Retro Music Review: Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story
Rod Stewart recently turned 72 and he’ll embark on an 18-date summer tour with Cyndi Lauper beginning in July. Here’s a look back at Every Picture Tells a Story, which was originally released in May of 1971 on Mercury Records.
The title cut opens the festivities. Mickey Waller’s drum work is a highlight. The first of only three original Stewart songs on the album, “Every Picture Tells a Story” is one of two major coming-of-age stories that would become rock and roll classics. In this song the closing mantra, “Every picture tells a story…” pulls together each of the earlier individual vignettes.
Stewart slows it down with “Seems Like a Long Time.” His signature gravelly vocals steal the show here. He picks it right back up with a rocking honky-tonk version of “That’s All Right Mama,” an Arthur Crudup song popularized by Elvis Presley.
Stewart elects to include his take on Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time” (originally released on 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan). “Amazing Grace” serves as a lead in, and a unique arrangement and Stewart’s vocal styling make this song worthy of inclusion.
The instant classic, “Maggie May,” opens side two. Another original, “Maggie,” also a coming-of-age story, was originally released as the B-side of “(Find A) Reason to Believe.” “Maggie” steals the show and went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. The guitar work is better than I recalled it. The song is “Pure Rod” with vocals, emotion, and musicianship melding together perfectly to become an inarguable all-time classic.
The third Stewart original, “Mandolin Wind,” is another all-timer and one of the finest love songs ever written. The pedal steel against the mandolin makes for a beautiful sound. Many critics at the time considered this the best song on the long player. The poignant lyrics are perfectly delivered. “Mandolin Wind” is Stewart at his finest.
The penultimate track is “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” For those familiar with The Temptations’ 1967 version of this song from their album The Temptations with a Lot o’ Soul, hold on to your hat. The Temptations classic version is funky and rocks in its own way, but Rod and the boys kick it into a higher gear, thanks in large part to the drumming of Kenney Jones. For some reason this is the only track that long-time Faces drummer Jones plays on, and he morphs from master timekeeper to soloist during the interlude/bridge. Jones’s work here is worthy of the great Who drummer Keith Moon, whom Jones would replace when Moon died in 1978.
The final song, Tim Hardin’s “(Find A) Reason to Believe” – which is similar in style to “Seems Like a Long Time,” “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” and “Mandolin Wind,” reinforces the themes of love, loss, youth, angst and disappointment that permeate the album.
Every Picture Tells a Story was Stewart’s third studio album. The Faces play on virtually every track, with Ronnie Wood on bass and guitar. A variety of musicians and backup singers, which are used extensively, contribute to the eight songs on the album. Eclectic in style, Every Picture went on to become number one in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom and is ranked #173 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums. While lists of this nature are arbitrary, Every Picture is that good.
Rod Stewart has never met a cover he didn’t like and has on occasion compromised his reputation with overt pop sentimentality, succumbing and/or pandering to the latest trends to make a buck. But, at his finest, he is clearly among the best ever. This album is every bit worthy of its place in rock history.
Highly recommended. 92 points out of a possible 100.
Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about Bob Dylan, baseball, love and life.