Rod Stewart joins Deep Hidden Meaning Radio with Nile Rodgers to talk about songwriting and the stories behind some of his best-loved songs. Rod explains how he accidentally “stole” one of his biggest hits and the two legends discuss the perils of plagiarism, they talk about Rod writing about love and soccer in the same song, and about working with Jools Holland on a new album. Rod also tells Nile about his other great passion - his enormous model railway! In a fascinating and very funny conversation, the two friends and musical icons chat about their craft and their love of making music.
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Rod Stewart challenges Nile Rodgers to reform the Jeff Beck Group
NILE RODGERS: When I was working with Jeff [Beck] on the album ‘Flash,’ my secret desire was to try and get you guys to reform The Jeff Beck Group.
ROD STEWART: Well, listen, if you want to get us back together, you can do it. You can speak to Jeff. I know Ronnie would do it. Ronnie would love to play bass again. I'm up for it, mate.
NILE RODGERS: Those early records just blew my mind.
ROD STEWART: We didn't know. Obviously we didn't know how good they were. We really didn't, until about 20 years later, because they weren't phenomenal sellers, but they were grassroots sellers. You know what I mean? They influenced a lot of bands. You and you alone can get The Jeff Beck Group back together.
NILE RODGERS: You think so?
ROD STEWART: Yeah.
NILE RODGERS: All right. So here's a secret I'm telling, and I hope Jeff doesn't get pissed off, but so he hires me to do the album, hires me to do ‘Flash,’ and he walks into the studio and I'm ready to hear a bunch of really great demos. And I'm like going, "All right, Jeff, we're going to be like smokin’, man. This is going to be awesome." He comes in and he plays the theme song, the entire album, ‘Chariots of Fire.’ And he says, "I went to the cinema and I saw this. and I thought to myself, "Dammit, I should be doing that.”"
So he comes in and he says to me, "This is what I'd like to do." So most people don't know that I orchestrate. So I write an arrangement of... I forget which cue it is, but it's the one that goes [sings Eric’s Theme from Chariots of Fire]. Do you remember? So I write this whole thing out and we play it, and Jeff is killing. And we play this and I am always on the side of the artist. I never take the side of the label. But this was the first time in my life. I called Sony Records and I said, “Guys..."
ROD STEWART: Help, help.
NILE RODGERS: “He wants his album to be a cover of the soundtrack of ‘Chariots of Fire.’ I'm getting paid a lot of money. What the hell do I do?” The cool thing about this is that from whatever nuttiness that happened, we wound up... Well, you guys wound up getting a Grammy because we have the song “People Get Ready,” which you and Jeff wound up doing together. And I'm like going, "All right, now we're going to be one step closer to The Jeff Beck Group." And that was the only song I could get on that record that would have both you guys on it.
ROD STEWART: Well, it's all in your court now, my man. I don't want to put you under pressure. It's in your court. You can tell whoever you want. Get the word out there. Me and Ronnie are touring in the summer, he's with his group, what are they called, but closer to Christmas, we'll be available.
NILE RODGERS: Cool.
ROD STEWART: Say yes, you want to do it!
NILE RODGERS: I do!
Rod Stewart and Nile Rodgers on Da Ya Think I’m Sexy and plagiarism.
NILE RODGERS: “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy.” Talk to me about that one.
ROD STEWART: Well, I nicked it from... It wasn't a conscious nick. I was in Brazil for the festival, and I heard this song, [sings “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” melody], and I just, I nicked it. Subconsciously I came back in the studio and started singing it and put words to it about six months later. But I put my hand up and I said, "Fair nick, I'm guilty." And all the proceeds actually went to UNICEF.
NILE RODGERS: No kidding.
ROD STEWART: The writer of the song agreed. Yeah.
NILE RODGERS: Wow.
ROD STEWART: Have you ever been done for plagiarism when you've nicked someone's songs?
NILE RODGERS: To me, that's just songwriting. Quite often I've said on this show that I believe it was Verdi who said “Good composers borrow and great composers steal.”
ROD STEWART: Wow. Verdi. How would you steal his music?
NILE RODGERS: We can't help that. We listen to music. Just like you just said with “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy.” You listen to music, you hear the song, you hear the motif, you hear the riff, and it gets stuck in your head and you say, "That's cool. This is what I would do with it." That is songwriting.
ROD STEWART: That's called plagiarism!
NILE RODGERS: Yeah. Well, you know-
ROD STEWART: It's plagiarism, no matter which way you look at it.
NILE RODGERS: But yeah, Bowie had a different word for it. Bowie would say that, "Nile, that's post modernistic reinterpretation."
ROD STEWART: Oh, well done. Good old intelligent David. Actually, the late and great Robert Palmer, he was a good friend of mine. And we had a few drinks one night and I said, "Your ‘Johnny and Mary’…” Don't know if you remember that song. "Was a big influence for me to do ‘Young Turks.’” And he said to me, he said, "That's strange because whenever I heard ‘Hot Legs,’ I went out and was influenced by... I was influenced by ‘Hot Legs’ and wrote ‘Addicted to Love.’” I mean, there's no connection, but the feel, both songs have the same sort of feel.
NILE RODGERS: ‘Stealing’ sounds like a strong word because it makes other people think that we are not artistic about it. But it's certainly not that at all. It's being influenced. I mean, what the hell? You hear something cool, you can't help yourself. I do it all the time. I'll hear a riff and then I'll redo the riff my way.
ROD STEWART: Yeah. Play it backwards. You ever tried doing that? Playing it backwards. That's a good old trick.
NILE RODGERS: A lot of big pop songs now are very reminiscent of other songs. I remember one night I was chatting with Andrew Lloyd Webber. I think he got a little pissed off, but he was cool about it. And I said, "Andrew, isn't that main lick from ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ [sings melody]." I said, "Isn't that a variation of ‘Mack The Knife?’” And he goes, "No, it had nothing to do with Kurt Weill”. “That's the exact same motif from Kurt Weill!”. And he said, "No, it doesn't." I'm like, "Okay, cool. No problem."
ROD STEWART: Guilty as sin.
NILE RODGERS: Well, he didn't get pissed off. He was cool. We were having dinner, but I could see somebody must have said it to him before. I mean damn, come on. It's almost impossible. You hear a riff like that and it gets under your skin and you figure out a way to do it. And then he took it another place.
ROD STEWART: It's the attitude that you cop from the song. You don't steal it. You cop the attitude. “Johnny and Mary” and “Young Turks,” if you listen to them back to back, they're both stories about couples, but that's as far as it goes, and they're both fast, but that's as far as it goes.
Rod Stewart on fans’ reactions to the song “The Killing of Georgie”
NILE RODGERS: I think “The Killing of Georgie” is one of the most important LGBTQ+ lyrics ever written. Give me the story behind that song.
ROD STEWART: Well, it was the early '70s when the Faces were touring America and we had this wonderful black friend of ours, handsome as hell, would bring records around to our hotel and play them to us. He'd say “Guys, you heard this? Heard that?” And his name was Georgie and the song’s, more or less, how it happened, one night he got stabbed and therefore the song. And the wonderful thing about the song is even nowadays, people come up to me, they're in their forties and fifties, and say, "When that song came out, I was lost. I was in a dark place. I didn't feel I could come out. I couldn't tell anybody I was gay or whatever." So it helped so many people. And that gives me immense satisfaction.
Rod Stewart on singing standards and working with Jools Holland on a new album
NILE RODGERS: When you started singing standards, I really understand the huge amount of success you've had in the last more than a decade.
ROD STEWART: Yeah, it's an album [The Great American Songbook] that I've been waiting to do for so long. And I approached Warner Brothers, oh, 30 years ago to do it. And they turned it down. They just said, "No, you are a rocker, not a crooner." I said, "Okay." And the late, I was going to say, the late great Richard Perry, he's still alive, dear Richard Perry. You know Richard, don't you?
NILE RODGERS: Very, very well.
ROD STEWART: You've been up to Perry's Pub? So I got together with Richard and we started recording it, sent it over to Clive Davis and Clive just freaked over it, loved it. Clive said, "We would like a traditional backing," because the way Richard and I had done it was more keyboard-ish and up to date. Clive took it back to the basics: strings. He said, "I want it Fred and Ginger, Clive said I want it.”
NILE RODGERS: Wow.
ROD STEWART: They've sold 37 million copies, those five albums.
NILE RODGERS: I've actually stood on the side of a stage one time. And I was going, "Man, look at that, man. He's got this whole new thing. It's all still Rod." It's like the Rod I know, the practical joker, the funniest guy in the room, that dude, but you're delivering these songs that are emotional, that people have listened to for 50, 60 years, and you made them yours. And it was like, "Man, that's killer."
ROD STEWART: And do you know Jools Holland?
NILE RODGERS: Of course I do. My God, I played with him many times.
ROD STEWART: Yeah. So we're making a swing album now, and he's got the best swing band in the world. So we're halfway making an album together. In fact, next week we're doing another five tracks.
NILE RODGERS: Oh cool.
ROD STEWART: Jools and I, we have a lot in common because we both love model railways. So we are real soul brothers. We talk about music and then say, "That's enough music. Let's talk about our hobby," which is model railroads.
NILE RODGERS: Do you have a big layout at your crib?
ROD STEWART: Massive, massive. It's taken 27 years to build it.
NILE RODGERS: Wow.
ROD STEWART: Anyway, that's another story.
NILE RODGERS: Yo Rod, seriously, take a picture of that.
ROD STEWART: Yeah, sure. I'll send you a picture.