"Maggie May" broke down all the doors for Rod Stewart upon its release in late summer 1971. If it hadn't, there would have been no justice in the world. While it may have sounded like a slight departure to fans of the Jeff Beck Group or the Faces, the hard rock band he was fronting in 1971, it was not just of piece with the dynamic blend of folk and rock he essayed on his solo records, it was its pinnacle. As the centerpiece of his third album, Every Picture Tells a Story, it occupied a key musical and emotional spot on the record. Draped in glittering, ornate acoustic guitars and mandolins, it was a wonderful blend of epic simplicity, self-deprecating humor and emotional truth, wistful melodies, and rocking rhythms. Stewart's tale may or may not have been autobiographical, but it didn't really matter. What mattered is that every fiber of it felt as if it was true, as if the boy seduced by an older woman really was Stewart. That's not just because of his shaded vocal performance -- not just shaping the delivery of the verses, but how he ad-libs in the coda, "I'll get on back home/One of these days" in a way that sounds every bit as true as the proper song -- or because the music sweeps the listener into the tale (it certainly does that), but because the words are so fully realized. It starts simple and builds, piling up details and wry jokes, always at the expense of the narrator, not "Maggie May." He's acutely aware of his age -- "I suppose I should collect my books and head on back to school/Or steal my daddy's cue and make a living off of playing pool" -- and he can't help but feel used by Maggie, no matter how much he's seduced by her charms. He's at the end of a coming-of-age tale, now wiser, a little embarrassed, and a little regretful, but richer for the experience. And the wondrous thing about it is that the listener feels like they went on the same journey as Stewart. It's like a novella condensed into song, teeming with colorful characters, surprising situations, and unforgettable moments. Stewart made songs as good as this -- the next tune on Every Picture, "Mandolin Wind," was just as good -- but he never topped it, and it continues to define everything that is great about Rod Stewart as a singer and songwriter.