Sunday, February 16, 2014


"Maggie May" / Rod Stewart  

Nowadays, we'd call her a "cougar," I guess.

We had no idea -- how could we? -- what a MOR slacker Rod Stewart would eventually turn out to be, how quickly he'd turn into a parody of himself, with his succession of hot blond wives, his perma-tan and artfully streaked shag, the tight trousers and silk shirt unbuttoned to the waist. But in 1971, that gritty voice still sounded authentic and vital. "Maggie May" practically jumped out of the radio speakers at me.  Yes, I went out and bought Every Picture Tells A Story; not just bought it, but listened to it A LOT.

Forget all those folky guitar twiddlings in the intro; this song really begins with two whomping drum beats. (Sitting on my dorm bed, I'd slam the bedposts to those drum whacks.) Then comes Rod's desperate croak, "Wake up Maggie, I think I've got something to say to you." For once, the hoarseness of Rod's voice made dramatic sense -- he's just woken up from a rough night of shagging.

For me, the grabber was that next line: "It's late September and I really should be back at school." It made me, a new college student myself, somehow identify with this scenario of a randy slacker entwined in the wiles of an older woman. I'd never been in anything even remotely like that situation, but that didn't stop me. Maybe even then I liked the idea that an older woman could be sexier than the girls his own age.

His attachment to Maggie is intriguing and complicated -- he knows she's used him, she's "made a first-class fool out of me," she's "kicked me in the head." He even sees that she did it for purely selfish reasons -- "just to save [herself] from being alone." The raspiness of Rod's vocals enhances our image of a kid being run ragged by this voracious older woman. ("Older" meaning, what, thirty? Horrors!) In the first chorus, he says she stole his heart, but the next time around, she's stolen his soul, "and that's what really hurts."

The instrumental arrangement, too, teeters between sexual tension -- Ronnie Wood's driving guitar riffs and lunging bass, Mickey Waller's crashing drums, Ian McLagen's thrumming organ -- and tenderness, in the form of that memorable mandolin solo (played by Lindisfarne's Roy Jackson.) Our hero is both realistic and romantic, watching her sleep. I love this snapshot image: "The morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age." But he shrugs that off: "But that don't worry me none, in my eyes you're ev'rything." He's willingly done his part -- "I laughed at all of your jokes / My love you didn't need to coax." Even now, he's not exactly angry with her; he's still muddled up and half in love.

In the bridge, he recalls their history, how he drifted into this affair innocently, or at least unsuspectingly. "All I needed was a friend to lend a guiding hand / But you turned into a lover, and mother, what a lover! / You wore me out." That's a damn sexy line, IMHO; you just about HAVE to picture them in bed.

Somewhere in England the original Maggie May must smile whenever she hears this song. Yes, the master Singer of Other People's Songs actually did write this one himself, and he claims it's autobiographical.  He never went to university -- too busy trying out to be a footballer -- but that's a minor point. At the end of the song, he retreats from the idea of school, and begins to idly thumb through alternative careers. Should he be a pool hustler like his dad? (Who was actually a footballer, but never mind.)

And then here's the final grabber: Or maybe, I don't know, "find myself a rock and roll band / That needs a helping hand." And as we all know, the rest was history.


33 DOWN, 19 TO GO  

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