Rod Stewart got his big break singing with the Jeff Beck Group in 1967. By 1969, he was fronting the rebooted Faces with his pal, former Beck sideman Ronnie Wood. Around the same time, he released his first solo album; two years later, his third LP, Every Picture Tells a Story, made him a star. Stewart's soulful rasp straddled the line between sturdy rock and roll and sweetened R&B, and it anchored many of the best songs of this era. Since then, he's recorded everything from disco to '40s standards to Christmas music. But his greatest work can be found in our list of the Top 10 Rod Stewart Songs of the '70s.
'(I Know) I'm Losing You'From: 'Every Picture Tells a Story' (1971)
Stewart's groove-heavy cover of the Temptations' No. 1 R&B song was recorded by the Faces, but because of contractual reasons, the band's name couldn't be promoted on the record. They stick pretty close to the original version, with a dash of Rare Earth's lumbering Top 10 hit from 1970 tossed in for added weight. Stewart's career is filled with cover songs. This is one of his best.
'Every Picture Tells a Story'From: 'Every Picture Tells a Story' (1971)
The title track and lead cut from Stewart's breakthrough album still comes on like a full-force storm. After a couple of so-so solo records, Stewart teamed up with a solid bunch of musicians and recorded a batch of raw, stripped-down songs that highlighted Stewart's bluesy, soul-stained voice. "Every Picture Tells a Story" still sounds like a rock and roll manifesto.
'Reason to Believe'From: 'Every Picture Tells a Story' (1971)
"Reason to Believe" was originally released as a double A-side with "Maggie May" (see No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Rod Stewart Songs of the '70s). But as the closing song on Stewart's best, and first No. 1, album, Every Picture Tells a Story, it serves as a bookend to one of the decade's greatest records. The song was originally written and recorded by folksinger Tim Hardin, but Stewart's version is rightfully the one everyone knows.
'The First Cut Is the Deepest'From: 'A Night on the Town' (1976)
Like "Reason to Believe" (see No. 8 on our list of the Top 10 Rod Stewart Songs of the '70s), "The First Cut Is the Deepest" is a cover song that Stewart totally owned. It was written by Cat Stevens and first recorded by an obscure soul singer named P.P. Arnold in 1967. But Stewart's gorgeous version tops all others – including Sheryl Crow's hit, which borrowed Stewart's terrific arrangement.
'The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)'From: 'A Night on the Town' (1976)
Stewart's self-penned, and fact-based, song about the murder of a gay friend was an unlikely choice for a single in 1976. It was also a brave move by the singer, who constructed the narrative and finger-plucked melody like an old-school folk ballad with a tragic ending. The song stalled at No. 30 on the chart, but it's still remarkable that it even reached such a high position.
'You Wear It Well'From: 'Never a Dull Moment' (1972)
Following the huge success of 1971's Every Picture Tells a Story, Stewart and his band returned to the studio and basically made the same record, right down to the hit single: "You Wear It Well" bears more than a passing resemblance to the previous album's No. 1 hit "Maggie May." No matter. Stewart and his group (which included a few Faces) were on fire at the time.
'Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)'From: 'A Night on the Town' (1976)
Stewart shoves aside all subtlety in this horned-up ballad: "Spread your wings and let me come inside," he sings, skipping the wink altogether. But he's never been smoother than on his second No. 1 hit, which even includes some hushed cooing from his real-life girlfriend Britt Ekland. Hope they hosed down the studio afterward.
'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?'From: 'Blondes Have More Fun' (1978)
"Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" gets a bad rap. Stewart's third No. 1 single was routinely blasted by rock purists back in the day for being a disco sellout and cashing in on his image. But the song isn't that feeble. It rides a monster groove supplied by drummer Carmine Appice (who co-wrote the track with Stewart) and tells the story of a one-night stand, not of the singer's out-of-control ego. Get over it, haters.
'Stay With Me'From: 'A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse' (1971)
Six months after Stewart released his breakthrough album Every Picture Tells a Story (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Rod Stewart Songs of the '70s), his part-time band the Faces released their most popular LP. And the two records sound like they belong together – especially on this hit single, a guitar-powered rave-up about a late-night encounter with a groupie. Rock and roll sleaze at its best.
'Maggie May'From: 'Every Picture Tells a Story' (1971)
Before "Maggie May," Stewart was best known as a journeyman singer who played with Jeff Beck and the Faces. His two solo albums were pretty much ignored by mainstream audiences. But once fans got an earful of this hit single (the first of Stewart's three No. 1s), and the rest of the album it came from, he became one of the planet's biggest rock stars. Decades later, "Maggie May" still rattles speakers with one of the all-time great performances.