Rod Stewart - Unplugged…and Seated

2009-07-06 12:00
 
Unplugged...and Seated
 


Back when the album was relased in 1993 the whole billing bothered me: "Unplugged…and Seated". Seated? Rod seemed totally out of synch with the grunge and hardcore rap zeitgeist I was tuning into. I wanted mosh pits, headbanging, hardcore, braggadocio. Yes, yes, as a horny young teenager looking out for love I'd spun the bottle to sexed up pop teases like "Baby Jane" and "Young Turks". But that was back in the 80s. As a listener you mature, you acquire taste. You cull the kitsch. My mom's boyfriend may have been in raptures recounting bumping into Rod back in a South London pub when he was supporting some geezer called Long John Baldry way back in the late 60s, but I just wasn't buying it. What the hell had middle-aged rock stars reanimating their hits with intimate acoustic covers to say to a 20-something angry young man like myself?

To me Rod's humorous in between song banter sounded like a choreographed cliché, an ageing singer's spiel. And what did I really care about his much hyped reunion with ex-Small Faces band mate, Rolling Stone Ron Wood? Surely this was just an ageing boys' night out karaoke session? And if this whole unplugged thing was supposed to be an intimate affair, stripping songs down to their core, then what the hell was a full live string section doing embellishing his massive hit "Maggie May"? Nope. When I slotted my mom's boyfriend's copy of "seated" onto my stereo I'd already piegonholed it as nostalgic kitsch.

But then there was that moment. "People Get Ready....there's a train a-coming/You don't need ticket, you just get on board/All you need is faith...don't need no ticket you just thank the Lord" croons Rod over some sweeping strings, delicate blues guitar picks, and a soulful gospel backing choir. I checked the liner notes: Curtis Mayfield composer. The same Curtis Mayfield whose "Superfly" had been sampled by the Beastie Boys on "Egg Man" off '89's  Paul's Boutique? Yep. Damn, this was something I'd never expected. No, not just soul. I heard something else. I heard history. Beyond Rod the Mod rocker or Rod the Randy disco pop dandy or Rod the leopard print legging pop ponce headlines. I finally heard Rod the rhythm 'n blues singer.

"It's not R&B" cautioned my mom's boyfriend. "Just listen". And I did. I heard the sex simmering in "Hot Legs", the lustful promise embedded in "Tonight's the Night" and yes, I finally bothered to give "Maggie May" enough airtime for lyrics like "I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school/Or steal my daddy's cue and make a living out of playing pool/Or find myself a rock and roll band that needs a helpin hand" to rip my heart out. And it got better.

Rod's lovelorn cover of Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately" morphed from an overplayed adult contemporary schmaltz my aunt would get all watery eyed over at family braais into something simple: a love song I could actually relate to. Watching the DVD tagged onto this "collector's" reissue over a decade later it's impossible not to be moved. Not just by his voice cracking, but that accompanying tear he actually almost sheds on a song dedicated to his wife. Sentimentality? Oh yes. But also real emotion. And precisely what makes this Unplugged so special. This wasn't some emotionally airbrushed pop star pose I'd usually seen on MTV. This was Rod remembering what made him want to rock in the first place. A year later when I was riveted by Kurt Cobain cracking up on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged session, it was Rod's rasping soul I remembered.

And it's this bruised soul you can hear on a chamber pop take on Tom Waits's boozy "Tom Traubert's Blues". And a spare reading of Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is the Deepest", which – save maybe Sheryl Crow's blistered rendition – remains the most soulful version I've heard. As a trainspotter in training, without Rod's unplugged reanimation of "Reason to Believe" I never would have bothered tuning into the fractured folk genius of Tim Hardin. Hell, if I'm honest it was probably Rod bashing away at the mandolin on "Mandolin Wind" and "Gasoline Alley" (a reissue bonus track) that prompted me to get into bluegrass.

Make no mistake, this seated session is not some flawless unplugged master class. Not even Rod's rasp can save Sam Cooke's "Having A Party" from being cobbled by some cheesy string arrangements. Ditto "Forever Young" which is an overblown symphonic pop singalong, but hey that's why it's only available as a bonus track. And these are minor, forgiveable misfires anyway. Whether it's the way Rod riffs off of Ron's freewheeling rhythm guitar runs on 'retro' rocker "Cut Across Shorty" or adds a sponateous blues wail to "Highgate Shuffle" it's the sheer history flowing through these rhythm 'n blues reanimated rockers that helped this listener expand his horizons.


Everyone has them. A moment when you're catapulted out of your listening comfort zone by something you shouldn't like. Something you can't confess to telling your mates: a guilty pleasure. Mine was tuning into Rod Stewart's Unplugged…and Seated.
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dirkie 2009/07/06 4:47 PM
I always hated Rod Steward but this made me reconsider. I will have to give the mullet a second chance.
Bruce 2009/07/07 7:06 AM
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To get to Rod's real roots, try to dig up a copy of "the Jeff Beck Group" album "Truth" feturing the astonishing guitar playing of Beck and Rod's bluesy singing (not to mention Ron Wood on bass).The recording was done before all the hype and "marketing" had kicked in, smothering Stewart's blues. He was/is a great singer, but give this one a try if you can get it, very raw and real.
preshen govender 2009/07/07 9:27 AM
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I remember throwing my panties at him
Maggy 2009/07/07 2:43 PM
I love Rod and as a young person I think there must be something really good going on in this album to make me feel like this. You have to be a music lover and not a learner to understand something so deep.
Shaun 2009/07/07 3:27 PM
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Will this Unplugged and Seated ever go onto DVD, I have the CD and its great but would love to get the DVD of the night
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