In Defense of “Hot Legs” (sort of): Kelsey Pierson Reports

While Rod Stewart is completely washed up and has been reduced to recording the tenth-thousandth installment of “The Great Amercan Songbook,” his early recordings are damn good.

What I love about is the fact that it seems like he just sat down in his living room with a bunch of people who played instruments and said “I’m going to sing this Bob Dylan song, you play like this, and I’ll sing like that.” It’s all very organic for being an album that was wheeled out like a Kelly Clarkson album is today. It’s intimate, while being poppy enough to sell a lot of copies.

The guitars are always very open. Whoever is playing allows the instrument do it’s own thing and allows for the chords to ring out and carry while Stewart’s voice is almost restrained by his signature rasp. Both create a beautiful soft and hard blend. Here are a few essential and somewhat popular Rod Stewart tracks and why I love them so:

1. “Every Picture Tells A Story” (1970) – One of the feelings I get from this song is the idea of a beginning. Sure, the young man in the song is recounting his travels around the world, but the overall feel of the song reminds me of a guy who sloppily rolled out of bed and decided to change his life. The drums sound like a little kid haphazardly jumping into puddles after a hot summer rain while the steam rises from the sidewalk. The song is epic like the best Hollywood box office busters, and it’s really all because of the drums. It almost sounds like the guy doesn’t really know how to play, and the whole song sounds like at any second it could just stop working. It teeters on a slippery slope. Listen to for Stewart to come in too early at 3:47.

2. “Gasoline Alley” (1969) – This is a driving song. Although pretty much any song with the word “ride” or certainly “gasoline” would be an essential track on any driving mix, “Gasoline Alley” is a bit of a different animal. It’s not just a song about the journey like most great driving songs are, but about the longing for the destination. Stewart and the guitarist melt together into a song about wayfaring. Plus there’s a mandolin part, which sort of adds to the troubadour effect to the song, and the vocals kind of fade out during the last minute of the song, creating the effect that he made it back to Gasoline Alley and is walking away from the song.

3. “Mama, You Been on My Mind” (1971) – I can’t figure out if the woman he’s speaking to in this song is his mother, his girlfriend, or even a short-term lover. A rare Bob Dylan gem, the lyrics are sort of adorable, and whatever the relationship was, the overall message of “Mama, You Been on My Mind” simply spells out that no matter what kind of relationship this elusive mama had with the narrator, he’s thinking about her and seems apologetic that it didn’t work out. As friends often say to me “it is what it is,” and that is the note that Stewart’s performance leaves with me.

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