With the release of STILL THE SAME?GREAT ROCK CLASSICS OF OUR TIME, Rod Stewart returns to his roots. A landmark recording of great songs by his contemporaries, and Stewart's first rock album in over eight years, STILL THE SAME?follows the unprecedented success of his Grammy-award winning Great American Songbook series. The four volumes of The Great American Songbook released between 2002 and 2005, comprise the biggest selling ongoing series of new music recordings in history, with a total of fifteen million copies worldwide.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Rod Stewart has one of the greatest and most distinctive voices in rock history. Throughout his almost forty-year career, he has applied that unmistakable tone to material by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Tom Waits. Just as the often-imitated "Songbook" albums focused on unforgettable compositions from the '30s and '40s, STILL THE SAME? concentrates on music from an unprecedented era - the late '60s and early '70s, when rock songwriting was truly breaking through to new heights.
On STILL THE SAME?, Stewart takes ownership of a thoughtfully chosen set of songs crafted by such masters as Bob Dylan ("If Not For You"), Van Morrison ("Crazy Love"), Bob Seger ("Still the Same"), and John Fogerty ("Have You Ever Seen the Rain," the first radio single from the album). Several of Stewart's other selections sound like they were written for his signature, inimitable rasp in the first place, like Bonnie Tyler's "It's a Heartache" and "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," a 1976 hit for Elvin Bishop.
"We've chosen tracks very carefully to go with my voice," says Stewart. "We felt that these were songs that were due for a revisit, and made sure that they blend together as a single piece of work."
Produced by John Shanks - winner of the 2005 "Producer of the Year" Grammy award, who has worked with such artists as Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge - and co-produced by Clive Davis, STILL THE SAME? features a lean band of top-notch session musicians including Kenny Aronoff and Dean Parks. ("We had a really well-rounded band," says Stewart, "and a pretty good singer, too!") The range of its production is displayed in sounds from the soaring Badfinger hit "Day After Day" to the most contemporary song included, the Pretenders's 1994 ballad "I'll Stand By You."
Having developed a whole new audience through the "Songbook" series, with STILL THE SAME?GREAT ROCK CLASSICS OF OUR TIME, Rod Stewart has once again changed his tune.
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It starts, of course, with the voice. A voice that best-selling author Chuck Klosterman referred to in Spin magazine as "the single greatest male singing voice of the rock era." A voice so distinctive, said "Songbook" III and IV producer Steve Tyrell, that "he sings just two notes and you know it's Rod Stewart."
Rod Stewart and his characteristically throaty, impressively expressive, and surprisingly versatile voice had been knocking around the London club scene with groups like Steampacket and Long John Baldry's band before he connected with ace guitarist Jeff Beck in 1968. Their collaborations in the Jeff Beck Group brought Stewart to the spotlight on the blazing Truth and Beck-Ola albums (both of which were just reissued in expanded, re-mastered editions). But it was when Stewart joined forces with the greatest party band in rock history, the magnificent Faces, that he truly hit his stride.
For about a half-dozen years, Stewart went back and forth between recording and touring with the Faces ("punk prototypes," as Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has called them) and launching his own wildly successful solo career. After his first two albums on his own-1969's The Rod Stewart Album and 1970's Gasoline Alley-revealed the range and artistry of a vocalist previously best known as a shouter, everything came together for Every Picture Tells a Story in 1971. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, it includes Stewart's soulful, commanding takes on folk, R&B, and blues material; the astonishing title track; and the international Number One smash, "Maggie May." The album also demonstrated that along the way, he had become a top-flight songwriter.
In the years that followed, Stewart solidified his standing as a superstar. "Tonight's the Night" proved an even bigger hit than "Maggie May," and while other rockers lost ground to a global outbreak of disco fever in 1978, Stewart simply responded with another Number One hit, the notorious "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy."
Throughout the '80s and '90s, Rod Stewart remained a consistent presence on the charts, with smashes like "Young Turks," "Forever Young," "Downtown Train," and the massive "All for Love" trio alongside Sting and Bryan Adams. His Unplugged?and Seated set reunited him with Faces mate Ron Wood, and resulted in a big hit with his intimate version of Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately." As the century turned, Stewart underwent throat surgery to remove a benign cancerous node, and also tackled some of his most ambitious material-from contemporary Brit-pop on When We Were the New Boys to new-school R&B on Human.
But no one would have predicted that the next move for this rock & roll icon would be an album titled It Had to Be You?The Great American Songbook, a collection devoted to the craft and elegance of songs like "The Way You Look Tonight" and "These Foolish Things." Stewart maintained, however, that the project was actually a long time coming. "It wasn't a sudden impulse or urge," he said, "it's something I'd been wanting to do for as far back as I can remember."
And the more you think about it, the more logical a step it actually was. Rod Stewart has always been a remarkable interpretive singer-throughout his career, he's recorded songs by the finest contemporary songwriters, from Bob Dylan to Curtis Mayfield, from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Cat Stevens. Aside from that unique vocal tone, perhaps his greatest strength is his ability to put across a great set of lyrics clearly and directly.
"I prefer doing slower numbers," Stewart said as far back as 1970, in an interview with Rolling Stone at the height of the Faces' popularity. "For a vocalist, a slower number lends itself better than anything else. In opportunities for phrasing, it's much more free." Certainly, his cosmopolitan, jet-set persona meshed easily with the sophistication and sexiness exemplified by America's pop classics.
If anyone still argued that this new iteration of Rod Stewart-complete with bow tie rakishly undone in the cover photo-seemed at all far-fetched, the public immediately said otherwise. It Had to Be You?The Great American Songbook entered the charts at Number Four, Stewart's highest perch in years, and went on to sell more than five million copies. Not that anyone knew what the public response would be-"Rod was doing it out of sheer determination," said manager Arnold Stiefel. "As he said to me, we've waited 20 years to sing these songs and I'm going to give them my all, and if the album sells 25,000 copies, so be it."
"The key to it all is trying to put my own stamp on these songs," said Stewart, "because they have been done so many times-just not by someone who sang 'Hot Legs' and 'Maggie May!'"
In explaining the unprecedented success of the "Songbooks," some claimed it was simply because Stewart's singing was better than ever. Said Ringo Starr, whose 1970 Sentimental Journey is probably the first standards album recorded by a rocker, "Rod had that operation, and he still does the hoarse thing, but it's so mellow now, it's more musical for me."
As Stewart took to the road behind It Had to Be You?The Great American Songbook, he continued to strengthen a following for this material. The "From 'Maggie May' to the Great American Songbook Tour" (captured on the One Night Only! Live at Royal Albert Hall DVD) was completely sold out for three years in a row. In 2003, he released As Time Goes By?The Great American Songbook Volume II. This time, he entered the charts at Number Two. Duets with Cher and Queen Latifah helped expand his audience-which, judging from concert attendance, now included both the parents and the children of the baby boomers who grew up with Rod-even further.
With 2004's Stardust?The Great American Songbook Volume III, the "Songbook" series established itself as a truly historic phenomenon. The album entered the charts at Number One-the first chart-topping debut of Stewart's career, and his first Number One in more than 25 years. Guests on Stardust included Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, adding a more modern edge to these beloved tunes. The tour was one of the year's five biggest, and Stewart-who just a few years earlier seemed well past his days atop the charts-was, according to Rolling Stone, the sixth highest-grossing artist of the year. And to cap it all off, there was that long-awaited Grammy for "Best Traditional Pop Vocal," Stewart's first trophy after 14 nominations over the years.
With Thanks for the Memory?The Great American Songbook Volume IV, he took the approach into new and surprising directions. In addition to streamlining the arrangements, he shook up the "Songbook" formula by adding some different flavors into the mix, especially a duet with Chaka Khan on Sam Cooke's "You Send Me"-"It's like treading on hallowed ground," said Stewart, a lifelong Cooke fan -and songs alongside Elton John and Diana Ross.
Everyone involved in the "Songbook" albums points to one element that sustained the idea beyond a one-off novelty, and that's Stewart's own growing confidence. Since establishing a natural fit with this material on It Had to Be You?, the raspy-voiced legend refined his selections and arrangements with each volume, while retaining the fluid phrasing and light touch that have won over millions of listeners.
Producer Steve Tyrell said that it's no surprise that Stewart's vocal technique kept improving with each go-round. "You must become a better singer when you sing these songs," he said. "They take your voice to places that contemporary music doesn't go. It's like going to some kind of University of Higher Music."
The Great American Songbook series pushed Rod Stewart's career into uncharted territory-he's selling more records than ever and cultivating a new and growing audience in his fifth decade as a performer. "Rod has become an inspiration to all artists," says Arista/J Records founder/BMG U.S. Chairman & CEO Clive Davis, "showing how long a truly great career can soar when one is willing to broaden and reinvent oneself."
After Thanks for the Memory?The Great American Songbook Vol. IV, there was talk about recording a collection of soul classics. Clive Davis, however, came up with the idea of revisiting the rock songs that Stewart's fans had grown up with. The triumphant result is STILL THE SAME?GREAT ROCK CLASSICS OF OUR TIME, on which Stewart takes all of the lessons learned from the "Songbooks" and applies them to the kind of songs he has always loved to sing - powerful, emotional, and heartfelt.
"I still listen to the 'Songbook' albums all the time," says Stewart. "The attitude that I took from doing that series is that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants, and so this time I just wanted to be sure that I was bringing something else to the table - a twist and turn of the phrase, things like that."
Though Stewart reveals that he has recently started picking up his acoustic guitar and writing songs again, he still enjoys this chapter of his singing career. "I love doing these concept records," he says. "Realistically, there's not many songwriters at my age still trying to release albums of their own music - when you get older, I think you just have to go about it in a different way."
From brash pub-rocker to sophisticated balladeer, from soul man to folk troubadour to rock & roll shouter, Rod Stewart has been able to change sound and style over and over again. But one thing that's never changed is the power of his singing. Four decades later, that truly is still the same.
"I can't wait until January and our first gig in America," says Stewart. "I love what I do."