I’ve written before about my mother liking Rod Stewart but sadly preferring his later 1970s output when he seemed to have left his talent and taste in another pair of trousers. Because of that she owned a lot of rubbish by him — I bought her his Blondes Have More Fun album for Xmas in 1978 — but “Farewell” is a terrific single from 1974 when he was right on the cusp of losing it and my favorite of the ones she had. Though it was a Top 10 hit it’s one of his lesser-known ones and doesn’t crop up on compilations which is a shame as I think it’s a great record.
This was from his poorly-received Smiler album which was the last one he made before jetting off to live in Los Angeles tax exile with Britt Ekland. I don’t know if that was on his mind when he wrote a song about leaving home for glamourous foreign cities but, not only is the subject matter somewhat on the nose, it’s also one of his last records to have the mandolin-driven, Celtic sound that made his previous ones so distinctive and brilliant. So it sounds like he’s saying goodbye to the old Rod in more ways than one. It was a long way down from here.
Kickers were very hip shoes in the late 1970s, the footwear of rich rock stars and, judging by the ad above, were mostly only sold in swanky London fashion spots like South Moulton Street and Beauchamp Place.
Of course that made them very desirable to style-conscious kids too and I knew a few who had a pair back then. They’d show them off around the estate, cocky in the knowledge that a pair of red Kicker Hi boots had a status beyond the latest must-have trainers. I never had any because they were too expensive — we were poor, you know — but I didn’t like them much anyway.
They became more popular and widespread in the 1980s, their bright colours and chunky soles going well with the nursery-school outfit of Smiley t-shirts and baggy dungarees of the Madchester/Acid crowd (and were worn by a sheep on the cover of a Farm album), but I have no idea what their hip cachet is these days.
“You Wear It Well” was a bit too obvious a selection for this post so I went with this one instead.
Much as I like to big up my mother’s love of Frank Sinatra as an example of her good taste in music she did have a few skeletons in her closet — or rather in the sideboard where she kept her records. For a few years she really had a thing for Rod Stewart, and unfortunately I don’t mean the classic, Faces-era Rod either, she loved – I think even preferred — late 1970s, Britt Ekland-shagging, spandex-tights-wearing, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Rod. In a nutshell: the crap Rod. But you know what mums are like, they just don’t care about things like authenticity and street cred.
The first album of his she bought was “A Night On The Town” in 1976, my opinion of which has always been marred by how much of an utter prat I think he looks on the cover. That photo of Rod in a blazer and boater enjoying a nice glass of champers after a hard days punting (or something) is like Exhibit A for Why Punk Happened. Here is Rod firmly established as wealthy rock royalty and looking so smug about it that you want to punch him in the face. The outfit he’s wearing is based on the pastiche of Renoir’s painting Le moulin de la Galette that’s on the other side of the cover and while I’m sure Rod was thinking to himself “it’s a bit classy, innit?” it looks like a rather naff vision of “the high life” to me, more Babycham than Dom Perignon. Only Bryan Ferry had the panache to do that sort of thing properly.
When he made this album he was on his way to booking a stool at the bar next to George Best in the “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” Club but it does still have flickers of his old brilliance on it. His version of “First Cut Is The Deepest” is my favourite, “The Balltrap” is great, raunchy Faces-style rawk and roll (though that was on the “fast side” of the album which my mother never played so I never heard it at the time), but the real surprise is the beautiful “The Killing of Georgie”, a song Stewart wrote about a gay friend who was murdered. Given Rod’s image as a football-loving, skirt-chasing, Jack the Lad it’s an unusual subject for him to tackle and a fairly bold one too considering that at the time the popular image of homosexuals was either as camp Larry Graysons and John Inmans or shady perverts, so writing a delicate and touching song about the murder of a gay man — years before Tom Robinson, Bronski Beat, and Pet Shop Boys — and having a big hit with it was quite something. He even manages to show some understanding toward Georgie’s murderer too and it’s hard to believe such a sensitive song could come from the pen of the man who also wrote “Tonight’s The Night” on the same album, a lecherous song about deflowering a virgin that’s about as delicate as a Penthouse letter. Maybe he wasn’t such a prat after all.
Though if Rod was hoping to promote more tolerance toward gay people it fell on deaf ears at my school where this boy who was suspected of being a “poof” (for no reason that I can remember) got nicknamed “Georgie” and lots of kids (not me!) would shout “oooh, Georgie!” in limp-wristed voices at him. Poor bastard was probably scarred for life.