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Foot Loose & Fancy Free
Rod Stewart

Warner Bros. BSK 3092
Released: November 1977
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 47
Certified 3X Platinum: 10/22/84

Rod StewartThere's something to be said for the New Wave rebellion against (to borrow a phrase from the not-so-young-himself Willy De Ville) "old meat." Even if this reaction is mostly confined to England, it seems very healthy. There are a lot of kids in England who don't care what kind of fashionably gauche trinkets decorate Rod Stewart's high-class, Hollywood home or what the exact terms (if any) of his separation from Britt Ekland will be. They do care that Stewart has lost touch with them, not only musically but culturally as well. And for Rod Stewart this dilemma seems particularly complex. After all, it wasn't too long ago that Stewart (who began his career idolizing Sam Cooke, David Ruffin and Ramblin' Jack Elliott) was digging graves for a living and feeling a little testy himself.

To his credit, Stewart decided not to take the easy way out this time. Instead of returning to Muscle Shoals and American sessionmen for a comfortable followup to A Night on the Town, Rod opted to form a band and cut an album of mostly rock & roll. Foot Loose & Fancy Free is the result. But there's just one problem: the record falls flat.

Rod Stewart - Foot Loose and Fancy Free
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Part of the trouble is the band, which sounds stiff and not particularly inspired. Guitarists Gary Grainger and Billy Peek dredge up familiar "Brown Sugar" chords on "Born Loose" and "Hot Legs" (a hedonistic revel that might have worked five years ago but now sounds only lecherous and silly), and "You're Insane" tries to combine funk and reggae but dies because drummer Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge) just can't pull it off. The Faces rhythm section was creaky, too, but at least it made up for the lack of swing with an energetic, good-humored sloppiness.

Then there's the inclusion of a seven-and-a-half-minute version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (with, yes, the Vanilla Fudge arrangement), an odd lapse of taste for the normally scrupulous Stewart. A cover of Luther Ingram's "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right)" comes off much better. Where Ingram sounded forlorn, Stewart is damned positive he's making the right decision. And when he sings the hook in the third chorus, the pull of his voice is still capable of creating Herculean emotional drama. Finally, there are the separation songs, which are drenched with a bitterness the arrangements don't always bring out. It's hard to be discreet when the disintegration of your romance is fodder for every two-bit publication in the world. But Stewart doesn't even try. "You're in My Heart," the current single, is a cheeky, none-too-subtle put-down that deserves awkwardly tacked to a singsong narrative. The subdued "You Got a Nerve" is more straightforward and features this chilling couplet: "Oh what pleasure it gives me now/To know that you're bleeding inside." It's been a long year for Rod Stewart.

According to Greil Marcus, Graham Parker (who was pumping gas in England until two years ago) is quite content traveling between current U.S. tour dates on a bus -- a big improvement over the station wagon that carried Parker around last year. The press notes for the current Stewart tour advertise that his entourage will also be making the rounds by bus. But you can bet Graham Parker isn't lugging around 64,000 pounds of equipment, a seamstress, a masseuse, a tour photographer and a makeup "girl." As for Foot Loose & Fancy Free, it's sure hard to care much about "Hot Legs" with Elvis Costello and the Sex Pistols around. Even Rod Stewart can't get lost in this rock & roll. It's pretty vacant.

- Joe McEwen, Rolling Stone, 12/29/77.

Bonus Reviews!

This is Stewart's best since parting musical ways with the Faces. The spark of Stewart's distinctive, up-tempo R&B style has been restruck and, together with the choice crystallized ballad style that mushroomed his career to platinum proportions, combines his finest crooning capabilities as both balladeer and rocker. Choosing to record for the most part with his touring band of three guitars, keyboards, bass and drums has added to this cohesive and individual character. Though lacking some of the commercial hooks evident on "A Night On The Town," the albums polish avoids sterility. Best cuts: "Hot Legs," "You're Insane," "You're In My Heart," "You Keep Me Hanging On."

- Billboard, 1977.

Gosh, what a terrific idea -- a concept album about a cocksure rock and roller who Cannot Love. How'd all those clichés get there, I wonder. I mean, the first side works up a very nice groove, although it'll add nothing to Rod's reputation as a composer or a humanitarian. But side two opens with a Vanilla Fudge remake and doesn't recover till the confessional finale, itself festooned midway through with a "Whoo!" so pro forma you'd think Rod had run out of steam. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Following the same formula as Atlantic Crossing and A Night on the Town, but not explicitly breaking the record into fast and slow sides, Foot Loose & Fancy Free was a limp effort from an increasingly complacent Rod Stewart. With the exception of the dumb, sleazy "Hot Legs," none of the rockers are discernible from each other, and this time he doesn't have a strong set of ballads to save him. The affectionately sappy acoustic ballad "You're in My Heart" was the big hit, but Stewart sounds completely convincing only on "I Was Only Joking." Coming at the end of the album, the song seems like a justification for the uninspired, by-the-book record that preceded it. * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

During a highly successful career with UK rock outfit The Faces, frontman Stewart also ploughed a solo furrow, and once the band folded in the early 1970s he set about pursuing his ambitions in the US. Recorded at the Manta Sound Studio in Toronto, Canada, Foot Loose & Fancy Free taps both Stewart's own musical heritage and later the then-current craze for all things disco. Hinting at what is to come on later records, notably the disco-ized Blondes Have More Fun with sales of four million, overall the album retains a mix of balladeering and the boogie/blues sound with which fans had come to be familiar, as on the opener, "Hot Legs."

Ballads are in plentiful supply too, with the excellent "Young At Heart" a notable highlight, as are "I Was Only Joking" and "You Got A Nerve," both co-penned by Stewart and guitarist Gary Grainger. "You're In My Heart" was a Number Three hit in the UK, Number Four in the US.

Unfortunately Stewart does little justice to the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic "You Keep My Hanging On," surely a case where the composers were happier with the royalty check than the rendition that appeared on the album. Foot Loose & Fancy Free narrowly missed out on a top album slot in the US, managing to reach Number Two on the Hot 100, while in the UK it peaked at Number Three.

As of 2004, Foot Loose & Fancy Free was the #70 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

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