It has steadily fallen for the past decade or two, but there was a time when Rod Stewart’s 1971 album Every Picture Tells a Story routinely landed near the top of most “Best Albums” lists. There are probably several reasons for the decline, including the fact that the artist currently known as Rod Stewart bears little resemblance to the artist formerly known as Rod Stewart who recorded Every Picture Tells a Story, and some critics apparently hold that against him. Regardless of where it lands on any given survey, Every Picture remains an extremely well-crafted rock album. One of its distinctions is that it includes both “Maggie May” and “Mandolin Wind,” which is ridiculous. “Maggie May” and “Mandolin Wind” being on the same album just isn’t fair. It’s like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig being in the same lineup. The rest of the album is solid top to bottom, from a lively remake of the Elvis classic “That’s Alright Mama” to a beautiful cover of Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time” to the blistering “I Know I’m Losing You.” And then there’s the title track, which would require an entire essay to itself.
Every Picture Tells a Story is one of several solo albums Rod Stewart released from 1969 to the mid-seventies while he was concurrently fronting the band Faces. Rod’s right hand man in all of these projects was Ron Wood. Wood served as Stewart’s guitarist, background vocalist, co-songwriter, and co-conspirator in all manner of onstage buffoonery and offstage debauchery. In spite of his facetious demeanor, Wood is actually a very talented musician. His guitar playing style is not of fluid precision like Eric Clapton or Mick Taylor. Rather, his guitar produces a raw sound with a jagged cadence in the manner of Keith Richards, with whom Ron developed a close friendship both artistically and recreationally. Thus, it was no surprise that when Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones in 1974 Keith recruited Ron Wood to join the Stones. Ronnie’s contributions to the Stones’ 1976 album Black and Blue essentially amounted to an audition, but it was a foregone conclusion that he would land the gig (much to the chagrin of Harvey Mandel and Wayne Perkins who also “auditioned” with solid contributions to Black and Blue).
The annoyingly frequent criticism that “Ron Wood isn’t as good as Mick Taylor” completely misses the point. The Stones were not after another Mick Taylor. They wanted someone whose guitar would mesh with Keith Richards’ guitar to produce the new “Stones sound” that Keith heard in his head. What Keith had in mind was a two guitar interplay with neither playing exclusively lead or exclusively rhythm. Keith and Ron began working out those dynamics when Wood joined the Stones’ 1976 tour, perfected them while recording Some Girls, and put them on public display during the 1978 and 1981 tours.
As much as I love Wood’s work with the Stones, for tonight’s featured video I have gone back to his days with Rod Stewart and the Faces for a raucous rendition of “I Know I’m Losing You” from Every Picture Tells a Story. As if Ron’s guitar is not hot enough, Kenny Jones’ drum solo is hot enough to melt steel beams.
Speaking of Every Picture Tells a Story, here is a very nice unplugged performance of “Mandolin Wind.” I bet you didn’t know that Rod Stewart played banjo, did you?