Rod Stewart kicked off his career in the Jeff Beck Group, got famous in the Faces, and became a megastar as a solo artist. He might not have become the critic’s darling in the same way some of his peers have (any hope of that died the moment he released Da Ya Think I’m Sexy) but he’s sold more records than most of them combined. Here are the 10 best Rod Stewart songs of all time.
10. Hot Legs
As Rolling Stone says, some songs have hidden meanings that take years of study to fully understand. And then there’s Hot Legs, which tells you everything you need to know in the title. There’s no ambiguity here – it’s a song about legs, and hot ones at that. The bearer of the hot legs is, apparently, wearing Stewart out, although he still has enough energy to ask the very pertinent question “Hot legs, are you still in school?” If only more ’70s stars had bothered asking the same question.
9. Forever Young
On Forever Young, Stewart blatantly rips off Bob Dylan’s 1974 song of the same name. But ultimately, Dylan has never been averse to nicking the odd line or melody from other people, so he couldn’t get too high and mighty about it. The pair eventually agreed to share the royalties and say no more about it. Stewart, who says he wrote the song after realizing how much of his kids’ lives he’d missed because of his touring schedule, cites it as one his personal favorites. It fared reasonably well in the charts, peaking at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
8. The First Cut Is the Deepest
As I Love Classic Rock notes, Cat Steven’s The First Cut Is the Deepest has been interpreted by numerous artists over the years, but few have been better received than Stewart’s. His emotive rasp conveys the heartbreak of early love perfectly. A couple of decades later, Sheryl Crowe borrowed his arrangement for her own version of the song – it was a good effort, but Rod’s still has the edge.
7. The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)
Taken from the album A Night on the Town, this self-penned song about the murder of one of Stewart’s gay friends was a bold move for the singer, especially in 1976. The folksy narrative and gentle melody is a world away from his hottest selling hits like Hot Legs and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy. Perhaps understandably, it failed to make as much of an impression on the charts as they did. It still reached No. 30 though, and it’s still an exceptionally fine song.
6. You Wear It Well
Stewart knows a winning formula when he sees it. After Every Picture Tells a Story dominated the charts in 1971, Stewart went back to the studio the following year and re-recorded the exact same album, albeit now under the title of Never a Dull Moment. But as ultimateclassicrock.com says, it didn’t really matter – it was a great album the first time and it was a great album the second time, with You Wear It Well standing out as a highlight (even if it is basically Maggie May Part 2).
5. Da Ya Think I’m Sexy
Stewart might be one of the most popular recording artists of all time, but he’s never been one to court either the critics or the purists. When Da Ya Think I’m Sexy was released in 1978, the purists called him a sellout and the critics called him a joke. Did he care? Not a jot. As liveabout.com notes, this simple, straightforward tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl have some fun rocketed straight to the top of the charts in both the US and UK. Stewart, nice guy that he is, donated all the royalties to Unicef.
4. Reason to Believe
When Reason to Believe was released in 1971, it had a problem. Namely, it’s B side, a distracting little number about some woman named Maggie. Maggie May got the airplay and Reason to Believe got consigned to the dustbin of history, only to re-emerge two decades later when Stewart performed it during his MTV Unplugged special. People realized what they’d been missing the first time around, and finally, the song got the rightful attention it deserved.
3. Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)
Stewart is capable of subtlety, but you’d never guess it from Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright). Featuring a lot of heavy breathing and whispered asides from his girlfriend of the time, Britt Ekland, the song is blatant in its explicitness. The BBC deemed the line “Spread your wings and let me come inside” far too risqué for comfort and banned it. But there’s nothing like a ban to ignite interest, and Tonight’s the Night eventually became one of Stewart’s biggest hits, sailing all the way to No.1 in the US and staying there for the next eight weeks.
2. Mandolin Wind
Stewart might be capable of rocking with the best of them, but when he wants to go tender, he goes tender. Mandolin Wind might not have the strut or the swagger of some of his biggest hits, but it’s got the substance and the style to carry it through. A sublime mix of rock and folk, its reliance on acoustic instruments, and in particular the mandolin, adds a gorgeously romantic vibe to the track. Stewart’s vocals, meanwhile, have rarely sounded quite so poignant.
1. Maggie May
Obviously, Maggie May has to take the top spot. A fictionalized account of Stewart’s first sexual encounter, it kickstarted his solo career and proved he was just as capable of delivering a hit without the Faces as with them. Strangely enough, neither Stewart nor his record label thought Maggie May had legs. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal years later, Stewart revealed “At first, I didn’t think much of Maggie May. I guess that’s because the record company didn’t believe in the song. I didn’t have much confidence then.” But despite being released as the B side to Reason to Believe, it was this witty, self-deprecating masterpiece that DJs preferred, with the result that Reason to Believe got forgotten and Maggie May sailed to No.1, becoming the second highest-selling single of 1971 in the US.