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Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells A Story - Album Of The Week Club review

Looking back, it’s obvious that Every Picture Tells A Story was Rod’s defining moment. But is it a classic?

Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
(Image: © UMC)
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story

(Image credit: UMC)

Every Picture Tells a Story
Seems Like a Long Time
That's All Right / Amazing Grace
Tomorrow Is a Long Time
Henry
Maggie May
Mandolin Wind
(I Know) I'm Losing You
(Find a) Reason to Believe

When Archway Road-born Roderick David Stewart turned 26 in January ’71 he had very vague ideas about his future. “I’m looking for a song that’s probably been forgotten, that no one’s done for a time. Something that can fit my voice so I can sing it right, and something with a particularly strong melody.” 

Having produced half of old pal and mentor Long John Baldry’s It Ain’t Easy album (Elton John did second-side honours) Stewart used many of that album’s motley cast of characters for his own, Every Picture and the same Morgan Sound Studios in Willesden, complete with trusted engineer Mike Bobak. 

Expectations were moderate. There were no full-page adverts. The music press carried two teasers for the album: one featuring tongue-in-cheek text from Rod himself: “Like all great art, great wine, great craft, and great sex, Rod Stewart’s third album took a long time in coming….” 

Looking back, it’s obvious that Every Picture Tells A Story was Rod’s defining moment. Even old mate David Bowie was impressed enough to copy Rod’s hair-do for his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, where he also covered It Ain’t Easy, the Ron Davies song Rod suggested to Baldry. 

Rolling Stone magazine voted Rod rock singer of the year in their end of 1971 poll. NME readers elected him ‘Best New Disc and TV Singer Of The Year.’ Melody Maker gave him their Pop Star of the Year gong. Yet Stewart never matched Every Picture again. His next recordings were fine, but they were inferior carbon copies. 

In a reflective moment Stewart acknowledged, “Every Picture was a great album to make. I wasn’t living up to anything. No one told me to make a single; I just bunged Maggie May on because that was all I had left to give the company. After that? I just hoped for the best. I really miss that spontaneity.” 

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Other albums released in May 1971

  • Leon Russell and the Shelter People - Leon Russell
  • Peaceful World - The Rascals
  • Weather Report - Weather Report
  • Carpenters - Carpenters
  • Relics - Pink Floyd 
  • Ram - Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney
  • Rory Gallagher - Rory Gallagher
  • 28 Songs for Beginners - Graham Nash
  • And So: On - Jimmy Webb
  • Another Dimension - Bo Diddley
  • Edgar Broughton Band - Edgar Broughton Band
  • Live Johnny Winter And - Johnny Winter
  • Man in Black - Johnny Cash
  • Smash Your Head Against the Wall - John Entwistle
  • Summer Side of Life - Gordon Lightfoot
  • Winwood - Steve Winwood

What they said...

"Boring as half of it may be, there’s enough that is unqualifiedly magnificent on the other half of Every Picture Tells A Story to make it clearer than ever before that if Rod Stewart ever allows himself the time to write himself a whole album, it will be among the best albums any of us has ever heard. Until such time, a lot of souls will have no choice but to truck about half-saved." (Rolling Stone)

"The sad fact of Stewart's career is that he's been rewarded far more handsomely for his lesser music than for the gritty, emotionally resonant work he did early in his career. Every Picture Tells A Story's No. 1 single, Maggie May, sowed the seeds of his destruction. Stewart made a career out of playing the same young stud depicted in the song (well past the point where he was young or studly), but without the self-effacing humility that makes Maggie May so charming." (AV Club)

"For all its perspective world-weariness and earthly wisdom, you will find no moping on Every Picture Tells a Story, in fact the record is a high-energy, vibrant and youthful blast. Hell, you can dance to most of these songs. As admirable as caustic artistic brilliance is, maybe sometimes you don’t need a dark masterpiece. Maybe there’s something more to a record that makes no grand statements, simply takes a look around at life and rocks its way through it." (Sputnik Music)

What you said...

Glenn McDonald: Just to point out and in advance of getting into it... Before Rod stuck on the lycra leopard-print pants and started asking whether one thought one sexy, the big legend made an incredible 14 studio albums in a period of just over 9 years! With Jeff Beck, The Faces and solo. It's a fantastic run of music few vocalists can match. So, no matter what he's done since, his place in the rock pantheon is guaranteed...

1. Truth - Jeff Beck Group - May 68
2. Beck-Ola - Jeff Beck Group - Jun 69
3. An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down - Nov 69
4. First Step - The Faces - Mar 70
5. Gasoline Alley - Sep 70
6. Long Player - The Faces - Feb 71
7. Every Picture Tells A Story - May 71
8. A Nod's As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse - The Faces - Nov 71
9. Never A Dull Moment - Jul 72
10. Ooh La La - The Faces - Jan 73
11. Smiler - Oct 74
12. Atlantic Crossing - Aug 75
13. A Night On The Town - Jun 76
14. Foot Loose & Fancy Free - Nov 77

Within that run, Every Picture Tells A Story sits easily in the leading pack (jostling for the medal positions alongside Beck's Truth and The Faces' A Nod's As Good As A Wink). Rocking, wistful, laddish, bucolic, all at the same time, the album evokes swinging city scenes one moment and pastoral idylls the next. This is perfectly encapsulated on track three, which transitions from a rollicking version of That's Alright Mama into a plaintive Amazing Grace without drawing breath. 

There's a great Dylan cover with Tomorrow Is A Long Time that Rod manages to make his own while leaving the listener in little doubt as to the song's original author. The full Faces line-up put in an appearance on I Know (I'm Losing You), laying down what has become the definitive version of the song, the Temptations original being largely forgotten. And Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe has been a well loved "Rod Stewart" song from this point forward.

However, it's on Rod's own songs that the real elevating brilliance of this record is to be found. Not oft remarked upon as a writer, and certainly not as a great lyricist, he's penned the best three numbers on here. The title and opening track is a joy to behold. Every Picture Tells A Story, and this track paints a thousand pictures in the mind as the narrator rushes from the sanctuary of a childhood bedroom, to getting arrested in Paris, falling into a funk in Rome, and finally being turned into a vampire by Shanghai Lil on a ferry to Peking! Mandolin Wind has the heady scent of the Prairie about it, not bad for a lad from North London. 

And what can be said about Maggie May that hasn't been said already? Originally the b-side to Reason To Believe, DJs began flipping the 7" over and a classic was born. It's just one of those tracks that has a dusting of magic seemingly captured within its grooves. Based on a true story of a love affair with an older lady, one that would likely get the perpetrator arrested these days, it captures a longing for a more simple time in the writer's life and a simultaneous wish to escape the very thing being longed for. 

We get almost 50 seconds of acoustic guitar before the one-two drum snap brings the vocal in, and from then on the song is propelled by a slinky bass line, 12 string and organ, remaining busy yet graceful. It rides out on a whistle note from Rod and a mandolin that's probably still playing someplace somewhere, over a hill and faraway.

A brilliant album end-to-end, redolent of the carefree halcyon times in the writers life at which it was recorded and one that proves, if proof were needed, that Rod was and remains the real deal.

John Davidson: More rock'n'soul than rock'n'roll, this 1971 outing from Rod Stewart nonetheless exhibits him in his prime.

This is a singer's solo album, so the music is almost always there to provide a platform rather than as an end in itself, but there are at least four classic songs on this album. Not bad for a mod.

The album opens with the title track Every Picture, which is a great song from start to end with a good if understated guitar melody .Seems Like A Long Time is a slow bluesy number. It has some decent guitar but doesn't do much for me.

Equally That's All Right is a simple early rock'n'roll number. This is the sort of music Led Zeppelin had already plundered, reinvented and made more interesting, and it is not improved by the segue into Amazing Grace, which seems tired and trite.

The cover of Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow is a Long Time is prime slice of country rock, with some lovely slide guitar. Henry / Maggie May kicks off what would have been side two. This is a stone cold pop rock classic, and unusually one that works just as well today. Rod sings like he means it and probably does, eloquently capturing the wistful memory of an early lover and the heartache that went with it. The opening acoustic guitar/mandolin is sublime - even if it doesn't really set up the song to come .

Mandolin Wind is a mixed bag for me. The playing is good and once it gets going the song is lovely, but just doesn’t flow. It starts and stops a few times and doesn’t really kick in to gear until the last 90 seconds. Rod was never a master lyricist and some of the words here (though heartfelt and at times evocative of the Mid West) are a bit clumsy.

(I Know) I’m Losing You is another classic and one I wasn’t familiar with. It starts with a slightly funky, blues riff and bass line and grows into fantastic soulful, blues rock song. (Find A) Reason to Believe is not bad but it's a step down from I’m Losing You.

Overall, while this is a varied album it is also uneven. Two great Rod Stewart-penned numbers, two great covers and four songs that are decent enough album filler. It’s testament to the quality of the supporting musicians that they keep this level of variety hanging together - with Faces stalwarts forming the majority of the backing band alongside other session musicians.

Musically it's a singers album, and while the musicianship is very good, there is little (beyond the mandolin riff on Maggie May) that lingers long in the memory. So an album hosting some great songs, but not in itself a great album. A solid 7 /10.

Mike Ollier: I remember when the Mercury Years box set came out, years ago, a reviewer said something like "If Rod had died in 1973 he'd have been thought of in the same breath as Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison." A potent mix of folk, blues, country and R&B with a cracking set of musicians including Faces personnel.

Tito Lesende Galán: Shivers down my spine with this one. A really important record in my life. Sometimes music can speak for yourself. Every picture tells a story, but this album knows everything about mine. Thanks, Rod and Ron.

Paul De Maria Mañas: Perfect album from start to finish. A trainwreck of soul, rock'n'roll, blues, folk and country with topnotch songs and inspired playing. Doesn't get better than this.

Nigel Lancashire: For me, all Rod’s early solo albums were quantity over quality – occasionally brilliant but mostly patchy, lazily compiled and half-assed affairs. Sing It Again Rod makes up for it, producing a single good album by cutting out a lot of filler material... plus a cracking die-cut cover too!

Richard Cardenas: Lots of great songs on this record. As great as it is, it’s not an album I can spin with regularity. However, Reason To Believe is my all time favourite Rod Stewart song. As such, a solid 9.

Jonathan Novajosky: I understand the appeal of Rod Stewart, but I’ve never been that crazy about him. This is a nice, feel good soft rock album. The songwriting is probably the highlight for me. Maggie May is still a classic and (Find a) Reason To Believe was a solid track I had never heard of before. There wasn’t a whole lot I could excited about, however. I’m not sure of adding Amazing Grace at the end of That’s All Right. It made the song a little cheesy for me. I still had some enjoyment out of Every Picture Tells A Story, but for now it’s an album I don’t see myself returning to. 6/10

Mike Knoop: Going in, I thought, "No surprises here," given I've heard most of this album through osmosis for years. The title track and all of side two have been rock radio staples since, well, probably 1971. But as familiar as I am with the album, I was surprised anew at what a nuanced and skilled singer Rod Stewart is. Chestnuts like Maggie May, Mandolin Wind, and the title track still resonate, but the rest of the album is a pleasure too. 

Even though he only has songwriting credits on three songs, he sings them all like he owns them. He even pairs Elvis Presley's first single, That's All Right with the hymn Amazing Grace, as if daring you to suggest he's not the greatest interpreter of song working. Throw in a Bob Dylan song here and a Temptations song there, close with a cathartic version of Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe, and you've got a pretty great album.

Bill Griffin: This has always been one of my favourite albums even though I never actually owned a copy until last year. It's a very nostalgic listen but it was to me even when it was contemporary. It just takes me back to a simpler and more open time (musically). There isn't a bad track on it, surprisingly considering the copious amounts of alcohol being consumed by Rod and many of the other musicians. One of the few albums I feel comfortable giving a 10 to.

Robert Dunn: Well burger me backwards, I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I have a lot of time for Rod Stewart, he comes across like a decent lad and has tried his hands at all genres, and has done reasonably well at all of them. For me, his stuff with Jeff Beck and The Faces is his best work, but I was pleasantly surprised by this. 

Not surprising given that various members of The Faces played on these, I kept expecting things to rock up a bit, but they stuck to it and delivered a well-chosen set of songs. I particularly liked Mandolin Wind, and thoroughly enjoyed the guitar impression of a bagpipe drone on the unexpected Amazing Grace. Maybe it was the variety of song styles on offer, but I really did enjoy this.

Carl Black: This was a tough assignment. I'm very blinked to what Rod became in the 80s and there after. I was alerted to Rod the Rocker after listening to a Jeff Beck album for this very club. I was hoping for the same Rod but got "Rod the Folky" a lot of heart felt singing and vat room rock. Plus you get the worst version of That's All Right that has ever been recorded. Short answer is I found it a bit boring and any credit he had from doing this kind of material has gone with the likes of We Are Sailing and Rhythm Of My Heart. Way to much mandolin and piano. Not for me.

Brian Carr: Though I don’t often spin it, I’ve always liked Every Picture Tells a Story. It’s one of the few Rod Stewart discs I own. I love the vibe, the playing, the songs, and Rod‘s voice.

He eventually became very hit and miss with his sounds and song choices, but here he mixes blues, rock, country, a little gospel and creates a nice musical stew. The only thing that kept me from clicking the 10 may be slightly nitpicking: I get annoyed by song outros that seem to go on forever. The first two tracks do that. Excellent album as a whole.

Final Score: 8.55⁄10 (274 votes cast, with a total score of 2343)

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