When it came to my evaluation of this set, I ran into a dilemma: what should I consider to be the main components and what are the extras? I decided that the hits CDs were the meat of the package and all the video material acted as supplements. This led to an odd reviewing issue since I didn’t discuss these elements in the body of the review but I now need to chat about their quality.
Stuck in this odd circumstance, I decided that I’d only grade the picture and sound quality of the package’s music videos. I’ll now discuss those videos in terms of content and I’ll get into visual and audio quality after that. I’ve rated all of the videos on a scale of 1 to 10.
Sailing (Atlantic Crossing, 1975): In a blaze of creative glory, this video sticks Rod in a sailor’s suit and sends him on a boat journey around Manhattan as he lip-synchs the song. He looks cold – and embarrassed, as well he should. Granted, I don’t expect brilliance from mid-70s videos, but this one seems awfully predictable and dull even when I grade it on an age-related curve. 4/10.
I Don’t Want to Talk About It (Atlantic Crossing, 1975): Unlike the usual lip-synched banalities that pass for videos, “Talk” gives us an honest-to-Rod live version of the tune. Faced with an audience armed with scads of sparklers – oh, those pre-glowstick days! – Rod turns in a decent rendition of “Talk” marred by too much prompted crowd sing-along. Still, it’s fun to see a little of Rod’s mid-70s concert performances; that factor makes it worthwhile, and it’d be nice if the Powers That Be could release all of this show, if the source material still exists. 7/10.
Note that the live origins of this video mean that it produces the worst sound quality of the lot. While the others could be remixed from studio recordings, here we’re stuck with some iffy videotaped material. The tune usually sounds fine, but some serious intermittent tape dropout mars the song’s second half.
The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II) (A Night On the Town, 1976): Rod’s bland attempt at social commentary gets a self-important video. Oh, it doesn’t attempt to create some sort of drama to act out the lyrics, so don’t worry about that kind of silliness. However, Rod tries very hard to look somber and impassioned as he lip-synchs, and that makes this a goofy little video. It consists of little more than close-ups of Rod as he pretends to croon, and he looks like a dope. It gets some points for unintentional comedy. 5/10.
The First Cut Is the Deepest (A Night On the Town, 1976): Sting got his nickname because he used to wear a yellow sweater with black stripes. Perhaps he ripped off Rod, as that’s exactly the garb Stewart dons here. Combined with a matching jacket, it’s not a good look, and this isn’t a particularly interesting video. It offers the standard lip-synch format, though it puts Rod in a fancy garden, so it shows some nice scenery. 5/10.
You’re In the Heart (The Final Acclaim) (Footloose and Fancy Free, 1977): As the years pass, the production values improve – a little, at least. “Heart” plops Rod in a set that emulates a fancy restaurant, and it actually includes a second participant: some tool in waiter garb who mimes the fiddle. Rod also briefly pretends to play acoustic guitar. It’s not much more ambitious than its predecessors, but it shows some growth, and it also includes Rod’s worst emoting since “Georgie”, so it scores some laughs. 6/10.
Hot Legs (Footloose and Fancy Free, 1977): After five straight ballads, Rod finally rocks with this low-rent Stones rip-off. This turns into unquestionably the most ambitious of the videos to date. By later standards, it looks cheap, but you take what you can get. Here Rod and his band mime the song at a defunct gas station while a grizzled old black dude watches. The video also goes high concept as it shoots many shots of – and through – some bimbo’s hot legs.
Maybe I’m just happy to hear some rocking after all those maudlin tunes, or maybe I just like slutty 70s babes, but I enjoyed this one. ZZ Top must’ve liked it too, since they stole it in the 80s. One caveat: stringy-haired, beret-wearing white dopes shouldn’t try to emulate Chuck Berry’s duckwalk. 8/10.
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? (Blondes Have More Fun, 1978): While most of the video shows the usual band lip-synch, “Sexy” actually sort of kind of attempts a story. It sporadically shows snippets that act out the song’s lyrics. This means we see Rod interact with a blonde babe who looks a lot like Britt Ekland - Rod’s one-time paramour – but I’m pretty sure it’s not her. Whoever she is, she’s pretty sexy, though her attempts to look sexy seem as convincing as Rod’s stabs at drama in “Georgie”. The “Sexy” video is pure cheese, but it’s entertaining cheese. 7/10.
Ain’t Love a Bitch (Blondes Have More Fun, 1978): Hey – a song not found on the Definitive CDs! This jangly number was the follow-up single after “Sexy” but obviously didn’t find nearly the same success. And for good reason; it’s forgettable Rod nothingness that tries to recreate “Maggie May” – almost literally, as it rehashes many of the same lyrics – but lacks 1/100th of the earlier tune’s heart and charm. The video comes from the band lip-synch sessions that showed up in “Sexy”, but we get no cheesy acting or anything else to enliven it. Blech! 2/10.
She Won’t Dance With Me (Foolish Behaviour, 1980): Another follow-up to a hit, “Dance” came on the heels of “Passion”, a video that doesn’t appear here. (See below for a discussion of Rod’s missing videos.) Oddly, “Dance” apparently never existed as a single, so it seems strange they made a video for it anyway. “Dance” works a lot better than “Bitch”, though it’s just rehashed Chuck Berry as interpreted by the Faces’ interpretation of the Stones. That means it’s essentially a faster version of “Hot Legs” in many ways.
Well, it’s livelier than the turgid “Bitch”, so that has to count for something. The video sticks with simple band lip-synch, though at least Rod looks awake this time; he seemed darned sleepy during “Bitch”. It also throws in some blonde chicks as backup singers, so it comes with minor eye candy. It remains lackluster, but it’s watchable. 5/10.
Young Turks (Tonight I’m Yours, 1981): By the time “Turks” hit the shelves, MTV had emerged and videos were becoming more complex. We see that movement via the storyline attempted here. The “Turks” video essentially follows the tale in the song’s lyrics, so don’t expect much complexity. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, although the then-cool dancers look really, really silly these days. The song also shows its age, but I liked it a lot back in 1981 and still think it’s one of Rod’s better pop confections. 7/10.
Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me) (Tonight I’m Yours, 1981): “Tonight” returns to the glorified lip-synch video, though one with snazzier production values: it shows Rod and company at a decadent hotel pool party chock full of girls gone wild. The guys lip-synch while many scantily clad babes frolic. All that and it’s a top-notch little pop song! 8/10.
Baby Jane (Body Wishes, 1983): As I recall, Body Wishes was a pretty dreadful album, but I always liked this song. As for the video, it seems to tell some sort of horror show story, but I’ll be damned if I can make any sense of it. Still, it creates a somewhat interesting stylized piece; it may not have any purpose, but it’s moderately compelling. 7/10.
If We Fall In Love Tonight (If We Fall In Love Tonight, 1996): Rod kinda sorta acts here, as he plays a portrait photographer. That means the video mostly shows his various subjects. This intends to show a wide variety of ways that love takes hold of disparate couples, but it seems a little too PC and like an old Benetton commercial to me. We do get a quick -and frightening – shot of Rod in drag, though. 5/10.
Ooh La La (When We Were the New Boys, 1998): Rod essentially covers himself here, as he redoes an old Faces tune. It worked better with his original band, but this isn’t a bad rendition, I suppose. The video puts Rod among a lot of sexy burlesque dancers; it doesn’t go much of anywhere, but it’s good eye-candy. 6/10.
Note that the DVD doesn’t include all of Rod’s videos – not even close. An earlier compilation called Storyteller features 12 videos, none of which appear here. While it’d be nice to get all – or most – of Rod’s music videos in one place, I can’t complain about this bifurcation too much. At least we find no duplication across either release; fans who already own Storyteller would likely be annoyed if they bought Definitive and found it included a bunch of videos they already had.
(For the record, here are the 12 Storyteller videos: “Infatuation”, “Some Guys Have All the Luck”, “People Get Ready”, “Every Beat Of My Heart”, “Lost In You”, “Forever Young”, “My Heart Can't Tell You No”, “Downtown Train”, “This Old Heart Of Mine”, “Rhythm Of My Heart”, “The Motown Song”, and “Broken Arrow”.)
The Definitive Rod Stewart usually appeared in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. “Young Turks” went with an approximately 1.66:1 ratio, while “If We Fall In Love Tonight” used a 1.78:1 ratio. These videos weren’t attractive but they were about what I expected.
The quality of the clips varied, but unfortunately, they usually presented fairly unattractive visuals. While they generally seemed typical for their eras, the videos nonetheless displayed more concerns than I expected. The clips from the start of the Eighties and Seventies presented rather unattractive visuals. They suffered from flat and listless colors as well as imprecise focus, grain and other print flaws.
Colors tended to appear murky and loose. The tones depended on the visual styling of the videos, but even when I considered those constraints, the hues generally were too muddy and messy. Black levels looked reasonably dense, though they sometimes demonstrated inky qualities. Shadow detail was acceptably distinct but not any better than average.
I’ve seen lots of music video collections that span this set’s era, and most of them look about the same. Occasionally one surpasses the others, but the majority of them demonstrate similarly murky and muddy visuals. That’s just an artifact of the materials used in the various periods. I still didn’t feel the clips deserved a grade above a “C-“, but they remained consistent with what I anticipated.
Happily, no such concerns affected the audio of these videos. In addition to the original stereo tracks, we got Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes of the tunes. The forward speakers always dominated; if the surrounds added more than general reinforcement, I didn’t notice it. Instrumental delineation seemed clean and concise, and the audio blended together well. I thought the elements created a good stereo impression.
For all the tracks, audio quality seemed solid. The music presented clean and clear highs, and vocals always sounded natural and distinct. Drums popped as they should, and guitar fills rang appropriately. Bass response appeared good, and low-end never become loose or rough. A few tracks were less impressive than others, but that related to the original production. Overall, I liked the audio of these videos.
Note that “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” sounded noticeably worse than the other tracks. I offer specifics about this issue during my review of the video itself.
The package also includes a 20-page Booklet. Ben Edmonds provides a fairly short but still interesting career-spanning essay, and the package also features some credits and a mix of photos from over the years. It finishes the release in a pleasant manner.
Rod Stewart scores high on polls of rockers who squandered their talent. Indeed, Rod never lived up to the peaks that he achieved in his early years, and he demonstrated a cynical tendency to aim for the lowest common denominator through much of his career. Dammit, though, I still like a lot of his hits. Even pop pap like “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” has merits, and you’ll find plenty of good songs in this erratic but usually enjoyable collection.
In addition to two CDs of music, The Definitive Rod Stewart provides an hour or so of music videos. These show predictably erratic visual quality, though they looked about as good – or bad – as I expected. The audio sounded fine, at least. Those who want a good Rod Stewart hits collection will dig Definitive, and diehard fans will snap it up to get the videos.