Every Picture Tells a Story (song)

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"Every Picture Tells a Story"
Single by Rod Stewart
from the album Every Picture Tells a Story
B-side Reason to Believe
Released 1971
Genre Rock, hard rock[1]
Length 5:59
Label Mercury
Writer(s) Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood
Producer(s) Rod Stewart
Every Picture Tells a Story track listing
"Every Picture Tells a Story"
(1)
"Seems Like a Long Time"
(2)

"Every Picture Tells a Story" is a song written by Rod Stewart and Ron Wood and initially released as the title track of Stewart's 1971 album Every Picture Tells a Story. It has since been released on numerous Stewart compilation and live albums, including The Best of Rod Stewart, Storyteller – The Complete Anthology: 1964–1990 and Unplugged...and Seated.[2] It was released as a single in Spain, backed with "Reason to Believe." It has also been covered by The Georgia Satellites on their 1986 album Georgia Satellites and by Robin McAuley on Forever Mod: A Tribute to Rod Stewart.[3][4] In the Rolling Stone Album Guide, critic Paul Evans described "Every Picture Tells a Story" and "Maggie May," another song off the Every Picture Tells a Story album, as Rod Stewart's and Ron Wood's "finest hour—happy lads wearing their hearts on their sleeves."[5] Music critic Greil Marcus regards the song as "Rod Stewart's greatest performance."[6]

The lyrics of "Every Picture Tells a Story" tell a first person narrative of the singer finding adventures with women all over the world but eventually returning home after having learned some moral lessons.[2][7] Locations of his adventures include Paris, Rome and Peking. Allmusic critic Denise Sullivan commented that lyrics are racist and sexist (e.g., describing an Asian woman as a "slit-eyed lady"), and that the song "is a real nugget from a brief period in time when rock singers didn't worry about what it meant to be rude -- in fact, the ruder and cruder, the better."[2]

However, a live version of the song performed by Stewart in 1992, 21 years after the original album version was released, skips a complete verse containing some particularly unkind and crude references to women, as well as a self-deprecating reference: "I firmly believed that I/Didn't need anyone but me/I sincerely felt I was so complete/Look how wrong you can be/The women I've known I wouldn't let tie my shoe/They wouldn't give you the time of day/But the slit-eyed lady knocked me off my feet/God I was so glad I found her".[8]

Allmusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised the song as "devilishly witty."[9] The lyrics begin with a reference to the theme of self-discovery:[10]

Spent some time feeling inferior
Standing in front of my mirror
Combed my hair in a thousand ways
Came out looking just the same

The song's lyrics are entirely free-form in that they do not follow any consistent rhythmic meter and read almost like prose. Rhyme too is nearly non-existent, and only appears occasionally and randomly, almost as an afterthought, within individual lines as opposed to between them, generally sounding forced and unnatural ("On the Peking ferry I was feeling merry", "Shanghai Lil never used the pill"). There are somewhat more near-rhymes between lines (inferior/mirror, ways/same, stampede/tea, funk/luck, attraction/sanction), but these too are random and occasional. The lyrics even exhibit occasional elements of subtle vowel alliteration ("I firmly believed that I didn't need anyone but me"). Stewart's confident performance, however, renders these shortcomings of rhyme and rhythm unnoticeable to the listener; the song sounds like it does have lyrical rhyme and rhythm.

The song's music incorporates many elements. Toby Creswell describes the opening guitar theme as reflective and melancholy.[10] As the guitar opening fades, the drums played by Micky Waller crash primitively before Stewart begins to sing.[9][10] In his review of the album in Rolling Stone Magazine, John Mendelsohn noted that this song "does rock with ferocity via a simple but effective seven-note ascension/five-note descension riff that Waller cleverly punctuates with a halved-time bass-drum-against-snare lick."[7] The rhythm is loose throughout most of the song, although it tightens in the coda.[6] Stewart biographers Tim Ewbank and Stafford Hildred describe the music as "as mess - unbalanced and shoddily thrown together," although the "vocals pull the song out of trouble."[11] Despite being a hard rock song, the song primarily uses acoustic instruments, although guitarist Ron Wood does use an electric guitar occasionally.[2] Pete Sears played the acoustic piano. Greil Marcus also praises the acoustic guitar parts that are played after each verse and the drum roll after the first verse.[6] According to Stewart, he found the mandolin and violin players for this song and for "Maggie May" in a restaurant in London.[11] Maggie Bell and Long John Baldry provide energetic harmony vocals, including the line "She claimed that it just ain't natural" in response to Stewart's line "Shanghai Lil never used the pill."[2][6][11] Allmusic's Sullivan describes the song as "just plain visceral -- so much so that [it is] better heard than described" and that it represents six minutes of "defining rock & roll."[2]

"Every Picture Tells a Story" was used in the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous in a scene where the band listens to the song as they ride away in a bus.[2][12] It was also included on the soundtrack of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned. The song was also referenced in Jayne Anne Phillips' short story "What It Takes to Keep a Young Girl Alive."[6] While the story's character Sue is lying in bed in the dark "Rod Stewart, scratchy and loud, combed his hair in a thousand different ways and came out looking just the same."[6] Greil Marcus uses the reference to the song in "What It Takes to Keep a Young Girl Alive" to muse on what makes a good record and why "Every Picture Tells a Story" is a good record, i.e., a good record is one that "entering a person's life, can enable that person to live more intensely—as, whatever else it does, 'Every Picture Tells a Story' does for Jayne Anne Phillips' Sue."[6]

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Top Hard Rock Songs". Allmusic. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sullivan, D. "Every Picture Tells a Story". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-08-11. 
  3. ^ Ruhlmann, W. "Georgia Satellites". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-08-11. 
  4. ^ Huey, S. "Forever Mod: A Tribute to Rod Stewart". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-08-11. 
  5. ^ Evans, P. (2004). "Rod Stewart". In Brackett, N. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Fireside. p. 782. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Marcus, G. (1999). In the fascist bathroom: punk in pop music, 1977-1992. Harvard University Press. pp. 275–277. ISBN 978-0-674-44577-2. 
  7. ^ a b Mendelsohn, J. (July 8, 1971). "Every Picture Tells a Story Review". Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved 2011-08-15. 
  8. ^ "Rod Stewart Vagabond Heart Tour, Live in Los Angeles 1992.". YouTube. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Erlewine, S.T.. "Every Picture Tells a Story". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-08-12. 
  10. ^ a b c Creswell, T. (2005). 1001 Songs. Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 856–857. ISBN 978-1-56025-915-2. 
  11. ^ a b c Ewbank, T. & Hildred, S. (2005). Rod Stewart: The New Biography. Citadel Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-8065-2644-7. 
  12. ^ Hornby, N. (2003). "Mama You Been on My Mind". Songbook. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-57322-356-0. 

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