You could try to take Rod Stewart off the BBC, but you couldn't take him off the Billboard charts: on Nov. 13, 1976, he scored his longest-lasting No. 1 hit with the sensual "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)."
The track was the lead single from Rod's seventh studio album, A Night on the Town. Like its predecessor, 1975's Atlantic Crossing, A Night on the Town was primarily recorded in America, split between Hollywood's Cherokee Studios and the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama. It was Rod's fifth straight U.K. No. 1 album, and reached No. 2 over in the States.
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It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand what "Tonight's the Night" is about: Rod implores a lover to "kick off your shoes and sit right down / loosen off that pretty French gown." The song's lascivious lyrics - including the second verse plea of "spread your wings and let me come inside" - was obvious enough to draw the ire of the BBC, which purportedly banned the song from the airwaves.
America guitarist Dan Peek claims Rod took inspiration from his band after playing him the single "Today's the Day" on a visit. "Rod said that he liked it and that it gave him an idea for a song," Peek wrote in his 2004 memoir. "Of course after his recording of 'Tonight's the Night' came out I laughed when I remembered what he'd said. I'm sure I probably smacked my forehead and said: 'Why didn't I think of that?'"
Stewart recalled it differently in the liner notes to his Storyteller box set in 1989. "This came to me in the middle of the night, as songs often do," he wrote. "[Muscle Shoals guitarist] Steve Cropper and I worked out the arrangement on Friday morning and it was in the can by Friday night." Saxophonist Jerry Jumonville, known for work on films like The Rose and TV shows like Happy Days, laid down a memorable solo on the song's bridge.
And there was one more cherry on top to make the song extra memorable: Stewart's then-girlfriend, Swedish model Britt Ekland, cooed a series of sweet nothings in French over the track's ending. "The French bird on the end is actually Swedish and threatened to sue if not included," Rod joked in Storyteller. He later contradicted himself in a Mojo interview in 1995, claiming he had to get her "drunk, pissed as a fart" to participate; asked if she received any royalties, he scoffed: "Bollocks! I bought her a nice frock."
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Rod certainly bought himself some nice things off the success of "Tonight's the Night": it stayed on top of the Hot 100 for eight straight weeks at the end of 1976 and beginning of 1977. When Billboard tallied up its year-end chart that year, "Tonight's the Night" was sitting pretty at No. 1.
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