45 Years Ago: Rod Stewart Nearly Captures Magic With ‘Gasoline Alley’
It’s almost impossible for an artist to be part of a group and maintain a solo career with no noticeable drop in quality, but Rod Stewart pulled it off for a few years. He proved it with the second album released under his own name, Gasoline Alley, which came out in June 1970.
Arriving only three months after the Faces’ debut, First Step, Gasoline Alley continued the template set by Stewart’s first record, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (which was renamed The Rod Stewart Album in the U.S.). Its ramshackle mixture of folk, white soul and bluesy rock 'n’ roll would reach its apex in 1971 on Every Picture Tells a Story, but Gasoline Alley is nearly its equal.
Covers make up six of the nine tracks. Stewart rescues the Eddie Cochran B-side “Cut Across Shorty” from obscurity, gives the Valentinos’ “It’s All Over Now” an even rougher take than the Rolling Stones’ hit version and, with the other Faces, takes on “My Way of Giving,” which was previously recorded by their early incarnation as the Small Faces. Those sandwich the album's folkier numbers, with Stewart giving remarkably sensitive readings to Bob Dylan’s “Only a Hobo” and Elton John’s “County Comfort,” neither of which had been officially released by their composers at the time.
Two of the three originals are buried deep on side two, and it’s a shame. “Lady Day” is one of Stewart’s finest ballads, proving that he’s at his best when playing the jilted boyfriend. “Jo’s Lament” is the reverse, as he reconnects with the mother of his child after his pursuit of fame and fortune didn’t pan out as he had hoped. And then there’s the drop-dead gorgeous title track, which also opens the album. Co-written with Ron Wood, it’s filled with longing as the narrator decides to “swallow up my silly country pride” and head back to his hometown, as mandolin and slide guitar echo the melody.
Only the closer, a funky workout with the Faces on Little Richard’s “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It),” misses the mark. That lone clunker, and a breakout hit or two, is what separates Gasoline Alley from Every Picture. But even without a single, it still reached No. 27 on the Billboard album chart and remains one of Stewart’s most beloved records.
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