Throughout a long and still-thriving career in the music business, British rocker, songwriter and pop music icon Rod Stewart has not always done what's expected of him. For every '80s listener that enjoyed the increasing influence of disco and dance music on Stewart's sound, there have always been several more long-time fans deflated by his departures from rock and folk leanings. That's probably one reason why this list of '80s songs is shorter than one might expect given Stewart's considerable chart action during the period. Still, Stewart has always been at his best when exploring his own substantial eclecticism.
2. "Baby Jane"
Despite an already declining popular and, especially, critical reception during the early '80s, Stewart managed to continue churning out successful pop hits like nobody's business. This tune from 1983's heavily dismissed Body Wishes cuts an undeniably infectious swath across the slick post-new wave landscape of that period. There were certainly a healthy share of Stewart detractors becoming increasingly vocal at this point, but the singer-songwriter's consistency shone brightest in his continuing ability to find and express big, pleasure-inducing hooks. Laced with synthesizer, saxophone and Stewart's tender side, this song also had a lot to do with his growing appeal in adult contemporary circles, a place he's lived comfortably ever since.
You already know I love '80s music and appreciate many of its cultural contributions, but I have to admit that one of the most distressing trends of the era was the unnecessary supplement of outside songwriters for even the most established veteran artists. This track, enjoyable as it may be, represents the tendency for some '80s pop music to err on the side of mass appeal above all other impulses. That said, Stewart interprets this soft rock material with sincerity and energy, augmenting his typical lothario persona with convincing humility and contrition. It's never entirely been true that mass-marketed entertainment is incapable of expressing genuine emotion; it's just that most of the time such a thing isn't necessary to sell records.
Stewart's vocal performance on this tune proves that his chops remained among the very best in the business even by the late '80s, when his star had begun to diminish somewhat. That fact was not always easy to discern as the heavy production and watered-down pop arrangements began to take a toll on his '80s album releases. A case in point is the almost absolute disposability of "Love Touch," a Top 10 American hit from Stewart's eponymous 1986 album that sprang from outside songwriters. "Every Beat of My Heart," however, which shared its name with the better-received UK release of this record, overcomes a relatively mediocre chorus by featuring some impassioned vocals on the song's more entertaining and moving verses.
Stewart's 1988 comeback album, Out of Order, probably succeeded as broadly as it did as a result of the erstwhile rocker's confident return to his rock and roll roots. Built on a strong guitar base and a swaggering if vulnerable singer's persona, the track both fit the era's pop scene as well as gently and skillfully defied it in sound and tone. There weren't many '80s artists, for example, who could get away with a line like this tune's "I'm comin' home real soon, Be ready cuz when I do, I'm gonna make love to you like 15 men." But Stewart pulls off this kind of sexual bravado without ever seeming like a self-satisfied jerk, instead populating his vocals with his familiar, raspy expressions of longing and heartfelt romantic emotion.