Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: ROD STEWART
Album: FOOT LOOSE & FANCY FREE
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
My introduction to the raw, raspy & rockin’ vocals of Rod Stewart came via his 1976 #1 hit, “Tonight’s The Night,” when I was 10 years old. At the time I was unaware of his groundbreaking work with the original Jeff Beck Group (whose debut album Truth was highlighted in Part 4 of my Great Out Of The Gate series), The Faces or the string of classic solo albums he released during the first half of the ‘70s. Eventually those would form the core of my favorite Rod Stewart recordings, but for a few years I was only aware of his 7th & 8th solo releases, 1976’s A Night On The Town and 1977’s Foot Loose & Fancy Free. Each record followed a similar template, featuring straight-up rockers and tender ballads with folk influences throughout, all beautifully produced by studio whiz Tom Dowd. There were, however, two crucial differences: The former LP split the ballads & rockers into a “Slow Side” and “Fast Side” while the latter mixed up the pacing but, more importantly, Foot Loose & Fancy Free was the first of several albums to feature a core band (guitarists Jim Cregan & Gary Grainger, bassist Phil Chen and drumming legend Carmine Appice, who was best known as a founding member of Vanilla Fudge & later played with Jeff Beck) rather than a collection of studio musicians. This resulted in a more cohesive sound, although song-for-song it’s a toss-up as to which album is stronger. Since this is a look back at my favorite albums of 1977, I’ll save A Night On The Town for another time and focus on Foot Loose & Fancy Free.
Things get off to a sizzling start with “Hot Legs,” a thumping slab of Rolling Stones-inspired rock ‘n’ roll with Appice’s huge John Bonham-esque drum sound, a great guitar riff and Stewart memorably wailing “I love ya honey” at the end of each chorus. He veers into funkier Stones territory on “You’re Insane,” which is driven by a bass-heavy groove (courtesy of co-writer Chen). I love the staggered rhythm following the last line of the choruses: “This whole mad town thinks you’re insane.” Two ballads are among his most beloved songs. “You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)” was a Top 5 hit in the U.S. This slow shuffle is a declaration of love to his girlfriend at the time (“You’re a rhapsody, a comedy, you’re a symphony and a play. You’re every love song ever written but honey what do you see in me?”), yet he admits “there have been many affairs & many times I’ve thought to leave.” Until recently I hadn’t noticed the vocal similarity to Steve Forbert, whose debut was released the following year. Album closer “I Was Only Joking” finds him in full storytelling mode, featuring stunning melodies, a mostly acoustic arrangement (that’s interrupted by a stinging minute-long electric guitar solo at 3:45) and a peppy chorus with hints of the folkiness that made earlier hits “Maggie May” & “You Wear It Well” so endearing. His 7-1/2 minute version of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was inspired by Appice’s old band Vanilla Fudge, who recorded a similarly slowed-down rendition a decade earlier. This one doesn’t quite match that earlier recording but Stewart’s voice is fantastic, the arrangement is tight & rockin’ and there’s a tasty twin-guitar lead. He delves into deep soul territory with a cover of the 1972 Luther Ingram #1 R&B hit, “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right.” Apparently this song was recorded by The Faces in the early ‘70s but never officially released, so this was Stewart’s opportunity to right that wrong (no pun intended). “You Got A Nerve” is a haunting folk ballad in the vein of Fairport Convention, that’s notable for a sitar-like sound (perhaps courtesy of an actual sitar). The track listing is rounded out by “Born Loose,” another driving Stones-y rocker that’s unnecessarily long & ultimately forgettable, something that can’t be said for the other 7 songs. A year later, with the disco-fied #1 hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?,” he alienated many fans, who would argue that Foot Loose & Fancy Free was his final record as a bonafide rock & roller. There was still a lot of great music to come, but I don’t think he ever released another album as consistent as this one. It’s still a thrill to hear it 40 years later.