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Weekend Songs: Rod Stewart, ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’

Rod Stewart, 'Every Picture Tells a Story'
Mercury Records

Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords, and tight harmonies, but it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times — and there’s no better time than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work, and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.

This week, in honor of Rod Stewart‘s return to the recording studio for his upcoming album ‘Time,’ we’re taking a fond look back at one of his early career highlights: ‘Every Picture Tells a Story,’ the classic title track from his 1971 solo LP. Written and recorded while Stewart was still holding down vocal duties for the Faces, ‘Picture’ was Stewart’s third solo outing, but the record’s huge chart success — which included the hit singles ‘Maggie May’ and ‘Reason to Believe’ — marked the point where he became a household name in his own right.

Looking back, it’s easy to understand why; although Stewart’s early career included some noteworthy battles with stage fright, ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ is an audio document of a supremely self-confident artist, with stellar vocals matched by arrangements that strut the line between airtight precision and ragged glory. And while ‘Maggie May’ is probably the album’s signature song, it’s the title track that most thoroughly encapsulates the boozy charm of Stewart’s early output, both solo and with the Faces.

That Faces influence is no accident here — Stewart co-wrote ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ with his bandmate Ronnie Wood, whose guitar laces through the track alongside Micky Waller’s crashing drums, Andy Pyle’s smartly supportive bass, some truly tasty piano from Pete Sears, and pub-worthy background vocals from Maggie Bell and Long John Baldry. The result was a song made for the radio airwaves — solidly crafted to stand the test of time, yet written and arranged simply enough for anyone to sing.

However, it should be pointed out that singing the song as it was originally written has become something of a problem over the ensuing decades, as a number of its lyrics — which deal frankly with the protagonist’s efforts to find himself as a globe-trotting would-be Lothario — use terminology that could be construed as sexist and/or racist; in fact, Stewart himself edited a substantial portion of ‘Picture’ when he covered it for his 1993 live album, ‘Unplugged…and Seated,’ including a few particularly memorable lines about a woman from Shanghai. For others, the old ‘Picture’ is still the best — as demonstrated by the Georgia Satellites, who held to the unedited lyrics when they recorded a faithfully irreverent cover for their 1986 debut album.

Whichever version you decide to play, there’s no arguing this song’s place in the rock and roll canon, or the way its whiskey-scented blend of youthful vigor and bittersweet world-weariness makes for a perfect soundtrack to your Friday night. But why wait for the sun to go down? Just scroll on down to the videos we’ve embedded below, hit ‘play,’ turn up the volume, and let your weekend start…now.

Next: Lay Your Weary Head to Rest -- Don't You Cry No More

Rod Stewart, ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’

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Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ (Live)

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