26-year-old Rod Stewart was basically a rock ‘n roll veteran by the time his third solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, was released in 1971. At the time, he wasn’t all that famous, nor had he found his groove yet. So, recording this album, he had nothing to lose. Even his mega-hit single, Maggie May, was just a filler track, and friends warned him against putting it on the album.
But with the release of the track, it seemed as though Stewart had become an international superstar overnight. So, what happened during those recording sessions? How did Stewart deal with his fame? And whatever happened to his band, the Faces? This is the tale behind Every Picture Tells a Story.
“The single Maggie May is a freak. A million-to-one chance,” Stewart told reporters in 1971. “I still can’t see how the single is such a big hit cos [sic] it’s got no melody! Plenty of character and nice chords, yeah, but no melody.” Back in October 1971, Stewart had no idea how his song made it to the top of the U.S. music charts.
Stewart had a tough competition that year, with artists like John Lennon and George Harrison in the midst of launching their solo careers. A friend had even told him to leave Maggie May off the album because “it’s not commercial.” But luckily for Stewart, the single, along with the rest of his Every Picture Tells a Story album, elevated his status: He became rock n’ roll elite.
Now a household name, Stewart booked over 120 shows in ’71, including four separate tours in America. All of a sudden, Stewart and his band, the Faces, were taken seriously. Critics dub them the “new Rolling Stones,” but funnier and more disheveled. By the end of the year, Stewart became a millionaire, living in a 38-room mansion surrounded by 17 acres of land, with the Queen for a neighbor, no less.
But for Stewart, his fame and his wealth overshadowed the Faces. The days when the band was made up of just “five blokes who shared the same haircut but only one hairdryer” would never return. How did Stewart do it? Well, his meteoric rise to fame involved a great deal of luck.
Seeing that Stewart had just turned 26 in January 1971, he had a vague idea of what his future held. But he did, however, feel confident about his soon-to-be-famous voice. “It’s become more sandpapery. That’s an improvement in itself,” Stewart told reporters before the release of Every Picture Tells a Story.
“I learned a lot from playing with Jeff Beck, which really helped a lot. I learned how to fit in with a guitar, how to be a lead vocalist. I think I phrase very well.” So, Stewart headed down to the Morgan Sound Studios to record his third studio album. Stewart and the rest of the guys liked Morgan because it resembled a mock pub.
Stewart put together a motley crew of men to help him record his album. One of those men was his Faces and Jeff Beck Group guitarist, Ronnie Wood. “I turned up promptly at each session with my guitars, a shoelace, and a small wireless,” Wood recalled. But although these two had known each other for the past few years, they were like chalk and cheese.
“Rod’s the last person I thought I’d end up sharing a career with,” Wood continued. “We lead completely different lives.” But although the two were very different from one another, they seemed to be a good fit musically. “Woody and I have got a really good combination because he writes beautiful melodies but can’t write words,” Stewart later said. “I can’t write melodies at all, but I can words.”
Stewart was very happy being in charge. While the other guys were “irresponsible rogues,” Stewart was a stickler for appearances. “I don’t get so much freedom with Rod as with the Faces,” Wood told reporters. “He’s made up his mind what he wants when we get into the studio.”
“He molds the musicians.” But Rod the Mod was also ruthless while wearing his producer’s hat. According to Kenny Jones from the Faces, “Rod used the Faces as a springboard. He kept the commercial stuff for himself. Rod was no fool.”
There was a bit of friction between Stewart and the rest of the band. Jones and Ronnie Lane from the Faces’ rhythm section appeared on only one track on Stewart’s solo album: a version of The Temptations’ song (I Know) I’m Losing You.
The track was later released as a single, but the group was not given any credit for their work. In Stewarts’ mind, the track was his. Since the Faces didn’t want to record it for their album, Stewart took it for his solo album. But despite these little riffs here and there, it seems as though the guys had a fun time recording.
Many of the other musicians in the band emerged from the outskirts of the British music scene. Violinist Dick Powell was a trained architect and jazzman who played at a local Italian restaurant (in exchange for wine and pasta).
Sam Mitchell from Liverpool, England, was a Dobro/bottleneck player who had a reputation for drinking a lot. Stewart loved Mitchell, especially his sense of humor. Twenty-year-old Sam’s opening line was usually, “How’s your wife and my kids?” When he’s leave, he’d always say, “It was a business doing pleasure with you.”
Stewart’s pianist, Pete Sears, also says that the “Every Picture period was the funniest time I’ve ever had in music.” But, sadly, neither Powell nor Mitchell rose to fame after the release of the album. Both returned to their normal lives and would both die from alcohol-related deaths.
Another Every Picture Tells a Story victim was the painfully shy classical guitarist Martin Quittenton. He was Stewart’s co-writer on Maggie May and was very happy that Stewart befriended him while playing with Steamhammer. “He was very kind,” the guitarist said of Stewart. “Rod and his girlfriend Sarah were hospitable. A lovely couple.”
By the time recording sessions began in January, Stewart had put together an extraordinary line up of random musicians. With more oddballs set to arrive and his team finally falling into place, Stewart began to stall as he thought about how this next album should sound.
More of a drinker than a druggy, Stewart disregarded the idea that his previous album, Gasoline Alley, was written with psychedelic stimulation. “Funny, I made the album on a bottle of brandy a day.” But still, he needed a direction—a way to follow up his second album.
As Stewart contemplated the sound of the album, he also struggled with writing lyrics. “I pretend to be a songwriter. I try really hard, but it takes me three weeks to write one song,” Stewart said of his writing skills. “If I’m pressurized, I can write lots of songs. I gotta do it, so I do.”
Rod the Mod decided that he wanted his album to have a more midnight-type, easy feel to it, similar to Bob Dylan’s Only a Hobo. “If I can sell an album like that, I’d be more pleased than with Gasoline Alley.”
If you look at the three open tracks of Stewart’s album, they are hardly earth-shattering. By the next month, Rod the Mod was seriously struggling for a direction. With a deadline for the album set in May, Stewart began looking at recording several covers.
He toyed with the idea of recording I’d Rather Go Blind, which was a hit for Chicken Shack in ’69, as well as the Rolling Stones’ Out of Time. He even seriously considered re-recording The Who’s hit song, The Seeker. But nothing seemed like a sure hit, so Stewart decided to put recording sessions on hold.
Stewart headed on tour with the Faces for their third U.S. tour that spring. There was now a lot of buzz around the band. One of their biggest concerts was at the Capitol Theatre in New York, which ended with quite the party. It was during that party that pharmaceutical cocaine was consumed for the first time, according to Wood.
The dealer? Notorious concentration camp survivor Freddie Sessler, who later became Woods’ and Keith Richards’ partner in crime. Sessler, who was independently wealthy, arrived at the party with limos full of the city’s most ferocious groupies.
But while the guys seemed to snort, smoke, and drink their way across America, sleeping with anything that moved and destroying anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor, Stewart resisted temptation. Don’t get us wrong. The singer was no angel, but he did have self-control, something that the other musicians seemed to lack at the time.
Stewart didn’t smoke, only eating the occasional lump of hash for a dare. This was a stark comparison to his Jeff Beck days, where he screwed groupies left and right and had an obsession with drawing inappropriate things on the walls of his hotel rooms.
Luckily, Stewart brought along a notebook, just in case he came across any inspiration while in America. For the most part, Every Picture Tells a Story is more or less an account of his years as a teenager traveling around Europe in the early ‘60s.
Stewart scribbled down a few songs about getting pushed around by the cops in France, neglecting his personal hygiene, and eventually being deported from Spain for sleeping under a bridge—something he frequently did when he had ran out of money while traveling. His hit song, Maggie May, was also about losing his virginity to a notorious Liverpool prostitute when he was 16.
After the tour, Stewart immediately returned to the studio to record the song Every Picture Tells a Story, this time with bass player Andy Pyle from the band Savoy Brown. “The atmosphere in the studio was the same good-natured party vibe,” Pyle said of the recording sessions.
“It was over in two hours with no rehearsal and no repairs.” The method of recording music for this album was very systematic, according to British musician Pete Sears. Everyone would head over to Stewart’s home to set up a simple arrangement.
Rod the Mod would sit on his piano and sing, while the other musicians would give him their input. Then, everyone would head down to the downstairs pub at the recording studio, record the song, and then return to the pub. The musicians had a fun time, to say the least.
It was also clear to everyone that this was Stewart’s time to shine. “The sessions were a lovely piece of work. Rod was interesting as a solo artist. Away from the Faces, he was very confident,” the Faces keyboardist, Ian McLagan, later said. There wasn’t much talk. Just play.”
While Stewart was a good producer, he was very lucky to have Mike Bobak as his sound engineer for the album. “Mike was a quiet chap,” McLagan said with a laugh. “He needed to be because we were all terribly noisy.”
But without Bobak’s input, Every Picture Tells a Story wouldn’t have been a hit. No one, not even Rod Stewart, could sing, dance, and operate a 16-track mixing desk at the same time. “Rod wasn’t in the studio when I was mixing. He was in the bar,” Bobak told reporters.
It was all fun and games for the entire band, with their serious work taking place between 7 and 10 p.m.—never later. At ten o’clock on the dot, everyone would head to the bar, leaving Bobak to work on the recording.
Only two hours were allotted for each track because Stewart didn’t want to waste too much money. The sound engineer, who had previously worked with Stewart, said that as time went on, the singer let the fame get to his head. “He thought he was the bee’s knees,” Bobak continued. “Always preening himself, fiddling with his hair, trousers.”
While Stewart was all for fun and games, he occasionally lost his temper. “He was quite moody if things weren’t going well,” the sound engineer continued. “I remember him shouting at me and the tape op Phil. I don’t know why.”
“I wasn’t playing the songs. If he got tense, he could be very rude.” One time while they were recording Maggie May, guitarist Ron Wood played an amazing solo, only to find out that the engineers hadn’t recorded him. Stewart was furious and threw a glass of wine before storming off to the bar.
Not everyone saw Stewart this way. Maggie Bell, the singer who was featured on the song Every Picture Tells a Story, saw a much sweeter side. “I thought he was an absolute gentleman. Very professional,” she said of the singer. Bell also said Stewart had quite the knack for fashion. “He arrived in his yellow Lamborghini.”
“Smartly dressed, everything matching and expensive. He was wearing a pink jacket, pink satin trousers, and a white silk scarf.” After the release of the album, everyone thought that she was THE Maggie May. “Rod wasn’t my type,” she laughed.
Bell was paid 30 pounds for her work on the track. Her vocals during the line “Shanghai Lil never used the pill/ She claimed that it just ain’t natural” was one of the album’s most priceless moments, according to several critics. As for Stewart, he was ecstatic with the direction of the album.
It seemed as if everything was finally coming together. “It’s one of the two best songs I’ve ever written,” Stewart later gushed, forgetting that it was, in fact, Wood who wrote the music. Stewart’s other favorite track was Mandolin Wind, which he was solely responsible for composing.
Stewart had actually written the track for the Faces, but they didn’t like it, so he took it for himself. But while Stewart took great pride in the song, it was still missing something: a mandolin. “The song was very country-ish. I remember Rod and his girlfriend were watching me play through the glass.
I finished, and he seemed pleased,” mandolin player Raymond Jackson said. Stewart then asked him to play around with the Maggie May track. “I don’t know what to do with it. I might not even use it and it probably won’t even go on the album,” Stewart told Jackson.
Jackson had about two minutes to improvise around the chords before recording. Then, Stewart double-tracked Jackson’s mandolin until it almost sounded orchestral. “Suddenly, they liked the song! I’d got the impression it wasn’t going to be used at all,” Jackson said of Maggie May.
“Now, the people at the mixing desk were looking at each other in delight. They were applauding.” Stewart was so pleased with the song that he invited Jackson to his home to celebrate. The singer’s girlfriend, Sarah, made the two a shepherd’s pie, and the guys downed a few beers.
Everything was great between the two, well, that is until Jackson asked for more than the 15 pounds he was paid for his contribution on the track. In fact, Jackson’s name was completely left off the credits.
“The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind,” the album sleeve reads. Jackson later asked Stewart why he couldn’t just ask the company for his name. Surely, they would have given it to him. “But he didn’t apologize,” Jackson said. “My mandolin made it whole, if you like, glued it all together.”
Maggie May was a strange track. It didn’t have an actual chorus or even a middle eight. Some people even called it a mess. But with Jackson’s mandolin, the track was good enough for a single B-side. Stewart didn’t even want it to be on the album because he wasn’t feeling confident.
However, Every Picture Tells a Story was too short by about six minutes, and since most of the album was other people’s material, Mercury Records told the singer that Maggie May had to be on the album. No ifs, ands, or buts.
According to Martin Quittenton, Stewart finished the lyrics to Maggie May desperately fast. “We didn’t think it was very good,” the guitarist later said. “Never in anyone’s wildest dreams was it a pop standard.”
But, sure enough, Stewart thought the track had something special to it, especially since he asked Ian McLagan to overdub a part. “I did what he asked, and it was rubbish,” McLagan added. “I’d also cocked up the piano intro to I’m Losing You, but it worked, so I cocked it up every time we did it live for good measure.”
By early May, just before their deadline, Stewart and Bobak sent the album to New York for mastering. Then, the sleeve was given to artist John Craig who came up with the idea to do a 1920s theme for the cover.
“The front image with the ‘Classic Edition’ typography was borrowed from a piece of old RCA sheet music. The illustrations on the back were Edwardian postcards, nostalgic 1910 images that seemed to fit the songs,” Craig later told reporters. “Rod had no input. I guess he liked it because I did his next album.”
The cover photo of Stewart singing had been taken at a Faces concert earlier that year. Craig then hand-painted the singer’s lips red and his microphone gold. The album was finally ready, but expectations weren’t that high.
There were no full-page advertisements, just a tongue-in-cheek sentence that Stewart came up with himself. “Like all great art, great wine, great craft, and great sex, Rod Stewart’s third album took a long time in coming.” Before heading out for yet another tour in America, Stewart sent his DJ friend an advance copy of the album.
The DJ, John Peel, was intrigued by the album. He then played Mandolin Wind on his radio show. When the song came to an end, he told his listeners that this album may have been “the best thing young Rodders has ever done.” And so, it begins.
But while the Faces left for their tour in America as local heroes, only Stewart would return to Britain as an international superstar. The album was released on July 9, 1971, while the lads were in Philadelphia. What came next was absolute mayhem.
There were riots before their concert in Dayton, insane crowds in Chicago, and crazy parties that went into the early hours of the morning at nearly every stop on the band’s tour. The Faces had a fabulous time, but not without their pharmaceutical cocaine.
The drugs seemed to show up everywhere the band went. “There was lots of drinking and cocaine and girls in every corridor, “drummer Kenney Jones later said of the tour. “I never took drugs because they messed up my timing, but I was surrounded by it all.”
After playing at Long Beach in California, Jack Good, an executive at Apple Records, decided to throw the guys a party. It was there that 26-year-old Stewart met his soon-to-be new girlfriend, Dee Harrington. The 18-year-old was a glamour girl and aspiring actress.
When Stewart came back to England, he had his first of many trophy girlfriends hanging off his arm. They set up home in Stewart’s mansion, sending his ex-girlfriend Sarah packing. Stewart and Harrington eventually broke up four years later when she spotted him on a date with another woman.
By the year’s end, Stewart was an international superstar. “When Maggie May went to number one, we all went out and got drunk. The whole Stewart clan,” Stewart told reporters. It was a proud day when Stewart gave his parents his first Gold Record.
For Stewart, this moment was even more gratifying than cashing a big check or buying a new sports car. “My whole family had stood by me,” Stewart explained. “They never said, ‘Get yourself a day job.’” But while everything looked great on the outside, cracks began to appear in the Face’s cheerful façade.
With Maggie May mania sweeping the States, the band was now billed as “Rod Stewart and the Faces.” According to Stewart, this was “really heartbreaking” for him. “I could tell Ronnie Lane, and Ian McLagan were hurt because they’d got away from a somewhat egotistical singer in Steve Marriott, and they didn’t want that again.”
Later that year, Stewart was presented with five Gold Disks for his sales in various countries. But the Faces? They received nothing. Lane wasn’t all that surprised by the situation. “Rod’s records have been better than the band’s,” the guitarist later said. “He works in a weird way.”
According to Stewart, the looseness that the Faces was known for was the reason behind their eventual downfall. “It was such an unprofessional band,” the singer said. There was some truth to what Stewart said.
Year in and year out, the band was consistently late for their concerts and didn’t take their recording sessions all that seriously. They kind of had it coming. As for Stewart, it is obvious that he was not like the others. His Every Picture Tells a Story album was the singer’s defining moment. Even David Bowie decided to copy Stewart’s classic hairdo during his Ziggy Stardust phase.
Rolling Stone magazine voted Stewart Singer of the Year in 1971, while NME readers voted him “Best New Disc and TV Singer of The Year.” No one could wait for what Stewart had up his sleeve next.
Unfortunately, for the singer and fans alike, nothing topped the success of Every Picture Tells a Story. His other albums were good, but not great. “[It] was a great album to make. I wasn’t living up to anything,” the singer reflected, “I just hoped for the best. I really miss that spontaneity.”