Maggie May - Rod Stewart
B-Side: Reason to Believe
From the Album: Every Picture Tells a Story
Released: July 1971
Genre: Folk, Rock
Length: 5:50 (album) – 3:43 (single)
Label: Mercury (Mercury 73224)
Songwriter(s): Rod Stewart, Martin Quittenton
Producer(s): Rod Stewart
Roderick David Stewart was born in the Highgate section of North London, where his parents ran a small general store. In school, he was captain of the soccer team and also found time to play guitar and banjo.
In the early sixties, Rod pretty much led the “beatnik” life, leading protesters in song during “ban the bomb” marches. In doing so, he was heavily exposed to folk music. That sound, combined with his other, eclectic tastes — formed the earliest semblance of a Rod Stewart “style.”
Rod held a number of odd day jobs: building fences, framing pictures, digging graves, and working as a box boy. At night, he visited London rock clubs, where the Who, the Stones, the Yardbirds, and other new groups were getting their acts together. In 1963, Mick Jagger showed him how to play the harmonica, which led to a part-time gig with the Five Dimensions.
In 1964, Long John Baldry gave Stewart his first chance as a vocalist. “I had heard Rod before,” he recalled, “playing harmonica, but never singing. I discovered him at the Twickham railway station, waiting for a train. Roddy was sitting on the platform, singing the blues. He rather impressed me, so I asked him how he’d fancy a gig. So Rod joined my band as a vocalist.”
During his tenure with Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men, Stewart was given the nickname “Rod the Mod” because of his style of dress and grooming. “I used to worry more about how I looked than the music,” he admitted. He was very shy and developed the habit of ignoring the audience while he was singing. Observers thought this was very cool, and it only added to his following.
After the Hoochie Coochie Men broke up, Rod worked with the Soul Agents, Steampacket, Shotgun Express, and finally the Jeff Beck Group. It was with the last band that Rod finally began to attract some attention in America.
In 1968, the Jeff Beck Group cut the album Truth, for which Stewart wrote several songs. It was a good seller, as was Beck-Ola (1969), which marked a shift from blues to “heavy metal.” When Beck broke up his band, Stewart and Wood joined the Faces, where they remained for seven years.
At the same time, Rod signed a solo recording contract with Mercury Records. The Rod Stewart Album (1969) and Gasoline Alley (1970) sold fairly well, but it was the Every Picture Tells a Story LP, released in June 1971, that rocketed him to superstardom.
Rod has always felt that “performing is where it’s at” and for that reason has always played down his songwriting. For him, composing is “a hard slog,” something better suited for those “brimming with ideas and thought.” He just writes “words that rhyme,” dipping into his memory and experiences. Out of that memory, and perhaps his experience, came “Maggie May” — the tale of a schoolboy’s liaison with a hooker — written with Martin Quittention.
“Maggie May” broke in America in July of 1971 and slowly rose to number one, where it stayed for five weeks. The flip side, “Reason to Believe,” was a moving song written by Tim Hardin. In most markets, it was played almost as much, making the single a double chart-topper. At one point, in September 1971, both the album and single were number one simultaneously, in the United States and England. In 1979, Rod pledged all his royalties from the song to UNICEF, as part of the Year of the Child campaign. Also pulled from Every Picture Tells a Story was “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” a soul number that made the Top 30 in December.
Stewart and the Faces spent the next five years touring all over the world, selling out halls to wildly appreciative crowds. As a regular part of the act, he’d kick soccer balls out to the fans, whom he referred to as “the Tartan hordes.” As the Faces gradually dissolved in the mid-seventies, Rod signed a solo contract with Warner Brothers and moved to Los Angeles, becoming the toast of the Beverly Hills celebrity set. His liaisons with various glamorous blondes, including Britt Ekland, Alana Hamilton and Kelly Emberg, made him a gossip-column staple. Although Rod’s hits kept on coming throughout the seventies and eighties, often reaching platinum status, he had long since fallen from grace with the critics, with the 1979 disco smash “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” generally cited as the ultimate example of his decadent new Hollywood lifestyle.
The critics did, however, concede the merit of such occasional efforts as his 1985 collaboration with Jeff Beck on a cover the Impressions’ “People Get Ready” and his reworking of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” His reputation was further salvaged by the well-received 1988 album Out of Order and a 1990 career overview, Storyteller. In 1993, Rod reunited with old bandmate Ron Wood, a full-fledged Rolling Stone since 1975, for a live taping for MTV’s Unplugged series; the resulting Unplugged… and Seated went on to sell five million copies worldwide.