Friday, January 10, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 10):"REASON TO BELIEVE" (1971) Rod Stewart

Two in a row from 1971—I must be in a rut. But, let’s face it, that was the era when I first discovered a lot of music for the first time, and I still think records made in that era (pre-1976) are some of the best rock records ever. What they mean by “classic rock.” It’s all “post-Beatles” in the sense of their enduring influence on how recordings should sound.

And today’s song, in honor of Rod Stewart’s 69th birthday, is from one of the first rock LPs I ever got. This song was supposed to be the hit from his LP, Every Picture Tells a Story, but it got surpassed by its “B” side: “Maggie May,” which went on to top the charts in both the U.S. and the UK, and became one of Mod Rod’s signature songs. The LP topped the charts in both countries as well, and I bought it when I’d heard four tracks from it on the radio and liked each one. So rather than buy the “double-A-side” 45, I bought the album.  And I still have great love for it. Even recently got a new vinyl copy pressed by Mobile Fidelity.

I was not a Rod Stewart fan and never became one. Only recently have I gotten into his work with the Faces and his LPs previous to Picture. But this LP was special. Stewart found the perfect strings as settings for his warm, raspy voice—mandolin, violin, slide, and bright Brit acoustic strums. 

“Reason to Believe” was written by Tim Hardin and recorded in 1965; many others have recorded it and still more performed it. But this version by Rod owns it, in my estimation, from the stately opening piano to the Wurlitzer-style organ sustained in the background.  And that little “oh” late in the song kills me every time, right before the fiddle comes in again and they take it on home.

I remember liking the song when it debuted on the Top 40 charts, and resenting a little that “Maggie May” took away its steam. Certainly one of the great double-sided singles of the day (post Beatles, I mean). This song, which dates from a little before “Black Dog” in my listening history, was much more my speed than the latter. The song is bittersweet. The singer has every reason not to believe in the woman he’s addressing, but knows he’d find a reason if he lets himself. She’s got that kind of influence over him.

I like Rod’s version because he doesn’t sound bitter about it; he’s very open about the fact that he’s willing to be a patsy, if necessary, if only because “someone like you makes it hard to live without somebody else.” At 12, I had no idea what that would be like, but I let the song convince me that there was a reason to believe I would at some point, that such reasons do exist.

At the time—8th grade—I was losing my faith in the teachings of the Church, and it seems to me that, in a certain mood, I listened to the song as if it were about finding “a reason to believe—knowing that you lied / Straight-faced, while I cried.” In other words, the song carried more than its overt meaning for me, and, though I wasn’t always able to manifest such a mature “no hard feelings” outlook, I liked the idea of the song summing up my feeling about childish things, like faith. Which is why I say “bittersweet”—the bitterness of moving on and looking back is subsumed for a moment in the glance that sees that’s just how it was.  It’s about finding a way “to leave the past behind.” Something 8th graders graduating from Catholic school might need. And that “someone like you” who might make me “give everything about myself”? Let’s just say I wanted to believe in her, even while dreading such a thing might happen.

Happy birthday, Rod.  Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Ron Wood, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane

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