Pushing play on old DVD boot in the ‘rock room’ today up popped a German television series called Sympathy for the Devil; which ran for 13 episodes in 1971 and 1972. The series concentrated on youth culture, music and fashion. The episode I am enjoying is titled ‘Superstars' and contains a number of vignettes involving the Stones, Kinks, Paul Simon, Bowie, Faces and the subject of this entry, Rod Stewart.
Filmed in September 1970 (airing in April 1971) following the release of his summer 1970 solo LP Gasoline Alley the aforementioned footage finds Rod singing acapella versions of two songs from the album. Mixed in with some interview clips and a featurette of Stewart’s band mates in Faces these short musical moments are worthy of your time and attention.
Rod, dressed in his typically stylish fashion with a soft pink trousers and jacket, and orange shirt and shoes pops in contrast to his dreary surroundings. Rod stands in the alcove of a worn down and war ravaged apartment district of Germany. ‘Gasoline Alley’, a lyric and melody of homesickness and reflection aesthetically fits the real world stage of Stewart’s performance.
A ‘warts and all’ rendition in which Stewart stomps time with his feet using the shattered concrete and debris filled ground as his natural metronome. On a small balcony over Stewart’s right shoulder a woman watches, with a worthy story all of her own, while a floor higher another person witnesses the private concert, trying to stay out of sight of the television eye. The closer woman stands in period lower middle class dress stoically, wondering, I am sure, what the raspy throated alien mod and accompaning film crew is doing outside her home.
Stewart sings naturally and easily without competition from an audience, leaning way far back, perpendicular to the sky above for the hearty notes he is reaching for. Rod’s sharp dress is a flower pushing through the concrete, while his voice a wonderful recipient of the natural echo of the surrounding concrete towers. Joining randomly yet well placed is the percussive melodies of the surrounding birds.
Rod slowly sways to the transparent one, standing amidst the rubble, defeated branches and deconstructed construction materials. In stark contrast, his vocals soar in a venue that only increases the magic and viability of his show. Concluding his solo run through ‘Gasoline Alley’ Stewart bashfully takes a quick bow and tosses a stone from the ground out of the frame.
The second performance of the day begins with Stewart in front of a towering wall where the opening stanza of ‘Lady Day’ has been scrawled akimbo in chalk. He stands slightly ajar to the dark barrier and begins to sing the lyrics scribbled onto the building. This time a distant soundtrack of children playing acts as a bed to Stewart’s singing. ‘Lady Day’ has a more impromptu feel than ‘Gasoline Alley’ as Stewart also uses a piece of paper to reference the lyrics as he sways in time. Rod is again deeply invested in the song, opening his arms wide and exuding a heartfelt musicality using only his voice and breath.
After working his way through the stirring verses Rod sings a series of wordless melodies reflecting the songs recorded arrangement to which the children off camera reply to with gentle mimicking. A beautiful moment thankfully captured and excitedly enjoyed. Concluding his performance Stewart playfully replies to the children before yodeling to them humorously and closing out the scene.
While the entire series of episodes hailing from Sympathy For the Devil are available for those who search, the segment featuring Rod Stewart (and Faces) is a must see and is admittedly an all time favorite of the ‘rock room’. The allure of the footage is the uniqueness of setting and the strength of the performance. For many this is Stewart’s most prolific era and to witness the vocal talent in a cinema verite’ setting is just a tremendous stroke of luck for his fans. When contrasted with current recording artists the difference is obviously striking. There is no auto tune here folks, just Rod the Mod singing his ass off joined by a few innocent bystanders.