Sunday, 17 July 2016

"Gasoline Alley" by ROD STEWART (Inside 2002's The Universal/Chronicles 3CD Set 'Reason To Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings' - Suha Gur Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...








"…Take Me Back To The Gasoline Alley…"

Arguing the merits of Rod Stewart's 'Mercury Records Years' albums (1969 to 1974) is like saying a few of the Beatles albums from the Sixties were 'pretty good' and you should 'probably' buy some. What I'm getting at here is 'which' version of "Gasoline Alley" should you buy? And while I'm at it what about 1971's "Every Picture Tells A Story" or 1972"s "Never A Dull Moment" or even the lesser-seen "Sing It Again Rod" LP compilation from June 1973 that went to No. 1 but never seems to show on CD? I want to argue that the whole period was magical musically (even the disappointing "Smiler" from 1974 had its fab moments) and this is one of those occasions where you should forego the individual purchase and buy the bleeding lot.

There's a Remastered stand-alone CD for "Gasoline Alley" from 1995 with just the 9-tracks and the gorgeous UK artwork inside and out – an expensive but audiophile Mobile Fidelity Gold CD release from 2011 and a beautifully done Japanese SACD from 2014 - as well as a dizzying array of '5 album collection' Mini Box Sets - most of whom use the 'US' artwork. But I say go for this instead...

US and UK released in November 2002 (reissued January 2005) – "Reason To Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings" by ROD STEWART on Mercury/Universal/Chronicles 440 063 422-2 (Barcode 044006342221) is a 3CD set of Remasters that offers fans all six albums from the period along with rare 7" single edits and five outakes first released on a 1995 2CD retrospective. 

This 3CD set will allow fans to sequence his six albums (5 studio and 1 compilation) - "An Old Raincoat Won’t Let You Down" (known as "The Rod Stewart Album" in the USA), "Gasoline Alley", "Every Picture Tells A Story", "Never A Dull Moment", "Sing It Again Rod" (compilation with one new track "Pinball Wizard") and finally "Smiler" – his last studio LP for Mercury Records.

Disc 1 contains the first two LPs including "Gasoline Alley" (79:19 minutes):
1. Street Fighting Man
2. Man Of Constant Sorrow
3. Blind Prayer
4. Handbags And Gladrags
5. An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down [Side 2]
6. I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing
7. Cindy's Lament
8. Dirty Old Town
Tracks 1 to 8 are his debut LP "An Old Raincoat Won’t Let You Down" – released February 1970 on Vertigo VO 4 in the UK. It was called "The Rod Stewart Album" in the USA and its September 1969 release on Mercury SR-61237 featuring different artwork to the UK issue (same tracks). As this is effectively an American release – the booklet doesn’t picture the lovely 'photograph' gatefold of the UK artwork.

9. Gasoline Alley
10. It's All Over Now
11. Only A Hobo
12. My Way Of Giving
13. Country Comforts [Side 2]
14. Cut Across Shorty
15. Lady Day
16. Jo's Lament
17. You're My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)
Tracks 9 to 17 are his 2nd solo LP "Gasoline Alley" – released May 1970 in the USA on Mercury SR-61264 and September 1970 in the UK on Vertigo 6360 500. Produced by ROD STEWART and LOU REIZNER.

18. It's All Over Now – issued as a 7” single edit in the UK on Vertigo 6086 002 in September 1970 (the album track "Jo's Lament" was its B-side).

As you can see - with this set you also get the 7" single edit of "It's All Over Now" - something none of the individual "Gasoline Alley" CD releases offers. The packaging is tasty too and the Audio stunning. The 24-page booklet is housed in a three-way foldout card digipak with each flap featuring live photos (pictures beneath the see-through plastic trays also). AMY LINDEN provides the liner notes and there’s discography info on each track and overall recording credits. But the big news is the SUHA GUR remasters which are fantastic – full of presence and life and that raunchy feel Stewart got at the time. Lyrically and musically – there is so much richness here. Armed with a God-given set of tonsils, melodies that haunt and a way with observation - song after song smacks you over the head with greatness and smart choices. And all of it with that fantastic band of his - Ronnie Wood, Martin Quittenton, Ronnie Lane, Mick Waller, Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan - all dripping British Rock’n’Roll swagger that seemed to come so easily to them. The only real disappointment for me - especially with regard to artwork - is that this 3CD compilation is essentially an American release and therefore uses the 'US' artwork for "Gasoline Alley" and unfortunately the lovely British artwork (inside and out) is AWOL.

The opening song "Gasoline Alley" (co-written by Rod with Ron Wood of The Stones) is likely to reduce most ardent Rodders fans to mush within seconds - a plaintive and heartfelt ache for the simple times and even the grimy streets of old as depicted on the stippled gatefold cover. It's trite I know to call songs 'beautiful' but this one is and its been covered many times as proof (Elkie Brooks reminded people of its beauty in 1983 with synth version on A&M Records). And that Ron Wood bottleneck guitar and Stanley Matthews on Mandolin add so much too.

Recorded at Morgan Studios in London - there's a ramshackle feel to the "Gasoline Alley" LP from the off - an unplugged feel that lends the music an authenticity that the later polished Riva material abandoned (different times, different approaches). A nice addition on this set is the 3:37 minute 7" single edit of Bobby Womack's witty and caustic "It's All Over Now" - shorter and punchier that its 6:24 minute big brother on the album (Ian McLagan and Pete Sears plink away on the piano). Written by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane for the Small Faces self-titled Immediate Records LP in 1967 – both Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones join Rod on Vocals and Drums for his clever cover of "My Way Of Giving". Bob Dylan's gorgeous "Only A Hobo" was apparently a "Times They Are A-Changin'...'" outtake and Rod's version can only be described as magical. He takes the original melody's Folk elements and infuses it with that British Faces/Rod Stewart sound - lifting the air and the aching lyrics about 'lying in the gutter and dying with no name' into something so special.

Another clever choice is his Side opener - Elton John's "Country Comforts" taken from his "Tumbleweed Connection" album of October 1970. Rod makes the ballad feel like his own and is ably abetted by wonderful counterpoint vocals from Jack Reynolds as the song winds its way to the end. Rod's brilliant cover of "Cut Across Shorty" (written by Marijohn Wilkin and Wayne Walker) - an Eddie Cochran classic made almost unrecognisable with rattling acoustic guitar strings, Dick Powell on Violin and chunky Ron Wood Rock 'n' Roll guitar licks (and I love that acoustic fade out). "Lady day" is a wickedly good Rod Stewart original ballad with his 'north winds have made my face a little older' lyrics confessing. But there's a warmth to his affection towards his lady that's intensely moving - 'scared when I remember too much' - it's the kind of wonderful overlooked album gem that needs to be in your life - a 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' song I never tire of. And "Jo's Lament" is the same - another RS original that shows his amazing knack for a melody - all those acoustic guitar strums and bottleneck slides that warm your bones like an afternoon on a river. It ends on the fantastic Funk-Rock of "You're My Girl (I Don't Want To Discuss It)" - a Dick Cooper, Beth Beatty and Ernie Shelby song that was done by Little Richard in 1967 on Okeh Records and Rhinoceros in 1968 on their self-titled debut LP on Elektra Records. A great way to end a great album...

To sum up - six whole albums, rare single sides and a batch of previously unreleased for under nine-quid is a bit of a no-brainer really.

Carry yourself back to the "Gasoline Alley" with the "Reason To Believe” 3CD set - a rare instance of quality and quantity combined - and of all of it wrapped up in that top-quality remastered sound…

PS: The first album gives you a superb keyboard contribution from a pre ELP Keith Emerson on "I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing" - a brilliant song added to hugely by his playing. RIP Keith...

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