A Night On The Town
Warner Bros., 1976
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/24/2011
A Night On The Town was Rod Stewart’s seventh solo LP, and all but one of them (the horrid Smiler from ‘74) could rightfully be considered classics. It certainly was an impressive run, but like all good things it did have to end, and when it did, it was rather spectacular. But more on that later, because I don’t want to detract from the fact that this album is on a par with Rod’s best and it is definitely the last time that he cut a truly great album. Produced again by Tom Dowd, A Night On The Town would become Rod’s fifth consecutive number one album in the UK and it generated massive sales around the rest of the world.
Now based in L.A., Stewart employed an array of local session guys including Lee Sklar, Willie Weeks, Steve Cropper, and David Foster to bring these songs to life, and it’s no wonder then that the record has a slightly more American West Coast feel to it than its predecessors. There were more hit singles, and following on from the format of both a “slow” and “fast” side on the previous Atlantic Crossing LP, it was employed for this one, too. Again the ballads are on side one and the rockers appear on side two, and again I’d have to say it’s the ballads that win out, but only marginally. Rod was really a brilliant songwriter and his ballads on this album are superbly crafted and beautifully performed.
Opener “Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” is a stone-cold classic that finds the ‘70s sex-symbol in a highly seductive mood (“Spread your wings and let me come inside”). A wonderful cover of Cat Steven’s “The First Cut Is The Deepest” is stunning in every way and it’s more proof that Stewart was just as comfortable reinterpreting other’s songs as he was singing his own. Two more Stewart originals close out the first half of the record, and although “Fool For You” is a sweet spot, it’s the second that is the album’s true highlight and to this date remains Rod Stewart’s masterpiece.
In 1974, a close friend of Rod’s was killed on a New York street at night in an unprovoked attack that was carried out due to the fact that Rod’s mate was gay, although it is intimated within the song that it was actually in fact a robbery gone wrong. Rod wrote of his friend’s life and death in “The Killing Of Georgie (Parts I and II)” and it remains Rod’s most profoundly effective moment on record.
The last track that Rod penned for the record kicks off side two with style as “The Balltrap” offers up more insight into Stewart’s sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “Pretty Flamingo” is a laidback, guitar-driven cover of the old Manfred Mann hit from the previous decade and I think it was definitely an inspired choice for this record. “Big Bayou” is another cover of a great old song, and although there is nothing wrong with this version, my favorite is still Ronnie Wood’s take that appeared on his Now Look LP.
“The Wild Side Of Life” is self-explanatory and Rod gives it a very Stones-y arrangement that he had a habit of doing every now and then in those days. Although the second side is the “fast” one, the record closes out with a ballad called “Trade Winds” that is unquestionably a fine song, but it’s just an odd fit when tacked onto the end of a set of rockers. Anyhow, Rod was in such rare form back then that he could do as he pleased and it in no way takes away from what a brilliant record this thing still is all of these years later.
Rod’s recorded career started to show signs of trouble with his half-baked follow-up LP the next year, the so-so Foot Loose And Fancy Free. By the time he dropped the disco inspired Blondes Have More Fun, there was no going back, and the rest of his studio albums since that one have always been very hit and miss and never again as brilliant or inspired as his string of ‘70s classics that ended with A Night On The Town.