No. 69: Rod Stewart, ‘Maggie May’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
It’s one of the relatively few songs he had a hand in writing during his solo career, but neither Rod Stewart nor his label thought all that much of ‘Maggie May’ at first, relegating it to B-side status on the ‘Reason to Believe’ single.
Fortunately for Rod, the general public had bigger plans for ‘Maggie,’ sending it to No. 1 on the Billboard charts for a whopping five weeks in October 1971, and making it an easy choice to represent Stewart on our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs countdown.
Stewart wrote the song with Steamhammer guitarist Martin Quittenton, reaching back to a particularly saucy episode in his past for inspiration. He fessed up during a 2007 interview with Q, saying, it “was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with, at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival.”
Talking about how it almost didn’t make the cut for his ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ album, he recalled, “It nearly got left off because the label said it didn’t have a melody. I said, ‘Well, we’ve run out of time now, these are all the tracks we’ve recorded.’ They said, ‘Alright, then, bring it on.'”
‘Maggie May’ cemented Stewart’s marketability as a solo performer, which complicated relations with his bandmates in the Faces; although he remained in the group until its split in 1975, they were occasionally marketed as “The Faces with Rod Stewart,” driving a wedge into what was already a volatile mix. For Stewart, however, it kicked off a torrid string of hit singles and albums; in fact, he wouldn’t place a solo LP outside the Billboard Top 40 for another 27 years, with 1998’s ‘When We Were the New Boys.’
As for Maggie herself, her identity remains a mystery — the song title was taken not from the woman in the story, but from a traditional British folk song about a prostitute who robs a sailor. Something to think about the next time you’re singing along.
Watch Rod Stewart Perform ‘Maggie May’