Rod Stewart was all over the radio in the mid- to late '70s. In fact, his songs rarely left the airwaves from the early '70s through the 1990s. But the five years between 1975 and 1979 were an era when his creative juices were still flowing while achieving hit after hit in the commercial stratosphere. Sure, he was more raw and interesting during the early parts of the decade, as part of the Jeff Beck Group, the Faces, and even solo. And his hits kept coming for years afterwards. But the two strains seemed to be in a great sort of sync during the '70s glory days of rock & roll. Songs like "I Was Only Joking" were the sound of the era on pop and AOR radio both. He had long left his bluesy bar-room frontman persona behind for more of a more melodic and wistful folk-pop bend, and though he often crossed the line into sap, Stewart was usually adept at balancing sweet melodies and chord structures with sentimental, often nostalgic lyrics without getting too saccharine. Such is the case with "I Was Only Joking," from the 1977 Footloose and Fancy Free, which sports some great lines, including the understated, why-didn't-anyone-else-think-of-it title lyric.
Over one of his characteristic descending chord patterns, Stewart offers a few glimpses into his progression as a heartbreaker: "Me and the boys we thought we had it sussed/Valentinos, all of us/My Dad said we looked ridiculous/But boy we broke some hearts/In and out of jobs running free/Waging war with society/Dum blank faces stare back at me/But nothing ever changed." It is a great pub singalong, especially the soulful and tuneful chorus, in which the singer realizes, "What kind of fool am I?/I could never win." As usual, Stewart is backed on the LP by the era's A-list of studio cats: producer Tom Dowd, engineer Andy Johns, Nicky Hopkins, Steve Cropper, and too many more to mention. The singer is supported by country-ish trills from Hopkins, lush 12 string, and tasteful electric guitar flourishes. The song dies out in a splendid bit of anticlimax, the laddish football fan drifts off alone into the sunset: "Act I is over...the crowd don't understand."