35 Years Ago: Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan Both Win With ‘Forever Young’
Any musician with an illustrious, decade-spanning career is bound to rack up some regrets along the way. Rod Stewart was no exception, and he parlayed his sorrows into the midcareer hit "Forever Young," released as a single in July 1988.
The heartthrob rocker was still a formidable chart force in the late '80s, but his album sales had been gradually dwindling for years, and the hit singles were less of a guarantee than a decade earlier. Stewart's fortunes reversed with 1988's Out of Order, which he co-wrote and co-produced with the Power Station guitarist Andy Taylor (formerly of Duran Duran) and bassist Bernard Edwards (formerly of Chic).
The album's first single, "Lost in You," shot to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, a sign of good things to come. But it was the album's second single that would become etched in the canon of all-time Stewart songs.
The singer had his children — then-7-year-old Sean Stewart and 8-year-old Kimberly Stewart — in mind when he wrote "Forever Young" with his guitarist Jim Cregan and keyboardist Kevin Savigar. "I love 'Forever Young,' because that was a real heartfelt song about my kids," Stewart told Mojo in 1995 (via Songfacts). "I suddenly realized I'd missed a good five years of Sean and Kimberly's life because I was so busy touring all the time."
Watch Rod Stewart's 'Forever Young' Video
The lyrics to Stewart's song ("May the good Lord be with you / Down every road you roam ... May good fortune be with you / May your guiding light be strong") were literally and thematically similar to Dylan's ("May God bless and keep you always / May your wishes all come true ... May you always know the truth / And see the light surrounding you") — so much so that Stewart felt compelled to clear the track with Dylan before releasing it.
"The song is very much Rod's song," Stewart's manager Arnold Stiefel told the Los Angeles Times. "It came about after a long, very touching conversation he had with his 6-year-old son last year. There was this great empathy between them, which I think really moved Rod. And as he remembers it, he saw a film in England around the same time called Forever Young, which is where the title came from.
"However, when we were putting the album together, someone pointed out that there was a Dylan song with the same title," Stiefel continued. "So we listened to the two songs. And it would be fair to say that while the melody and the music is not at all the same, the idea of the song is similar. The architecture of the lyrics of the song is very much from Dylan — there are definite similarities."
Listen to Bob Dylan's 'Forever Young'
Stiefel added that he "didn't hear back from Bob directly, but his attorney relayed the message that he had no problem with the song, but that he did want to participate in the ownership of the song." Stewart credited Dylan as a co-writer on "Forever Young," and both parties agreed to equally split the royalties, with Stewart reportedly donating his share to local health care for homeless organizations throughout the United States.
It was a win for both rock legends, as "Forever Young" also vaulted to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of Stewart's most-performed songs, with more than 1,200 live renditions, according to setlist.fm. Out of Order spawned two more Top 15 hits — the No. 4 "My Heart Can't Tell You No" and the No. 11 "Crazy About Her" — and soared past 2 million sales in the U.S., making it Stewart's biggest LP since 1978's Blondes Have More Fun.
At 43 years old, the singer had defied the pop-star laws of aging — not for the first time, and not for the last.