A fictional imagining about THE decisive moment in the downturn of Rod Stewart’s career.
Early Summer 1978, a Los Angeles recording studio
Most of the band Rod Stewart had assembled for last year’s album and tour – Footloose & Fancy Free – is tuning and picking, awaiting the arrival of drummer Carmine Appice, and Rod himself.
The new album they’re working on, Blondes Have More Fun, is about 80% done, with Rod writing all the original tunes in partnership with either of his guitarists, Jim Cregan or Gary Grainger. Earlier in the week, Rod called all of them to say there was a brand new song to add to the list. They are now gathered for the purpose of hearing and learning the new song.
There are cheerful hellos as Rod and Carmine stroll in.
“So, what have you been up to this week?” bassist Phillip Chen asks Rod.
As he fiddles with a reel-to-reel tape, Rod says, “Well, we did the photo shoot for the album cover. Got Claude Mougin for the session, a Playboy photographer…”
“How’d you manage that?” asks guitarist Billy Peek, a little too excited.
Rod cues the tape and answers offhandedly, “Oh, Alana knows him. She set up the shoot, was one of the models.”
Grainger, Cregan and Chen exchange quick looks of concern. George Hamilton’s ex-wife, Alana, is Rod’s new “steady” gal. The fallout from his Britt Ekland years still dogs Rod, and while Britt was movie star glamour, Alana Stewart is garden variety Hollywood excess. While she was a good choice for social climbing in Beverly Hills, including her in musical doings was not a good idea.
Thinking of Ekland’s flawed palimony suit against Rod, Grainger clears his throat before cracking, “Putting a girlfriend on your record was kinda messy in the past.”
Rod crushes the empty Styrofoam cup in his hand and shoots back, “Yeah, well ‘Tonight’s the Night’ was Number bloody One for 8 fuckin’ weeks! Famous birds sell records, mate!”
He walks away to the engineering board in a slight snit, saying over his shoulder, “Plus, I’m only putting Alana on the cover. She’s not singing, you know. Think I’m mad or something?”
Rod fiddles with some knobs, and walks back to the band with an expectant smile on his face. He flings his arm about the shoulders of Appice and says, “OK, boys, we’ve got a new song. Carmine and me wrote it.”
There’s no hiding the spontaneous shock of this news. Appice had never written a song in his entire life! He's a drummer for hire, for chrissake. While Rod beams at Appice, everyone else stares at the drummer with their mouths agape.
Rod chuckles. “OK, boys, your eager anticipation is noted. Without further ado….”
And he clicks on the demo tape. A throbbing bass with a simple drum machine (what?) beat comes over the studio speakers.
“It sounds like the Stones ‘Miss You,’” says Cregan, 8 bars in.
“That’s exactly what I want,” says a beaming Stewart.
A keyboard swirl repeats twice, and Chen notes, “Wait. That’s the riff from ‘Taj Mahal!’ The Brazilian soul man’s song.”
Appice tries to hide his pride in having stolen such a cool riff. Songwriting is really fun.
Then comes Stewart’s scratch vocal, words sounding close to a typical Rod Stewart Story Song:
“She sits alone waiting for suggestions
He's so nervous avoiding all the questions
His lips are dry, her heart is gently pounding
Don't you just know exactly what they're thinking”
THEN comes the chorus.
Even though not a one of them is drinking any kind of beverage, Chen, Cregan, Grainger & Peek erupt into a spit take.
The rest of the demo plays out, punctuated by intermittent chuckles and head shakes. The last cheesy keyboard riff fades into the studio abyss. The silence is broken with a quick pick of the chorus to “I Was Only Joking,” on Grainger’s guitar.
Yes, it’s Grainger’s editorial comment on what they just heard, but it also happens to be a song he and Rod wrote together, a huge hit song currently in heavy rotation across the country, probably playing on the radio of cars passing by the studio, right now, at this moment.
Laughing heartily, Cregan points to Appice, “You wrote a disco tune? Hilarious “I Was Only Joking,” for sure!” Rod notes Carmine’s feeble attempt at hiding his hurt. He also notes the band’s failure to grasp the seriousness of the issue.
“OK, boys, there is sly commentary on disco life in there. A slight joke. But in the main, it’s the song we’re learning today, and if all goes as well as expected, it’ll be the first single.”
“But it’s a disco song!” blurts out guitarist Billy Peek.
Now, Peek is most grateful for the gravy train that is his gig with Rod, and would never say anything to rock the gravy boat. But this new song? It could be fine as a one-off joke album track, but a single?! The stink eye from Rod makes him instantly regret his outburst.
The plastic cup holding Rod’s gin & tonic is thrown across the room, and in a voice straining to conceal anger he says, “Everyone’s doing it – The Stones, Cher, Diana Ross, KISS. Know why they’re doin’ it? Because disco sells. Know why I’m doin’ it? Because disco sells. This song is going to move copies of the album, and when I sell albums, I make money. When I make money, you all make money, too. Right? And disco sells.”
Since he'd already tossed it across the room, Rod can’t take a pull off his drink, so he starts yanking at his rooster hair (which, the band curiously noted, had just been bleached full-on bombshell blonde). Chastened, the members of the band who aren’t Appice quickly try to make amends.
“So, what’s the song’s title?” asks Chen.
In unison, Stewart & Appice answer, “D’Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
Cregan averts any negative cracks with, “Well, if you’re looking for that ‘Miss You’ vibe, we can do that. Easy. It’s just gonna be a fine line to walk, ‘cos if it gets too cheesy, man, the music press will eat you alive.”
With an angry sigh and the tossing of his scarf, Rod says, “The music press, bah! They’ve been doggin’ me since Smiler. And the more they hate me records, the more my records sell. Why should I spend quality time writing tunes that please only rock writers and the people who read them? My bank manager pointed out something known as a financial glass ceiling, and if I bust my balls to try and come up with material that Woody would approve of, then there won’t be a pay raise.”
Just as the album’s producer, Tom Dowd, walks in the door, Rod finishes with, “I want butts in seats that buy records, and if playing to the cheap seats is how to make the monthly mansion house note, then that’s what I do. I’ve been poor, and I will not ever do that again. I’ll sing bloody Gershwin, if it comes to that!”
Rod stomps away to greet the man who has produced all of Rod’s albums since Atlantic Crossing. Dowd was now listening to the “Sexy” demo.
All members of the band stare at the floor, uncomfortable in the tirade’s aftermath.
Chen, Cregan and Granger listen in silent disgust as Dowd and Rod discuss the song’s arrangement… keyboards and congas and strings…
Peek wonders if there will be any guitars on the track.
Appice wonders if he just unwittingly sold his soul to the devil.
On Christmas Eve 1978, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” was released, and by late January 1979 was #1 for 4 weeks. The album sold 15 million copies worldwide.
Even before the album came out, Rod’s gal Alana was pregnant with his child, so they got married. Regular readers of People know how his career as a Hollywood Husband plays out.
Chen, Peek & Grainger recorded one more Stewart album, Foolish Behaviour. During that album’s tour, a disgruntled Rod fired all 3 of them at one time.
In the 21st century, he financially resorts to singing 4 volumes of “The Great American Songbook.” He doesn't do near as much Gershwin as you’d think, because it’s got a lot of sophisticated notes that require some effort to sing.