It's late September and I really should be back at school.”— Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton, “Maggie May,” performed by Rod Stewart from his LP, Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)
I heard this song over the weekend yet again, introduced by WFUV-FM deejay Don McGee in the simplest but most evocative fashion: “It’s late September.” A whole world was summoned for me of the first time I heard it, back as a tween.
“Maggie May” may be the second-best-known cougar in rock ‘n’ roll history, after Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson. The record that immortalized her was composed and produced on the fly, with all the raw heartache that Rod Stewart could summon in what has become his familiar, raspy voice. (It involved only two takes--in contrast, The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" each went through six months.) The rowdy British rock ‘n’ roller has had many hits since then, but I don’t think he’s ever been better.
The song was inspired by an incident that happened to Stewart, at age 16, at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival in the early 1960s: “I'd snuck in with some mates via an overflow sewage pipe,” he recalled in his 2012 bestseller, Rod:The Autobiography. “And there on a secluded patch of grass, I lost my not-remotely-prized virginity with an older (and larger) woman who'd come on to me very strongly in the beer tent. How much older, I can't tell you - but old enough to be highly disappointed by the brevity of the experience." (Less than half a minute, if you really must know—a rather inauspicious start for one of pop music’s most notorious lotharios.)
Sad to say, but Stewart would not, from the song that made his career, pay out more than a standard musician’s session fee to Ray Jackson, who played the mandolin on the song. In fact, Stewart rubbed salt into the wound—and probably ensured that Jackson would sue him (unsuccessfully) for songwriting credit years later—with the following tossed-off credit on the original liner notes: “The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind."
Now that I know this session player, I will, from here on forward, mentally tip my hat to this musician who provided one of the most exhilarating closing instrumentals that I have ever heard on a rock ‘n’ roll song.