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This song is about the woman who deflowered Stewart when he was 16. In the January, 2007 issue of Q magazine, Stewart said: "Maggie May was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with, at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. It nearly got left off because the label said it didn't have a melody. I said, 'Well, we've run out of time now, these are all the tracks we've recorded. They said, Alright, then, bring it on."
The name "Maggie May" does not occur in the song; Rod borrowed the title from a Liverpool Folk song
about a Lime street prostitute.
Stewart's record company didn't think this was a hit, so they released it as the B-side of "Reason To Believe." Disc jockeys liked this better, so they played it as the single instead. The first station to flip the single and play this as the A-side was WOKY in Milwaukee.
Every Picture Tells A Story
was Stewart's third solo album, and the one that made him a superstar. It was recorded at Morgan Sound Studios in Willesden with drummer Mickey Waller, guitarist Martin Quittenton, and Stewart's Faces mate Ronnie Wood among the musicians.
Stewart got the idea for the song during a US tour with the Faces. He completed the song with Quittenton, who came up with the intro and wrote the chords. The song came together quickly in the studio, helped along by the Ray Jackson mandolin contribution - Jackson had been hired to perform on the song "Mandolin Wind," which is why he was available. Stewart asked Jackson to play something they might use to end the song, which he improvised on the spot.
Quittenton, who is listed as the song's co-writter along with Stewart, told the Daily Mail
: "We didn’t think it was very good. Never in anyone’s wildest dreams was it a Pop standard."
Quittenton said that when the song became a hit, he was working in a record shop for £7 a week. His royalties for the song would eventually amount to about £25,000 a year. He declined Stewart's offer to join the Faces, and left the music business a short time later after suffering a nervous breakdown. Quittenton also co-wrote Stewart's hit "You Wear It Well
This became a huge hit in England and America, topping both the UK and US charts at the same time. Every Picture Tells A Story was also the #1 album on both sides of the Atlantic, making him the first artist to have the #1 song and album in both the US and UK simultaneously. Stewart's success in the UK was expected, as he had a following there as a member of The Faces, but he was little known in America before "Maggie May" took off.
Stewart was the lead singer of The Faces when this was released. He put out solo albums while he was with the band because of contract obligations. When this became a hit, Faces shows were billed as "The Faces with Rod Stewart." He became the focus of the group.
Stewart moved to America a few years after this came out. He was doing very well there, but also wanted to avoid the huge taxes England levied on high-income entertainers. This was around the same time The Rolling Stones left England for tax reasons. Their album Exile on Main St. is a reference to their "tax exile" status.
Ray Jackson, a British musician who played in the band Lindisfarne, played the mandolin on this song and a few others for Stewart. In 2003, Jackson threatened legal action against Stewart, claiming he deserved a writing credit for his contribution. Jackson, who says he made just the standard £15 session fee for his work, stated: "I am convinced that my contribution to Maggie May, which occurred in the early stages of my career when I was just becoming famous for my work with Lindisfarne, was essential to the success of the record."
Stewart employed Jackson on subsequent recordings, but didn't hear about his beef with the composer credit until the '80s. Stewart's retort (through a spokesman): "As is always the case in the studio, any musical contributions he may have made were fully paid for at the time as 'work-for-hire.'"
Adding insult is Jackson's credit on the album notes, which reads: "The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind."
Jackson never brought the case to court, but his threat did illuminate his contribution and help publicize his artistic endeavors.
In October 1971 Stewart became the first artist in history to hold all four #1 positions in the British and American singles and albums charts. While "Maggie May" topped the singles tally in both territories, Every Picture Tells A Story achieved the same feat on the album charts.
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