From the bargain bin…
I bet the fellas thought they were fucking hilarious when they assigned me this album to start my blog off with. The funny thing is they couldn’t have possibly picked a better one.
For me, the experience of purposely listening to Rod Stewart’s Blondes Have More Fun and writing about it was very much like reopening a tragic murder case from a decade I was barely cognizant in, as I was only seven when the album came out. But here I am, gladly exhuming the body of disco’s most significant casualty, while at the same time preparing to eulogize the soul of a man, who by most accounts is not technically dead yet.
The Scene Of The Crime
In the summer of 1977, America’s love affair with disco music was on the cusp of coming to a fever pitch. By the following autumn, record companies were frantically offering cocaine, prostitutes, and other incentives to any act whose bass player could thump a walking octave. It was obvious to businessmen of nearly every medium that disco was about to boil over and spill out into the streets. It would eventually invade our homes, our malls, and our public schools too. Unfortunately, this “trend” forced many of the decade’s already established artists to release disco singles just to survive the storm. Some artists happily embraced the experiment some didn’t. Either way, no one was exempt from its demands, as every performer with a recording contract was suddenly expected to understand that hips and shoulders were now the preferred target markets. Unlikely icons like The Eagles, Barbara Streisand, Paul McCartney, Kiss and The Grateful Dead all found themselves watching their drummers learn to Latin-ize their sounds or were simply hiring studio musicians to fill in the ethnic blanks. If you were the devil in 1977, this was a delicious time.
In the previous spring of the same year, two best friends were simultaneously preparing their first calculated disco hits. Ron Wood, now a member of The Rolling Stones, would release Miss You the following June of ’78 before eventually turning the entire genre into an ATM machine (Dance#1, Emotional Rescue and so forth) even after the trend had faded away. The other was Rod Stewart, whose Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, the first track off of his ninth studio album, would go on to become the biggest selling American Top 10 single of his entire forty-something year career.
From the moment “Sexy” hit the airwaves, Rod Stewart was everywhere. However, he had transformed himself into something many rock critics no longer recognized. Suddenly the English “rocker” who brought us “Hot Legs” “Reason To Believe”and “Maggie May” was tarted up in spandex pants and sporting a peroxide-ravaged mane, while prancing girlishly about on the same stages as the likes of Donna Summer and the Solid Gold Dancers. Stewart’s bluesy roots as the singer of the Jeff Beck Group and The Faces were buried deeply under the cheap accessories of a New Jersey mall whore. Rock journalists all over the world thought Da Ya Think I’m Sexy to be an absolute travesty, declaring it an unabashed sell-out. But that detoured almost no one from buying it, as Stewart would enjoy a four million copy sales figure in its final quarter. Meanwhile, his new found androgynous image would become so over exposed that even the urban myths about him defied science itself.*
Requiem For An Awkward Dancer
The rest of Blondes Have More Fun tells a much different story. Keep in mind, this was an album Rod Stewart could have easily phoned in, as it didn’t take a focus group to know the first single would sell millions all by itself. Stewart instead opted to make one of the sincerest records he’s ever done. One that would be more expressive than any of his previous work to date. If Da Ya Think I’m Sexy was built to sell, the rest of this collection was built to last.
The intro of Dirty Weekend (track two) begins with Stewart chuckling as the band comes in, and suddenly the record as a whole immediately resets itself. In an eye blink, our palettes are cleansed of the first song entirely as if by design. Armed with one of the best studio rhythm-sections of the day (Philip Chen on bass, Carmine Appice on drums) Stewart delivers a vocal performance reminiscent of his days with The Faces while his band delivers the filthiest piece of dirty white boy rock that could easily fit comfortably on any of the better Black Crowes records. By the time the song is over it is as if he has pulled our ears aside and whispered,
“I was only kidding about that first five minutes and thirty one seconds. Now let’s run off to the pub and talk about it.”
However, Stewart had merely been warming us as so we’re not quite prepared for what are arguably the warmest series of performances of his recording catalog. Tracks like “The Best Days Of My Life,” and “Is That The Thanks I Get?” showcase a songwriter whose attention to detail in both lyrics and performance is so wonderfully seamless that you find yourself feeling both envy and empathy for the lovers he is singing about. Maggie May is again referenced in “Aint Love A Bitch,” presumably to remind us all that he’s still the same guy who wrote it, even if only this last time. Tom Dowd’s production is gorgeously sparse. He manages the keys, horns, guitars, and backup singers perfectly by keeping them out of Stewart’s way, so not to crowd his whimsy. During a time when bands like Kiss and Ted Nugent were composing odes to their own sexual prowess, on Blondes, Rod Stewart approaches these subjects with both wonder and a refreshing self deprecating humor.
Won’t someone please answer my prayers,
Before I’m old and gray?
I’ve been lonely too long,
All of my family think I’m gay.
-From “Attractive Female Wanted”
This is a record that has as vibe that stands the test of time. It’s just one of those charming gems you put on during a card game or when you’ve snuck out on your steps to have a heart to heart with a friend.
Rod Stewart would spend the next two decades chasing that same success, as the formula of surveying the pop-landscape and attempting to strike oil with it would pretty much become his M.O throughout the 80′s and early nineties. But even the better crafted of his singles after “Sexy” would be overshadowed by their accompanying music-videos, which became more embarrassing to watch than the next. He would not release a number one single in America for another twenty five years.
If Da Ya Think I’m Sexy was the death of Rod Stewart: The Artist, the rest of this album could very easily be remembered as a celebration of the soul of a man we all should have gotten to know but lost. Blondes Have More Fun was the last we’d see of him.
*It was a widely held belief that Rod Stewart had his stomach pumped because he had swallowed a “fatal amount” of human semen.