it home. Which means that there’s a good chance I have never actually heard this record the whole way through. It’s a sign of a song’s ubiquity, of its classic status, when you think you know it simply through cultural osmosis.

‘Sailing’ is Rod Stewart’s best-selling single in the UK, and was a huge hit around the world. Everyone knows it. I have met people from many different countries: when they find out you are Scottish, and after mentioning whisky, of course, they will wrack their brains to think of another Scottish thing. This will invariably be Rod Stewart – even though he was born in London, and never lived in Scotland – and the song they sing will invariably be ‘Sailing’. (Still, at least it’s not The Bay City Rollers.)

Just a couple of weeks ago, ‘Sailing’ featured in a French movie that I stumbled across, ‘Ete 85’, in which the climax of the film involves a boy dancing on his dead lover’s grave while listening to the song on a Walkman, having promised to do so when said lover was alive. Which is a completely melodramatic and ridiculous storyline; but then this is a ridiculous, melodramatic song, and so, in the end, pretty appropriate.

318. ‘You Wear It Well’, by Rod Stewart

In which Rod Stewart scores his second number one single, by releasing a song that sounds suspiciously like his first. I mean, ‘Maggie May’ had been such a huge hit, his now-signature song, that you can’t blame him for trying to re-bottle lightning.

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You Wear It Well, by Rod Stewart (his 2nd of six #1s)

1 week, from 27th August – 3rd September 1972

Not that it’s a rip-off (can you even rip-off your own song?), but it’s similar enough to sound like an off-cut from the same recording session. The intro meanders, as it did in ‘Maggie May’, before two drumbeats – dun dun – signify that we’re ready for the song proper to get underway.

I had nothing to do, On this hot afternoon, But to settle down and write you a line… Rod’s reminiscing about a woman he once loved. Who knows, maybe it’s Maggie…? He’s been meaning to call her, but thinks a handwritten letter would tug the old heartstrings a bit more effectively. You wear it well, A little old fashioned but that’s alright…

He reminisces about basement parties, her radical views, a birthday gown he bought her in town… Then he lays on the charm: Madame Onassis got nothing on you… It’s another wordy ballad, a little more electric than acoustic this time, while the fiddle from ‘Reason to Believe’ – the flip-side of his first #1 – makes another appearance to add some homespun charm. To be honest, I’m struggling to get into ‘You Wear It Well’. It’s a bit plodding, and the words sometimes get lost in the mix.

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When you look the lyrics up, though, you see that there are some nice touches. The fact that he didn’t call because he’s in Minnesota and, y’know, that’d be a bit pricey, and the line: My coffee’s gone cold and I’m getting told, That I gotta go back to work… While at the end Rod hopes that she’s still at the same address. It’s not a record without charm; you just have to give it a few listens and dig a little deeper to find it.

But, you’d have to admit that if he had been trying to recapture the magic of his debut chart-topper then he’s not quite managed it. It’s strange to think that of all Rod Stewart’s big seventies hits which didn’t make the top of the charts – ‘You’re In My Heart’, ‘Tonight’s the Night’, ‘Hot Legs’ – ‘You Wear It Well’ did.

A short post, then. A nice enough song, and a nice enough addition to 1972’s parade of chart-toppers. It seems that to hit #1 in the summer of ’72 your record either had to be glammed up to the eyeballs, soppy teenybopper fluff, or an acoustic ballad. Let’s spin the tombola and see what pops up next…!

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305. ‘Maggie May’ / ‘Reason to Believe’, by Rod Stewart

And so we welcome to the stage a true rock icon, a man who sells albums and fills stadiums to this day. Sir Rod Stewart. (I’m assuming he’s a ‘Sir’. Sort it out, Queenie, if he isn’t.)

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Maggie May / Reason to Believe, by Rod Stewart (his 1st of six #1s)

5 weeks, from 3rd October – 7th November 1971

This was his very first solo single release to make the charts. Straight to the top with a bullet, with what is his most famous song? I don’t think I’ve ever heard the ‘single’ version of ‘Maggie May’, which is a full two minutes shorter than the extended version I grew up with. It’s the same intro, albeit condensed, a confident acoustic riff, then two emphatic drumbeats announcing that the story is ready to begin. Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you…

Young Rod has been seduced by an older woman, spent a summer with her, and is now starting to wake up to the harsh realities of their relationship. It’s late September and I really should be back at school… ‘Maggie May’ is famously based on Stewart’s encounter with a real woman, at a Jazz festival when he was sixteen. Getting away from the slightly predatory story – imagine if the genders were reversed – the lyrics capture perfectly the voice of a callous teen, coupled with some corny rhymes: I laughed at all your jokes, My love you didn’t need to coax… And then the classic: The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age… Harsh!

He loves her, but wishes he’d never seen her face. We’ve all been there. Young Rod sounds like a bit of a tearaway – his options post-Maggie are either becoming a roadie or making a living out of playing pool… I’m sure he’ll be fine, and get over the heartbreak. Anyway, the whole song is basically him rehearsing what he’s going to say to Maggie. He hasn’t broke it off just yet! It hinges on the opening and closing lines: I think I’ve got something to say to you… and I’ll get on back home, One of these days…

Unfortunately, the single version cuts the best verse, the one with the: You turned into a lover and mother what a lover you wore me out! line. Maybe that would have been too ripe for daytime radio. Then comes the solo, and the mandolin outro, one of the Celtic-sounding elements that often pop up in Rod Stewart’s music. It’s an undeniable classic, one that – cliched but true – still sounds fresh today. One that no amount of terrible pub karaoke versions can ruin. And while the woman may have been real, her name wasn’t ‘Maggie May’ – she was a famous Liverpudlian prostitute. I’m sure the actual ‘Maggie’ was delighted by the comparison…

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It’s been a long old while since we had a double-‘A’ hit the top of the charts – not since Louis Armstrong in 1968. On the flip we have Rod’s cover of ‘Reason to Believe’, a song I’m certain I’ve never heard before. It opens with a lonesome piano, before the vocals come in. Both these songs are very much focused on Stewart’s voice. Which is fair enough, as he does have one of the best.

If I listen, Long enough, To you… I’d find a way, To believe, That it’s all true… In ‘Maggie May’, he was trying to convince himself to leave someone. In this song, he’s trying to talk himself into staying, despite knowing that his lover lied: straight faced, while I cried… He needs a reason to believe in her. The two songs work well together, both in terms of the sound and the lyrical theme.

A fiddle gives this record the country feel that the mandolin gave ‘Maggie May’. Then midway through, we’re left with just the voice. Someone like you, Makes it hard to live, Without, Somebody else… It’s a nice song, that slowly grows on the listener; but it’s no ‘Maggie May’. Technically, ‘Reason to Believe’ was the song first pushed to radio when the disc was released, but the song on the other side quickly won through. Maybe it was because The Carpenters had released a version of the song the year before – a classic Carpentersy-country version – while the folky original had been recorded in 1965, by Tim Hardin, that the label thought ‘Reason…’ might have caught people’s attention quicker.

For, while this was Rod Stewart’s first charting single, it wasn’t his first attempt at a solo career. He’d been releasing singles since 1964, and had spent the sixties busking, playing session gigs and jumping between bands. Then came The Jeff Beck Group, in which he met Ronnie Wood, and then The Faces (basically The Small Faces minus lead singer Steve Marriott), with whom he was having hits alongside his solo work in the early seventies. After this huge five-week #1 smash there will be no looking back for Rod – he’ll go on to become one of the decades’ biggest stars, on either side of the Atlantic, and we’ll be meeting him plenty more times in the months to come.