Stardust... The Great American Songbook: Volume III
What becomes an icon most?
Rod Stewart has always been a man who lives by his own standards. Over the past three years, the legendarily soulful Rock & Roll Hall of Famer has made musical history -- and a fine living, thank you -- interpreting standards from the great American Songbook. In the process, Stewart has managed to make some of the most enduring and romantic compositions ever written his own. "Singing these amazing songs has moved me deeply and given me a much-needed kick in the arse," Rod the Eternal Mod explains with characteristic honesty and wit.
What started out as something of a commercial long shot and a true labor of love has quickly become a full-blown cultural phenomenon. Stewart's first two Grammy-nominated collections of standards -- 2002's It Had To Be You. . .The Great American Songbook and 2003's As Time Goes By. . .The Great American Songbook, Volume II -- have already sold over ten million copies and brought this veteran superstar to a new and even larger audience of all ages. And, as the saying goes, the third time's the charm with Stardust The Great American Songbook: Volume III released October 23, 2004, which entered the Billboard Top 200 at #1 and marks Stewart's highest all time Nielsen SoundScan figure and first ever #1 debut on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
Even by the standards of a man who has sold more than 130 million albums worldwide, the public's loving embrace of these albums has been nothing short of stunning. Remarkably, Stewart's first Songbook album remained on the Billboard Top 200 chart for almost 2 years. Rod Stewart spent most of 2004 on the road with "From Maggie May to the Great American Songbook," an 82-city tour, that was one of the Top 5 grossing tours of the year according to Pollstar. Clearly this a success story with unusual staying power -- hot legs, one might even say.
With the historic release of Stardust. . .The Great American Songbook: Volume III, the story continues with his strongest set of standards yet. But, Rod Stewart isn't in any danger of running out of romantic songs from the American songbook he wants to sing -- not even close. "I think it's an impossibility to run out of these songs," Stewart explains. "I could probably make six albums of these songs quite easily. I've enjoyed this experience so much. I understand how much it's meant to me and to the fans, and I just want it to always remain something special."
For Stewart, the hardest part of completing Stardust was deciding which songs made the final cut, since he recorded twenty-seven songs for Stardust and only fourteen could be included on the album. "It's been very difficult choosing this time around," says Stewart. "Every night we do a concert with 'Maggie May' and 'Forever Young' -- all the hits -- but I love it whenever these great American songs come around."
Clive Davis, the founder of J Records and the Chairman of BMG North America is the man who Stewart credits as being a key collaborator on the American Songbook project -- along with Arnold Stiefel, the man Stewart calls his "longtime and long-suffering manager."
"Clive's got a deep love and affinity for this music and I suppose that's why he took this on in the first place," Stewart says. "When we first started talking, I told Clive this was a big risk. At one point I said, 'I think we should shelve the whole bloody thing. I feel like a rock and roll traitor.' Then we talked about it and realized that if it wasn't for this music there probably wouldn't be rock and roll because out of this era of music came Swing music. Swing became rock and roll in a way. And of course, you can never forget about the blues. It's all part of a musical lineage, and I'm proud to be any part of that and still be working."
"Rod's first album of The Great American Songbook won a Grammy nomination and literally exploded in sales all over the world," says Clive Davis. "Then Volume II repeated the phenomenon with another Grammy nomination and another multi-platinum sales success." Quite simply, Rod uniquely captures wonderful classic standards, breathes new life into them and makes them his own. Stardust Volume III is sparkling, fresh and alive, with Rod being more and more comfortable in this great genre of music."
As Arnold Stiefel explains, the process of making Star: Volume III wasn't always easy, yet the results speak eloquently for themselves. "Rod loves the spontaneity of performing onstage far more than the confines of the recording studio," says Stiefel. "Some of these songs came quickly --for instance, 'Embraceable You' was just instantly his on the first take. A few others were more of challenge for him to nail to his satisfaction. Take 'I Can't Get Started,' one of my all-time favorites by Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke. Rod tried that song on the first two Songbook albums, but he felt that neither he nor the arrangements did the song justice. This time Rod delivered a brilliant vocal that captures all the irony and wit of the song. After the runaway success of the first two albums, his confidence with this material is at a tremendously high level. He's singing the best I've ever heard him. Clichés aside, Rod is a man at the top of his form."
Producers for the first two American Songbook albums included legendary record makers Richard Perry and Phil Ramone. For Stardust, Stewart worked with Perry again and a new addition to the team Steve Tyrell -- a fine singer of standards in his own right. "The two of us working together was Clive's idea," Stewart recalls. "I was a little wary. I thought 'Oh God, two singers in the same studio -- he's going to tell me how to sing and that may not work.' But I'm over the moon with the results."
As with It Had To Be You and As Time Goes By, the material for Stardust consists of some of the most beloved and exquisite songs ever written. Stewart himself confesses to being particularly satisfied with his performance of 'What A Wonderful World' made famous by the great Louis Armstrong.
"Clive had to twist my arm to try that one," Stewart recalls. "It's a daunting song to sing, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have Stevie Wonder playing harmonica. I've also done 'For Sentimental Reasons' which is one of my favorite Sam Cooke recordings ever -- and that is really saying something." This time around, Stewart has also tipped his cap to his own British roots by recording 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square' -- a welcome Brit visitor to the American Songbook and a particular favorite in the Stewart home when Rod was growing up.
tardust also features Stewart's take on Hoagy Carmichael's famous composition, as well as heartfelt interpretations of other evergreens like "Isn't It Romantic," "Embraceable You," "'S Wonderful," "Night and Day," "But Not For Me," "Stardust," and "Blue Moon," which features Eric Clapton on guitar. Dolly Parton duets on a terrific version of the classic, "Baby It's Cold Outside," while the great Bette Midler trades vocal lines on "Manhattan."
The result shows Stewart is hardly resting on any laurels.
"These Songbook albums have meant a great deal to me," says Stewart. "I think singing these songs has made me a better singer -- one can only hope."
* * *
For three decades now, Rod Stewart has been an iconic force in the realm of popular music. As one of Stewart's album titles promised, there's Never A Dull Moment.
He's been everywhere, from Swinging London's rough and tumble underground to a global career that consistently gives fresh new meaning to the phrase "Blue Eyed Soul." Through a stellar catalog of classic songs -- many of which he's written or co-written -- he's earned his place in the pantheon of genuine musical legends. Other contemporary rock greats burned out our faded away, but Rod Stewart has survived and thrived.
Somehow Rod made it all look -- and sound -- easy. His infinitely expressive voice, sly wit and a truly electrifying stage presence have earned Rod Stewart a place in the hearts and lives of millions of fans worldwide.
"Maggie May." "Tonight's The Night." "Handbags & Gladrags." "Mandolin Wind." "Stay With Me." "You Wear It Well." "The First Cut Is The Deepest." "You're In My Heart." "Reason To Believe." "Hot Legs." "Young Turks." "Infatuation." "People Get Ready." "Downtown Train." "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?"
These are more than just great songs, they're milestones marking a career that's set a number of new musical standards. Talent and taste, class and the common touch. Like the song says, "Some Guys Have All The Luck."
Roderick David Stewart's winning streak began in the early Sixties when he was a London kid with a distinctive voice, singing for such bands as Long John Baldry, Steampacket, and Shotgun Express. Rod's way with blues, R&B and the folk music of his homeland made for a heady musical brew. Add to all that the inspired and influential rock he made with The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces' further proof he could work and play well with others. From 1968 to 1970 he fronted Beck's rock solid combo and the Faces' brilliantly loose band of brothers, appearing on essential albums like Truth and Beck-Ola with the former and Long Player and A Nod Is As Good As a Wink To A Blind Horse with the latter Mod Mates.
But it was when he stepped out on his own as a solo artist that he turned the world on its ear with a sound that was simply, splendidly Rod. 1969's The Rod Stewart Album, 1970's Gasoline Alley, and, of course, 1971's classic Every Picture Tells A Story --which featured the international #1 hit "Maggie May" -- firmly established Stewart once and for all as one of rock's most soulful and most exciting singer-songwriters.
In the years that followed, the hits kept right on coming over a series of accomplished records like Never A Dull Moment, Smiler, and Atlantic Crossing, which marked his move to America. During this same time period, Stewart was also establishing a well-earned reputation as one of rock's most consistently crowd-pleasing live acts. Stewart became known far and wide as a man of wealth and taste with a passion for soccer and a preference for blondes.
Yet he always had time to make great music. 1976's A Night On The Town -- featuring the #1 smash "Tonight's the Night" as well as "The First Cut Is The Deepest" and "The Killing of Georgie" (Part I and II) -- was rightly hailed as one of Stewart's true masterpieces. 1977's Foot Loose & Fancy Free brought "Hot Legs" into Stewart's sexy body of work, as well as "You're In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)" and the gorgeous and revealing "I Was Only Joking." Rather than fighting disco, Stewart simply perfected the form in 1978 with his unforgettable "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," the standout song from that year's chart-topping Blondes Have More Fun.
Like a custom-fit pair of alligator shoes, the Eighties also belonged to the ever-fashionable Rod. 1980's Foolish Behavior brought the world some much-needed "Passion." 1982's Tonight I'm Yours yielded the charming title track and the moving, anthemic "Young Turks." There were more hits from 1983's Body Wishes ("Baby Jane") and 1985's Camouflage ("Infatuation" and "Some Guys Have All The Luck"). At the end of the decade, Stewart enjoyed another major success with Out of Order, which featured a series of popular singles, including "Forever Young," "Lost In You," and "My Heart Can't Tell You No." Now riding another big wave, Rod rightly received the Grammy's coveted Living Legend Award.
In 1990 came Storyteller, a lovingly and thoughtfully conceived retrospective featuring sixty-five cuts spanning his entire career that did justice to Stewart's remarkable legacy, The lavish package showcased some fresh gems, including Stewart's epic reinvention of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" and a warmly soulful version of The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine" that found Stewart sharing the spotlight with Ronald Isley himself.
1990's Vagabond Heart got a new decade off to an excellent start, thanks to standout tracks like "Rhythm of My Heart," "Broken Arrow" and Stewart's revelatory cover of Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You." That last song also featured prominently on 1993's Unplugged. . .and Seated, a fantastically stripped-down live recording that featured his inspired onstage reunion with his old Faces mate Ron Wood, now a Rolling Stone on loan.
Stewart remained a busy and productive man through the Nineties on releases like 1995's Spanner in the Works, which featured a tribute to his musical heroes, "Muddy, Sam & Otis" and 1998's vivid and contemporary When We Were The Young Boys, with its winning remake of the Faces' "Oh La La."
After beginning a new century with 2001's Human, Stewart decided the time had finally come to pursue what had become a dream, interpreting the standards of The Great American Songbook. Others were skeptical, but Stewart brought this idea to Clive Davis. Upon a first listen to some early demos, a deal to bring Rod to J Records was instantly signed in February 2002.
It Had To Be You. . .The Great American Songbook, the first collection of cherished pop standards, literally took the world by storm in 2002. Debuting at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, It Had To Be You soon became one of the hottest albums of the year, earning a Grammy nomination and selling four million copies.
The demand was obviously there for a second volume, and who was Stewart to disagree. Released October 21, 2003, As Time Goes By. . .The Great American Songbook, Volume II debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, and was the best sort of sequel, featuring duets with both Cher ("Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered") and Queen Latifah on the classic song from Casablanca. Like the first Songbook, As -- Time Goes By was also nominated for a Grammy and has sold over 4 million copies.
With Stardust's historic #1 entry on the Billboard chart - Stewart's first ever #1 debut and his first #1 album in 25 years since 1979 (Blondes Have More Fun) - Stardust The Great American Songbook: Volume III, brings us to an important chapter in Stewart's remarkable career.
And the record shows that whatever Rod Stewart tries on next, we can all rest assured that he'll wear it well.
--- from the official Rod Stewart website