Rod Stewart used to be cool?
That’s all I could think as I listened to the Faces album “A Nod’s As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse” earlier this year. I knew Rod for his string of pop hits in the late ’70s and ’80s, but I didn’t realize he started out singing this kind of bluesy hard rock the Faces did. A good pop record is perfectly enjoyable, but I’ve always considered myself a “rock guy” at heart, so nobody on the pop chart is as cool as the rock gods of classic rock radio.
I’d heard the Faces before — “Ooh La La” is a longtime favorite — but this was the first time I’d listened to a whole album and I was blown away. My brother had bought the remastered bonus tracks versions of the band’s catalog and given me his old copies last year. They sat on my shelf until February when I decided to give one a spin.
Over the ensuing weeks, I devoured the music on 1973’s “Ooh La La” and 1971’s “Long Player” albums and they were just as good as “A Nod’s As Good.” I also had “First Step,” which is credited to the Small Faces, the pre-Stewart band that evolved into the Faces, but I figured it wouldn’t be as good. But then I discovered, that album was a real Faces’ album, it was the record company that insisted on the “Small Faces” label.
When I discovered that, I remarked to my wife, “I never thought I’d be this excited to listen to a record by Rod Stewart.” But then I continued reading about the band and discovered they actually played on many of Stewart’s early solo records, so I realized there’s lots more Rod Stewart albums in my future. And Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane records, as well as the Rolling Stones albums recorded after Wood joined that band following the Faces’ breakup.
I also shelled out for the Faces box set “Five Guys Walk into a Bar,” which is out of print and not on streaming services. Those were the first physical CDs I’ve bought in 18 months.
As is likely obvious at this point in the column, I’ve become a little bit obsessed with this band and all the great music they recorded. This is the type of discovery that is so exciting because there’s this whole collection of great music I had no idea was out there.
As I mentioned earlier, “Ooh La La” is probably the band’s most famous song — I first discovered it from its use at the end of the movie “Rushmore” — but that tune is actually sung by Wood. Legend is Stewart refused to sing it, but I’ve more recently read it just didn’t sound as good as Wood’s version.
The legend certainly makes a cooler story and fits with the band’s image of being a rough group of dangerous guys. I don’t know whether that’s true, but it’s an apt description for their music. As good as songs like “Stay With Me,” “Had Me a Real Good Time” and “Three Button Hand Me Down” are, they really sound like they could fall apart at any moment.
I really can’t recommend this band enough — and I’m pretty sure my friends and coworkers are tired of hearing me talk about them. They got a similar swagger to classic Rolling Stones and were a big influence on bands like the Replacements, New York Dolls, Guns N’ Roses and the Black Crowes.
William C. Wadsack is the managing editor of the Herald Democrat and a self-proclaimed music geek. He is now actively seeking a copy of Rod Stewart’s “Unplugged…and Seated” album, which features Ronnie Wood on several songs. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WCWadsackHD.