Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Rod Stewart - The Rod Stewart Album (aka An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down)

Rod Stewart
The Rod Stewart Album (aka An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down)


Released 1969 on Mercury Records
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 14/05/2007ce


I know what you’re thinking – Rod Stewart? And I agree; a Stewart album would normally be the last thing I’d listen to, much less recommend. But this, his first solo LP, comes highly recommended for all those into the heavy acoustic rock groove of the Stones’s Beggars Banquet; in fact, this album could easily be re-titled “Beggars Banquet II" -- even the cover follows the original "RSVP" Beggars Banquet sleeve. (And to make the Stones similarity more obvious…it features Ron Wood on guitar, years before he replaced Mick Taylor.)

An ancient issue of Rolling Stone informed me of the LP. Greil Marcus raved about it in his Feb 7, 1970 review, even claiming it was the only album of late ‘69 (other than Let It Bleed) which picked up the mantle laid down by Beggars Banquet. Marcus is one of those reviewers who, analytical as he can be, I’ve always respected, mostly because he was one of the very few critics who praised Skip Spence’s Oar…back when it was originally released. So I went on a hunt for this Stewart album (titled “An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down” in the UK), and found it for a measly $2 in the vinyl bin of a local bookstore. Original issue, and nearly mint to boot.

“Street Fighting Man” opens the record, and it’s a great song, not just a great cover. It starts off all heavy acoustic rock, pounding drums, pedal steel guitar, banging piano, and an acoustic guitar riffing away. Stewart’s vocals lack the vitriol of Jagger; he instead sings with the raspy wail we know so well. A brief bass solo and it’s back into the groove, here a bit fatter than the proto-punk of the Stones original. An electric guitar pops up for an extended jam session in the middle; you think the song’s over much too abruptly, but then it picks back up – from what was the beginning of the Stones original. “Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy,” wails Rod on multi-tracked vocals, and you can’t deny the power. Another bass solo, then things get real weird…a treated piano begins to play the opening chords of that psychedelic Stones classic, “We Love You!” What must this have sounded like in the back-to-the-roots era of late 1969? And that’s it, a fade-out, the end.

Acoustic guitar on the right channel, scorching blues electric in the left, opens the oh-so-very Beggars Banquet “Man of Constant Sorrow.” All “Prodigal Son,” “No Expectations,” “Factory Girl”…only maybe a little better. A short track, a simple bluesy dirge of regret and despair, but it leaves an impact.

“Blind Prayer” is all blaring lead guitar and massive piano/drums, Stewart singing in a blustery manner of hardscrabble proclamation. British blues of Cream vintage; even the riffing bridge section is straight off “Wheels of Fire.” Things mellow out with a Doorsy bass/piano section, Stewart singing “tread my name into the dirt.” A whiskey-soaked wail and the bottleneck comes in, the drums begin banging out fills. The riffing bridge becomes the song itself, all Zeppelin I, but that Doorsy midsection returns, “Riders on the Storm” with bottleneck guitar. This track is everything the Stones could have been after Beggars Banquet.

“Handbags & Gladrags” was the hit off the album, and for reason. You could easily see it as “No Expectations, Pt 2.” Just the most moving, emotional, blues-soaked moan of regret ever put on wax by a British blues singer. One of those songs where the piano plays a melody that gets stuck in your head for DAYS, Stewart’s vocals included. Plus it’s got a horn section straight off of Sgt Peppers! Easily one of the many highlights of this great album. Features another fake-out ending; a fade…then the piano comes back in, playing out the refrain all by its lonesome.

“An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down,” the title track of the UK release (on Vertigo records, released February 1970), opens Side 2. A hard rock track with swing to spare, it begins with some multi-tracked acoustic guitar scrapes, then the bass comes in on a thick funky groove. One of those walking-on-the-balls-of-your-feet type affairs, all attitude and pomp. Somehow it reminds me of something off the first Montrose album…only without all the guitar gimmickry. “Stray Cat Blues” type guitars, especially on the fade.

“I Wouldn’t Ever Change A Thing,” mutters Stewart, announcing the next track, before the bass and piano engage in a circular motif which runs throughout. Organ courtesy Keith Emerson, giving the track a pure late ‘60s vibe. No guitars on this one. After a Procol Harum-type organ interlude, the track takes on a more melancholy vibe, all piano and wistful vocals. But then the bass announces a funky section with Stewart’s vocals panning across the spectrum. This eventually leads into a pure hell of organ, the drums bashing away – the heaviest track Procol Harum never wrote, in fact.

“Cindy’s Lament” comes on strong, heavy guitar/drums/organ, sounding very much like Cream. The organ plays an extended mournful note with acoustic guitar, then the drums hammer it back into a sub-Zeppelin II riff-a-thon. Stewart here sounds nearly identical to Plant, and the lyrics are right there in that blues grotto so familiar from the first two Zep albums. This is basic blues done English heavy, and it’s not bad. “You don’t have to notice my shoes/But please, please say hello sometimes,” sings Stewart. Man, there’s gotta be some meaning in those lines, somewhere. The track’s heavy, it grooves, Stewart nearly wails himself hoarse, it’s got some cool-sounding guitar riffs, but it follows too closely the template of Zeppelin I and II. An early fade fools you; the track comes back (uneventfully, it turns out) for another riff run-through.

“Dirty Old Town” is all Zeppelin III meets Beggars Banquet, acoustic guitars, muted drums, Rod’s raspy vocals. It opens with acoustic guitars and bass in a nice bucolic mode, snappy, muted snare in the far right channel. As the track continues the instrumentation picks up a more and more noticeable phased effect, until a Stevie Wonder-type harmonica (with a wah-wah effect, I should note) announces a grooving climax. A pretty cool track, but a subdued ending to the album.


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