Apr 08

ROD STEWART – “Sailing”

FT + Popular98 comments • 6,155 views

#377, 6th September 1975

Fads come and go in the world of business: a recurrent buzzword right now is ‘simplicity’ – boil that report down to a sheet of A4, find the “nugget” in that presentation, apply the ‘elevator test’: if you can’t summarise an idea in 30 seconds, it’s worthless. The tone is a weird combination of zen and macho.

I’m all in favour of cutting out waffle but not when nuance gets thrown out too. The simple truth about simplicity is that most of the ideas that pass the elevator test are banal and useless: it’s the implications of an idea that are often the interesting bit, and they’re what gets lost. And I’d say the same of this record: Stewart seems to be trying to create something that’s expressing yearning in as straightforward and widescreen a way as possible, but all subtlety’s been boiled away and we’re left with a great voice being put to dreary use.

You might disagree, of course – “Sailing” is slow and doesn’t develop much but at least it’s not bombastic, and there’s no sense that Stewart’s a phoney or the sentiment untrue – it’s just too blankly expressed to matter to me. But whether you like “Sailing” or not it’s worth considering how rock got to this point. Other styles of music, after all, didn’t develop anthems: music hall had singalongs but nothing this slow and hymnal, gospel and soul demanded participation from audiences sometimes but not (it seems to me) this kind of mass assent. “Sailing” is a record by a credible, respected artist which has less energy and spark than the grimly cynical Rollers.

Of course it’s a simple function of audience size – if you can get that many people into one place to hear you, then it becomes a lot more tempting to produce music which will create the kind of mass communal experience “Sailing” does – no coincidence that Rod was a big football fan, or that “Sailing” had a second life on the terraces. (This is why I’m wary of complaints about artists ruining their sound to find mass appeal – what if it’s not the numbers of people listening in total which damages the music, just the number doing it in one place?)

It’s also worth asking why a song striking this particular note was so successful: what, if anything, was there in the cultural atmosphere that made Rod’s simple longing for home so effective? I do actually remember this song – and I was 2, so that’s how ubiquitous and user-friendly it was! – but I didn’t know the chords it was striking, so I leave that question up to you.



  1. 1
    Rob M on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I might be getting dates wrong, but I seem to remember that the song was used as the theme to the BBC tv show “Ark Royal” which was shown at the time which is probably why it was so popular, or at least might explain why it’s so well known.

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Music hall – “Underneath The Arches”?
    Gospel – roots based on participation of collective rather than audience as such.

    Last night I caught his “Reason To Believe” on the radio – from 1971, his “good” period when he was still on “our” side and still a lad – but in its quieter way it still struck me as an overblown and needlessly drawn out performance. On the original Hardin sings as though hunched in the farthest, darkest corner, scarcely willing to raise his voice lest anyone might hear him; whereas Stewart’s is more of a stagey “performance” – he almost tries to turn it into an aria.

    Maybe Rod was the kind of performer that Tom Jones yearned to be, but couldn’t.

    But I think it significant that “Sailing” comes from the album Atlantic Crossing, i.e. his big move to the States, hence the homesickness – although the move was in large part due, as with many of his peers, to a reluctance to pay the 98% top rate of tax demanded by Wilson’s Government (why spend money on schools, hospitals etc. when you can just shove it up your nose but then I’m just a creaky old socialist so what do I know?).

    The song was written by Gavin Sutherland and originally recorded as a quiet folk-pop song by the Sutherland Brothers but Rod gives it the same big, bombastic treatment which I suspect he would have delivered even if he had still been “here.”

    30 years since the end of the war nostalgia at work again? How else to explain the contemporaneous success of Roger Whittaker’s “The Last Farewell,” a number two hit (behind “Sailing,” as was Leo Sayer’s “Moonlighting” – a song about escape) on the same theme but with added war input? But then the latter was likewise a huge hit in the States – would the then-recent cessation of hostilities in Vietnam have something to do with both songs’ appeal there in a “bring our boys home” sense?

    It is worth noting that the single returned to our charts just one year later following its use in the BBC documentary series about HMS Ark Royal (the crew themselves had a minor hit with their own version a couple of years later) – in its second run it peaked at #3 but the run was longer than the first. It also nearly had a third run in the summer of ’82 because of the Falklands.

    Although at the time I recall it merely being a very popular and sentimental scarf-waver. Now I can’t disassociate it from Jim Davidson singing it with broom mop on head and buckets of water being chucked at him.

  3. 3
    Tom on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Ah! Wikipedia suggests Sailor (the Ark Royal show) was a few years later – which would certainly explain why *I* knew it as a childhood memory.

  4. 4
    Erithian on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Rob – the TV programme was “Sailor”, and it was an early type of docu-soap looking at life on board the Ark Royal. However the programme was broadcast a year or so after “Sailing” was initially a hit – on the back of the show the record returned to the top 3 in 1976 and actually stayed in the chart for longer second time around. (Tom, you possibly know it from the repeats – and of course by the time of the Falklands, when you were, what, 9?, it was ubiquitous.)

    My response to a lot of “anthemic” songs is that I prefer the start of the song, where it’s less anthemic and establishing the tune in a subtler way, and that’s certainly the case with the pretty guitar theme and tinkling background that kicks this one off. Late summer ’75 saw us on holiday on the Yorkshire coast just south of Bridlington, and whenever this came on the radio I’d look out to sea and watch the ships scudding across the North Sea. I can still picture myself on the prom there, so it connected.

    The writer of the song, Gavin Sutherland, was quoted as saying he intended this to be “one for the terraces”, and so it turned out – along with “Son of my Father” and “Amazing Grace”, this is the 70s number one tune you’ll hear most often at the match. The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver’s “Arms of Mary” was one of my top tunes of ’76 as well.

  5. 5
    Tom on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Yes I remember it returning at the time of the Falklands War, but I knew it was a return. I think it was the Ark Royal show in 76 that I remember initially – my family were much more TV people than radio (or at least music radio) people.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Everyone loves a scarf-waving anthem, regardless of incongruity of context/absence of actual war (1), and this was no exception; Rod as overblown and needlessly drawn out in delivery as ever, feigning homesickness with the hit single from the album Atlantic Crossing a.k.a. I’m Not Paying 98% Top Rate Income Tax (Why Spend It On Schools Or Hospitals When You Can Shove It Up Your Nose?) but from the reminder of 1971’s “Reason To Believe” on the radio last night he would have most likely delivered the same performance if he’d stayed here.

    (1) Although in the UK this may have tied in somewhat with the 30-year VE Day nostalgia – see also one of the two records it kept off number one, Roger Whittaker’s “The Last Farewell,” a song on the same general theme but with added war-specific input.(2)

    (2) Though both songs were also huge hits in America – something to do with the then-recent cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and bringing “our” boys home perchance?

    (3) The other song “Sailing” kept off the top was “Moonlighting” by Leo Sayer.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Yes, I was 2 at the time too, but I think that this is the first number one that I can remember recognising, certainly in primary school and probably as early as nursery school.

    I suppose that there is something impressive about writing a song so simple that it can register with us as tiny children, or with people with no interest at all in pop music. But I do find it a real dirge to listen to. At least Oasis songs made me laugh!

  8. 8
    Rob M on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Thanks both – that’ll teach me to not check my facts.

  9. 9
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Re. music hall – “Underneath The Arches”?

    Gospel is pretty much rooted in collective participation rather than audience participation as such but the preacher still has to be up there.

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 10 Apr 2008 #

    “The Last Farewell” is the business, though! The orchestration is perfect, the lyric is concise, and it doesn’t feel like its gone on and on for half an hour once its finished.

  11. 11
    Ben on 10 Apr 2008 #

    For me, this song will always be associated with the episode of Men Behaving Badly in which Gary and Tony get hideously drunk and it cuts to them singing “we are sitting, we are sitting, on the floor, outside the pub”!!! Classic TV. MBB was mostly a fairly average show, but it had its moments, and for me, that was the most memorable one.

  12. 12

    gospel does call-and-response, which i think singalongs generally fail (haha except in panto where you divive the audience up into sections)

    call-and-response in rock is parcelled out between records: viz by treating single y as an “answer record” to single x (or movement y to movement x, as in punk vs pr0g); successive generations of rockfans as stage-invasions becoming rhe show; pitch-invasions becoming the game
    *getting very deep into weeds of demented “rock theory”*

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I can’t remember the whole story about “The Last Farewell” but think it had something to do with Roger Whittaker’s TV show of the time – he had a weekly feature where he invited viewers to send in their own lyrics and he would set them to music, and I’m pretty sure this song came from there, in which case for the guy who wrote the lyrics it must have been like winning the pools as far as royalties were concerned!

  14. 14
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I like “Moonlighting” as well – a lighter-hearted “She’s Leaving Home” for the seventies; “We’re only ten miles from Gretna, they’re 300 behind!”

  15. 15
    Erithian on 10 Apr 2008 #

    “Moonlighting” went down very well with my classes when I was a language assistant at a school in Brittany some years later – a good narrative lyric and a chance to illustrate the British motorway network! Can’t quite remember how I explained the line “she gives him French kisses” though.

  16. 16
    pink champale on 10 Apr 2008 #

    the song also had a third life, of course, that was also very much an attempt to generate (or cash in on) a bleary mass communal experience.

  17. 17
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Yes, it was nearly a hit again in 1982 – just four years after Rod had attempted to rhyme “Buenos Aires” with “we don’t care just what the fare is.”

  18. 18
    pink champale on 10 Apr 2008 #

    blimey, didn’t know about that. ‘our boys’ answer record to “shipbuilding”? i was thinking of the early 90’s rave version which if i remember rightly had a (pretty shoddy) video directed by jarvis cocker.

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Oh yes, “We Are Raving” by Slipstream – a pretty shoddy cover of a far superior original by Scooter who as Popular will go on to demonstrate were CRIMINALLY PREVENTED from getting a number one by TWO DEVILS (count ’em!).

  20. 20
    LondonLee on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I remember that Ark Royal documentary very well, especially the opening episode when all the sailors are on shore leave and go to a strip club. My mum was asleep on the couch and there were naked boobs on the telly! It was liked I’d died and gone to 14-year-old boy heaven.

    “Moonlighting” was indeed a great record, only one of his I ever liked really.

  21. 21
    rosie on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I’ve never liked Rod Stewart much but I did like some of his earlier pop work – In A Broken Dream with Python Lee Jackson being my favourite.

    This, however, is Stewart transformed from Rocker to Lad, and that’s what will be churned out from now on. Don’t care for it, nothing much to say about it.

  22. 22
    Steve Mannion on 10 Apr 2008 #

    ‘which if i remember rightly had a (pretty shoddy) video directed by jarvis cocker.’

    how odd. his videos for Nightmares On Wax and Aphex Twin were good at least.

    Re Slipsteam at least this was done soon enough to avoid actually featuring Rod himself (which a remix from the last ten years probably would’ve been forced to do) – although I don’t suppose this would’ve really made it any worse.

  23. 23
    pink champale on 10 Apr 2008 #

    i only saw it once (and that was sixteen years ago) so i’m probably not the authority on this, but i think it was sort of like the video to ‘atmosphere’ (no, the other one) done on a ferry.

  24. 24
    mike on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I think one of the reasons why this went to Number One in 1975 was simply down to the personality factor. Simply put, it was Rod’s moment – just as it was Boy George’s moment in 83/84, Madonna’s moment in 1989/90, and Oasis’s moment in 1995/96.

    By “moment”, I mean one of those strange convergances where it seems like the whole country is a little bit in love with the act in question. Total across the board appeal – barring the odd pocket of hipster dissent, but there weren’t even many rumblings on that score.

    In Rod’s case, there was a fair deal of vicarious living involved. That international playboy rockstar lifestyle seemed awfully appealing to a lot of people, and Rod was still perceived as man-of-the-people grounded enough to get away with it. So there was a sort of “good on yer, my son” factor involved. Why Punk Had To Happen, Part 94 and all that.

    More particularly, he was going out with gorgeous pouting Britt Ekland at the time – she featured heavily in the reportage-style video, as I recall – and “Rod & Britt” were very much the Posh-n-Becks golden couple of their day. So if you bought into “Sailing”, then you bought into all of that.

    I’ve got the Sutherland Brothers original on an old K-Tel compilation, so must dig it out for comparison…

  25. 25
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Yeah, okay, Rod. Nice touch, boy.

    It’s a ticklish business trying to criticize this because it’s a belter and the Plastic Jock is just the man. None better. The song, as has been discussed, served as a backdrop to a documentary series about The Arc Royal and is one of Stewart’s great offerings. Your beloved correspondence, Waldo, has delivered his own interpretation of it once or twice this side of the drunk tank, I may say. The secret for preparation is to down enough supermarket cider (80p a litre. “Enjoy Warm and Irresponsibly”. “WARNING: May contain traces of apple”) straight from its flimsy plastic bottle just before you get to the stage where if you were on a bench outside the borough library, you would be starting to threaten and swear at pigeons and the odd errant squirrel. “Can You Hear Me?” comes our brilliantly after that little lot and aside from being part of the lyric, it is usually rather a rhetorical question by that stage of the proceedings.

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I will, however, forever associate the song with top Tory comic Jim Davidson sporting broom mop atop head and having buckets of water thrown at him regularly.

  27. 27
    vinylscot on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I’ve got the SUtherland Brothers version too – it was played to death on Radio1 when it came out but never really did anything.

    I remember listening to it after the Rod Stewart version was released, and being disappointed at how bland the original was. I could then understand why it hadn’t been a hit. It was a good song, but it needed a performance to make it memorable.

    Whether you liked him or not, you always got a performance from Rod.

    Another reason this was such a big hit (first time round) was that at this time, Rod still appealed to girls and boys. The Faces had not long wound up, and he still possessed a fair amount of rock credibility, which would wane over the next few years as he relied more and more on ballads, covers, and near novelty songs, with only the occasional diamond in the rough (The Killing of Georgie).

  28. 28

    spot-quiz: name two other acts — apart from the sutherland brothers and quiver — whose names are just the additive sum of the two acts before they teamed up

    (excluding eg one-offs: i mean like “oasis and blur” not “david bowie and bing crosby”)

  29. 29

    better still: dream up some which should have been

    viz “the ohio players and slade”

  30. 30
    Mark G on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Well, I liked the SuthBors original.

    Imagine ‘Give Peace a chance’ played more gently but at around the same tempo.

    Yeah, I had the Ktel album, but you had to crank up the volume to 11 just to hear the faintest glimmer of any track on the album, let alone “Sailing”

  31. 31
    mike on 10 Apr 2008 #

    This is true, Mark. Which is a bind, as there’s some damned good stuff on that album.

    Totally agree with vinylscot re. 1975 Rod’s equal appeal to girls and boys.

    “Amazing Grace”… “Sailing”… and a forthcoming number one known at our school as “Muck of McCartney”… there’s an aesthetic link between all three, but maybe that’s another discussion for another, more bunny-sanctioned time.

  32. 32
    vinylscot on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Possible answers to spot quiz

    The Fureys an Davey Arthur (sorry)

    Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations (not quite a one-off, they did have three hits)

    Possibly you mean acts which stayed together exclusively, or permanently, if so I’ve got some more thinking to do.

  33. 33
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Brotherhood of Man and Brotherhood of Breath, he quipped predictably (sinkah xpost).

    Ah, the cram-so-many-tracks-on-it-that-it-sounds-just-like-your-transistor-radio sonic quality of K-Tel compilations, complete with specially bought-in non-hit fillers. Where be Laurie Styvers now?

  34. 34
    mike on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Re #27: If we’re talking 1975, then – briefly – Slapp Happy and Henry Cow?

  35. 35
    Mark G on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Justin Hayward and John Lodge
    Chaka Demus and Pliers
    General Saint and Clint Eastwood
    Moments and Whatnauts
    Neil Young and Crazy Horse

  36. 36
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    From the charts of ’75, the Moments and the Whatnauts with their abysmal “Girls.”

  37. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Dennis Waterman and the Dennis Waterman Band.
    Motorhead and Girlschool.

  38. 38
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Donny and Marie Osmond.

  39. 39
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Dexys Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express.


  40. 40
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

  41. 41
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Did the Emerald Express as an entity, rather than some session fiddle players, one of whom got quite involved with him, ever exist anywhere outside of Kevin Rowland’s head?

  42. 42
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    # 28 – How about Udo Jurgens and Five Star?

  43. 43
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Queen and Paul Rodgers, of course.

  44. 44

    google is providing no clear evidence that pliers had a solo career under that name! (tho i dearly hope he did)

    crosby stills and nash
    crosby stills nash and young
    crosby stills innes nash and young

  45. 45

    most of these are a combo of “name + “band” (which answers the question as i asked it but is not quite what i was after) — mötörhead and girlschool made records and toured together but they didn’t become “mötörhead and girlschool” did they?

  46. 46
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    George Michael and Mr Bloe?

  47. 47
    Tom on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Would Sam and Mark count?

  48. 48
    Billy Smart on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Here’s an interesting one, that tells a tale of shifting emphasis – I *think* that I’ve remembered the sequence correctly;

    Miami Sound Machine

    Miami Sound Machine featuring Gloria Estefan

    Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine

    Gloria Estefan & M.S.M.

    Gloria Estefan


  49. 49
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Centipede, Globe Unity and LJCO, all of which were made up of lots of little regular groups put/shoved together.

  50. 50
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Marcello: I don’t think the Emerald Express did, sadly, hence the “kinda”.

  51. 51
    rosie on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Bananarama and the Fun Boy Three (or vice versa)
    Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin

  52. 52
    mike on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Also in support of #26: with “Sailing” we were more or less at an equal time distance from “You Wear It Well” (August 1972) and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (November 1978), and in some ways this record contains lingering echoes of the old Rod and ominous foreshadows of the new Rod.

  53. 53
    Mark G on 10 Apr 2008 #

    re #40, Helen O’Hara was never ‘involved’ w/ KRowland. He was making a story to make it all look good. i.e. lying.

  54. 54
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Bunny warning for Mike!!

  55. 55

    Guns n’Roses!!! <--- formed out of LA Guns and Hollywood Rose (thx to pastels_badge on lj)

  56. 56

    haha google “recorded such solo hits as “Snake In The Grass” and “Bam Bam”” to discover pliers’s solo career — one sentence, many sites! (but the much-cop-ed-and-pasted phrase doesn’t confirm if he was just called pliers)

  57. 57
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Pliers definitely had a solo career as Pliers, though not a very long one as far as I know. I always assumed his name was reference to the excellent Pinchers, who pre-dated him a bit.

    Pliers’s brother was Spanner Banner, who also collaborated with Chaka Demus.

  58. 58
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

    (These are all just names for individual blokes though, and as such no more relevant to the conversation than Elton John & George Michael.)

  59. 59
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Mark G (#53): are you sure that’s true?

  60. 60
    Chris Brown on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Do Edie Brickell And The New Bohemians count?

  61. 61
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 10 Apr 2008 #

    well as i phrased the question [individual] and [the band names] clearly does count, just not in a terribly interesting way — i just think there’s something a bit amazing that this strategy of self-announcement is so unusual

    haha deep purple and the london symphony orchestra WINNAH

  62. 62
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 10 Apr 2008 #

    sorry chris that sounded way ruder than i meant it to! am clearly obsessed by something i am not articulating or communicating (as per usual)

  63. 63
    Chris Brown on 10 Apr 2008 #

    I suggested them rather than, say Dennis Wilson And Rumbo because I thought I remembered hearing somewhere that the New Bohemians were already an extant act before she joined. But I may have misremembered that. I think the same might go for Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas, including the bit about my possibly having misremembered it.

    I realise that a pair of group names together is more interesting though. Come to think of it, didn’t Motorhead and Girlschool call themselves Headgirl anyway?

  64. 64
    Lena on 10 Apr 2008 #

    It’s odd but I don’t remember this song at all, even though it was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic – either I didn’t hear it much or it didn’t grab me. Canada wasn’t in Vietnam so the sentiment wasn’t there to be appealed to, I guess. And the oldies show sticks to his early 70s songs, exclusively. Otherwise, he recorded with Glass Tiger and did another song (“Rhythm of My Heart”) which was written by a Canadian, so those tend to get airplay instead, as they help stations meet the CanCon quota…

    Does Cliff Richard and The Shadows count?

  65. 65
    crag on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Rod Stewart was a great singer- his late 60’s/early 70’s work makes that clear. Brilliant as these early tracks were, however, its obvious that these performances are precisely that -performances. Musically speaking Rod was a great actor- able to convincingly convey warmth and sincerity thru the natural vocal talent he’d been blessed with. One never gets the impression that Rod was genuinely spilling his guts out on record in a Plastic Ono Band stylee. Rather you feel that if he could have been as sucessful a footballer or perhaps even gravedigger as he was a singer he probably would’nt have minded, content to keep his singing for drunken performances down the pub for his mates.Any urgent ‘need’ to express himself musically is never evident. As such the emotions one hears on “Angel”, “Mandolin Wind” etc etc are probably no more genuine than those displayed “Sailing”.

    The quality of his vocal work, however, combined with how well it all fitted with the pleasing myth/legend of ‘Rod the loveable romantic rogue’ meant that during the career peak of “Every Picture”/”Dull Moment” this didn’t matter and his 2 previous charttoppers are IMO amongst the finest #1s of the decade.

    By 1975 ,though, with no real incentive either musically or financially to carry on, the only emotion he was able or perhaps willing to now project was that of cloying over-sincerity as shown by the dreary uninterested crooning heard here.

    This, combined with the ‘message’ he was sending out to his audience changing from inclusive(“i’m a just an ordinary working class lad like you!Share in my sucess!”) to exclusive(“i might just be an ordinary working class lad – but i’m better than YOU will ever be and dont forget it!’-similar to the transformation undergone by Robbie Williams 2 decades later post”Angels”) all added up to a lousy record and the start of one of the sorriest falls from grace in rock history.

  66. 66
    Erithian on 11 Apr 2008 #

    I disagree, I don’t think there was a notable drop in quality until a couple of years after this. 1976 saw “The Killing of Georgie”, the song he says he’s most proud of and rightly so, and “Tonight’s the Night” which might have fed on his rock-royalty persona but was a damn good song. Even the controversial number one in ’77 was a fine record IMHO. The shark-jump came a year or so later…

  67. 67
    Marcello Carlin on 11 Apr 2008 #


    Actually the “shark jump” to which Erithian refers is, perversely but predictably, my favourite of Rod’s many number ones…

  68. 68
    Tom on 11 Apr 2008 #

    That’s enough Rod number ones talk – long-eared Ed.

  69. 69
    Billy Smart on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Mention of ‘Tonight’s The Night’ brings back the unwelcome memory of ITV’s 1998 ‘An Audience with Rod Stewart’ and his performance of the song as a duet with Emma Bunton – stop leering, grandad!

    Mention of ‘The Killing of Georgie’ brings back the ludicrous memory of a Rod documentary where he’s being being filmed on a yacht, wearing a captain’s cap, tipsy, and surrounded by a lot of equally silly people, reminiscing about how “brave” he’d been to release it.

    It’s funny how with Elton John, I always think “Hurray! Good old Elton! What a twit!”, but with Rod Stewart I always just think “Oh, what a TWIT!” in an exasperated way.

  70. 70
    crag on 11 Apr 2008 #

    I’d agree that “Georgie” is a good record and is certainly the last time Rod sounded even vaguely committed to his material IMO but I still dont think it compares to his early 70’s work in quality and view it as a blip in the downward spiral. “Sailing” is definitely where the rot began to set in.

  71. 71

    To up the disappointing controversy level on this thread, I am going to propose that there comes a time (for popular commnentators as for all humanity) when the justified cry “stop leering, grandad!” suddenly and unaccountably mutates into “hurrah that leering, fellow grandad, go not quiet into that bleak night etc” (adapt phrasing for gender and/or sexuality obv)

    translation: i no longer find what once appalled me abt r.stewart quite so appalling

  72. 72
    Tom on 11 Apr 2008 #

    This was the reasoning behind GRINDERMAN doing so well on critics’ lists I believe, though obviously the crits prefer Nick Cave’s play-acting the old goat to the real thing represented by Rod the Dirty Old Sod.

  73. 73
    Matthew H on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Well, Cave can voice it with a bit of wit and some winning sleaze – as well as knowing how it looks, it seems to me. Rod just thinks he’s “still got it”.

  74. 74
    crag on 11 Apr 2008 #

    I agree w/ you on the “grandad” front, pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør. When you’re 21 and see a guy in his late 50s cavorting w/ some nubile young lady you think its the very definition of wrong. When you see the same thing when you’re in your mid-30s you think “Yes! There is hope for the future after all!”

  75. 75
    Marcello Carlin on 11 Apr 2008 #

    No, I just think of Gary Glitter.

  76. 76
    Erithian on 11 Apr 2008 #

    MC/Tom (#67-68) – did I actually say that the shark-jump came with the number one in question? I think it was round about the time he rhymed “Buenos Aires” with “what the fare is”!

  77. 77
    crag on 11 Apr 2008 #

    By “young lady” i meant “girl in her 20’s” not “school girl”…

  78. 78
    LondonLee on 11 Apr 2008 #

    I can’t believe you all like ‘Tonight’s The Night’ – “Loosen up that pretty French gown” “Spread your wings and let me come inside” and all that is like bad soft porn. You want to rush in to the song and tell the poor virgin girl to get the hell out of there.

    Teddy Pendergrass could probably get away with it but Rod just sounds like a nasty old lech.

  79. 79
    Marcello Carlin on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Not all of us, Lee.

  80. 80
    SteveM on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Rod has obviously been atoning for Maggie May all these years with his lusting after girls young enough to be his daughter.

  81. 81
    Tim on 11 Apr 2008 #


    Chas and Dave and Tottenham Hotspur!
    Status Quo and Manchester United!
    Fat Boys and the Beach Boys?

  82. 82
    Brian on 11 Apr 2008 #

    I love this song and ” Atlantic Crossing “.

    At the time of it’s release on vinyl it had all the slow songs ( ballads ) on one side and all the fast songs ( mostly rock ) on the other. I always saw that as a representation of USA – UK.

    If you are ever taking a plane somewhere, make sure this is on your ipod at take off.

  83. 83
    Chris Brown on 11 Apr 2008 #

    @82 – Well, you’re not allowed to use a iPod at takeoff. Which is probably quite a good reason to have that album on it IMO!
    I don’t really grasp the idea of putting fast songs on one side and slow ones in the other – doesn’t it just make the record sound more boring than it is? Mind you, the most recent act to do that were Counting Crows so that problem would hardly arise…

    The Pipes And Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards?

  84. 84
    Billy Smart on 11 Apr 2008 #

    The first Mary Jane Girls album has a slow and an uptempo side – clearly designed to be listened to by couples, who would improvise their actions around the music.

  85. 85
    Brian on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Chris @ 83 : Back in the day it was equivalent of a ” chill ” CD . And you’d party to other side. I believe there are still
    CD’s like this today.

  86. 86
    crag on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Of course one of Rod’s contemporaries that we will be discussing very shortly released two albums in ’77 that were state of the art in terms of one side being uptempo and the other being “chill out”…

  87. 87
    Billy Smart on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Indeed, combining posts 84 and 86, I can remember watching an interview with Marc Almond, where he talked about experiencing his sexual awakening choreographed to the movements of ‘Low’.

  88. 88
    Snif on 13 Apr 2008 #

    Fun Boy Three and Bananarama

  89. 89
    wwolfe on 15 Apr 2008 #

    In answer to your question as to why rock produced anthems in a way and to a degree unlike any other genre, I think it’s because it was treated as a quasi-religion in a way and to a degree that was unlike any other genre. Having grown up during the 1970s, my sense is that this approach to rock probably peaked during the first half of that decade.

  90. 90
    Chris Brown on 16 Apr 2008 #

    Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip?

    Two Men, A Drum Machine And Trumpet?

  91. 91
    swanstep on 23 Apr 2010 #

    Tom’s score for this track is, in my view, way too low. This is a better than average #1 in any year. In general, I think Popular has a blind-spot with respect to (hence is maximally unreliable about) slow anthems.

    I think people may be under some illusion about how easy it is write and convincingly perform – generally pull off – a Sailing or a Mull of Kintyre or a Hey Jude (or even an I’d like to Teach the world to sing). The simple truth is that it’s blimin’ hard to make such things. To see this, just think of all the horrible World Cup Football tunes there have been – think of the atrocities that the 2010 WC *will* bring. In all those cases, some song-writers and performers would have died and gone to heaven if they’d been able to come up with something as simple and graceful as S or MofK or HJ. If it was easy to come up with something that good they would have, but it’s very far from easy, so they didn’t. Normally they don’t even get close.

    I haven’t found the comments on this song to be particularly illuminating – blind-spot! – and, quite strikingly to me at least, there’s been little if any attempt made to answer Tom’s question about what chords this song was striking when it was released? I’ll do a little to fill that gap in a moment. Of course, on one level, I reject Tom’s presumption that some *special*, contextual explanation for S’s success is needed. No, Sailing would be a massive hit tomorrow, say if it were appearing for the first time as the 2010 England WC song. But set that point aside for the sake of the argument

    Basically, I see S as twinned with John Denver’s Jacques Cousteau theme ‘Calypso’. Calypso was #1 in the US at the same time as S was #1 in the UK. Bizarrely, S did nothing in the US and C did nothing in the UK, but both were top-5 in NZ in December 1975.

    At any rate, I see both these songs as part of a much larger trend towards pop expressions of the eco-/nature-consciousness that had begun near the end of the 1960s, but that would reach a peak in the mid ’70s with ‘oil crisis’ and the first big wave of environmental regulations and clean-up. (All of that went on the back-burner with the inflationary recessions of the late ’70s and the final risky flaring up phase of the cold war and the rise of Islamism starting in 1979.) Balancing out all the dire warnings of apocalyptic, ecological collapse and over-population in fiction and film of the mid ’70s, were a range of nature documentaries with Cousteau’s pre-eminent and back to nature imagery was kind of the rage – ften as subtext in tings about hang-gliding and the like as I vaguely recall. The use of S in the show Sailor, certainly as seen through a (still later) Falklands filter risks missing the ‘communing with nature’ aspect of Sailing that was originally *very* important. 1975 was the year of the Tommy film – which in its weird way is all about reconnecting with nature and leaving civilization behind – and even the mega-hit film that year, Jaws, had a big nature component to it. Of course the great predecessor for both Calypso and S is Neil Diamond’s soundtrack to the 1973 film of the bird/pop philosophy novel that was inflicted on every primary school kid at the time, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, e.g., here (especially) and here.

    Anyhow, although I may have got it out a little inelegantly, this is the central cultural movement into which Sailing plugged. As for S itself: it’s very pretty, and that little respite near the end, breaking down into flutish choral bits before the strings and guitar come back in is fantastic:
    7 (or at least 6 – but I’d say Mull of Kintyre is at least a 5 and probably a 6!)

  92. 92
    punctum on 23 Apr 2010 #

    I addressed his question at least in part in my original post but should have added that the song also became very popular as the template for a series of football chants. The Sutherland Brothers original, which was certainly closer in spirit, arrangement and performance, to the environmental ideals you’re talking about, didn’t do any commercial business but in tandem with “I’m Not In Love,” “Space Oddity” and “Bo Rap” it’s probable that UK 1975 audiences simply had a predilection at the time for epics, the Big Gesture.

  93. 93
    thefatgit on 23 Apr 2010 #

    Funny how the most laddish of the lads is lambasted for growing old (dis)gracefully. Rod’s played to type almost all of his adult life. He’s fabulously wealthy, been with some of the most beautiful women in the world and probably snorted most of Colombia up his nose. He’s lived to tell the tale. How beastly of him!

    Having said that, it’s not easy to like the guy. I enjoyed “Sailing” when it first came around. The 9 year-old me felt it was about adventure and exploration and that sense of achievement on returning home successfully. Little wonder Swanstep compares “Sailing” to John Denver’s Jacques Cousteau theme. I’m still not old enough to answer Tom’s question, but there was a trend towards the anthemic “lighters in the air” song around this time. I could still listen to it now, but there’s little else of Rod’s that would persuade me to part with my cash for it. “Maggie May” maybe.

  94. 94
    swanstep on 23 Apr 2010 #

    Thanks to punctum and thefatgit for feedback on my slightly grumpy note! Thinking things over a little more, even though I believe that there’s *always* room in the charts for a stonking, building ballad with a bit of finesse, I guess I am prepared to believe that there really was a ‘lighters in the air’/taste for the epic moment in 1975. The full stadium rock show circuit had finally crystallized technologiclly and institutionally at that point perhaps (Punctum said something like this above I think), and, as well as the tunes that have been discussed, 1975 was the year of Born to Run. As a primary school kid at the time I don’t remember hearing that until a little later, but when I did hear it, I remember thinking that Bruce’s magnificent whooping at the end of that track resembled the yodelly stuff on John Denver’s Calypso. And when Bruce whooped again at the end of the ’80s on Tunnel of Love it sounded even more like John Denver to my ears! Anyhow, back to Rod. S.. I agree he’s easy to hate (isn’t there a scene in a Pistols video where they pretend to shoot Stewart? e.g., ‘Rod at 2 o’clock! Fire.’), but Sailing is a good ‘un I reckon, and really well instrumented and arranged. I just listened to the Sutherlands & Quiver original version for the first time, and, yep, Stewart’s version has got all the trimmings and tinsel that money can buy by comparison. I don’t know whether Stewart himself can take any of the credit for the arrangement and production, but someone did really fine work there.

  95. 95
    thefatgit on 23 Apr 2010 #

    We’re not a million miles away from those Irish lads who trawled the MOR songbook for ballads with a “bit of finesse”. Plenty of fuel for the fire there, but of course we mustn’t wake bunny.

  96. 96
    Billy Smart on 23 Apr 2010 #

    And, oddly, we’ll be discussing them via their anomalous fast songs…

  97. 97
    lonepilgrim on 9 Nov 2019 #

    What strikes me listening to this having recently sat through its immediate predecessors at number 1 is that the quality of production is so much richer than those singles (with the exception of the Stylistics with which it shares a similar use of strings and syncopated rhythm section). If you encountered it of the first time more recently that would probably not be so apparent. It’s a little bit similar to how the first Star Wars movie exploited the full potential of the cinema sound system to boost a pretty generic tale. At the time it seemed extraordinary and I like so many others rushed back to experience it more than once. If you were to watch Star Wars on DVD now you might (well) wonder what all the fuss was about.
    The rich production values here are drizzled over a simple, anthemic tune which allows Rod to apply his familiar vulnerable cracked vocals as a human garnish to the whole confection

  98. 98
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    Just feels a tad drab to me. 4/10 for Rod.

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