1981 was a great year for musical discovery. I was in the ninth grade and had just purchased my first Dolby C cassette deck. After homework I would often spend the evening sitting by the radio with the record button on pause, hoping to hear something new and interesting on the college radio stations. They still played rock, but increasingly their playlists were being dominated by new wave music from Europe. Then I heard Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks”.
“Young Turks” was somewhere between the extremes of traditional rock and new wave. That juxtaposition pretty much summed up the early ‘80s music of Rod Stewart.
For people like Stewart, things had been rough in the second half of the ‘70s. Stewart responded by turning to a disco rock hybrid that would reignite his career. Even the Rolling Stones would flirt with the concept (by accident of course). By 1981, new wave had replaced disco as the next new thing and Stewart would follow suit with his 11th album Tonight I’m Your’s. The disco influences were not completely gone, but only one song “Jealous” reflected the styles of his two previous releases Blondes Have More Fun and Foolish Behavior.
That album was special for many reasons. For the 14-year-old me, the video for the title song was one of the first times I saw hip hop styled dancing. Tonight I’m Your’s would cover many bases, most notably it included new wave influences and production styles while staying true to Stewart’s traditional Rolling Stones styled rock.
Aside from its three hits, the title song, the excellent “Young Turks” and Paul Cradock’s “How Long”, the album had some surprising variation. There was the Rolling Stones like “Only a Boy” and the early rock vibe of “Tora, Tora, Tora (Out with the Boys)”. Stewart’s tour of rock nostalgia ended with a cover of the classic Bob Dylan song “Just Like A Woman”.
I always felt Stewart was at his best when he stayed close to his roots. You could hear Stewart’s other influences like soul and gospel in “Never Give up on a Dream”, complete with a Pentecostal choir. The concept of adding a gospel choir to rock music was not completely new, but Stewart was ahead of the curve there. In less than 5 years later, black gospel choirs would become an annoying and overused fixture in rock.
Rod Stewart was at the height of his popularity in 1981. His detractors likely spread a rumors about his stomach being pumped after a gay night out on the town. Although untrue, it was enough to give his image a saucy edge in the mind of an impressionable teenager like myself. The truth was that Stewart’s music was winning over fans from multiple genres from underground dance clubs to the mom in K Mart.
Tonight I’m Your’s would be a springboard to more soul influences later in Stewart’s career. It would also be the last time that his music would be enjoyed by such a diverse fan base. It wouldn’t be long before I would all but lose interest in artist like Rod Stewart. In addition to the explosion of new wave and alternative rock, MTV meant that I would no longer need to sit by the radio to hear what was new. 1981 was a great year.