I won’t whack near any shrubbery here: the worst song ever written, in my fleeting egotistical opinion, is “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart. Why this tune? Why not any selections from the Michael Bolton or Bon Jovi catalogues? Why pick on Rod?
“Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely. Once the most compassionate presence in music, he has become a bilious self-parody … and sells more records than ever.”
— Greil Marcus
Yes, unlike Mikey or Jon-Jon, his Rodness once possessed that magical quality known as “integrity”, and “Tonight’s the Night” represents the almost complete disappearance of it.
Between the years 1968-1973, Rod Stewart participated in nearly a dozen of the loosest, swingingest, sloppiest, drunkest, good time rock and roll albums ever made. Two with the Jeff Beck Group (Truth and Beck-Ola), five with the Faces (First Step, Long Player, A Nod is as Good as a Wink, Ooh La La, and a live one) and four solo (The Rod Stewart Album, Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells a Story, and Never a Dull Moment). Pick up a few, you won’t be sorry.
These records are just bursting with heart and soul and booze and humor and dirt and tears and friendship and love and honesty and spine. Rod and his mates are clearly having a blast, you can hear it in the grooves. And what mates! Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins, Mick Waller, Tony Newman, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, Ian MacLagan, Martin Quittenton … and Rod. All equals. Comrades.
Like many of his peers, Rod Stewart began his career as an interpreter of others’ works, then grew into a fine songsmith himself. Rod wrote or co-wrote a slew of stone classics during this period, including “Gasoline Alley”, “Mandolin Wind”, “Stay With Me”, “True Blue”, “You Wear it Well”, “Bad ‘n’ Ruin”, “That’s all You Need”, “Every Picture Tells a Story”, “Too Bad”, and “Maggie May”, his first #1.
The Faces in concert were like five best buds down at the corner pub playing all your faves on a Saturday night (there’s at least three full live sets posted on youtube.com). They punted soccer balls into the audience. Every song was a sing-a-long. Guitar solos got botched, background vocals went out of tune, strings broke, drumsticks flew, the bassist had a few too many and fell off the stage … they were the greatest. Everyone, band and fans, was there to have a jolly good inebriated bash and that’s what they got.
Then it ended. Superstardom beckoned for Rod but not his friends. He broke up the Faces. He began dating models and jetting with the cocaine set. His mockery of the jaded playboy personality became the real thing, much like Bryan Ferry’s did. Coincidentally, Mick Jagger succumbed to this lifestyle around the same time and, not so coincidentally, the Rolling Stones’ music also took a dive in quality. Not as far as Rod’s, though. His next two albums, Smiler and Atlantic Crossing, were okay but nowhere near the high standards he had set for himself. Still, they contained nothing truly horrible.
That would come in 1976. A Night on the Town was partially recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals Studios by R&B producer Tom Dowd. Due to the talent involved, the record has a few highlights but is bogged down by the sugary glop of its leadoff track, “Tonight’s the Night”. Rod had sold his soul to that skanky whore fame and had stooped to writing songs for housewives and dilettantes. He was rewarded with another #1 single.
Other superstars such as Paul McCartney had done similar, but while Paul’s granny music was mostly innocuous, Rod’s was downright sleazy, the soundtrack to a date rape. Stewart was only 31 when he recorded “Tonight’s the Night”, but he already has the creepy old guy vibe rolled out.
Examining the lyrics of pop songs like they were poetry is a pointless endeavor 99% of the time, but Rod richly deserves this one. So here we go:
Stay away from my window
Stay away from my back door, too
Not a bad opening. Go away babe, I still love you but can’t bear to see your face. It’s got potential. But then comes:
Disconnect the telephone line
Relax baby, and draw that blind
The girl is already in Rod’s house and he’s telling her not to go near the windows or doors. Oh yeah, the phone is unplugged too. All her means of escape are pretty much cut off. And pull them curtains while you’re up, honey. No witnesses. Now RELAX.
Let me pour ya a good long drink
How about a Roofie Colada? Rod then proceeds to rhyme “drink” with “hesitate”. Seriously, he’s not even trying.
Many critics of “Tonight’s the Night” point to this droolingly obvious double entendre as a perfect example of its wretchedness:
Spread your wings and let me come inside
Even a prominent feminist like Ted Nugent might blush at that. For me, the song bottoms out right after the supremely slimy “sexy” sax solo (even the MUSIC of “Tonight’s the Night” is leering) when Rod the Scrod delivers this timeless gem:
Don’t say a word, my virgin child
Just let your inhibitions run wild
Ewww. Was this considered seductive in the 1970s? I know rock and roll has always been about sexing up the young ladies, but how can that couplet NOT make your skin crawl? “Don’t say a word, my virgin child” sounds like a line Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs might use on the girl in the pit. It rubs the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose.
The secret is about to unfold
Upstairs before the night’s too old
And that secret is … Rod’s rod. So get your butt in the bedroom bitch, because it’s about to unfold.
To cap this mess off, over the sleazed-out harmony guitar riff that closes the song (and God damn you Rod for making harmony guitar riffs suck), we hear a female voice cooing in a foreign language, possibly Española.
SHE’S A VIRGIN WHO DOESN’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH!
Rod has a skinny fourteen year old Mexican waif trapped in his palatial estate house. She probably thinks she’s there to wash his laundry or cook his dinner. To her horror, this nasty old dude with the fucked-up hair is intent on getting into her drawers. He’s plying her with alcohol and telling her to stay away from the doors and windows and not to speak. The phone doesn’t work either. She doesn’t understand much of what he’s saying, but she’s no idiot. She just came to this country and already Rod is the creepiest guy she has ever met. Her brothers are going to stomp this pendejo when they hear about this shit. Goddamn temp agency. Merry Maids my ass!
Can someone contact the authorities and see if there’s any street urchins on their missing persons list?
Tonight’s the night
It’s gonna be alright
‘cause I love you girl
Aint nobody gonna stop us now
Not even your parents or the cops.
For any die-hard Rodheads or fans of runny 1970s cheese out there, I will concede that “Tonight’s the Night” is catchy, just like herpes. If the rest of you hate me because that horrid song is now stuck in your head, imagine what I had to go through to research and write this article.
In 1975, one year before Rod’s masterpiece, a different tune called “Tonight’s the Night” was released in which Neil Young delivers a riveting, tequila-soaked elegy for two of his buddies who overdosed on heroin. There’s no sex in it, but this “Tonight’s the Night”, howling and bleak, full of ghosts and foreboding, is great art, essential rock and roll and very nearly the polar opposite of Rod’s song.
It was not a #1 single.