Rod Stewart's 20 greatest songs, ranked

27 October 2023, 12:18

Rod Stewart is one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Rod Stewart is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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Sir Rod Stewart has one of the singular, distinctive voices in rock music.

His powerful, raspy vocals made him immediately definable - whenever he got behind the microphone, you knew it was Rod.

Complete with his feathery mullet haircut - which he's kept for the duration of his career in varying degrees of extremity - and cheeky behaviour, Stewart became one of the most iconic figures in rock music history.

From his 'Rod The Mod' days singing with the Jeff Beck Group and Python Lee Jackson, through to his breakthrough fame with the Faces, Rod's pathway to worldwide success as a solo star was paved with his singing talent and personality.

But he also has a timeless body of work to show for it - the evidence is in selling over 120 million records worldwide in a career spanning seven decades.

Rod's second UK number one album, 1972's Never A Dull Moment, succinctly described his colourful career.

His rock 'n' roll lifestyle was littered with glamorous girlfriends, drug-addled anecdotes, and a superb soundtrack to boot. Never a dull moment indeed.

That said, here's the very best twenty songs that make up Rod Stewart's illustrious legacy in music, ranked:

  1. 'I Don’t Want To Talk About It'

    Rod Stewart - I Don't Want To Talk About It (Official Video)

    Written and originally recorded by Crazy Horse - best known as Neil Young's backing band - Rod took 'I Don't Want To Talk About It' under his wing in 1975.

    Rod's version was released on his album Atlantic Crossing, and only released it as a single (a double-A-side with 'The First Cut Is The Deepest') because he heard fans singing along with him at concerts.

    It eventually reached number one in the UK charts in 1976, though the achievement has been disputed since.

    Since the BBC manipulated the charts to stop the Sex Pistols' 'God Save The Queen' from reaching number one, Rod was seemingly the beneficiary.

  2. 'Downtown Train'

    Rod Stewart - Downtown Train (Official Video)

    'Downtown Train' was written and recorded by Tom Waits, appearing on his lauded 1985 album Rain Dogs, and became his only charting song on the US Billboard Hot 100 because of Rod.

    Covering the track in 1989, Rod's polished, Trevor Horn-produced version went to number three in the US and number ten in the UK.

    Rod told The Guardian in 2013: "I realised there was a melody there in the chorus, and it's beautiful, but he [Tom] barely gets up and barely gets down to the lower notes, so I took it to the extreme. That was a case where I brought the chorus alive."

    Maybe Stewart just took on the song because of his love of model trains...

  3. 'This Old Heart of Mine'

    This Old Heart of Mine (2009 Remaster)

    This 1966 Isley Brothers' hit proved to be another successful cover for Rod in 1975 which reached number four in the UK.

    A major fan of the band and Motown, his dream came true in 1989 however, when he re-recorded 'This Old Heart Of Mine' alongside his idol Ronald Isley, which propelled the song to the top ten of the US charts.

  4. 'Handbags and Gladrags'

    Handbags & Gladrags

    Manfred Mann vocalist Mike D'Abo wrote 'Handbags and Gladrags' in 1967, a song that mocks superficiality, though it was first recorded by Chris Farlowe that same year.

    Rod got his hands on the song in 1969, which is now largely considered to be the definitive version, despite D'Abo recording it himself in 1970.

    Featuring on Rod's album, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down, he begged D'Abo to record it first but as an unknown artist at the time, the song was sent elsewhere.

    Once he broke through however, 'Handbags and Gladrags' reached No.42 in the UK charts, again was on the end of a resurgence after being used as the theme for Ricky Gervais' sitcom The Office, which led The Stereophonics to cover it in 2002.

  5. 'In A Broken Dream' (w/ Python Lee Jackson)

    1972 Python Lee Jackson - In A Broken Dream (Rod Stewart, vocal)

    Python Lee Jackson were looking for a vocalist after relocating to London in 1969, and crossed paths with budding singer Rod Stewart.

    Paid with carpets for his car rather than actual cash, 'In A Broken Dream' with Rod guesting was released in 1970.

    Rod recalled that his car salesman/music manager mate convinced him to do it, saying: "'What do I get?' He said, 'Well, I don't have any money. I'll give you a set of carpets.' That was 1969."

    The Australian band re-released the single in 1972 to coincide with Stewart's newfound fame, and reached number three in the UK charts.

  6. 'You're In My Heart'

    Rod Stewart - You're In My Heart (The Final Acclaim) [HD Remaster] (Official Video)

    Reported written about his then-girlfriend Britt Ekland, 'You're In My Heart' appeared on his 1977 album Foot Loose and Fancy Free, and went to number three in the UK chart.

    Foot loose and fancy-free he was, so much so, that his relationship with Britt ended acrimoniously after he was pictured stepping out of a nightclub with actress Liz Treadwell, after supposedly committing to settling down with Ekland.

    She later sued Stewart for $12.5 million, claiming she'd influenced the album and therefore deserved compensation.

    Rod kept tight-lipped, saying: "The songs came first. I didn't actually think, 'Well, I'll put it in the songs and hope she hears them and knows what I mean.' But it's ironic that the album title and the songs came out as they did."

  7. 'Reason To Believe'

    Reason to Believe (Live Unplugged Version) (2008 Remaster)

    Rod covered the influential Tim Hardin's single 'Reason To Believe' in 1971, though it was overshadowed by a certain B-side about a girl named Maggie...

    It wasn't until he performed the song during his 1993 MTV Unplugged special however, that brought it into the spotlight.

    With The Rolling Stones' guitarist and former Faces man Ronnie Wood beside him, it was the first time the pair had performed 'Reason To Believe' in 22 years, and has since been established as a Rod classic.

  8. 'Baby Jane'

    Rod Stewart - Baby Jane (Official Video)

    Rod's final UK number one single saw him embrace a very sultry synth-pop sound, which went down well on both sides of the Atlantic, with its music video receiving plenty of airplay during the MTV era.

    With no relation to the fabled 1962, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford-starring What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the song's origins has more of a functional approach.

    Rod explained: "All I had to do was make the words fit [to the backing track]. Easier said than done. We began laying down the track with a guide vocal, and the very first words that came from my mouth were 'Baby Jane.' Cries of 'Eureka!' were heard from all over the studio."

  9. 'Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright)'

    Rod Stewart - Tonight's The Night

    'Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright)' was Rod at his most unabashedly seductive, which the BBC took umbrage to and banned the song for being too 'sex rock'.

    The lyrics "Spread your wings and let me come inside," was maybe a tad too provocative, which was made more obvious by Rod's then-girlfriend Britt Ekland appearing in the video and even singing vocals on the track.

    In 1995 he explained to Mojo magazine: "I was going out with Britt Ekland. I'd just moved here. So that's twenty years ago. I remember I got her drunk, pissed as a fart to sing that old French bollocks on the end, because she didn't want to do it."

    Asked whether or not she was given royalties for the vocal, Stewart responded: "Bollocks! I bought her a nice frock."

  10. 'The First Cut Is The Deepest'

    Rod Stewart - The First Cut Is The Deepest (Official Video)

    This Cat Stevens classic was undoubtedly brought into the pantheon of pop music by Rod, despite being recorded by Stevens and P.P. Arnold beforehand him.

    Rod reached number one in the UK charts with his cover of 'The First Cut Is The Deepest', and faired well in the US too, peaking just outside of the top twenty.

    Recorded at Muscle Shoals in Alabama with their famous rhythm section, Rod had some convincing to do as nobody heard the song before he mentioned it.

    "Nobody knew how the song went, apart from myself," he wrote in his Anthology liner notes. "So a phone call was made to LA and some madman had to go out and buy it, rush back, and play it on the phone with seen guys crowded 'round the receiver at the other end."

  11. 'Sailing'

    Rod Stewart - Sailing (Official Video)

    A monster hit that dominated radio stations around the world, 'Sailing' is Rod's biggest UK hit by a country mile, given it reached number one on two separate occasions.

    After moving to Los Angeles to avoid new UK tax laws in 1975, and covering the Sutherland Brothers' 1972 song was a touching ode to his home that he missed almost immediately.

    'Sailing' was a turning point in Rod's solo career, finally setting sail from his association with the Faces and pursuing music on his terms.

    Despite its overly saccharine sentiment and arrangement, the ballad still finishes Rod's concert as an encore to this day.

  12. 'Hot Legs'

    Rod Stewart - Hot Legs (Official Video)

    'Hot Legs' is quintessential Rod Stewart - it's a cheeky, country rock bop that emphasises his passion for, well, women.

    Even Rod himself refers to the song as one of his "dirty, rude, shagging songs," with his typical laddish humour.

    Reaching number five in the UK, 'Hot Legs' also became synonymous with Tina Turner (who had an iconic pair of pins on her) with Rod inviting her on stage to perform it on Saturday Night Live in 1981.

    Most women understandably found the song somewhat lecherous - the music video doubled down on the objectification angle - yet it's remained a firm favourite of Rod's live sets since its 1978 release.

  13. 'Mandolin Wind'

    Mandolin Wind (Live Unplugged) (2008 Remaster)

    Never released as a single, and its subject matter being the polar opposite of Rod's actual life, 'Mandolin Wind' has remained a fan favourite and one of the singer's own personal favourites since its 1971 release.

    "I love this song to death," Rod wrote in his Storyteller compilation. "I believe it to be one of my finest efforts."

    Featuring on Every Picture Tells a Story, 'Mandolin Wind' is the only original song to come from Rod on that album, which is likely why he takes a lot of personal pride in its composition.

    Talking of mandolin, Ray Jackson of the British folk-rock group Lindisfarne performed the instrument on the song, similarly to another major hit of Rod's.

  14. 'Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?'

    Rod Stewart - Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? (Official Video) [HD Remaster]

    This tongue-in-cheek hit leant heavily into the disco sound dominating the charts at the time, and Rod, complete with spandex trousers was having a laugh with it.

    'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?' was released in 1978 from album Blondes Have More Fun, and was a major hit for the husky-voiced singer, topping both the UK and US charts.

    Even though the track was considered to be somewhat of a disco spoof, it still was the subject of a plagiarism case after Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor claimed Rod had lifted the chorus from his song 'Taj Mahal'.

    Of course, Rod denied any wrongdoing but did admit that it was his most divisive song, later saying: "It was frightening, stirring up so much love and hate at the same time: most of the public loved it; all of the critics hated it. I can understand both positions."

  15. 'Forever Young'

    Rod Stewart - Forever Young (Official Video)

    Arguably one of the most genuine, heartfelt and loving songs Rod had ever penned, 1988 hit 'Forever Young' was written about the endless love he had for his children.

    "I love 'Forever Young,' because that was a real heartfelt song about my kids," he told Mojo magazine in 1995. "I suddenly realised I'd missed a good five years of Sean and Kimberly's life because I was so busy touring all the time."

    "With these kids now I don't make that mistake – I take them on tour with me, so I can watch them grow up."

    It was a top twenty hit in the US, though didn't scratch the surface in the UK, not that Rod particularly cared.

  16. 'Young Turks'

    Rod Stewart - Young Turks (Official Video) [HD Remaster]

    This upbeat thrill ride about youth and young love saw Rod embrace the vitality of the new wave movement in 1981, and scored a huge hit because of it.

    Singing about a young couple living life against the odds, the song is anthemic and upbeat in its sentiment, reiterating that "time is on your side" so it'll work out.

    A "young Turk" is a rebellious teen who goes against the grain, and though he doesn't sing the title, it sums up the song's narrative nicely.

    Rod loves the song's optimism, and it offers him the same effervescence when he performs it live, later saying: "Definitely one of my favourites to sing live, and, if I may say so as a songwriter, the area in which I'm most comfortable."

  17. 'The Killing Of Georgie'

    Rod Stewart - The Killing Of Georgie (Part I & II) (Official Video)

    A heart-wrenching ballad about a man murdered for his sexuality, 'The Killing Of Georgie' is Rod Stewart at his most lyrically poignant.

    The song dealt with homophobia, which was still a taboo topic in mainstream society, so Rod was trailblazing as an artist for perhaps the very first time, and both the public and his fans responded taking to number two in the UK charts after its 1976 release.

    "Everyone around me was gay," he later recalled, "I don't know whether that prompted me into it or not. I think it was a brave step, but it wasn't a risk. You can't write a song like that unless you've experienced it."

    Boy George recently revealed it was a song that he held dearly whilst embracing his own identity during his youth, and got to perform it alongside Rod during his Global Hits tour in 2023.

  18. 'Stay With Me' (with the Faces)

    Rod Stewart and The Faces - Stay with me

    Yes, it's technically one of the Faces' tunes, but if any song personifies Rod Stewart during this era and the risqué rocker he'd transform into, it's this:

    A real rock 'n' roll romp written by Rod and Ronnie Wood, 'Stay With Me' sees the Faces recount step-by-step how to woo a young lady, and established the band as rock provocateurs.

    Not that Americans minded at all, as the track became the Faces' first and biggest hit stateside and on home soil, reaching number six in the UK and the top twenty in the US.

    No wonder Rod still incorporates the song into his concert setlists - who can resist that saucy, sliding guitar riff.

  19. 'You Wear It Well'

    Rod Stewart - You Wear It Well

    A Rod original co-written with Martin Quittenton, 'You Wear It Well' depicts someone bumping into an old flame wearing the dress they'd bought them, and being at ease with it.

    The song's irresistibly folksy, blue-eyed soul sound was a staple of Rod's earlier work, and it certainly worked for him as he slowly became one of the most notorious and sought-after singers of the era.

    He was still an active member of the Faces when 'You Wear It Well' was written, so he hooked Ronnie Wood in to record guitar on the track.

    Whatever magic he laid on the track did the trick, as the song became an international hit for Rod, reaching number one in the UK in 1972.

  20. 'Maggie May'

    Rod Stewart - Maggie May (1971)

    It couldn't be anything else - the iconic mandolin intro, the titular character of Maggie, and the fact it's written about Rod losing his virginity.

    'Maggie May' is undoubtedly Rod Stewart's greatest ever song, and was the breakthrough to him becoming a household in 1971.

    Given his reputation for being a 'ladies' man', he had no qualms about confessing the rite-of-passage encounter was "over in a few seconds".

    Rod himself opened up about the experience in his memoir, Rod: The Autobiography, revealing it took place at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival in 1961:

    "I lost my not-remotely-prized virginity with an older (and larger) woman who'd come on to me very strongly in the beer tent. How much older, I can't tell you - but old enough to be highly disappointed by the brevity of the experience."

    The 'Maggie' in question may've been disappointed, but would no doubt be impressed by their rendezvous inspiring one of the greatest folk-rock songs of all time, which became the starting point for Rod's illustrious legacy as a rock icon.