10
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.

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Comments

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 34
    mike on 10 Apr 2008 #

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

  5. 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

  6. 36
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

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

  7. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

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

  8. 38
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Donny and Marie Osmond.

  9. 39
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Dexys Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express.

    Kinda.

  10. 40
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

  11. 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?

  12. 42
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    # 28 – How about Udo Jurgens and Five Star?

  13. 43
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Queen and Paul Rodgers, of course.

  14. 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

  15. 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?

  16. 46
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    George Michael and Mr Bloe?

  17. 47
    Tom on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Would Sam and Mark count?

  18. 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

    Gloria!

  19. 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.

  20. 50
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

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

  21. 51
    rosie on 10 Apr 2008 #

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

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 54
    Waldo on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Bunny warning for Mike!!

  25. 55

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

  26. 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)

  27. 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.

  28. 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.)

  29. 59
    Tim on 10 Apr 2008 #

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

  30. 60
    Chris Brown on 10 Apr 2008 #

    Do Edie Brickell And The New Bohemians count?

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