6
Jun 08

ROD STEWART – “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”/”The First Cut Is The Deepest”

FT + Popular43 comments • 5,260 views

#405, 21st May 1977

Rod at bay: both cuts of this double-A side find Stewart on the defensive, licking wounds inflicted in failed relationships. The subdued, pretty, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” is much the more effective (even if its clumsy heart-heart rhyme grates), rambling effectively and reminding you that the lothario is at his most dangerous when cornered. It hardly sounds like a No.1, and would work better without the guitar solo or that odd tacked-on key change, but it’s grown on me and I could take another helping or three of that gentle acoustic picking.

“First Cut Is The Deepest” doesn’t work nearly so well. It relies on you buying Rod as a bruised ingénue on the rebound, which is tough going on impossible. The problem with Rod is always one of credibility – right from the start of his career he wrote himself into his songs so indelibly that I’m always prodding his tracks for believability in a way I’d never do for most of his peers. “First Cut” sounds weatherbeaten and cynical, rather than freshly hurt, and it doesn’t help that it’s such a middleweight plod of a song.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Brian on 6 Jun 2008 #

    “I’m always prodding his tracks for believability in a way I’d never do for most of his peers…”

    Should be noted that Rod didn’t write either of these tracks – so don’t look too deep. He could , however, sell them.

  2. 2
    Tom on 6 Jun 2008 #

    Yes, I mean believability of performance. There’s nothing especially unbelievable about either of the songs per se!

  3. 3
    vinylscot on 6 Jun 2008 #

    Both of these songs sound like they’re being sung by someone who is really pi**ed off!

    I don’t mean pi**ed off because of the sad stories they tell but pi**ed off because he sounds like he really can’t be bothered singing them. Was this Rod trying to portray himself as a lounge singer, or something?

    Both terrible – I thought that in 1977 and still think so now.

  4. 4
    Mark G on 6 Jun 2008 #

    wot, now? I’m just off home!

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2008 #

    First Cut Is The Deepest was very much the A-side as far as Radio 1 were concerned – which explains why I Don’t Want To Talk About It sounds like such an unlikely no.1.

    To give Rod and the song its due, I’d always thought of it as coming from a broken-hearted heartbreaker whose met his match. It was written by Cat Stevens at a time when he was a notorious party-fiend, and first charted when PP Arnold sang it with red-blooded vigour in ’67. None sound like wallflowers.

    The very pretty guitar line at the end of the chorus is unique to his version. But 5 seems about right.

  6. 6
    rosie on 6 Jun 2008 #

    I don’t remember I Don’t Want To Talk About It and I didn’t realise this was supposed to be a double A-side. I do remember The First Cut Is The Deepest and my view then as now was that it was an insulting, pale imitation of PP Arnold’s classic. There’s no trace of the days when Rod was raw and exciting. He’s just become smug by this time.

  7. 7
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2008 #

    Re 3. I heard a story that they were sitting in the studio trying to work out what songs they’d like to record (meter presumably ticking) and decided on First Cut… Only problem was that Rod couldn’t remember the words and someone had to play him PP’s version down the phone, which may explain how the lyric is slightly different.

    This could be viewed as spontaneity. Or as someone who’s f**ked off and lazy. I’m one of the few people I know who’ll let Rod off more often than not so I’ll go for the former.

    And, if you think this is poor, don’t forget some of his singles around this time were far worse: scarf-waving (You’re In My Heart) and/or drool-soaked (Tonight’s The Night, Hot Legs) horrors.

    Tom – do you not find Maggie May or You Wear It Well believable? No matter what tripe he may have served up since, when it comes to story-telling in pop I rate early Rod very highly indeed.

  8. 8
    DJ Punctum on 6 Jun 2008 #

    As the blood of punk flowed with speed and purpose into the hitherto dessicated pop of 1977, there at number one for a month was Rod Stewart, getting old, feeling older, sitting in the corner of some Valium-strewn living room, wondering what the fuck happened, and why. I don’t know whether there was a deliberate concept to the double A-side; most likely it was merely another cynical attempt by WEA to flog a few more albums, since “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” came from the two-year-old Atlantic Crossing, and “The First Cut Is The Deepest” from the one-year-old A Night On The Town, an argument for punk in itself. But the coupling conveys a nearly stark air of bewildered finality. The careful acoustic guitars and string backdrops could have come out of a Rick Rubin session; for once, Rod looks beyond his own head and dick, and simultaneously further into himself. This isn’t to say that it’s a particularly good single, or one which should be revisited even once – simply that there’s a darkness caught here which we do not get in any of his other number ones.

    That having been said, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” is an etiolated travesty; the Crazy Horse original is a deliberate shambles, Danny Whitten’s voice crumbling and shaking the lyric out of a throat about to be throttled by life-ending blood; when he croaks “If I stay here just a little bit longer…/Won’t you listen to my heart?” you genuinely think that he’s dying and that you need to hang around just to check that he’s still alive at the end of the song (and he didn’t live much beyond the record’s completion). But uptown downtempo Rod the Sod sings it to a housewife staring at the dressing table mirror, her back to him (“And the stars in the sky/Don’t mean nothing to you/They’re a mirror”). Whitten gives us a heart which is barely being held together by psychotic fragments of string (“Blue for the tears/Black for the night’s fears”). After Stewart has stated his case, all he can do is sit and wait as the strings come predictably in and the key changes equally predictably. The end hangs in the air like her question mark (following Stewart’s exhausted sigh of “Oh, my heart,” searching the bedroom cabinet for the stray packet of Clopidogrel), but we are not really invited to give a damn.

    The Cat Stevens cover – the only British number one single to involve Stevens, who in 1977 was about to embark on his second career – seems equally to miss the point. The theme is taken up immediately from “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” – “I would have given you all of my heart” – and we see the now alone Stewart, casting around his forgotten soul for the ability to surrender once more (“But if you want, I’ll try to love again”). The song is supposed to depict a raging internal battle within the devastated protagonist – forget the hurt, come to terms with it and move on to something, and someone, potentially far better – and PP Arnold’s 1967 reading certainly emphasises the desperate, near schizophrenic state of mind which is being described; she clings onto the word “try” like a bisected war casualty clinging onto the edge of a narrow, disintegrating cliff. But Rod doesn’t want to seem to be bothered; he is so tired he cannot produce anything beyond a lethargic, doleful moan. The arrangement doesn’t lend anything to the song and takes quite a lot of its spirit away – the harp glissando leading to the second chorus is ridiculously out of place, and the “Whoo!” which Stewart exhales before the final chorus makes you wonder whether he’s even listened to what he’s singing. Fittingly, the record does not climax, but instead limps gloomily and uneventfully into nothingness. Make do and mend. 1977.

    And then the sky, and the charts, split open.

  9. 9
    Dan R on 6 Jun 2008 #

    Cat Stevens had will come close to bothering us twice more but I suspect even mention of future #2s would set some long floppy ears a-twitching so I will lay off. I believe Matthew and Son got to #2 in the late sixties, though I could be wrong about that.

    I agree that these are rather pointless recordings. The rawness of PP Arnold’s version must still have been fairly fresh in people’s memories, especially those who had once believed in Rod the Mod, so this does seem doubly insulting.

    I have a sneaking liking for its counterpart because of its appearance in a minor 1998 Royal Court play, Real Classy Affair, written by Nick Grosso. The play leant heavily on the activities of four London lads and much of it was spent in the pub discussing, in occasionally rhymed speech, music, fatherhood, and women. One of them nips off to put money in the jukebox and comes back to announce he’s chosen ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’. As the song starts, the four lads stop talking and sit listening to the song. remarkably, the Court had installed a manual revolve, so as the song started the four men and their pub table, slowly and sedately rotated, and we watched them listen to the entire song. It’s rather absorbing, I discovered, watching people listen to music, and it’s rare you have such freedom. In this instance, minute ironies abounded: the four men choosing not to talk about it but to listen, their sneaking occasional looks to one another suggested depths of unspoken feeling and doubt, and the comparative lushness of the music and orchestration contrasted vividly with the poverty of their choices and the attenuation of their lives.

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 6 Jun 2008 #

    No, you’re right – “M&S” reached second place in early ’67, behind “I’m A Believer.” It would have been nice for Cat/Yusuf to have had a number one as a performer, I must say.

  11. 11
    Chris Brown on 6 Jun 2008 #

    I think ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ is one of the most overrated songs in pop, but I’d agree that Rod’s version isn’t the best. Or the worst, for that matter.
    The other side I like more, although the fact that I’ve heard it at all may reflect the success of the later version more than any attention it got at the time. Of course it was an old track by then anyway, having appeared on Atlantic Crossing almost two years earlier.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 6 Jun 2008 #

    Number 2 watch: In addition to the notorious one, there was also an uncontentious week of ‘Ain’t Gonna Bump No More With No Big Fat Woman’ by Joe Tex. Hm, now you see I think that that might count as a Guilty Pleasure… in that I simultaneously think that it’s terrific fun and also a bit demeaning.

  13. 13
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2008 #

    Re 8: DJP, I take my hat off.

  14. 14
    Waldo on 7 Jun 2008 #

    Right. This means war, of course. Since it is clear that just about all of us will be making the same angry point about this record (or more properly, the one “below” it), I am just going to publish my own thoughts (clearly recalled from back in the day) as I originally drafted them, mindful of the fact that I shall be replicating those of several of you who feel exactly the same way. For it was nothing short of an outrage. So here we go…

    Actually no, I DON’T want to talk about it because this routine and rather uninspiring double-A was at the forefront of the most unconscionable subterfuge involving the government of the day and a slaveringly servile and completely bias BBC (funny how things don’t change much). Not Rod’s fault, of course, but his disc was beyond any reasoned debate out-soled clearly by the Pistols’ admittedly less than deferential salutation to Brenda in the precise week of Her Maj’s 25th wotsit. This alternative National Anthem was deliberately frozen out by being kept in second place behind Stewart and a disaster of seismic proportions was averted in Hazelmere. I was fucking spitting blood back in the day, as the corruption was so blatantly transparent, and democracy (a ballot being cast in the form of the purchase of a record) had not so much been abused as totally ignored. Fast forward to today and I feel much the same way, as I believe, in my stupidity, that fair play is an intrinsic British value and that cheating at games, arguing with umpires and lying about elections are only things that swarthy foreigners do. And then I look at our Establishment today and I wonder who the hell I’m trying to kid.

    Apologies and love to Rod the Mod, btw, whom we have not seen the last of by a long chalk. Blameless, obviously. Good man, Rod. Sometimes.

  15. 15
    richard thompson on 7 Jun 2008 #

    Rod seemed more exciting in the Faces, this record was much played by Noel Edmonds, most number ones were at the time, he never played the Pistols of course.

  16. 16
    Martin Skidmore on 7 Jun 2008 #

    I remember them both about equally, so I’m surprised people are saying that First Cut Is The Deepest got all the airplay. I’m with Chris on that song being overrated – I have a couple of other versions, and it always seemed a slightly inelegant, forced song.

  17. 17
    Mark M on 7 Jun 2008 #

    If Rod changed a couple of the words of First Cut, then the Norma Fraser version (on Soul Jazz’s Studio One Soul) changes big chunks of the chorus (and is excellent) – but that’s fairly common for Jamaican covers. Going back to Rod, I don’t mind either side of this single at all – although that’s on the provision I never have to watch the footage of late 70s Rod singing them… Not having been around at the time, the whole Sex Pistols number one fuss has no bearing on how I feel about this record.

  18. 18
    LondonLee on 7 Jun 2008 #

    Britt Ekland-era Rod isn’t very good (though it was to get worse) but my Mum loved it. The shot of him on cover of the ‘Night On The Town’ album just makes you want to punch him in the face, it’s like Bryan Ferry’s ‘Another Time Another Place’ cover but without an ounce of wit or style – just a rich rock star looking like a prat in a boater and blazer. He’s the George Best of rock music, great talent brought low by a fondness for blonds and the ‘high life’

    Having said that I pretty much like any version of ‘First Cut..’ – even Rod’s I can take.

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 8 Jun 2008 #

    ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ has always come across as a tasteful plod to me, in both the Rod and Everything But The Girl versions. However, I do always end up singing along, so I’m pleased to find out that there’s an original out there somewhere motivated by a sense of intense and necessary emotion.

  20. 20
    Chris Brown on 8 Jun 2008 #

    In case anybody missed it, Dale played ‘I Don’t Want to…’ today. I’m not sure it was quite as good as I remembered it.

  21. 21
    mike on 9 Jun 2008 #

    Everything But The Girl’s cover of “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” was, along with Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan”, the first CD single I ever bought. Other than that, I’m claiming Official Chart Blackspot Immunity and shall refrain from further comment on Rod’s effort. Unlike Deniece’s “Free”, some singles aren’t worth the bother of revisiting…

  22. 22
    DJ Punctum on 9 Jun 2008 #

    Dale termed it a “worthy” number one. I think he got “worthy” confused with “worthless.”

  23. 23
    Chris Brown on 9 Jun 2008 #

    Of course, describing a piece of pop music as “worthy” isn’t always a compliment.

  24. 24
    DJ Punctum on 10 Jun 2008 #

    Yeah but usually in those cases the “worthy” gets prefixed by “dull and…”

  25. 25
    Erithian on 10 Jun 2008 #

    As long as the “worthy” isn’t prefixed by “cringe”.

    Lee – the cover of “A Night on the Town” may well make him look punchable, but was a witty adaptation of a Renoir painting (someone can no doubt give me the title). The idea of inserting the artist into a famous painting was then taken up for Bow Wow Wow’s “See Jungle” album at the instigation of… Malcolm McLaren. Aha – another thread in the conspiracy theory.

    I must admit to having liked both these sides. Good soulful Rod with the warmth in his voice and selling the song. It’s a different style of performance of “First Cut” from PP Arnold’s, but they both put the message across effectively with their instruments of choice. Not a lot more to say.

  26. 26
    Erithian on 10 Jun 2008 #

    Incidentally, it was while Rod was number one with this that we had a little bit of anarchy in the UK – or at least Wembley – when Scotland beat England 2-1 on 4 June and the Tartan Army staged their famous pitch invasion, breaking one of the crossbars. Whether Rod was involved is debatable, but he did claim to have a piece of Wembley turf in his possession in later years. (Any comment on this from our Caledonian friends??)

  27. 27
    DJ Punctum on 10 Jun 2008 #

    IT WISNAE ME

    (of course, one year later Rod would record his not unrelated masterpiece)

  28. 28
    LondonLee on 10 Jun 2008 #

    Re: #25

    I always considered the Renoir pastiche to be the back cover and the boater ‘n’ blazer portrait was the front. I could be wrong though.

  29. 29
    Erithian on 11 Jun 2008 #

    Lee – you’re more likely right though. Maybe I just spent more time looking at the back than the front.

  30. 30
    rosie on 12 Jun 2008 #

    Passing the memorial to Emlyn Hughes, Barrow’s second-favourite sporting son, this morning I was reminded that during the uncontentious part of Rod’s reign and just two-and-a-half months after my father’s death, Dad’s beloved Liverpool FC won the European Cup at last. Although I don’t believe, and never have believed in such things I liked to think as I watched the match that Dad was cheering on the ‘Pool on from the great terrace in the sky. Of course, they kept on winning it after that, year after year (except for the years when Nottingham Forest or Aston Villa won it.)

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