By the time you read this, I will have probably finished Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live, an agreeably meandering book about rock & roll, love, and death. In it, he claims that Rod Stewart has “the single greatest male singing voice of the rock era.” He may have gone off the rails since then, recording the American songbook and a Christmas album—the death rattle of anyone’s creative career—but I agree with Klosterman whole-heartedly. While I can’t claim to have held this opinion before Klosterman—he is, after all, 20 years older than me—I certainly held it before I read his book. And I hold that opinion mostly because of this song.
In terms of texture and character, Stewart’s voice is remarkable. He sounds like his vocal chords were hung to dry in a tobacco barn before being briefly marinated in Jack Daniels and then stuffed back down his throat. His voice could smooth blocks of wood.
Like Mick Jagger, he’s charismatic even through a record, but unlike the Stones frontman, Stewart can actually sing. I never really thought Stewart sounded that good on “Maggie May,” which is basically a folk song, but nestled amongst overdriven guitars and electric piano on this track, his voice comes into its own.
The guitar part is also going to get special mention, partly because it captures Ronnie Wood before he joined the Rolling Stones, but mostly because the brittle, crunchy, open-E tuning sounds good no matter who the guitarist is. It’s fuzzy without losing definition, rude but somehow charming. Ian McLagan’s Wurlitzer plays nice counterpoint, and it’s refreshing to hear that particular instrument brought up front rather than relegated to the back of the mix.
Without Stewart, this still would have been a pretty good tune. With Stewart, it approaches the purest essence of what rock & roll is.