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Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” is Arguably one of the Grooviest Songs of His Career

Music | October 16, 2018

Portrait CIRCA 1969: Rock singer Rod Stewart poses for a portrait in circa 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

As many songs do, Rod Stewart’s song, Maggie May, has a back story and was written as a result of a personal experience. Songwriters, quite often, draw on personal experiences which have left some sort of emotional mark on their lives; some are good and some, not so good.

The song lyrics to Rod Stewart’s, Maggie May, were inspired by his first “real” sexual encounter with a woman.

In 1961 when Rod Stewart was 16 years old, he was “deflowered,” to put it delicately. The song lyrics to Maggie May actually tell the true story of Stewart’s first sexual encounter with a woman. Years later, in 2007, he was interviewed by Q magazine and was quoted as saying, “Maggie May was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with, at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival…and it was over in a few seconds.” Rod Stewart attended the music festival as a fan, at the time, and not as a performer.

The Beaulieu Jazz festival was an annual, British pop music festival that drew amazing musical talent.

Rod Stewart published a memoir of his life entitled, Rod. Basically, it was an autobiography wherein he recounted many details of his life experiences that led to the composition of Maggie May. Stewart is quoted as saying, “At 16, I went to the Beaulieu Jazz Festival in the New Forest. I'd snuck in with some mates via an overflow sewage pipe. 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."

This particular music festival was like so many others of the groovy era. The groovy era was a time of peace, love, rock n’ roll and smiling on your brother. America, however, didn’t corner the market of the counterculture mentality. Great Britain was way ahead of the U.S. in this phenomenon in many ways. The Beaulieu Jazz Festival was first held in the 50’s and was thought to be somewhat “experimental” in nature. The festival was a hit and the rest is part of music history.

Although “Maggie May” is the title of this iconic song, those 2 names are never mentioned together within the song lyrics.

Maggie Mae was the title of a Liverpool folk song. “Maggie Mae” was to have been the name of a Lime Street prostitute in Great Britain. The Beatles included this folk song on their Let It Be album. Stewart would often introduce Maggie May by saying, “This is ‘Maggie May’… sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t.”

Rod Stewart is known for composing the melody line of his songs first and then filling in the song lyrics later which is exactly how Maggie May came to be.

Regarding Maggie May, Rod Stewart has been quoted as saying, “I still have the black notebook with red binding down the back that I used to write all the lyrics. My scribbling for Maggie May filled about 20 pages. What was unusual about the words is that they turned out to be more of a story than a traditional song that circles back to a sing-along chorus. That was my fault, really. Telling stories is what I’m best at. I also didn’t use Maggie May in the lyrics—just the name ‘Maggie.’ ‘May’ just popped onto the end of ‘Maggie’ in the title at some point.”

Stewart had written the melody and lyrics to Maggie May and liked it but wasn’t sure it would hit the mark with everyone. He reportedly asked himself, “Right, what have I got here?” The song told the story of how this teenage boy lost his virginity to an older woman and how it affected him. He was definitely tentative about the song at first, wondering how it would be received, but he ended up worrying for nothing.

Maggie May was the song that ended up making Rod Stewart stand out among his other band members.

Maggie May was released in 1971 as a 45-vinyl single, on Side B.  

Maggie May was also included on Rod Stewart’s epic album, It Had to be You

He reported that “At first, Maggie May wasn’t going to be on the album. It was too unusual. The song ran longer than five minutes and it didn’t have a catchy chorus. But as we finished up the album, we found we were a song short. So, we added Maggie May, since it was already produced.”

Although Stewart had many other musical successes, Maggie May just might have been the song that sealed the deal on his iconic music career.

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.