After starting his “Songbook” collection in 2002 — albums that pay tribute to standards of American music — Rod Stewart is bringing the series to a close. “Fly Me to the Moon… The Great American Songbook, Volume V” will be released Oct. 19 on J Records.
The first four volumes combined have sold 9 million copies and earned him his first Grammy Award, for best traditional pop vocal album, in 2005. As the series comes to an end and Stewart prepares for an eight-show stand at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, he ponders how songs of the past have provided his future direction.
What is it about this collection that connects with you?
It’s everything — the warmth, the lyrical content, the beautiful chords they use, the way the songs are structured.
I met this American GI in a coffeehouse in the Valley and we were sitting there talking about the war. He was in the second wave of landings at Normandy on Omaha Beach-so he wasn’t part of all the bloodshed-but he was telling me how he went to England for V-E Day and he had fish and chips and went into the pubs. He said, “By the way, Rod, are you still going to make an ‘American Songbook’? You make those old songs sound brand-new.” That was meant to be a Brooklyn accent; it sounded like Texas. [laughs] That was one of things that inspired me to go back and start recording again.
In the office, we were saying that “Moon River” was one of our favorite tracks.
That’s my girl. Fabulous. I have to tell you, this one was going to be taken off by the record label. They didn’t like it-I don’t know why-they just didn’t like it. They tried to get me to do an uptempo version of it, and I said “no.” And I said, “Not only that, my wife absolutely loves it. When she hears it she cries, and if you want to take up the battle with her-she’s 14 weeks’ pregnant-then go ahead.” So on that one they backed down. I’m so glad you like it. It’s a girl’s song.
“I Get a Kick Out of You” was the last one we recorded. I suddenly had a spasm in the middle of the night, and I thought, “God, we haven’t done ‘I Get a Kick Out of You,’ and it’s perfect for me.” All of these tracks are brand new. There’s nothing left over from the other four “Songbooks.” People think I was just hoarding them.
The reinterpretation of standards has become a popular album motif. Do you think it’s a fad?
A lot of people have done these albums now since I have done them. I won’t mention any names. I hate to use the word “fad” because they’re worthy of a better phrase. But this is the fifth and final one and I’ll be sad to see them go, but I don’t want to do any more after this one.
So what’s next?
I want to do a blues album, and I want to do a country album. And I may record with Jeff Beck, and I may have to write a few songs . . . I’ve got a meeting with Jeff in a couple weeks in London, and we’re going to see if we can work together and see what each of us wants to do. We’re a little bit older now and we can tolerate each other.
How has your songwriting changed since then?
I’ve forgotten how to write songs now.
You certainly haven’t forgotten how to write songs. How is it different?
Songwriting, let me tell you, was something that was thrust upon me. When we were in the Jeff Beck Group, we said, “OK, let’s see if we can do something original,” because everybody was trying to write songs then. This was the late ’60s. Woody [Ronnie Wood] started strumming and he said, “Would you write the lyrics?” And I said, “Me? What? I’ve never written a song in my life!” So we wrote a couple songs as the Jeff Beck Group and we never looked back.